I am a student in a Child and Youth Care program, and I am getting ready to graduate soon. I have been doing my practicum in a treatment based group home, and for me that has triggered the question on consequences.
My question is: What are the benefits of natural consequences in a group home setting? What are the disadvantages? Should children have concrete consequences for their actions? Or is it better to have a discussion with them and continue to try and encourage them to want to be in the program by not taking things away? Does every child need consequences for their actions? Or is a reward system and correspondence with the resource people in their lives enough?
Okay, maybe that was more than one question, yet they all play a part together. I am curious of knowing what others peoples thoughts are, regardless of the experience one may or may not have.
In my own experience having consequences whether they be natural or not takes a lot of the power struggle out of the situation. Reminding the youth of the consequences to help them make a healthy choice but not argue with them or try to reason with them to make a better choice. At the same time a reward system is very important for the youth as well. The system can be as simple as praising the youth for the good decisions or as complex as receiving a concrete award for x-amount good choices made in a week ( for example).
As with every youth each situation is different and how you react to their behaviours and choices is different. Some youth need more help and guidance then others. Sometimes all you can do is let them make mistakes and be there to help them learn from them. But it is very dependent on each youth what kind of consequences are required as long as they are non the best interests of the youth.
My rambling point is, power struggles are a constant theme. Consequences remove the struggle ( at least in that area) If you do this then this will happen, end of discussion.
Only thing that came to my mind is everything has already been taken away from them – they are living in a group home...
How do you teach responsibility in a group home setting – I personally don't think it's through consequences. It's time to think outside the box when working with children and youth in a residential setting...
When was the last time these kids were touched, hugged and shown love?
Just some thoughts.
Hi Korissa. Congratulations on your upcoming graduation!
Imposed consequences often ignore the basic need behind the behavior (e.g. survival, love, power, freedom, fun) and simply reinforce the belief that the young person cannot depend on the adults being helpful.
Natural consequences are the things that happen naturally and cannot be arranged by caregivers. For example, if I forget my coat I will be cold; if I don't pack a lunch I will be hungry.
In moving from consequences to more helpful responses, think about what learning would actually be helpful to the individual. Imposed consequences typically only teach that punishment follows certain behaviors. It's better to catch up with the person when they are receptive and think through together what it is they are wanting or needing and helping them find a more productive way of achieving that goal.
It is possible for a young person to be punished by rewards, as Kohn said:
"Some who support [more] coercive strategies assume that children will run wild if they are not controlled. However, the children for whom this is true typically turn out to be those accustomed to being controlled – those who are not trusted, given explanations, encouraged to think for themselves, helped to develop and internalize good values, and so on. Control breeds the need for more control, which is used to justify the use of control." [Kohn, A. (1999). Punished by rewards: The trouble with gold stars, incentive plans, a's, praise and other bribes. Orlando, FL: Mariner.]
Keep up the thinking and good questions!
I have been working in group care for over 3 years, here are some answers from the experiences I've gained:
Those are really good questions. So to give you an answer, for the caregiver using logical and natural consequences can really help in teaching lessons, and basic skills. For example if you are cueing a child or youth to not do something as there is a natural negative consequence involved, and they still do it anyway and that natural consequence happens, then that is a lesson right there. Sometimes with natural consequences they have to learn from their mistakes. As for logical consequences, that is a different matter, but just as powerful a lesson as a natural consequence. For example, if the child is refusing to listen to your cues and/or be disrespectful, but then asks to go out somewhere, logically you can explain that because they have not been following staff direction and/or being disrespectful in the home, then how can you trust them to listen and be respectful in the community. For a youth it's a little different but as equally powerful. Sometimes all you can do is talk with and encourage them to make the right choices for themselves.
At the end of the day though, it all comes down to how consistent are you with the child/youth and the consequences, because without consistency they'll think it's all a big joke.
To answer your question "Or is it better to have a discussion with them and continue to try and encourage them to want to be in the program by not taking things away?" I think both should happen. Explaining the logical/natural consequence of a continued behaviour or action might work just as well as the consequence that is applied for not ceasing the behaviour or action. Yes, I believe every child needs a consequence for their actions/behaviour. It might not necessarily need to be a big one every time, but it should link to the behaviour/action.
In regards to the rewards system, I don't believe it is right to always have a big elaborate system set up. Sometimes something as simple as praising them more for the littler things can add up and really change their day/week!
I hope these answered your questions :)
All great questions. First off, you will have to look at the philosophy of the program your placement is with. Every place's philosophy is different.
