How to Choose Appropriate Consequences for Kids

Choosing appropriate consequences is an important part of shaping your kids’ behavior. But choosing consequences that are just right for each situation—without being too lax or too severe—is difficult, especially when you're parenting on your own. If you worry that the discipline strategies you're using right now aren't working, then it's time to rethink the consequences you've been trying.

illustration with "Natural vs. Logical Consequences in Child Discipline"
Illustration by Brianna Gilmartin, Verywell

Types of Consequences

Appropriate consequences teach children that they’re in control of their own behavior—even when we’re not there to nag them. They’re also tailored to match each child’s developmental stage, so we’re never expecting more than kids are capable of.

These kinds of effective consequences can be divided into two categories: natural and logical consequences.

  • Natural consequences are things that happen on their own as a result of the child’s behavior. For example, losing your cell phone means that you no longer have a cell phone to use. Forgetting your homework means getting a zero.
  • Logical consequences are steps that we take, as parents, to help our children see that choosing poor behaviors comes with some unpleasant side effects. These aren’t punishments because they’re not punitive. Logical consequences aren't physically or emotionally damaging. An example would be having your children go to bed early the evening after they refused to go to bed on time. The consequence is related to the behavior, and it makes sense for the situation. It’s also unpleasant enough that they won’t want to suffer the same consequence again and again, so it serves as a motivator to changing their own behavior.

In both cases, you want your children to see that they really choose their consequences themselves the moment they choose their behavior. You can do this in two ways:

  1. Communicating with your kids upfront about consequences. What you’re going to do when your kids misbehave should never be a mystery. They should have a pretty good idea of what’s coming, based on clearly defined family rules. This way, they can see how avoiding the negative behavior is beneficial to them, because they know upfront what it will cost them.
  2. Remaining calm when your kids misbehave. When we get angry at our kids for their behavior, we make the issue about us instead of about them. Doing everything we can to stay calm actually shocks them, which demonstrates the seriousness of the issue. And it also eliminates the power struggle that distracts our kids from focusing on what really initiated the consequence—their own behavior!

Age-Appropriate Consequences

Effective consequences changes as kids grow and learn. Consider these examples of consequences that are appropriate at different times in your child's life.


Infants don't need to be punished, ever. However, there will be times when you will want to change your baby's behavior. For example, let's say they're grabbing a toy out of your older child's hands or throwing their spoon on the ground in an effort to make you pick it back up—for the one-hundredth time! Here are some steps you can take:

  1. Change your tone of voice. Your baby is very sensitive to the tone of voice you use. To change their behavior with your voice, speak in a different, deeper, tone. A simple "no" will usually suffice in combination with redirection.
  2. Redirect your baby to a different activity. This means helping your baby focus on something else. For example, when they are trying to grab a toy of your older child's hand, give them something else to play with.


In addition to the consequences listed above (for infants), you can add a time-out to your repertoire when your child becomes a toddler. This means putting your child in a separate location, such as a special chair or step, for a few minutes.

Time-out doesn’t have to last long to be effective, either. The trick is to stop engaging with your child while they're in time-out. You have to ignore them in order for it to work! Aim for the number of minutes equal to your child's age. So a three-year-old would be in time out for no longer than three minutes.


For preschoolers, you'll want to use the same tactics you used when your kids were toddlers, while adding a twist on the traditional time-out: Try putting toys or privileges in time out.

This will work best if the toy is in time-out for a limited amount of time, or in the case of losing privileges, the loss is short-lived. Preschoolers aren't old enough yet to be motivated by something that’s days away.

School-Age Children

In addition to the tactics you used for preschoolers, for school-age children you'll want to choose more impactful privileges to take away. For example, leaving a playdate early or losing TV time or computer time.


In addition to all of the consequences you've been using up to this point, you'll want to hone in on consequences that will really matter to your tween. This might mean the loss of cell phone or video game privileges, or time with friends.


As with tweens, you'll want to tailor the privileges you choose to take away to the situation and to what makes the most difference to your teen. Some examples include temporarily removing social media or driving privileges, moving your teen's curfew up, and limiting the freedoms they’ve earned up to this point.

You only need to choose one consequence at a time for it to be effective. In situations where your teen doesn’t seem to be getting the point, it may be helpful to write a contract that lists the types of consequences they can expect for various infractions.

Positive Reinforcement

Establishing a set of appropriate consequences won’t do the trick unless you also let your kids know what they’re doing right. So make sure that you’re intentional about using positive reinforcement to celebrate the behaviors you want your kids to repeat day after day.

Believe that they really do want your approval, even if they never show it, and look high and low for things you can genuinely praise and acknowledge.

5 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Academy of Pediatrics. What's the best way to discipline my child?.

  2. The Center for Parenting Education. Consequences made easy - an effective discipline tool.

  3. University of Minnesota. Using natural and logical consequences.

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Why are discipline and consequences important?.

  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Steps for using time-out.

By Jennifer Wolf
Jennifer Wolf is a PCI Certified Parent Coach and a strong advocate for single moms and dads.