What to Do When Your Child Doesn't Care About Consequences

Make sure your consequences are effective in changing your child's behavior.
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It’s frustrating when your child seems as though he could care less about going to time-out or losing his electronics for the day. And what's even worse is when he laughs when you tell him he's being punished.

But just because your child acts like he doesn't mind the consequences, doesn't necessarily mean your discipline isn't effective. If your child doesn't mind that he's in trouble, here are four questions you should be asking yourself.

1. Does He Really Not Care?

A child might say, “I don’t care,” when a parent takes away his cellphone because he doesn’t want his parents to know that it upsets him. In reality, however, losing his phone privileges may actually bother him a great deal.

Just because your child says he doesn’t care, doesn’t mean it’s true. He might be very much bothered by the consequence you’ve chosen and you should keep using despite his comments that he doesn’t care.

Pay less attention to his comments and pay close attention to his behavior. If he continues to violate the same rules, you may need to find a new consequence.

But, you might find that your consequences deter him from making the same mistake again, even though he claims your punishments don't affect him.

2. Are You Using the Right Type of Consequences?

Consider the type of consequences that you’re using to address misbehavior. While taking away cellphone privileges may be an effective consequence for a cellphone violation, it may not work well for a sibling rivalry issue.

Just like there are many different types of discipline, there are also several different kinds of consequences. While time-out may work best with one child, positive reinforcement might be the best way to prevent behavior problems with another child. Tailor your discipline to your child's needs.

3. Is the Time Frame Appropriate?

The most effective consequences are given immediately following the behavior problem.

So if it’s two weeks before you realize your 5-year-old colored on the walls in the spare bedroom, giving him a consequence isn’t likely to be as effective as if you’d given it to him right away.

The amount of time that you give the consequence is another factor to consider. If you place a 12-year-old in time out for 2 minutes, he likely won't mind. In fact, at this age, he might think going to his room is a privilege.

Taking away his electronics for six months isn't a good idea either. Consequences that drag on too long cause kids to lose motivation to behave. 

Children who receive consequences that are too harsh don't care about about earning back their privileges. But consequences that are too light won't teach your child a life lesson. Create consequences that are time sensitive and specific to your child's maturity level.

4. What Consequences May Work Better?

It's a good idea to have several consequences in mind when you're handing them out. And sometimes, it takes a bit of trial and error.

If your child's behavior doesn't change when you take away his electronics, you might find you're better off assigning him extra chores. So think carefully about what impacts your child the most.

 

Just remember, that sometimes, behavior problems get worse before they get better. If you start ignoring temper tantrums, for example, your child may scream louder. But that doesn't mean it's not working. In fact, that means you're efforts are quite effective.

Sources

Chen W, Tanaka E, Watanabe K, et al. The influence of home-rearing environment on childrens behavioral problems 3 years’ later. Psychiatry Research. 2016;244:185-193.​

Jakešová J, Slezáková S. Rewards and Punishments in the Education of Preschool Children. Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences. 2016;217:322-328.

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