How to Use Restitution to Discipline Your Child

Restitution can help your child repair his friendships.
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Do you ever feel like time-out just isn't enough of a consequence when your child hits someone? If so, you're not alone. Restitution can be an effective way to teach your child to treat other people, and their property, with more respect.

Restitution has recently become a popular classroom discipline strategy. School departments often refer to it as “restorative justice.” It doesn’t need to be reserved for teachers, however.

Parents can use restitution to address a variety of child behavior problems in the home.

How Restitution Works

Restitution gives kids an opportunity to “pay back” for their misbehavior. They’re given a logical consequence that is directly linked to their behavior.

Instead of only being given a time-out for hitting, for example, restitution gives a child a chance to make amends with the victim. In addition to the time-out, a child may also have to loan his favorite toy to the victim for a specified period of time.

Restitution isn't about shaming or humiliating a child. Instead, the purpose is to give a child an opportunity to take responsibility for his behavior by addressing his mistakes.

Examples of Restitution

  • A 4-year-old boy colors on the walls. His restitution is that he needs to clean the walls.
  • A 6-year-old girl calls her mother a mean name. Her restitution includes saying two nice things about her mother and helping her mother do the dishes.
  • An 8-year-old boy hits his brother. Their mother problem-solves with both children to find a way for the aggressor to make amends. They agree that he will do his brother’s chores for the day.
  • A 10-year-old borrows her sister’s shirt without asking. Her restitution includes loaning some of her clothing to her sister.
  • A 12-year-old misses the school bus and his father has to drive him to school. For restitution, she has to do extra chores to earn the money to pay her father for the time and gas that he used to drive her to school.
  • An angry teenager kicks a hole in the wall. His restitution is that he must do chores to earn enough money to pay for the materials to patch the wall. A parent assists him in patching and repairing the hole. He’s not allowed to have his other privileges back until the hole is repaired.

Tips for Making Restitution Effective

Restitution can be a great way to start teaching your child how to behave in a responsible manner. Here are some strategies that will ensure your consequences are effective:

  • Restitution should be based on the idea that if you break it, you pay for it and if you make a mess, you clean it up.
  • Restitution needs to make sense. The negative consequence should be directly related to the misbehavior.
  • It can be helpful to get kids involved in determining what the restitution should be. Talk to both the offender and the victim to gather their opinions about what would be an appropriate response.
  • Restitution sometimes requires creative solutions. However, it should never involve shaming the child. Telling a child to stand outside holding a sign that says what he did wrong isn't restitution. Distinguish the difference between discipline and punishment and make sure your restitution strategies are effective teaching tools.
  • Be a good role model for your children when it comes to restitution. If you make a mistake, take responsibility for it. Show them how you make amends by pointing it out to them.
  • Remind your children that everyone makes mistakes. Praise them for behaviors that you want to see more of, such as honesty or changing their attitude.
  • Sometimes it makes sense to combine restitution with another consequence. For example, a child may still need to go to time-out to calm down before discussing his restitution. It also makes sense sometimes to take away privileges until the restitution is completed.

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