Natural consequences have benefits everywhere. It's cold outside, your asked to take your hat and mitts, you choose to ignore, your ears and hands will get cold—natural consequence.
As for all the other options, that really depends on the child/ youth, their treatment goals, and the behaviours. Some kids need to know 'you hit you sit' for example, and others you can have a discussion with. It depends where they are developmentally. Sometimes consequences don't work, but rewards do.
I would suggest to stay away from consequences that are punitive in nature, or make you feel better but does not help the child/youth meet their treatment goals or learn.
I know I didn't give you concrete answers, but it really does depend on the program and the individual child.
But remember all children enjoy being praised and finding the positives for them is important. :)
Another way to approach this is to replace the term "consequences" for impacts. From a restorative point of view there are a number of benefits this offers which enhance the idea of natural and logical consequences.
1. It is not judgmental, blaming or shaming
2. It works towards developing the child/youths perspective on their own actions
3. It focuses on cognition and executive functions of the brain
4. It helps them in their own choice making.
5. It acknowledges that we exist in relation to our self and others. That is where many of the impacts of our actions take place.
This is helped by having conversations before and afterwards. I think just letting kids do whatever without guidance is not responsible. But we do want them to make the best choices. When we walk beside them and guide with thoughtful questions we can become an ally in them becoming the best they can be.
CYC-Net has great articles on Discipline. Check them out, if you haven't already.
You can find a large number of articles on
Discipline in our Readarounds index
here – Eds.
You raise a very interesting and important question. The first thought that comes to mind is that all "consequences" have to be considered in context with the size of the program, program rules, etc. The next thought is how does one define "consequence"? Many times programs and caregivers refer to responses to behavior as "consequences" to convince themselves they are not just "punishing" a child. The distinction I always tried to use in practice is that if you cannot immediately put your finger on how that consequence is helping the child's growth and development, then it is realistically a "punishment" and should be avoided. Said another way: Helpful "consequences" are for the child, punishments are for the adult.
Some basics to consider when thinking of consequences would be, as much as possible, ruling out "standardized" consequences within a program. This would, of course, include eliminating any "point system" in the program. It is painful to see how many programs still rely on point systems to control behaviors and fail to recognize that no matter how positive they look on paper, in practice they are not fostering relationship building, inherently culturally incompetent, and often end up merely being "bribes" to behave better. I think it is also crucial to not have the "consequence" focus on eliminating the undesired behavior, but eliciting thinking in the child about what other, more desired behaviors, would be options next time.
So, we are back to your original question...a "consequence" should be something that can be either positive or negative in the young person's eyes. The deciding factors in applying the consequence should include how it fits the growth of that particular child and this will likely only come through the initial "consequence" of talking about the behavior with the caregiver and both having time to reflect on the next step. There is an old saying that we know a young person is progressing well when they start to behave more positively because it feels good to them to do so...not merely to please someone else or avoid/achieve a consequence. I believe that is what to strive for when deciding responses to behaviors.
And so, really, what is a 'consequence' – well, it
is anything which occurs as a result of one's actions – whether natural
or created – so, one wonders, 'for this child, in this circumstance'
what is the best 'consequence which could occur'?
Henry Maier once said, in response to a situation in which two kids were fighting , that the best consequence was that they should 'play together' – a consequence requiring them to learn to get along with each other.
If we're going to discuss "consequences", how about enlarging the scope of this conversation and include a focus on "expectations", and how they can influence rather regrettable "consequences" in child and youth care practice? In addition to imposing age inappropriate expectations in care work, I wonder about how Child and Youth Care training, professional role definitions, and a worker's own approach to Child and Youth Care work can inadvertently "misfire" an interaction resulting in harm rather than help. Dare I use the frequently used word "mindfullness" in Child and Youth Care work, but I've often appreciated those useful moments when I become more "mindful" of the insidious influences of my own expectations that I put on a child/youth in a Child and Youth Care encounter. From my years in the field I have found that reflective practice has helped me in this regard, but each one of us has to start somewhere in examining the good and the bad about expectations and the dynamic influence they play in our work.
Frank raises some very important points.
Something that I have encountered that frustrated me lot, was how staff in residential care grapple with the concept of individualised responses. They seem to understand and buy into the idea of “personalised care”, but the moment you start to work with challenging behaviour, especially where groups of children are concerned, they have a hard time accepting that responses can be individualised. Very often the idea of “fairness” comes up – everyone must be treated the same, otherwise it is not “fair”. And I know this is not exactly what Korissa is writing about, but her post reminded me of this and I think it is related. My idea of fairness has been that we want every child to reach their potential, but they need different things to get them there – giving each child what they need is fair. However, many people disagree and say that fairness means that everyone receives the same. Well, if you give everyone the same (response) then some children don’t get what they need… they get what we give, and to me THAT is unfair.
