Should Children be Allowed to Choose the Consequences of Their Behavior?

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Man Being ArrestedThe dictionary defines consequences as “A result or effect of an action or condition.” In other words, it is our actions that govern the consequences that we receive; however, we do not necessarily get to choose what those consequences will be. For example, suppose I went to Wal-Mart and saw an item that I really wanted but I did not have the money to buy it, and so I decided to steal it and got caught. I would be arrested, put in jail, and a court date would be set for a hearing in front of a judge. At the hearing, it is the judge who will ultimately decide what the consequences will be by the crime that I have committed. I cannot stand before the judge and choose or dictate to him what my punishment should be. My actions brought about the consequences, but I do not have a choice about what those consequences might be. If left up to me, I would probably settle for saying that I was sorry for what I had done, make restitution to the store for the merchandise that I stole, and forget that the incident ever occurred.

Misbehaving ChildThis same concept can be applied in raising a child. If a child misbehaves and punishment is deserved for his misbehavior, in some homes, it is the parents who decide what that punishment will be and not the child. In other homes; however, the exact opposite may be true. There are perhaps both pros and cons in allowing a child to choose the consequences for his misbehavior; however, this author believes there should still be some parental intervention and guidance as to which punishment the child chooses to adequately fit his “crime”, and bring about the desired results of the child behaving in a more acceptable way.

Punishing Child for MisbehavingWe have to look at this discussion from both sides of the proverbial coin. If a child is permitted to choose his own punishment for his misbehavior, depending on the remorse that he feels for what he has done, he may take mercy on himself and choose a punishment such as taking away a video game or something else that he really doesn’t care about, just to appease his parents and seem to satisfy the demands of justice, or he may choose a punishment that he feels satisfies both justice and mercy, to prove to his parents that he has learned his lesson and is truly sorry for what he did. Allowing a child to choose his own punishment can either give him an opportunity and the time needed to plan his next mischievous deed, or it can afford him an opportunity to contemplate what he did wrong, why it was wrong, and what actions he needs to take himself to correct his behavior.

Parent-child RelationshipThe flip side of that proverbial coin is that if the parents decide what the punishment for the child’s “crime” will be, the parent-child relationship is maintained in the home. The child learns that he is not the authoritative figure in the home; therefore, he does not have free rein to cause havoc and chaos when he so chooses. He learns that for every action there is a result, be it good or bad. And, he also learns that he has parents who love him enough to discipline him when he does wrong and not just allow him to always have his way.

Which method is the best method, and is one more successful than another? This author believes that both methods of doling out punishment could work in the home depending on the temperament of the child and the authoritarian rule of the parents. At all costs the delicate balance in the parent-child relationship needs to be maintained. If the child is capable of choosing a punishment that adequately fits the “crime” that he has committed and his parents approve of the punishment, then all is well. On the other hand, if the child only chooses a punishment to appease his parents, then the parents have to be discerning enough to step in and dole out the punishment that is necessary to correct the misbehavior.