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. 

Keep in mind that 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. 

There are some things you can do to make sure taking away a privilege is an effective consequence for your child. 

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 be an effective negative consequence. So it is important to pick something that is really going to bother 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

Make it clear how your child can earn his privileges back. Usually, 24 hours is enough time for a child to learn a valuable life lesson.

But, ,there may be times it makes sense to create a timeline based on your child's good 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 timelines like, "You can have your computer back when I can trust you again," or "I'll give you your toys when you start behaving." Make sure your child has 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. Stick with the consequence for the specified time period, even when it's hard to do so.

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 say, "I'm not never letting you play video games ever again!" out of anger, do some damage control when you're calm. Apologize and explain the new, more logical time limit. 

Mistakes to Avoid

Avoid removing too many privileges at once. 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. 

View Article 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.​
  • Hesari NKZ, Hejazi E. The Mediating Role of Self Esteem in the Relationship Between the Authoritative Parenting Style and Aggression. Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences. 2011;30:1724-1730.