How to Handle a Kid Who LOVES His Consequence

Dear Kid Whisperer,

I attended your training a few weeks ago and have been putting your ways into practice. I have a few kids who are really testing me since I’ve been trying new methods. The other day, one child starting breaking pencils for the fun of it. I thought “fantastic, I know just how to solve this”. So I said “Bummer, it takes a lot to make a pencil, and since you’ve been taking so much of my energy anyway, let’s give it back by sharpening pencils.” This was during recess, because it’s the only time available. Well…he loved doing it!!! He asked me for more!!!! Talk about my blood boiling. This was not how I pictured this going. What are your suggestions to react when they seem to enjoy what’s supposed to be a not fun consequence? I need help with this kiddo! Thanks for all you do and for your great ideas. -Lilly, Nashville, TN


Usually in this column, people ask me questions in order to find out how to elicit positive behaviors from a kid because what they’re doing isn’t working. In this case, you did everything right, and I am here to tell you that it did work! Your practice consequence was great! Don’t change a thing. What I do need to tell you is that this kid is probably trying to manipulate you, and that you may be missing the point of your great logical consequence.

You are probably being manipulated.

Kids will often pull a “Keyser Söze”, which is when a kid lets you know, through his words or actions, that he doesn’t care about a consequence when he really does. This is an effort to get you to stop using this highly effective consequence that he really DOESN’T want you to use anymore! I have had countless of kids try this, including my own daughter. I can pretty much guarantee you that this is what was happening here.

Why this was working even when you didn’t think that it was.

The answer to how you should react is by thanking him and maybe giving him a hug! This is NOT meant to be punitive! In other words, logical consequences are just a way for the kid to solve the problem that he caused. This may or may not be painful or uncomfortable for the kid. This can be a really hard shift in thinking for a lot of adults who have been trained, to one extent or another, to think that a kid must endure the pain of an often arbitrary punishment in order to learn a lesson. It was hard for me to get my head around this idea as well. Now that I realize that I’m not trying to make the kids feel pain, but instead I am just trying to get them to solve the problem they caused, I have become so much more effective in being both calm and assertive with kids! So great work. You did everything right. Keep doing it!