Family Resources
Session Nine: Applying Consequences

“Session Nine: Applying Consequences,” Strengthening the Family: Instructor’s Guide (2006), 88–98

“Session Nine,” Strengthening the Family, 88–98

Session Nine

Applying Consequences

Parents who protect their children from the negative consequences of misbehavior do them a great disservice, preventing them from learning the value of obedience.

Session Objectives

During this session, help parents:

  • Understand the value of consequences for acceptable and unacceptable behavior.

  • Know the difference between natural and logical consequences and how and when they are useful in guiding behavior.

  • Know how to apply logical consequences.

  • Understand how to use time-out as a form of consequence.

The Value of Consequences

Children learn as they make everyday choices and experience the consequences of their choices. Those who keep the commandments of God, work hard, and abide by societal laws have greater opportunities to live productively and successfully. Those who are lazy or disobedient often enter adulthood unprepared for successful living. Ultimately, we all experience the consequences of our actions. The righteous will receive eternal life, while the unrepentant will be cast out (see Matthew 25:46). Parents can apply consequences in ways that help their children learn responsible behavior.

Presiding Bishop H. David Burton observed that “parents who have been successful in acquiring more often have a difficult time saying no to the demands of overindulged children. Their children run the risk of not learning important values like hard work, delayed gratification, honesty, and compassion.”1

According to William Damon, director of the Stanford Center on Adolescence, the actions of many parents encourage self-centeredness and irresponsibility in their children.2 These parents attempt to bolster their children’s self-esteem by telling them how terrific they are without requiring anything substantive from them.3 This unmerited praise often results in lazy, demanding, disrespectful, undisciplined children and teenagers. Permissive parents require very little of their children, providing few or no consequences for disobedience or failure to perform.

President Joseph F. Smith taught the importance of holding children accountable for their inappropriate behavior: “God forbid that there should be any of us so unwisely indulgent, so thoughtless and so shallow in our affection for our children that we dare not check them in a wayward course, in wrong-doing and in their foolish love for the things of the world more than for the things of righteousness, for fear of offending them.”4


Doug was a bright but rebellious teenager. While his father, a wealthy businessman, conducted Church meetings on Sundays, Doug often drove recklessly through town, intoxicated. Doug wrecked two cars while under the influence of alcohol. After each collision, his father bought him a new car.

Doug’s father believed he was helping his son when he gave him what he wanted. Doug seemed to be testing whether there were any limits for his behavior. Finding none, he continued to pursue ways to violate the commandments and defy the rules of society. A few years later, Doug was convicted of a felony and was sentenced to prison. Sometime after his release, he committed suicide. While it was impossible to know exactly what contributed to this final self-destructive act, it was apparent to those who knew him that he had been protected as a child from the consequences of his misbehavior.

The Challenge of Rearing Children in Difficult Times

Some parents try to influence their children’s behavior through generosity and permissiveness. Doug’s father was such a man. He thought he could show his love best by giving Doug whatever he wanted. He was afraid that if he refused a request, Doug would get angry or would think he wasn’t loved. But the more Doug’s father gave, the more Doug seemed to expect and the less grateful he was for what he received.

Doug needed his parents to care for him in another way. To develop into a responsible adult, Doug needed limits, boundaries, and responsibilities. He needed his parents to refuse his inappropriate requests and to allow him to suffer the consequences of his bad decisions.

Many parents face difficult challenges with their sons and daughters. Church leaders and professionals are also deeply concerned about the paths many children take. Referring to the account of the Savior blessing the little children, recorded in 3 Nephi 17, Elder Jeffery R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve observed:

“We cannot know exactly what the Savior was feeling in such a poignant moment, but we do know that He was ‘troubled’ and that He ‘groaned within himself’ over the destructive influences always swirling around the innocent. We know He felt a great need to pray for and bless the children.

“… Some days it seems that a sea of temptation and transgression inundates them. … And often at least some of the forces at work seem beyond our personal control.”5

Many children are regularly confronted with drugs, alcohol, pornography, and sexuality. Temptations are great. Those who lack parental direction, spiritual values, and consequences for misbehavior often give in.