What does this have to do with consequences? Maybe nothing… or everything. I don’t like the word “consequences” anymore, because it has become a replacement word for “punishment”. Punishment is now unpopular, so often when staff talk about consequences, they mean punishment. If a response is standard response, i.e. if you have a policy or working procedure that dictates that you respond to a behaviour in a specific way, to me that is punishment, because the response is directed at the behaviour and it is standardised – it is not directly at the child and therefore not an individual response to the needs of this child. However, even though I discuss this extensively and on many occasions with my team, I always had to come back to this discussion – maybe I am the one who got it wrong after all….
Anyway, just thought of sharing this….
Werner van der Westhuizen
Korissa just to add another thought to the many great replies you have.....
I would agree with much of what I say however I would also tie responsibility to consequences. In other words a good logical or natural consequence would clearly align with an opportunity for the child or youth to take responsibility for their choice(s). To me this is an excellent chance for them to thus recognize that if they have the responsibility then they have the choice.
In other words to take responsibility for our actions is another way for us to accept and make more sense of our power to make choices regarding our behaviours; therefore it can be empowering.
If you think of it another way if I do not have any sense of responsibility for my choices then I blame others and have a sense of being a victim or having no power.
One of the things I talked to my own kids about is, what might be called, positive consequences. For example when they helped me clean the house a natural consequence is that I have more time for them to do something with me. Therefore they have an opportunity to take responsibility for their choices and how they can make the best choices to insure that the consequence might be what they want; in this case time with their mom.
Finally you can see that a key piece of success, in regards to consequences with children and youth, is that you work from a capacity model that is realistic and yet expansive. In other words I insure that I take some account of the capacity of the child or youth at this point while also inviting them to increase their level of capacity.
To me this is another important component to both consequences and empowerment.
I’m always happy to see discussion of “consequences”. Many of our young people misunderstand the issue of “freedom” in significant ways. They focus on the fact that in a “free country” one can do whatever one chooses to do. And that is correct. However, that is only one fact of life in free countries (countries that are not “free” do not allow choice). What many of our dear ones forget is while we are perfectly free to choose our behavior, we are NOT FREE to choose the consequences.
Consequences are delivered by others: mother nature; people we are in relationship with; social institutions. For every behavior there will be a consequence: so choosing a behavior IS choosing a consequence. For this reason it is very important that young people learn to anticipate what the consequences of their behavior will be. This is our job. Cheat when you are playing games, others will not want to play with you. Be hurtful in your relationship with another, they will not want to stay in the relationship. Run out into the street without looking, risk getting hit by a car.
According to the dictionary, a “consequence” is “that which naturally follows”. So the discipline for us is to be sure that our “consequence” is directly related to the behavior that precedes it. Anything else we do to respond to wanted or unwanted behavior is an intervention, but not a consequence. Which is why, as Frank and so many others have pointed out, “points” are ridiculous. Points are never a consequence for behavior in “real life”.
By the way, some of you have talked about whether we should impose a consequence or “just talk”. Talking IS a perfectly legitimate consequence.
Good thinking everyone.
In our adolescence we are in the process of working out identities and boundaries for our ‘adult’ self. We are at last getting big enough and strong enough to resist some of the more oppressive actions from adults in our life. Freedom is held out as the bedrock of our western democratic society but it is very apparent as we access ‘forbidden’ knowledge that this is a fiction riddled with hypocrisy and lies and consequences that seldom match the action. What are we to do? Resist or conform?
I believe we should salute this exploration of free will and enter into dialogue that positions us on the side of youth in opposition to the structures of fear and oppression. This is of course uncomfortable and potentially threatening for our own fragile identity.
I would also encourage more philosophical discussion on the nature of life, the universe and everything. A starting point could be a reading of Camus’ The Stranger’ which asks fundamental questions of freewill and consequences.
A consequence should have the outcome be that the youth learns something in the process and the adult strengthens the relationship, teaches the child new ways to think and act when they have a similar problem in the future and provides hope that things will be better.
