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We aren’t allergic to consequences. We’re just practical about their use. By definition a consequence is an event that occurs after the fact. So consequences – especially the natural variety – are inescapable (the child who lacks social skills has no friends; the child who exhibits oppositional episodes is sent to the principal’s office daily). Thus, the above question usually refers to formal consequences. For the record, we think formal consequences are wonderful, but only if they are effective. We are significantly less enthusiastic about consequences when they are ineffective. We think consequences are effective at two things: (1) teaching a child basic lessons about right from wrong – for example, don’t hit, don’t swear, don’t explode (of course, we would only teach these lessons if we were convinced that a child was unaware of them), and (2) giving a child the incentive to behave adaptively (assuming, of course, that the child is not motivated already). Since every child we’ve worked with was already familiar with the basic lessons and since we believe children are already motivated to behave adaptively (secondary gain is, we believe, greatly overrated as an explanation for why a child would choose to endure repeated punishment), we are unconvinced that formal consequences have an important role to play in the treatment of challenging kids. We don’t think it makes sense to use consequences just because consequences are the only tools in one’s toolbox. But most importantly, rewards, punishments or any other form of consequences don’t teach thinking skills.

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