Responsible parents provide guidance, rules, and discipline within the context of love and caring. In the homes of such parents, rules make sense, and consequences are logically connected to behavioral infractions. Children in this environment learn from mistakes and feel that consequences are fair, though they do not always readily endorse them.

Applying Consequences

The following principles will help parents know how to use consequences appropriately with their children.

Recognize and Acknowledge Appropriate Behavior

Children tend to repeat behaviors that draw their parents’ attention. According to Latter-day Saint parent educator Glenn Latham, “Parents typically ignore 95–97 percent of all the appropriate and good things their children do. But if a child misbehaves, parents are 5–6 times more likely to pay attention to that behavior.”6 When parents only respond to the negative things children do, no one should be surprised when the children misbehave.

Parents can reinforce desirable behavior by showing interest in what their children do and by interacting with them in a positive way—smiling, expressing gratitude, or giving a pat on the back. Praise should be genuine and directed at the child’s behavior and its value to the parents and others. For example: “I appreciate when you help clean the kitchen. I enjoy the time together, and the work gets done much more quickly.” Praise directed at children (“you’re such a good child”) may come across as insincere or manipulative.

Allow Children to Experience Appropriate Natural Consequences

Natural consequences automatically follow actions. For example, a child who fails to study for a test usually gets a lower grade. A teenager who gets a speeding ticket must pay a fine. Individuals learn quickly from natural consequences because the consequences occur in spite of protests or arguments against them. If parents protect their children from natural consequences, such as paying their traffic fines for them, they deprive the children of valuable lessons.

Natural consequences may harm children who are too young to understand them. For example, a toddler must be protected from touching a hot stove or walking alone by a stream of water or playing in a busy street.

However, parents can allow a younger child to experience minor natural consequences, such as breaking a toy by defiantly banging it against the sidewalk or ruining a marker by refusing to put the lid on it. In such cases, children can learn best from consequences if they have been taught the rules and understand the natural consequences that will occur as a result of breaking the rules.

Apply Logical Consequences

Logical consequences are imposed by parents in a way that is logically connected to a child’s behavior. For example, a child who acts up during dinner may be asked to leave the table until he or she is willing to eat quietly. Logical consequences work best when they:

  • Make sense to the child.

  • Indicate respect for the child.

  • Require the child to pay a price.

Parents should impose them in a firm and friendly manner—not in anger—or the consequences will invite resentment. For example: (1) A child is often late for dinner, so the parents put the food away and tell the child the next meal will be served in the morning; (2) A teen who is arrested for shoplifting calls home and demands to be picked up immediately, but his parents allow him to spend the night in detention.

In each example, the consequence makes sense to the child (it is connected to the misbehavior) and requires the child to pay a price (missing a meal for being late for dinner; spending time in detention for committing a crime). Although neither child may like the consequence, the consequence is respectful if it is firmly applied by loving parents who are not vindictive and judgmental. Each consequence represents what one should expect for committing the infraction.

Parents can also use consequences that may seem less logical, such as taking away the privilege of watching television when their children have not done their work. The connection has to do with work and privileges. Watching television is a privilege that is earned by being responsible. A child who is irresponsible can lose a privilege.

When implementing consequences, parents should focus on being in control of their own behavior rather than on controlling their child. Parents should tell the child what the parents are going to do, not what the child will do, which is beyond their control. For example, they might say to a rebellious teenager: “Use of the family car is a privilege that we give to family members who get their jobs done. If you choose not to do your chores, the family car will not be available to you.”

In all cases, consequences should be imposed in an atmosphere of love and kindness. Consider the statement from Doctrine and Covenants 121:41–42: “No power or influence can or ought to be maintained … , only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; by kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile.”


Chad was a fun-loving, headstrong, impulsive child. During the first years of his life, his parents suspected that he would challenge them as he grew older. They lovingly taught him the gospel and respect for family and societal rules. Nevertheless, Chad had difficulty adhering to those standards. At age nine, he stole several pens and a deck of playing cards from a downtown store several miles from their country home. Chad’s mother discovered the items and asked him to explain. Chad admitted that he had stolen them.

