How Choices that Have Consequences Teach Better Behavior

How Choices that Have Consequences Teach Better Behavior

Our actions have consequences, and understanding this can lead to better choices and better behavior. But how do we teach this to our kids?

Your little one who was running headlong into trouble is finally starting to get some idea of what they can do (safe) or can’t do (dangerous.) Whew! But, don’t relax for too long! Just when you take your eye off of them, they manage to get into some kind of trouble.

Preschool is the age when children are ready to learn that actions have consequences. They may not like the consequences, but they are realizing that they exist. They are also starting to show some skill at pushing your buttons. That means it is time to start teaching them that their actions have consequences, including on the feelings of others.


Choices with consequences, kids behavior, speech therapy


Choices and Consequences- 3 Tips for at Home


You can help with the development of language, thinking skills, and good choice making by offering choices with consequences. This involves making statements like these:

  • “If you…., then….”

  • “When you …., then…”

  • “If you want to….., then you need to…..”

  • “You did…., so he feels….”

  • “When you …., I feel…..because….”


Natural Consequences


Explain to your child what will happen next if inappropriate actions are occurring.  That is a natural consequence. 

For example, “You can dump all of the toys out and make a big mess. Then you will have to clean them all up before TV time. Or, you can just take out the toys you want to play with. Then you will be able to clean up faster.” 

Be sure to make the consequence you stated happen!


Make Consequences Actionable


Apply a consequence that lets your child know:

  • what your rules are.

  • why it is important.

  • what he can expect to happen.

In very simple terms, of course.


For example, “Screaming in the store is not polite. If you can’t calm yourself down,  we will have to go home and take a nap to calm down.”

Be sure to have consequences that match the severity level of the behavior and that you can act upon consistently. Be careful of words like ‘never’!

While we might feel like leaving our misbehaving child in the store, we won’t actually do it. And our child knows it. So, don’t threaten it! That will only make our child less likely to believe that consequences will happen.

empathy, perspective taking, feelings


Teach the Consequences for Feelings

Children come into this world feeling that everything is about them. We have to help them learn to respect that other people have needs and feelings too. We can help them turn the “me” into “we.”

Help your child see that actions have an impact on other’s peoples’ feelings. Since that doesn’t have a large impact on children’s actions at first, be sure to have another consequence, as well. “When you say mean things, it hurts your friends’ feelings and makes me sad. You have to use nice words or I will have to stop setting up play-dates for you.”


Choices and Consequences- 3 Tips for SLPs


Choice Time

Making time during the session for the preschooler to be able to have a preferred choice is the easiest way to start teaching that actions have consequences. While we try to make all of our activities engaging, some are more preferred than others and some are harder work!

To help our students grow, we are always pushing to get the most we can from them. Sustaining that attention and effort can be tiring, so give them a little free-choice time.  This helps them learn that there are good consequences for making  good choices and responding to our demands (even if they are couched in play.)

Teach Cause- Effect Skills with Toys and Books

Little ones have to be able to think ahead to the effects, or consequences, of actions in order to make good choices. 

cause effect toys, consequences, speech therapy


The easiest way to start teaching this is though toys. They are fun and children can see that their actions have consequences. By acting on the toy, the child can make something else happen. Actions are powerful.

There are so many great preschool toys for teaching cause-effect. The picture above has just a few fun examples. 

Students who have learned the language associated with cause and effect toys are probably into building and imaginary play. You can continue to expand their language skills through modeling in play, but it is a good idea to start incorporating some great cause-effect picture books!

cause-effect books, reading to children, speech therapy

The picture shows a few of my favorite books. Laura Numeroff’s books are just general fun, showing ‘what happens when,’ as are Margery Cuyler’s “That’s Bad, That’s Good!” series. 

David Shannon’s series of David books shows the consequences of little David’s poor choices, with such great pictures! Kids just love seeing other kids get into trouble! 

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst is a classic book that lets you introduce perspective-taking skills. Does your child or student think the same way as Alexander?


Actions and Feelings- Social Language


It is so very important that we provide our students with the language for emotions, both verbally and non-verbally.  This helps them think about how others feel. We can model sharing during play with toys, point out how other children feel when we don’t share,  and choose books that let us talk about this.

SO many of the choices a student makes all day long after entering school have emotional impacts on others! Students who don’t think about the consequences their actions have on themselves and others can have trouble at school. They may not make good decisions and they may have problems keeping friends,

When instructional time is spent dealing with behaviors, the student isn’t learning. Having good language skills does not guarantee good behaviors and choices, but it does provide a way to intervene!

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I’m Linda, an SLP who loves helping you build effective communication skills for your students using strategies and visuals. Pictures are time consuming, so let me make your life easier!

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