7 Ways to Give Your Kids Consequences That Really Work

It's easy to become discouraged when your kids don't seem to listen when you warn of impending disciplinary measures when they disobey. After all, no one likes it when their directions aren't followed, their warnings elicit no response, and the consequences deemed appropriate for the poor behavior don't seem to have any effect at all.

Most parents feel like their consequences aren't effective at one time or another. But sometimes, a few simple changes to your discipline techniques are all it takes to change your kids' behavior.

Consequences, when given and enforced the right way, should make your child sit up and take notice that you mean business.

Consequences are not meant to make your child feel humiliated, embarrassed, or unloved. But they should make them realize that the behavior for which they are receiving consequences will not be tolerated. Here are seven ways to make your consequences more effective.

1

Be Consistent

parent and boy sitting with crossed arms
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Positive and negative consequences only work if they are given consistently. If you only take away your kids' video games two out of every three times they hit a sibling, they won't learn. The inconsistent imposition of consequences sends your child the message that you're not really serious about what you say or that you can be persuaded to change your mind. Give your children a negative consequence each and every time they break a rule.

Consistency is the key to helping your kids learn that they can't get away with bad behavior.

Make sure you stick to consequences as well. If you take away a privilege for the whole day, don't give in early. Commit to doing what you say and saying what you mean and your kids' behavior will change—and they will start listening to you again, too!

2

Give Plenty of Positive Attention

A healthy relationship with your children is a necessary foundation for discipline. If your kids respect you, consequences will be much more effective.

Aim to give your children 15 minutes of positive attention each day. The more you invest in time-in, the less time your children will spend in time-out. This time could be spent listening attentively to your child while they are talking, or going for a walk together. You might want to undertake an easy baking project together or read a favorite story. Take out some old photos and talk about your shared memories. The point is that this is their time, and the time when they have your undivided attention. So, no stealing glances at your cell phone when you think they're not looking.

3

Clearly Define the Terms

Consequences should be time-sensitive. Saying, “You’re grounded until I say so,” isn't clear enough. Neither is saying, “You can’t go anywhere until I can trust you again.” Giving consequences with a vague end time may signal that you're not really serious and that you may just be making an empty threat in the heat of the moment. Your child may also get the message that things will soon blow over.

Always outline how long the consequence is in effect. Twenty-four hours is a good amount of time to take something away from kids.

Try saying, "You've lost your electronics until this time tomorrow." There may also be times when you may want to take away a privilege until your children earn it back. In this case, the consequences are in place to promote a positive behavior (e.g., finishing school assignments on time, keeping a bedroom from looking like a high school locker room the day after the big homecoming game).

If this is the case, explain exactly what needs to happen for your children to earn back what was taken away. This defines your expectations, clarifies what behavior is expected from your child, and keeps the situation neutral, rather than overtly hostile. It also emphasizes the connection between your child's behavior and the consequence.

Instead of saying, “You can’t have your phone back until I can trust you,” say, “You can earn your phone back for one hour a night if you get all your homework done.”

4

Give Immediate Consequences

The best consequences are immediate. Taking away your kids' overnight with Grandma that is planned for next week is not likely to be as effective as taking away their electronics right now.

Immediate consequences ensure kids remember why they got into trouble in the first place. If it’s delayed by a week, they’re more likely to forget what rule they violated.

There may be times, however, that it’s not possible to give immediate consequences. If you find out your children got into trouble on the bus three days ago, the consequence will obviously be delayed. Or, if they misbehave right before they get on the bus in the morning, you may need to wait until they get home from school before you can outline a consequence and begin to enforce it.

When it's not possible to make the consequence immediate, tell your kids about it as soon as possible. Make it clear why they're getting in trouble now by reminding them which rule they violated.

5

Use Consequences as a Teaching Tool

There’s a difference between consequences and punishments. Consequences should be used as a teaching tool and shouldn’t shame or embarrass kids. In fact, those types of punishments often make behavior problems worse, not better. 

Logical consequences are a great way to ensure that the consequence fits with the misbehavior. So if your kids refuse to turn off their video games, take away those games. Or, if they ride their bike outside the designated boundaries, take away the bike. 

If your older child doesn't study and bombs an exam at school, there is a natural consequence: a bad grade. There also is a logical consequence that will be imposed, which can be anything from losing video game privileges for the next marking period, taking on extra household chores, or losing out on shopping opportunities. You may even want to give older kids and teens a say in choosing a consequence. You may find that they are even harder on themselves than you are.

6

Keep Consequences Age-Appropriate

Experts agree that effective discipline requires an approach to consequences that are developmentally appropriate for your kids. For example, if a child under 3 breaks a rule, you may choose to remind them that they will get a time out if it happens again. With little ones, often the reminder of the consequence is enough to affect behavior. Of course, you'll need to be prepared to follow through. If the rule is broken again, simply remove your little one from the situation for a pre-set period of time. (One minute per year of age works well.)

For kids ages 3 and up, you may decide to let them orchestrate their own time out. Say, "You will need to go to time out now but you can come back when you feel ready and you are in control." This promotes self-management skills and helps your child learn self-control. And it can work quite well with older kids and teens, too!

7

Switch Up Your Discipline Routine

Consequences become less effective when they are used too often. Kids who consistently lose privileges for an extended period of time may begin to lose motivation to earn them back. Time-out also becomes less effective when it is used multiple times throughout the day.

If your children require frequent discipline, try switching things up. Use other discipline tools, such as reward systems, praise, and active ignoring

Positive discipline techniques can also be instrumental in helping kids turn things around. It motivates them to improve their behavior and can also help improve your relationship with them. 

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