Chad’s father took him and the stolen merchandise back to the store. He instructed Chad to tell the store manager what he had done, return the merchandise, apologize for his actions, and accept whatever consequences the manager would require. Feeling guilty and contrite, Chad did as he was told. The manager listened intently and thanked him for admitting his violation and for returning the merchandise. He said he hoped that Chad had learned a valuable lesson but took no further action. For the next two weeks, Chad’s parents left him at home whenever they went to town. They asked him to think about what he had done and assured him they would take him to town again, allowing him further opportunity to show that he could obey the law.

Many other infractions came later, such as fighting with siblings, experimenting with tobacco and alcohol, violating curfew, and skipping school. In each instance, Chad’s parents imposed logical consequences to help him learn from his misconduct. As he approached age 18, behavioral problems came to a stop. Chad served a mission, graduated from college, married in the temple, and became a responsible father. On several occasions, he thanked his parents for the discipline they provided, discipline that helped him become a responsible, law-abiding adult.

Give the Child Responsibility

When confronting problem behavior and before imposing a consequence, parents are often wise to discuss the problem with the child, asking the child how he or she is going to correct the problem. The question is important because it allows the child to take responsibility for solving the problem. Children are more likely to improve their behavior when they help identify the course of action they should take. If a child refuses to engage in this kind of conversation, the parents should proceed with the consequence.

Let the Consequences do the Teaching

When parents apply consequences, children sometimes react with anger and want to argue. The best learning occurs when parents say little but follow through with the consequences. If the connection between the infraction and the consequence is clear, the child will feel responsible and learn from the experience. However, if the parents impose a consequence and then argue about it with the child, the child will focus on winning the argument and will lose sight of the reason for the consequence. Likewise, yelling and moralizing usually won’t work; they will only provoke resentment in the child. Parents should let the consequences do the teaching.

The teaching power of consequences is illustrated in the following example of a four-year-old child and his parents.


It’s time to get the room picked up. We have some friends coming over in a few minutes.


I don’t want to. I want to watch cartoons.


(Calmly.) You can pick up the toys now, or I will pick them up. If I pick them up, you won’t see them again unless you do some extra work to earn them back. Which do you choose?


You pick them up.

The father calmly picks up the toys and puts them in a bag, and he places the bag in storage. The following day:


Where are my toys?


I put them away.


I want to play with them.


You remember yesterday when we asked you to pick them up and you didn’t want to? Well, they’re gone just like I said.


Well, I want them back. I want to play with them.


(Respectfully.) I’m sure you do. They are your favorite toys.


I want them back. Give them to me.


(With empathy.) We can see you feel really bad. (Pauses, as if considering what to do.) Maybe we can think of some jobs you can do to earn them back. Would you like that?


(Yells in anger.) I don’t want to earn them back. Give them to me right now.


I’ll tell you what, when you can talk calmly, without yelling or getting angry, we’ll see if we can find a way for you to earn them back. But right now we have some other things we need to do.

The parents walk off. An hour later the son approaches his father and arranges to do some extra chores to earn back his toys. In the days that follow, he willingly complies when asked to pick up after himself.

This example illustrates many benefits of imposing logical consequences:

  • The child learns that his parents mean what they say.

  • The child experiences the consequences of irresponsible behavior.

  • The consequences teach the message that the child has to be responsible if he wants to enjoy privileges such as playing with toys.

  • By remaining calm, the parents teach that problems are worked out peacefully and cooperatively instead of through manipulative displays of temper.

  • The parents’ calmness keeps the focus on the inappropriateness of the child’s behavior. A scolding or an argument would have drawn attention to the parents.

  • By refusing to argue, the parents bring closure to the issue and prevent further argument and escalation of temper.

The next case example illustrates how verbal chastisement could have hindered a young woman from learning valuable lessons. When the parents were able to show love and support instead of rejection, their daughter was able to focus on the natural consequences of her behavior.


Marla, age 17, was eight weeks pregnant. She concluded that she could no longer put off telling her parents of her pregnancy. An abortion was out of the question, as was marriage to Lyle, the father of her child. Marla knew her parents would be outraged. She pictured their never-ending disappointment, scolding, harsh treatment, shunning, and a thousand “I told you so’s.” Dinner had just ended. Marla was frightened and nauseated, on the verge of throwing up. Still, she mustered up the courage and announced, “Mom and Dad, there’s something I’ve got to tell you. I’m pregnant.”

