TalkBack To Vicki Jardine

A TalkBack on Parenting Issues

Cause and Effect January 16, 2010


Cause and Effect....or Choices and Consequences

Have you ever wondered why your child seems better behaved for one person than they are for another?

Or why does your child conform to expectations at school much better than he/she does at home for you?

It happens all the time, mom can’t get her child to take a nap, but every day at pre-school the teacher manages to get 20 small children to lie down at the same time.  Is it a phenomenon?  Or can it be explained?

I believe it can be quite simply explained in 2 words:  Cause and Effect.

Child-Care professionals understand the need to introduce the concept of ‘consequences’ to very young children.  Once a child understands that there are consequences to the choices they make, most of the time they will choose well.  So for example when it comes to nap-time, the children know that if they lie down for a little while, they will then get to play with something special, or they will have a treat and their teacher will be really happy with them….the payoffs to them are numerous and irrefutable.  They will see that for those children who chose not to nap, they will miss out.  Most children clearly understand ‘cause and effect’ when the adults in their life have clearly linked the consequences of their choices to the outcomes that they receive.

No matter how irrational your child seems, they truly do understand the language of Cause and Effect. 

Humans, no matter how young simply do not do things for which there is no evident payoff.  It will make daily life a lot easier for you as a parent, if you learn to talk to your child in terms of choices and consequences.  If you make it clear what will happen if they do one thing and what will happen if they do another, then they will usually choose the outcome that they want and will surprise you by the degree of commitment they can show to that outcome.

If your child does not lie down and take a nap when you know they need to, then that can be explained by the fact that your child doesn’t see what the payoff is. 

When it comes to payoff, there really does need to be some emotional payoff as well.  Going back to the pre-school example, you will notice that the outcome for napping was not just a treat or something special.  It also includes that the teacher is very happy with them.  The teacher will smile a lot at each child, pat them lovingly on the back, shoulder or head and will instinctively make sure each child knows they made a good choice…and that people are proud of them.  The teacher may boast about them to other adults and tell their mom and dad how wonderful they are and how they always nap well like it is some really big achievement.

I know this because I know the payoff for the teacher is that more of the children will nap well and so the day will be a better one.  Cause and Effect!

So no matter how old your child is, make sure you are arranging your child’s world so that it is clearly a series of choices each with different outcomes and that you are helping your child see what the payoff is to them, in language they will understand.  When they make a poor choice and the ‘effect’ is not what the child wants, let them learn from that.  Don’t save them all the time.  Let your child forego a nap or whatever but then make sure that they see that when they don’t nap, they are tired and cranky and that playing isn’t as much fun for the rest of the day.  Help them see that now, because they didn’t nap, they cannot go to the park or stay up and watch their show on television.  Let them see that they chose that and that next time they might want to make the other choice.  Show them what the ‘effect’ would have looked like had they made the other choice.  That they would now be able to stay up, that they would not be feeling so out of sorts with everyone and everything if they had had that nap.

Then next time when they have to choose to nap or not, help them remember the way they felt when they made the choice not to nap last time.  Help them connect the choice they have to make right now, with the ‘effects’ they have suffered in the past.  Remember that they need you to always connect the dots for them.

This applies to almost all the things that fill up your child’s day…not just to napping. 

I am sure you have stories about times your child had a lesson in ‘cause and effect’, or you have some situations you would like some help bringing into a ‘cause and effect’ understanding for your child.  If you want to share some of your ideas, stories or want some suggestions about how to word some of the choices positively, then please feel free to leave a comment on this blog post and I will answer you and I am sure some other parents will also bring their experiences to light.  Sharing what we know works for the sake of our children, in this very quickly changing world.  That’s what modern parenting is all about.

So talkback with me on the subject of ‘cause and effect’.  I want to hear what you have to say.

Warmest Wishes,

Vicki Jardine

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3 Responses to “Cause and Effect”

  1. Richard Says:

    Hi Vicki, I stumbled on your web site whilst searching out some information to help me with my 10 year old daughter. She has recently become very difficult and we (my wife and I) are struggling with the situation. She is a bright quite girl and always good at school from all reports. Its at home or in our presence that the issues begin. She has become openly defiant of a lots of things we ask. The way she acts is almost teenager like. Is that normal in a 10 year old. We moved to the UK about 18 months ago from Australia. Not sure if the change in her is related to the move or just her age. She seems to respond to requests just to cause an issue. We sit with her and ask if there is anything wrong, we tell her we love her and we do things together in fact we do most of the things prescribed in this blog but it doesn’t seem to work. she is sorry for about ten minutes and is good whilst getting our attention but as soon as she doesn’t have out attention she cries out for it by doing something to cause a situation. We are at a loss as to how to punish this properly as sending her to her room is not working.

