Using Warnings to Control Behaviour

  • By: The DIG for Kids
  • Time to read: 3 min.
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We’ve all seen them – the parents who are out with their children and the kids are simply refusing to cooperate. And what are Mum and Dad doing? They are issuing warning after warning but still the children run rampant. Clearly, that pair of parents hasn’t yet figured out what more experienced parents and childminders know – that warnings can be an effective means of controlling the behaviour of children, but only when used correctly.

Setting the Groundwork

Children who understand that their actions have consequences are more likely to behave themselves than those who do not. That simple concept is the cornerstone of using warnings as a disciplinary measure. In order for warnings to be effective, the children must believe that once they have been warned, they have but two choices. They can choose to modify their behaviour and do as they have been asked or they will receive some sort of punishment. The punishment may be a time out, the loss of a favourite toy or privilege, or they may be grounded, unable to play with their friends. The specific punishment matters less than the fact that after one warning (not endless warnings that never result in a punishment), the child is expected to behave. Failure to do so results is a punishment. Once kids understand that their parents mean what they say, they will soon fall into line.

Starting Young

Obviously, school aged children have a greater capacity to understand not only what their parents expect them to do, but also that their behaviour has consequences – either positive or negative – than toddlers and preschool aged kids. It’s important not to underestimate the learning ability of little ones, though, as even toddlers know when Mum and Dad are pleased vs. when they are not, and can appreciate the fact that when they behave well, they make their parents happy and when they are naughty, their parents are upset. Young children are also able to understand that when they misbehave, they will have to stop playing and sit in a time out, teaching them that they can decide for themselves whether or not they want to be in trouble, simply by modifying their behaviour. Once they grasp the concept that their behaviour is directly related to consequences, most children decide quickly that they prefer to be obedient.

Effective Behaviour Control

Kids (and the rest of us) respond better to positive messages than to threats, so it is important for parents and other carers to make every effort to avoid turning discipline into a battleground. defines d iscipline as, “training to act in accordance with rules…” as its first meaning, and although many parents see discipline as series of punishments, it is in reality merely a teaching mechanism. Using warnings as one portion of overall discipline can be very effective, especially when parents couple it with positive messages that they give their children when the kids are behaving properly. Utilising a combination of positive reinforcement with a system of warnings/consequences offers children the tools that they will need to grow in to well-behaved, cooperative people.

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