As expected, her parents reacted with shock, anger, and disappointment. How could she do such a thing? Had their teachings been in vain? Had she no morals or principles? Why hadn’t she listened to them when they had warned that she was spending too much time with Lyle?

Then the unexpected began to occur. Words of anger and hurt gave way to expressions of love and compassion. Tears welled up in her mother’s eyes. She embraced Marla in her arms. “You must feel terrible,” she said. “I’m so sorry this has happened. I’m sorry we reacted so strongly. How can we help?” Father placed his arms around both of them, adding: “Marla, we love you very much. We’ll do anything we can to help you through this.” Marla broke into tears, almost overwhelmed by feelings of love and support.

Soon afterward a new insight came to Marla. She had worried for weeks about her parents and how they would react. She had pictured continual arguments, condemnation, rejection, even the possibility of running away. But now those concerns were gone. Something even more frightening began to dawn on her. What had she done to herself? What was she going to do? What about the child growing inside her? What had happened to the peace and happiness she had once found as an active member of the Church? As she thought back on it, worrying about her parents had been easier; she could blame them for the mean, cold, insensitive, vindictive hearts she believed they had. Now she knew she had been wrong. She had only her own problems to think about. And reality was hard to face. At least she knew she didn’t have to face it alone.

Use Time-Out

Time-out is a consequence that is most effective with children ages three to eight. It involves moving a child from a disruptive situation to another room or area where the child does not receive attention.

Time-out is especially helpful for children who are easily distracted. It does not help destructive children who are in a power struggle with their parents. These children may be too upset to sit in a chair or stay in a room. If forced to comply, they may damage or destroy property or household furnishings.

Time-out teaches the child a controlled, nonviolent way of handling problems. When parents take a child to time-out, they should remain calm and kind, remembering that “a soft answer turneth away wrath” (Proverbs 15:1). The time spent away from the family should be the only consequence.

This approach should not be used by angry parents who would drag their children to the designated room as punishment. When parents resort to tantrumlike behavior and say things that hurt the child, they unwittingly teach and reinforce inappropriate behavior. Paul urged Church members, “Provoke not your children to anger” (Colossians 3:21).

Give parents these instructions to help them effectively use time-out. Parents should:

  1. Tell the child in advance about the behavior expected of them and the behavior that is not allowed. Tell them about the time-out consequence and how it will be used.

  2. When misbehavior occurs, tell the child calmly and briefly why he or she is going to time-out. Select only the worst behavior rather than enumerating every infraction. (“You will stay in the room for three minutes of quiet time for hitting your brother.”)

  3. Ask the child to think about his or her behavior and how it can be corrected. Parents should also tell the child they will ask for his or her solution at the end of the time-out. (Parents should not place a child in time-out who is unable to reason.)

  4. Have the child remain in time-out for a minimal amount of quiet time, possibly a number of minutes that is equal to the age of the child (a five-year-old remains in time-out for five minutes); set the timer when the child becomes quiet.

  5. Approach the time-out area after the child has been quiet the designated number of minutes. Parents should not respond if the child engages in attention-seeking behavior, such as crying or hollering.

  6. Before allowing the child to leave time-out, ask for his or her solution to the problem. In some situations, it may be helpful to have the child show how he or she will behave differently so the problem does not recur. If the solution seems satisfactory, parents allow the child to rejoin the family. If the child is not ready to comply, parents can have him or her repeat the activities described in items 3, 4, and 5.

  7. Once compliance has been achieved, thank the child for doing what was asked. Later, parents should seek opportunity to give approval and positive feedback for appropriate behavior, showing forth an increase of love as indicated in Doctrine and Covenants 121:43.

Many parents prefer a time-out room with minimal potential for distraction or destruction (no television, toys, books, or other objects that would entertain the child or that the child could destroy). If no such room is available, parents can require their child to sit in a time-out chair in the same room or an adjoining room that is within their view. Some parents have found time-out to be successful when children are allowed to read, listen to music, take a walk, or be held by the parent. The individual needs of each child should dictate what is best.

