My older son has always come across as more mature than his years. He talked early, walked early, and essentially he grew up around adults, not children. So, his mannerisms and speech tended to lead people to believe that he was actually older than his age. However, when others would treat him as older, he was incapable of handling it, and justifiably so. We learned early on that it was essential to interact and discipline him at his age level. Alloting consequences for behavior fell into this area.
If you’ve ever tried to “lecture” a three year-old, you know it just doesn’t happen. After about 15 or so words from your mouth, the child is wiggling, looking around, or ready to run. The child has tuned you out. Young children do not understand a lot of words, and lectures end up causing more problems than they solve. Providing appropriate consequences to behavior helps children learn how to act correctly.
Appropriate consequences should be immediate. Children cannot remember what they did wrong five minutes ago in most cases, so if the consequence is not immediate, children typically become confused as to why they are being “punished”. As soon as possible, a consequence to a behavior should be given. Also, make sure that the consequence makes sense. For instance, if the rule is to keep food on the table and the child chooses to throw food, then the child should be made to clean up the food.
Consequences should also be fair and well-thought. Children cannot understand lengthy punishments, especially for small infractions. The consequence should teach a lesson that relates directly to the rule that was broken. And, remain calm before reacting. Taking a moment to think about the situation can make a world of difference in the reaction of the child. Too many times, parents and caregivers allow their emotions to override their good judgment; this is typically when unnecessary and unenforcable consequences are given.
Once a child has followed through with a consequence from a misbehavior, the moment should be over. The child is ready to move on, and so should the adult in charge. Lecturing or harping on a previous behavior only confuses the child and supports attention through negative actions.