Choices and Consequences- Language for Cause-Effect

Choices at Home and in Speech/Language Therapy


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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 and are 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 and Consequences- 3 Tips for at Home
You can help 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 the 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 you think that and 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’!

Teach the Consequences for Feelings
Help your child see that actions have impact on other’s peoples’ feelings. Since that doesn’t have a large impact on children’s actions in the beginning, 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 having a little free choice time as a consequence for making good choices and responding to our demands (even if they are couched in play.)

Teach Cause- Effect Skills with Toys and Books

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Little ones have to be able to think ahead to the effects, or consequences, of actions in order to make good choices. The easiest way to start teaching this is though toys. They are fun and children can see that their actions have consequences. There are so many great preschool toys for teaching cause-effect. The picture to the left 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!

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The picture shows are a few of my favorites. 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 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, for thinking about how others feel, whether we are modeling sharing during our play with toys or choosing books with appropriate themes for discussion.  SO many of the choices a student makes all day long after entering school have emotional impacts on others! Students who are not able to think about the consequences their actions have on themselves and others lack the basis for making good decisions. When instructional time is spent dealing with behaviors, the student isn’t learning. Having the language skills does not guarantee good behaviors and choices, but it does provide a way to intervene!
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