June 21, 2024

The Therapeutic Parent: Strengths-Based Consequencing

By Hannah Sedlacek
Mental Health & Wellbeing

A challenging part of our role as parents is providing consequences. I’ve walked with so many parents through navigating consequencing different types of behaviors that feel difficult to nail down. The IDEAL response is a good place to start, but once your child gets a little older and smarter by the minute, I like to start thinking about strengths-based consequencing. High structure, high nurture parenting is what we’re aiming for, all with connection at the center. Strengths-based consequencing essentially means that you’re using your child’s strengths as an avenue for consequencing. Feels a little backwards, huh? Let’s walk through it.

Limit Setting

Before we talk about the consequencing part, it is really important to set clear limits and expectations. We want this general progression.

  • Validate the emotion
    • “I realize it feels frustrating to leave your friends when they’re having fun.”
  • Set a limit
    • “Your curfew is 9pm.”
  • Offer choices
    • “I can either come pick you up at 8:30pm or you can drive yourself.”
  • Set the limit again
    • “Sounds good. I’ll see you at 9!”

You’ve done what you can here to set them up for success.

Before You Consequence

Let’s say your kiddo breaks curfew and comes waltzing in the house at 9:30. You set the limit and clear expectation and it was broken. There needs to be a consequence because a limit that you set was overstepped. Let’s walk through some strengths-based tips before you consequence.

Know your child’s strengths and who and what is important to them. This helps in understanding their motivation.
Consider your child’s past successes, in order to build on them.

Remember, you are still going to consequence inappropriate behavior. What you are doing differently is how you are responding and how you are talking about it to your child.

Strengths-Based Consequences

Strengths-based consequences are designed to either 1) use or build on a currently identified strength to address the problem OR 2) work toward learning or developing a needed strength to prevent the problem in the future. Here are some steps to follow.

  1. Identify the unacceptable behavior
  2. Identify the missing strength/skill that contributed to that behavior
  3. Identify existing strengths
  4. Come up with a task or project that will assist them in developing the missing strength or skill OR use an existing strength

Let’s Lay It Out

  1. Unacceptable behavior – kid came home later than established curfew
  2. Missing strength/skill – impulsivity? Emotional regulation? Thrill seeker? Doesn’t consider self care?
  3. Existing strengths – graphic design, enjoys using internet
  4. Project that uses existing strength to develop missing strength – create poster around impulse control strategies or why sleep is essential to good mental health

When a behavior falls into a category that feels harmful or dangerous, apply a natural consequence immediately and then move to a strength-based consequence later. This may be cleaning up a mess, removing or restricting access to something, etc. If the immediate consequence is removing or restricting access to something, the strength-based consequence may involve earning back privileges.

Process With Them

Remember that we want high structure, high nurture parenting with connection at the center. We can be firm in our decisions and consequencing, yet available. We want to have our kids process through their decisions with us. The more we process our kids’ decisions with them – good or bad – the more they are able to integrate their left and right brains and make better decisions in the future. Some examples of processing questions may be:

  • “I’m sure you had a reason for doing ____. Can you help me understand?”
  • “How did you manage to ____ (positive behavior, like coming home even if it was later than expected)?”
  • “What ideas do you have for doing it differently next time?”

We want some self reflection and consideration of their decisions, but this does NOT have to be in a shaming way. A good rule of thumb is to stay away from “why” questions. Instead of “Why didn’t you come home when I said?!” reframing to “Tell me what got in the way of you coming home at your set curfew.” Use curiosity.

Reach Out

Parents, this stuff is tricky. It takes extra thought, energy, and gumption. It would be easier to yell, throw in some why questions, tell them to go to their room, and ground them for a month. BUT we have opportunity here to help them grow and learn, which is really what strengths-based consequencing is all about.

If you’re struggling with your kiddo’s behaviors and are feeling stuck on where to go next, please reach out. We would be privileged to support you on your journey of being the most therapeutic presence in your child’s life!

Written By

Hannah Sedlacek

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