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Taking Away Privileges to Discipline Children

An effective way to manage behavioral problems

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Boy sitting with elbows on table with upset look
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Taking away privileges can be a very effective discipline strategy. It works well for school age children and teenagers. It’s important to make the removal of privileges part of a behavior management plan.

Privileges should be those extra things that children earn. When their behaviors don’t warrant an extra privilege, take away the privilege. Then when their behaviors improve, allow them to gain the privilege back.

Choose Privileges to Be Removed

Choose carefully which privilege to remove from a child. If you take away a privilege that a child does not really care about, it won’t really be a negative consequence. So it is important to pick something that is really going to bother your child.

Therefore, the privileges you take away should be specific to your child. For example, don’t just take away television for all the children if only one of them really cares to watch television.

When it comes to electronics, consider taking away all electronics such as the television, computer, cell phone, and video games. This is important because if you take away a child’s cell phone, the child may then use his computer to chat or call his friends, making the loss of his cell phone irrelevant.

Sometimes the loss of privilege can be a logical consequence. For example, if a teenager is with his friends and he doesn’t come home on time, it makes sense to take away his ability to visit with friends.

Other privileges to take away may include loss of a favorite toy, not being able to stay up later, or not doing a fun activity. For children with specific behavior problems it can be helpful to explain the potential consequence ahead of time. For example, “If you don’t follow directions in the store today, you won’t be able to ride your bike tonight.”

One mistake parents sometimes make is removing too many privileges. Don’t take away everything from your child. This authoritarian style of parenting is likely to cause your child to focus on his hostility toward you instead of learning from his mistakes.

Set a Time Limit

Sometimes parents make the mistake of removing privileges for too long. For example, taking away a privilege “until I can trust you again” or “until I say you can have it back.” This can cause children to lose motivation and can make them feel frustrated by the lack of clarity and feels more like punishment instead of discipline .

When you take away a privilege, make it clear when the privilege can be earned back. Usually, 24 hours is enough time to remove a privilege in order for it to be an effective consequence.

There are times it makes sense to allow children to earn a privilege back based on their behavior. If this is the case, make sure to make it clear what the child needs to do in order to earn back the privilege. For example, tell the child, “When you clean your room and keep it clean for three days you can have your cell phone back.”

Stick to Your Limits

Make sure you don’t give in if your child begs, whines, or complains. Otherwise, you’ll be reinforcing these negative behaviors. Instead, stick with the consequence for the specified time period.

If you tell your child that he has lost the privilege of attending the school dance on Friday, don’t give in because he starts to behave better. It’s important to stick to your limits so your child knows you are serious and that you cannot be manipulated into changing your mind.

The one exception to this is if you take away a privilege out for a ridiculous amount of time out of anger. For example, “You will never be able to use your cell phone again!” If you say something like this out of anger, make sure to talk to your child when you are calm and discuss the new, more logical time limit. Explain that you were angry and did not really mean it but also provide the new time limit and make it clear that you will be sticking to it.

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