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Follow-Through: Why It’s the Most Important Part of Behavior Training

When I worked as a house parent at a group home for behavioral teens, there was a common phrase that floated around amongst the adults. This is how the conversation often went:

“I didn’t WANT to take away his pool time—”

“—but once you’ve said it—”

“—you have to follow through.”


We learned really quickly how important it was to say what you mean and mean what you say. If you’re careless with your words as a caretaker, threatening things that you don’t mean just to get the response you want, then you’ll end up having to follow through with consequences that you don’t even feel good about.

Your kids will learn that you’re unfair, which will cause resentment and further misbehavior.

Or, on the other hand, if you don’t follow through with what you’ve said, your kids will learn that disobeying doesn’t actually earn them any consequences. They’ll learn to disregard your threats and you’ll find yourself constantly saying, “Why doesn’t anyone ever listen to me unless I’m screaming like a crazy person?!”

It’s crucial to say what you mean and mean what you say.

Sometimes, there’s a reason cliché statements like that stick around for so long.

But how do you start following the principal without having everything blow up in your face?

Here’s the sucky news: It’s going to blow up in your face for a little while. That’s called an extinction burst.

An extinction burst is when new, more restrictive boundaries are placed on a child, and their behavior gets worse as a result.

Think about it. If you accepted a job where the promised pay rate was $12/hour, but your boss ended up paying $20/hour for the first year because he didn’t want to hurt your feelings, you’d be really frustrated when all of a sudden one day, he said, “Okay, enough is enough. You’re getting paid $12/hr now because that’s what I told you in the beginning.”

That would suck! You’d have grown to expect $20/hour, and you’d have rearranged your life accordingly.

That’s how kids feel when they get used to having no consequences for breaking their parents’ rules. Or for having lower consequences than what they were promised.

They’ve gotten a nice bonus for so long that when you pull it out from under them, they feel frustrated. They rearranged their plans according to the consequences you actually enforced, as opposed to the ones you promised.

Kids can only act according to how we raise them. If they’re rude to their friends, it’s because they’re allowed to be (by whoever is in charge). If they ignore adults who ask them to do things, it’s because they’ve been allowed to (by whoever is in charge).

And so on and so forth. They are products of our raising.

Prepare for that crappy extinction burst, but know that it isn’t the end result. Things will get better once your kids get used to the new standards, and it will be SO WORTH IT once they do.

You’ll be able to ask your kids to do something (or to STOP doing something), and they’ll actually obey. Without arguing!

Can you imagine? What a dream! Haha.

Obviously, this is an overly simplified version of how parenting looks, but sometimes I think we complicate it too much. Just be intentional with how you want to raise your kids, and then follow through with it.

Say what you mean and mean what you say!

So start today. Change the standards and start changing your life and lowering your stress levels. Then come back and tell me how it went.

Happy parenting, friends!

Follow-Through: Why It’s the Most Important Part of Behavior Training

W. R. Cummings

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APA Reference
Cummings, W. (2018). Follow-Through: Why It’s the Most Important Part of Behavior Training. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 24, 2019, from


Last updated: 21 Jul 2018
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