Synergistic Parenting

Cause and effect discipline


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Inner or external?
Synergistic parenting's goal is discipline that develops and grows within each child, and as self-discipline grows, less is imposed by parents or caretakers. Discipline is most effective the more the child grows in being aware of the need to develop the child's own inner discipline. At the same time you work with your child to develop his or her own values of what is best to be and to do.

Understanding discipline
Cause and effect discipline is the most effective way to impose discipline and for the child to grow in self-discipline. You may want first to read and think about how to develop inner discipline. For cause and effect discipline to be most effective, be familiar with using I-messages and other facets of communication. Remind yourself about the idea of who owns problems. All of these help you to practice cause-effect discipline.

Cause and effect discipline is based on the scientific understanding that what happens — effects — has causes. Or call it stimulus and response — misbehavior is a response to a stimulus, such as wanting attention. Children's behavior that we want to change or stop is an effect that usually has causes. When our child does something we want to stop, we need to probe into the causes of the behavior we want changed.

It does not always work! Leonard Pitts wrote: "I gave one of my kids some advice. Don't do such-and-such, I said. If you do, so-and-so is going to happen and it will not be pretty. The kid did not take my advice and the outcome I predicted came to pass. Sometime later, we're riding along and the kid turns to me and says, in a tone of wonder, 'You were right.'

"You may think this was an 'I told you so' moment. Actually, it would have been an attempted homicide moment had I not been driving. Being right was not rocket science. What headaches and hardship might have been avoided had this child only listened and thought."

This form of discipline is used in two different ways. The simplest form of cause-effect discipline is natural cause-effect. Harder to learn and practice is logical cause-effect discipline. If we explore natural effects and how to use them, we may more easily understand the more difficult logical approach.

Natural cause-effect
Natural cause and effect is the natural result: if you play too roughly, you can get scratches, cuts, thorns and other natural effects that hurt, and may cry. If you play too roughly with others, some may be hurt and cry. If you go without a meal, you feel hunger, and will probably talk about how you feel as a natural result. If you stay up late, you may get sleepy, tired, or grumpy. When possible, explain carefully to the child that the pain or problem the child feels is the natural result of specific causes. For example, "When you skip a meal, you usually do feel what you were just complaining about."

We need to help our children learn that many events are the result of causes that we can name. Without repeating too much, and using a variety of words, we can help our children learn that we live in a cause-and-effect system. The younger we begin the better. You can relate heat to the cook top, space heaters, matches, and whatever can burn the child. Natural cause and effect means learning that many actions have a result, and sometimes the result is unpleasant or hurts.

Write some actions of a child that you want to change or talk with friends. Evaluate which of these actions were natural results of what the child did. Review the paragraphs above for suggestions. Use your imagination. Think how you could talk with your child about these actions as natural results. Think about how you can use this approach to develop the child's inner discipline.

Listen to this teen's request:


Do you panic at her plan? What can make you feel comfortable and confident in their plans?

When your teen learns to drive, cause-effect can help teens recognize the effects of different ways of driving, and learn the causes of wrecks. When you and your young teen see or read of a wreck, talk about what may have caused it, so that they begin to think of driving as cause-effect. Click for a web site that may help your teen expand their understanding of driving safely and their skills.

Cause-effect can help teens learn the life-long effects on their hearing of very loud music.

Natural cause-effect can be an effective tool to change behavior. George Lucas, film maker, said in an interview in Rolling Stones in June 2005 that his father never said no, but told him if he did what he requested here are the consequences; that is why you cannot do that.

Natural cause-effect is also a very useful tool to talk about drugs, sex, and many other situations and problems in the life of your child. The earlier you use cause-effect with your child, the easier to talk with a teen about difficult questions.

Logical cause and effect
Logical cause and effect is different. It requires that we set the stage or create the situation, talk about it ahead of time, and often talk afterwards about what happened.

