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Home » Child/Adolescent Mental Health » Promoting Mental Health » Behavioral Development » Limits & Consequences

Limits & Consequences

Limits are good for children and adolescents.  They provide a structure for keeping kids safe until they learn to set their own healthy, safe, and appropriate limits.  The use of limits and consequences can help children and adolescents understand what is expected of them and help them make good decisions.   

The effectiveness of limit setting often depends on the caregiver’s ability to be clear, consistent, and assertive, while avoiding harsh and punitive management strategies.  The fundamental difference between harsh limit setting and supportive limit setting lies largely in the attitude and manner in which the child is addressed.  Addressing the child with an approach of R.E.S.P.E.C.T. (Relaxed, Specific, Empathic, Patient, Encouraging, Confident, and Timely) will increase the effectiveness of limit setting.  Arguing with a child, reprimanding/shaming them publicly, getting into a power struggle, and trying to force compliance are all ineffective approaches to limit setting and promoting behavioral development. 

Consequences are the result of something that a person does.  In the context of behavioral development, consequences can help to teach children and adolescents important behavioral lessons.  Consequences are most useful when they follow these basic principles:

  • Apply consequences as soon after noncompliance as you can. 
  • Use the same consequences for the same behavioral non-compliance each time. 
  • Use natural consequences (those that occur naturally as a result of a child’s actions) and logical consequences (those applied by a caregiver that logically fit the situation). 
  • Be calm and respectful as you deliver consequences.  Remember, this is about the behavior, not the child. 
  • Wipe the slate clean after the consequences are delivered so that the child has an opportunity to start over without past instances of non-compliance hanging over them.
The following is an effective limit setting and consequence sequence.

1.  Give an effective instruction

  • If the child follows the instruction, provide timely and specific praise for compliance with your request.
  • If the child does not follow the instruction, provide a warning.

2.  Repeat the instruction

  • If the child follows the instruction, provide timely and specific praise for compliance with your request.
  • If the child does not follow the instruction, allow a natural or provide a logical consequence.