Getting a child to act responsibly can often be a challenge. Educating them in the consequences of their actions is usually left to learning by experience. They make a choice and the outcome determines the consequence: praise or punishment.
Being able to help your child recognise not only the consequences of their actions, but just as importantly the triggers can be a valuable tool in your child’s self-education.
I’ve used this game successfully with both groups and individuals, and have gently tweaked it so it can used just as well at home.
The Chain of Consequence (and Triggers)
There is no right or wrong. It’s more about exploring and discussing their understanding and not using it as a correction tool. Principally because raising this into their awareness can often be enough for them to notice their behaviour and make the appropriate changes. Therefore a fictional example can be just as effective rather than an autopsy on some recent episode.
Helping your child consider alternative choices at particular points is really the aim here. Then with those alternative choices, even if they are coming up with only one alternative take that and see where it leads.
You might like to take a look at Children Talk: How to Help your Child Communicate Better to see a variation on seeing things from a different perspective.
Making the Connection
An important element of this is that the child can see the connection, the links, creating a chain reaction. For this I’ve used simple paper chain cutouts of a body shape so that when you open them out you have a row of connected bodies. This may be too much, so get hold of some paper chains that can link together. Failing that just strips of paper and some clear tape will do the job just fine.
Decide on a scenario, real or fictional, and describe the main or pivot point. Write the key points on a cutout or paper chain. Taking a fictional example, you can talk what feelings they might have and write those down. Then talk about what would happen next. Write that down. Continue this exploring all the ripple effects of the event. How it might affect other people, family, friends or schools. If you feel you’ve exhausted that option, then go back and see if there was an alternative way of handling it. Repeat the process of exploring the ripple effects.
Again, this is about simply talking through and appreciating the consequences of their actions that, whilst perhaps feeling justified at the time, have a negative impact on them and others. The questions you can ask are: ‘What would happen if you did…?’ Or, ‘What would happen after that?’.
If you’re worried and feel your child lacks empathy, I’d recommend you read Help Your Child Resolve Social Problems and Conflicts which brings together a lot the ideas I’ve written about here.
Back in Time
Depending on how necessary you feel this is, you can also take the exercise and go back in time. Start again from the main event and looking back ask what happened before that moment. As before make a note on the paper chain. Continue in this manner until the child feels that they are at the farthest point, and this is usually when they don’t feel an strong emotion any more. For example, woke happy, went out to the shops.
It is useful to look for the triggers that culminated in the event. Often the path is laid before the main conflict point happens. Becoming aware of what triggers went off will be helpful for the child, and you, so you talk about what to do in those moments. Often they can have simple solutions. Talking about them when emotions aren’t heightened acts as useful role play giving your child some choices when confronted with a similar situation.
Developing calming techniques is also critical to managing emotions. Click Help Children Cope with Strong Emotions for suggestions.
As I mentioned above, discussing these scenarios in a neutral place is a great way to freely talk through options and alternatives. One way to see it is that by exploring alternatives and ideas you’re pre-loading them with a more useful set of responses. In addition, as you play out these better choices to their conclusion your child will see the benefit of these different behaviours.
Sometimes all we need are better choices available to make better decisions. By talking through and acting out these improved consequences your child will be in a place to make a better choice.
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