Do self-imposed consequences provide a way for children to avoid taking responsibility?


What if a child chooses something as a consequence, that is in his/her own mind, nothing more than a way of getting out of trouble?  Although Dr. Marshall’s book has validated my beliefs on how to treat children, I do feel that in this one regard a self-imposed consequence could simply be a way out for a person in the wrong.

As well, if a child violates another person’s right, it seems fair that the person whose rights have been violated would have a say in whether they think the self-imposed consequence is a fair one.  Could you please advise me if my thinking about is correct or not.


Dr. Marshall’s approach to discipline is certainly not meant to be permissive. On the contrary, he intends that students should take responsibility for their inappropriate misbehavior.

Here is the piece you are missing. When an adult asks a child to choose a consequence, at the end of the conversation there must be agreement between the adult and the child that the consequence the child has chosen is suitable.  Although the child is asked to take responsibility for creating a procedure, solution or consequence, the teacher is in control of the situation.

The teacher keeps in mind that the consequence should be:

  1. related to the incident,
  2. reasonable, and;
  3. related to growth.


If the adult feels that the first suggestion from the child is not suitable (or simply not enough,) the teacher asks “And what else?” (possibly a number of times in succession), until the child has taken full responsibility to repair the situation and/or learn from it. This often includes consideration for others who have been affected by the child’s actions.

Using reflective questioning, the teacher could help the child––who has wronged another––to consider how his classmate might be suffering. Through asking and eliciting, some restorative suggestions would be added to the consequence. It might be as simple as the child suggesting that she would like to apologize. The important point is that the suggestion comes from the child, even though the adult might need to guide the process with questions and an insistence on “What else should be done?”

Look for an example of this on page 220 of Dr. Marshall’s book, Discipline without Stress, Punishments or Rewards.