    Any tips ?

  2. vickijardine Says:

    Hi Richard

    In reading your comment a couple of different things went through my mind.

    Firstly yes….your move to the UK has most likely got a lot to do with the behaviours you are seeing in your daughter.

    Secondly yes….it can be normal for a 10 year old to display openly defiant behaviours (especially if there has been a major life event that has occurred).

    And thirdly, I think you have hit the nail on the head by recognizing that your daughter’s behaviours are related in some way to ‘attention’.

    It is important, however that you and your wife don’t begin to ‘overcompensate’ for having made the move to another country.

    The fact that she is from all accounts good at school is very ‘telling’ actually. What it says is that she gets the result she wants when she is good at school. She most likely gets attention for having a ‘cute accent’, for being ‘from’ Australia…people think of Australia as somewhat exotic and tropical. She will be praised for being smart and doing well and she will be held in high regard by teachers and students if she behaves a certain way.

    Remember, humans do not do things for which there is no ‘pay-off’. We all only do things when we see that there is value or worth in it.

    Your daughter has clearly learned that at home, the pay-off exists in creating turmoil or being defiant. Honestly, if it weren’t so, she would not do it.

    So we have to ask ourselves the question: What is her pay-off?

    Now you have mentioned ‘attention’. So if it is the case that she does things to get your attention, then the solution lies in you and your wife deciding which things will result in your attention and which things will not.

    Naturally a big change like the one you have all gone through in the last 18 months creates new situations and dynamics which would otherwise have not necessarily been an issue.

    Subconsciously, your little girl may be angry at you as well for taking her away from everything familiar….but more than that, she may actually be feeling insecure. Perhaps the changes have been hard on one or both of you and perhaps she feels unsettled.

    And even if this is true to some extent, it will not be the main issue to your child. The main issue to children is the security and place of importance they feel their parents have for them. So wherever you are in the world, for however long, your child really only cares that they are number one to you….all else comes after that.

    I would say that it is possible that one or both parents have felt like they need to make it up to her for leaving Australia and that she has begun to take that view too.

    Here’s what I suggest:
    – Do not feel guilty about your move. It is done and you had your reasons. Let her see that you both feel there is more good than bad come out of it and spend real time celebrating those good things. Make those things the focus of your conversation and never refer to the negatives of the move in her presence. She needs to see your confidence in this decision and maybe even needs your help to identify what’s so great about it all.

    – Your daughter reacts by seeking attention from you….so GIVE IT TO HER…on your terms. Make a point of NOT giving it to her for negative behaviors. If ‘getting attention’ is her pay-off, then only give her attention when she is behaving nicely, or being co-operative, pleasant and obedient. Keep the big picture.

    – Give choices with consequences, rather than requests and punishments. When you say ‘she seems to respond to requests just to cause an issue’, I would like to suggest that you do not make requests. Instead, give her some choices. One choice is to do what you want her to do….and this choice is to be clearly and verbally linked to a positive outcome/consequence that you know she will want to choose. The other choice is to do whatever it is she thinks she wants to do…but this choice is clearly linked to an outcome she will not want and a consequence she is unlikely to choose. She needs to see that you respect her right to choose, that her actions lead to consequences and that she is in control of her own destiny, but of course it is within your parameters.

    If you would like some more help with more specific situations feel free to go over to http://highlysuccessfulkids.com where there is a lot of free information for parents. Or alternatively, you can book a coaching session to positively turn things around for your little girl.

    Warmest Wishes
    Vicki Jardine

    • Debbie Gorden Says:

      just came across this as I am already angered and exhausted this a.m. by my 10 yr old daughter’s behavior. I started reading this story – it seemed simliar. She sounds like the above child, very bright, outstanding in behavior at school – yet so defiant at home and intent on having her own way. Our reaction has been to take away tv time or something like that. I would define her as non-compliant child who is constantly testing my husband and I. Today for example, she put on very short shorts and a tight shirt – she wouldn’t change her clothes upon our request. She suffers from allergies – but refuses to take her allergy medicine. She won’t brush her hair — which she throws into a ponytail. She is an only child. My husband and I are both laid back and easy to get along with – so our personalities clash. My daughter has been like this since birth – never a sugary sweet, lovable or huggable kid – very bright, somewhat immature and enjoys staying home watching TV. She has a lot of friends at school, but rarely initiates playdates unless I push her. It’s her frequent rudeness to us and flat out refusing to do things that is pushing me over the edge. Any suggestions?


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