It’s a bit of a dilemma regarding ‘natural consequences’, although they are the best teachers there needs to be some judgment in allowing them to occur. If a child doesn’t wear his coat and it’s relatively cold outside the natural consequence is that he/she will get cold. If the adult caregiver takes that to the extreme and the child could be harmed by the action it turns into neglect. Consequences are the most difficult thing to determine and not turn into punishment. Logical consequences have to be logical to the child. If a child hides a knife under their bed and the rule of the organization is that they will be on restriction, lose privileges, etc. and the child is hiding it because they feel unsafe, what we need to do is provide them safety – doesn’t mean we don’t take up the knife, but our concern becomes the child’s reasoning and not the knife. If a child is hiding a knife because he/she is threatening others, then they are seeking a sense of power, again we need to have the conversations regarding their need.
Behavior has meaning and purpose and is ‘needs’ based. If an adult can be curious, rather than reactive regarding a child’s behavior the conversation will guide the youth to an understanding of the need the youth is trying to meet by the behavior – is he/she feeling unsafe, unloved, powerless, purposeless, like a failure at something. Are there physical issues – hunger, sleep deprived. Are they suffering from unresolved grief (and what child in care probably isn’t). Have you ever been out of sorts because you were hungry, tired, felt like a failure, friendless . . .
A short list of resources that might be helpful: The Connected Child by Dr. Karen Purvis, The Boy Who Was Raised As Dog, by Bruce Perry, Ph.D, Beyond Consequences, Logic, and Control: A Love-Based Approach to Helping Attachment-Challenged Children With Severe Behaviors, by Heather T. Forbes and B. Bryan Post, Parenting from the Inside Out, Dan Siegel, M.D and Mary Hartzell, M Ed.
It would be(was for me) incredibly helpful to look at Mary Ainsworth, John Bowlby’s attachment styles information. Dan Siegel has a series regarding the styles – google Dan Seigel attachment styles and there are separate clips for each style.
Direct answers to your questions:
What are the benefits of natural consequences in a group home setting?
They are only beneficial if they do not turn into neglect, and with some follow up from the adult to reinforce the lesson in a helpful way (not the ubiquitous “I told you so”).
Is it better to have a discussion with them and continue to try and encourage them to want to be in the program by not taking things away?
It’s always best to have a discussion with them to see what they’re side of the story is, we make tons of assumptions of why somebody acted the way they did without asking them. If taking things away is related to the behavior and the child relates the consequence to the behavior and not the adult that’s okay. It’s always interesting to ask the youth what they think the consequence should be, and – ‘are you surprised that there will be consequences for . . . behavior?’ I’ll bet you can remember a time when you were consequenced/punished without even knowing why or being able to explain the situation?
Does every child need consequences for their actions?
All actions have consequences – good or bad. The art is turning the crisis behaviors into teaching/learning opportunities through intentional conversations/ relationship and hope building.
Is a reward system and correspondence with the resource people in their lives enough?
I would suggest reading the book Punished By Rewards, by Alfie Kohn where he discusses the trouble with reward systems.
These are of course my opinions and I’ve rambled long enough, hope some of this makes sense and helps.
Best of luck in your life adventure – it will be that if you’re in the child/people care field!
I want to send a brief follow up thought on Werner's point on how the focus on "fairness" can impede individualized responses to inappropriate behaviors of kids in group programs. I think he is hitting an extremely important point here. My experience has been while the vast majority of Child and Youth Care workers generally want to be fair and see that as a core value of what they do...they can often go against their instincts, and even convictions, of what is the best response to behavior from an individual child, not so much because it would actually BE unfair to the others, but out of fear that others would see it as unfair and they did not want to deal with the challenges and disruptions that can bring in the program. My experience, and what worked best for me, was that the level of relationship and trust the Child and Youth Care worker had built with others in the program... that would dictate how much challenge they would face. In discussions the worker can point out to kids objecting to how they responded to "Johnny's behavior" as "unfair" by reflecting back on times when they treated the complaining child based on what was best for them individually...not easy stuff....but crucial if we really want to do quality Child and Youth Care work in groups. I also learned that as trust builds in the relationship many kids tend to self regulate their claims that "it is unfair".
In regard to Frank's comment, replying to Werner's comment on fairness..
This year, in my school based program, this exact issue came up and really became an issue of contention with some of the students. They felt that one particular student was monopolizing the time and resources of the adults in the program, leaving us with little time to support their needs. Their resentment for this student was beginning to show through and create a lot of tension in our environment. After engaging all of them in a long group discussion on the topic, we came to an agreement in terms of how I could better support each and every one of them as individuals.. In doing so we tried to define fairness, and we came to a common understanding, which I think is worthwhile to share. We agreed that:
"Fair does not mean that everyone gets the same thing or an equal share.. It simply means that as individuals, everyone gets what they need to be most successful."