Front-loading consequences


In the spirit of explaining to our children what we expect of them, it can be easy to go too far. This comes into play when we front-load consequences. It sounds like this:

  • Settle down at bedtime or you’ll lose some story time.
  • Be quiet in the car or you’ll have a timeout when we get home.
  • Speak nicely to your brother or you’ll have to do your homework in your room.

That “or else” is what gets us into trouble.

Weighing the odds
What’s wrong with warning our children of the consequence? It allows them to weigh the odds when they decide whether to obey. It makes obedience a choice.

If a child is having a particularly fun time at bedtime, he may just decide that he prefers it, even if it means losing some story time. If he’s in a particularly bad mood, he may decide that it’s worth it to be nasty to his sibling even if it means having to go to his room.

Don’t make obedience an option.

When a parent front-loads consequences, it blurs the line between explanation and threat. It’s easy to threaten our kids with a consequence if we think it will improve their behavior. But most of the time, it won’t. Threats train our kids to ignore our word.

Spontaneous consequences
Consequences given spontaneously, without warning, are most effective. When we catch our children off guard (usually when they are expecting a threat or a warning), they pay attention.

When I do this, my kids stand up straight, immediately look into my eyes, and stop whatever it is they’re doing. It’s great that I’ve gotten them to comply, but I can’t not follow through. I have to issue the consequence.

Use this for infractions that the child clearly knows are wrong. If he’s bouncing around in his chair at the table, and it’s something you’ve been working on, send him into timeout as soon as you spot the behavior. There’s no need for a warning.

If you know the child knows it’s wrong and he’s still doing it (intentional or not), he deserves a consequence.


  1. Excellent!! I need to implement this!


  1. […] way parents make obedience an option is by front-loading consequences. By this I mean that we tell our children what their consequence will be if they disobey. […]

Speak Your Mind