The best way to explain logical cause-effect is by an example shared by a mother of three in one of my groups. My homework to our group, after we understood logical cause-effect, was to try it with one child and a simple problem. Instead, she tackled her major problem: getting her three kids off to school in the morning on her way to work.

She had an older son and two younger girls. Her son was independent and hard to control. She talked with the three about getting off to school, led them to understand how this was their problem, and she asked them how together they could make it easier. She reported they had lots of give and take, and reached consensus that they would go to a store and each select an alarm clock that the mother would buy. Each would set their own clock to the time each calculated gave them time so they could wash, get dressed, gather school gear, and be in the car at the agreed time. After they were in bed, she asked her husband to go to her car to clear out the back seat of the clothes there from changing for after school activities. Meanwhile she slipped into her son’s closet, knowing, she told us, that her son was most likely to sabotage the agreement. She selected the clothes he least liked, and had her husband put them in the back seat.

The next morning each awakened and did their tasks, and the mother told us it was so wonderful not to have to run to each one’s rooms, hassling them to get ready and get to the car. At the agreed time the two daughters were ready, but the son appeared in his underwear, saying he needed another minute. Their mother said, no, they had agreed. Besides, there were always clothes scattered in the back seat; he would finish dressing on the way to school. She laughed as she told us his reaction on finding his most hated clothes the only choice in the car.

Review this example of logical cause-effect. Make a list of the steps the mother used to set the stage, and why she did them. Re-read the example to see if you can find ways to make what she did more effective. If you work alone, jot down your reactions of why it worked. If you work with others, compare insights. Now think of your child, your feelings and problems where you can try cause-effect with your child's problems. Think about how to set the scene as this mother did. And be as creative as she was.

How to discipline
Here is an example of using what you have read in a frequent situation – taking the kids with you to a store or eating out.

Just before going into a store or cafe, discuss it briefly as a family with no condemning about past problems. Agree on how they will behave, and if one does not follow their agreement, all will leave. A meal may be left half-eaten, or groceries may not be bought. This is the effect or consequence of failing to live up to their agreement made moments before. Many parents reported that this worked most of the time. Often when a child misbehaved, a simple reminder of their agreement was enough.

"Clean up your room!"
In the page on discipline I shared several thoughts about children's rooms. If parents decide to let their children's rooms alone, they may insist that their stuff does not clutter the rest of the house. With younger children one tactic, if children's things are left outside their rooms at bedtime, is to put them out of reach but visible for a day or more. Requests for those things leads to cause-effect conversation.

Why you use these tools
As you practice these skills of cause-effect discipline, remember that it will work effectively as you practice it as an expression of your love for your child. These are tools that you can develop and fine-tune to express your love for your child and strengthen your child’s trust of you. Think of this as part of how some managers or clients have by attitude and action led you to be a better worker and person, and thus find more satisfaction and fulfillment.

Perhaps the best summary of your attitude and outlook that you try to express with discipline is what my Dad called the three A’s: acceptance, appreciation, affection. I add a fourth: affirming each child. Think about each of these A's in terms of how you can express each "A" with each child.

To learn more about discipline, click on Resources, and look into most of those listed. Check the chapter headings and the index at the back for what we have explored here. Many of these resources have further explanations and discussion and give examples of practicing these skills.

Time alone with
Perhaps the most important parenting you can do is to spend time with each child, doing what that child wants to do, more than once a month. Set aside enough time for one child and you to do whatever the child wants. If the child is a teen, you may spend hours going to a movie the teen wants to see with you or appreciating a hobby or interest. This one-with-one time may lead to talking together while eating or walking – whatever your child suggests.

I think the more you get to know each child in their uniqueness, and interact with that child, you increase possibilities of conversation. You are an understanding friend as well as a parent.

Focus entirely on this child of yours, deepening your bonding to each other regularly from the cooing infant to the sometimes overly quiet or contentious teen.

Copyright © 2005 John F. Yeaman