Discipline: Is it Okay to Delay The Consequences?

by | Sep 17, 2009

Many of us have the idea that we need to deliver immediate consequences when our children misbehave. That misconception can lead to many problems for the parent and the child.

As a parent, when we react with anger to our child’s misbehavior and shoot off the first thing that comes into our head, e.g., “That’s it! You’re not going to the zoo tomorrow,”  we end up regretting it because we realize that we still want to go to the zoo. We end up punishing ourselves. Or we’ll tell our teen, “You’re grounded for the next month,” and then we realize that we are going to have to be in the house with an angry teenager for a month (“What was I thinking?”).

The problem is that we weren’t thinking, because we were under pressure, angry or caught off guard by our child’s misbehavior. And that’s not the best or easiest time to deliver effective consequences for our kids when we’re

Q. So what’s the answer? A. Delay the consequences.

A parent practicing this Love and Logic® parenting technique might say something like this: “What a bummer. I’m going to have to do something about that, but not now, later. Try not to worry.”

The benefits of delaying the consequence are:

•   The adult can calm down.
•  The adult can consult with another parent to determine a logical, appropriate consequence.
•  The adult will be able to deliver the consequence empathetically, which keeps the child inwardly focused.

How do you think the child will react when he hears that the consequence is coming later?

He or she will start worrying about it and interesting things will start happening.

One boy said a bad word in his class at grade school. When he asked his mom what was going to happen, she said “What a bummer. I’m going to have to do something about that, but not now, later after I talk to your dad. Try not to worry.” The boy was so worried, he started vacuuming, dusting, and even cleaned his room hoping to ease what was coming later.

Mom reported that she was able to discuss the situation with her husband and they came up with a great consequence that they calmly and empathetically delivered to their son later that evening. She said it made a big impact on her son and they didn’t have problems with bad words the rest of the year.

Another mom told me she asked her teenage daughter to do the dishes. Her daughter said, “No, I’m not doing them tonight.” The mom told me she was panicked about what to do until she remember to “delay the consequence.”  She responded, “Oooooo, might not be a good decision. I’ll have to do something about this, but not now, later. Just try not to worry about it.”

The daughter waited 10 seconds and said, “It’s later, what are you going to do?”  Mom repeated, “I’ll let you know later, just try not to worry.” This interaction repeated itself 20 seconds later, and again 30 seconds later. Then it dawned on the Mother. “My daughter wants to know the consequence so she can weigh it against the dishes. If I’d said, ‘No TV for you!’  she’d have thought, ‘That’s okay. I wasn’t going to watch TV tonight anyway and now I still don’t have to do the dishes. I win.’ Since I delayed and said, ‘I’ll have to do something,’ she didnt’ know how to weigh it. Do I take the unknown consequence or do the dishes?'”

Mom and daughter let the dishes stay on the table as they headed out to a meeting. Things calmed down and when they returned home a few hours later, the daughter went right in the house, got the dishes done, and went to bed. The daughter decided doing the dishes was better than worrying about and waiting for the unknown consequence of “something.”

How long can you delay the consequence?

For as long as they can remember. Compare it with how long they would remember if you promised them an ice cream cone. For some little ones that’s two hours, for others that’s two days, and for big kids that could be two weeks.

Delayed consequences are great to use when:

1. You’re too angry about the child’s misbehavior to respond calmly.
2. There isn’t an obvious, logical consequence.
3. You can’t apply the consequence immediately because of how it would affect the whole group or family.
4. You need time to consult with other adults about a high-impact consequence.

Next time your child’s misbehavior leaves you at a loss as what to do, take the pressure off and use this Love and Logic® parenting tip – delay the consequence. It’s a great tool to add to your parenting toolbox to help you raise respectful and responsible kids.

Shelly Moorman
©2009 Shelly Moorman, Head & Heart Parents

Head & Heart Parents is owned by Kerry Stutzman, MSW, a Marriage and Family Therapist and certified Love and Logic Parenting Instructor. In addition to private therapy and parent consulting services, Kerry offers parenting classes and workshops in Denver and the surrounding areas for toddlers, elementary, and teenage children.

As author of the easy-to-read “Save Your Sanity” series, Kerry helps parents save their sanity and sense of humor while raising young children with love and laughter.


Visit Kerry’s extensive collection of articles on parenting…a treasure trove of tips and insights.

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