Seek Agreement in Advance on Rules and Consequences

Generally, parents have a better relationship with their children when the children understand and consent to family rules and consequences. Family councils, family home evenings, and personal interviews are great times to involve children in discussing family rules, the rationale behind them, and the consequences for disobeying them. When a child agrees to a rule and then breaks it, the parents can remind him or her of the rule and the consequences. Parents can express genuine empathy that privileges have been lost. Then the child is less likely to view the consequences as punishment, as shown in the following example.


You remember our agreement about Saturday nights and what the consequence will be if you break the rules?


Yes. I’m supposed to be home by midnight, or I lose the privilege of going out the following Saturday night.


So what does that mean?


I won’t be going out next Saturday night.


That’s right. We know you were planning on going to a concert. We feel sad that you won’t be able to go. It sounded like a lot of fun.

Once the rules are discussed and agreed upon by parents and children, further discussions and negotiations at the time an infraction occurs are unnecessary and may encourage manipulative ploys by children to avoid responsibility for their behavior. While parents should usually impose the agreed-upon consequences, they should be guided by common sense and make adjustments as new and relevant information comes to light.

Use Good Judgment

Minor misbehavior does not warrant the use of consequences. Talking with the child may be sufficient. Obnoxious but harmless behaviors are best ignored. Children will give them up more readily when such behavior is disregarded. Attention may only reinforce negative behavior.

Disciplining with Love

President James E. Faust of the First Presidency taught the importance of love and of recognizing differences in children when disciplining them: “Child rearing is so individualistic. Every child is different and unique. What works with one may not work with another. I do not know who is wise enough to say what discipline is too harsh or what is too lenient except the parents of the children themselves, who love them most. It is a matter of prayerful discernment for the parents. Certainly the overarching and undergirding principle is that the discipline of children must be motivated more by love than by punishment.”7

The important responsibility that parents have in rearing their children cannot be overstated. In concluding this course, it may be helpful to share this statement from President Faust, who underscores the importance of teaching and of being good parents:

“While few human challenges are greater than that of being good parents, few opportunities offer greater potential for joy. Surely no more important work is to be done in this world than preparing our children to be God-fearing, happy, honorable, and productive. Parents will find no more fulfilling happiness than to have their children honor them and their teachings. It is the glory of parenthood. John testified, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth” (3 John 1:4). In my opinion, the teaching, rearing, and training of children requires more intelligence, intuitive understanding, humility, strength, wisdom, spirituality, perseverance, and hard work than any other challenge we might have in life. This is especially so when moral foundations of honor and decency are eroding around us. To have successful homes, values must be taught, and there must be rules, there must be standards, and there must be absolutes. Many societies give parents very little support in teaching and honoring moral values. A number of cultures are becoming essentially valueless, and many of the younger people in those societies are becoming moral cynics.

“As societies as a whole have decayed and lost their moral identity and so many homes are broken, the best hope is to turn greater attention and effort to the teaching of the next generation—our children. In order to do this, we must first reinforce the primary teachers of children. Chief among these are the parents and other family members, and the best environment should be in the home. Somehow, some way, we must try harder to make our homes stronger so that they will stand as sanctuaries against the unwholesome, pervasive moral dry rot around us. Harmony, happiness, peace, and love in the home can help give children the required inner strength to cope with life’s challenges.”8


  1. In Conference Report, Oct. 2004, 103–4; or Ensign, Nov. 2004, 98.

  2. Greater Expectations: Overcoming the Culture of Indulgence in Our Homes and Schools (New York: Free Press Paperbacks, 1995), 19–20.

  3. Greater Expectations, 22–24.

  4. Gospel Doctrine, 5th ed. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1939), 286.

  5. In Conference Report, Apr. 2003, 90; or Ensign, May 2003, 85.

  6. What’s a Parent To Do?: Solving Family Problems in a Christlike Way (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1997), 116.

  7. In Conference Report, Oct. 1990, 41; or Ensign, Nov. 1990, 34.

  8. In Conference Report, Oct. 1990, 40.