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Question

Our 6 and 4-year-old girls have behavioral problems and suffer from consequences on a regular basis. We wonder how to deal with the situation when one girl is punished for bad behavior and another is not. For example, if we planned to eat some ice cream after dinner and one of the girls loses this privilege, shall we send her to her room while we eat ice cream so that she does not see? Is it appropriate not to give one girl something sweet, while her sister and parents eat it? Is it appropriate to eat something sweet in front of the girl if we cannot send her to her room at the moment?

Answer

Thank you for reaching out. Keep in mind that to discipline is to teach proper behavior. Consequences are put in place to hold individuals (in this case, your daughter) accountable for not following rules and demonstrating expected behavior. Using the example you cited, if the family rule is that the children are to eat the food presented to them in order to have dessert, and one child does not abide by the rule, then no dessert should be given to that child. The consequence directly relates to the family rule regarding meals.

At the ages of 4 and 6, children are certainly capable of understanding mealtime rules. As such, there is no harm in having the daughter who lost the privilege of eating dessert remain at the table. To allow her to be excused to her room while everyone else enjoys dessert relieves her of seeing what she is missing (which, hopefully, will make her think twice in the future) and may also result in an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ reaction.

Not knowing your daughter’s exact offense, if missing dessert is a consequence for something other than mealtime expectations, I would suggest reflecting on whether that particular consequence is one that will result in achieving the end goal. For further guidance in this area, I highly recommend reading chapters 2 and 3 in John's book, The Well-Behaved Child.

Sincerely,
Sharon Lamberth
Certified Leadership Parenting Coach
sklamberth17@gmail.com

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