Consequences for Children's Bad Behavior

sad girl at table with timer

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School-age kids love getting rewards, and they hate losing. That's why something as simple as stickers can be such powerful tools in steering kids away from behavior problems and toward making better choices in the future. Likewise, knowing that there are consequences for bad behavior — things that they do not want, like losing TV or video game time — can be a powerful child discipline tool. 

Preparing to Make a List of Consequences

These are some things to keep in mind as you create your consequences list.

Go with the Flow

What works at one time might not work down the line (kids often change their minds about an activity or toy, loving something they used to hate and vice versa). And there is no one definitive consequences list that works for all kids — each child is very different with different interests and preferences.

Bottom line: You know your child best — think about what may motivate him as you make your list of consequences or rewards.

Balance Consequences with Incentives

Just as there should be consequences for bad behavior, there should also be a list of rewards for good or improved behavior. An important part of discipline is teaching kids how to regulate themselves, and motivators can help kids want to reach those goals.

For example, you won't always be there to remind them not to fight with their brother instead of trying to work out a conflict with them calmly; the key is that he remembers to control his temper and express himself with words in a respectful way. So if they learn how to change their behavior and, say, fight less with their brother, you can work from a list of rewards, such as additional video game time or extra time for play dates with friends.

Don't Just Rely on Consequences

The best way is to think about child discipline is to imagine yourself using as using many different methods at once to achieve the ultimate goal: Teaching your child to make better choices and behave differently. So in addition to consequences, remember that you will use other tools such as time-outs, talking to your child firmly but calmly, and setting good examples for your child to follow.

Don't Make Consequences Too Long

Just like time-outs shouldn't be too long for school-age kids, the period during which a consequence takes effect shouldn't be more than two or three days, depending on the seriousness of the offense.

Furthermore, don't double up on consequences. Taking away all screen time and all playtime with friends is probably overkill and won't teach your child any faster. Unless your child does something that is very serious, deliberately, and continuously hurting a sibling or being repeatedly disrespectful to you, give them one consequence at a time.

Wipe the Slate Clean and Start Over

Once your child does the time for his crime, reset everything so that they can start fresh. Let them know that they should remember what happened and why, and that you won't hesitate to give them another consequence if they misbehave again. But reassure them that you are confident that they'll remember what better choices to make the next time, and let them know that you consider that past deed over and done.

What to Put on a Consequences List

Here are some examples of what to include on a consequences list.

No Playdates with Friends

School-age kids are developing more social skills, and are increasingly spending more time being with peers and making friends. They love playdates and hate the idea of anything cutting down the amount of time they have to spend with friends hanging out, playing video games, or just running around outside.

No Screen Time

Reducing screen time is something we should all be doing (parents and kids alike). From phubbing (staring at phone screens instead of fully being with the people we love) to binge-watching TV to compulsively checking email or social media posts, both adults and kids need to cut down the amount of time we spend staring at devices.

But screen time is part of our lives, and most kids can balance TV, video games, and phone time with non-screen time with parents' help. But being cut off completely? That would be a serious consequence that no school-age kid would want, and a powerful and effective item indeed on a consequences list for kids.

Extra Chores

Doing chores should be part of every child's routine. Chores teach kids responsibility and give them a sense of accomplishment, among other benefits. But having to do extra chores as a consequence of bad behavior? No child wants that, thus making this consequence a useful tool.

Loss of Privilege

What that privilege is will depend on your family. Your child may lose his turn to choose what your family will have for dinner, or what board game you will play on family game night. Or she may lose their turn to choose what movie you will watch together on family movie night. Whatever the privilege is, school-age kids hate losing their turn.

No Access to a Favorite Toy or Activity

Your child may love Legos or Minecraft or making Rainbow Loom bracelets. The threat of having the thing he or she loves most right now in time-out can be a powerful motivator to steer your child toward good behavior.

2 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. Sege RD, Siegel BS; Council on Child Abuse and Neglect; Committee on Psychosocial Aspects of Child and Family Health. Effective discipline to raise healthy childrenPediatrics. 2018;142(6):e20183112. doi:10.1542/peds.2018-3112

  2. Moreno MA, Furtner F, Rivara FP. Reducing screen time for childrenArch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2011;165(11):1056. doi:10.1001/archpediatrics.2011.192

By Katherine Lee
Katherine Lee is a parenting writer and a former editor at Parenting and Working Mother magazines.