Taking Away Privileges to Discipline Children

An effective way to manage behavioral problems

Taking away a privilege can be one of the most effective teaching tools.
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Taking away privileges can be one of the most effective discipline strategies. Make sure your child knows that privileges need to be earned, and they're not a given right. 

Then, when your child's behavior doesn't warrant an extra privilege, don't give it to him. And remember, privileges don't have to involve expensive items or serious extras. Instead, privileges can include anything from time to watch TV or an opportunity to spend time with friends.


Choose a Privilege to Be Removed

When your child breaks the rules, choose one privilege to remove. If you take away a privilege that your child doesn't 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.

The privilege you decide to remove should be specific to your child. While, one child may be affected by the loss of his toys, another child may not care as long as he gets to watch TV. Think carefully about which privilege means the most to your child. 

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, take away his ability to visit with friends.

If you're working on a specific behavior problem, explain the consequence for breaking the rule ahead of time. Say, “If you don’t follow directions in the store today, you won’t be able to ride your bike tonight.”

Set a Time Limit

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.

For example, say, “When you clean your room and keep it clean for three days you can have your cellphone back.”

Avoid giving vague time limits like, "when I can trust you again," or "when you start behaving." Make sure that you and your child have a clear understanding of what steps he needs to take to earn his privilege back. 

Stick to Your Limits

Make sure you don’t give in if your child begs, whines, or complains. Otherwise, you’ll reinforce those  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. 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. If you tell your child he can't ever go outside again because you're angry, do some damage control when you're calm. Apologize and explain the new, more logical time limit. 

Mistakes to Avoid

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.

Also, make sure your child doesn't have other ways to access the privilege you remove. For example, taking away TV is only effective if he doesn't have another way to watch his favorite shows. If he's able to watch TV on his laptop, or he can access his video games on his computer, it's best to remove all electronics, not just one. 

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 .

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