Taking Away Privileges to Discipline Children

Taking away a privilege can be one of the most effective teaching tools.
Carey Kirkella/Taxi/Getty Images

Taking away privileges can be an extremely effective discipline strategy when your child misbehaves. Whether you decide to take away a fun event or you remove a favorite toy, there are some strategies that will make privilege removal an effective consequence that can encourage your child to make better choices in the future.

When it comes to taking away privileges, you need to be realistic and logical in your approach. For instance, you don't want to take away their Chromebook if it's required for school. Likewise, don't take away things children need, like meals or their beds.

Making a child go to bed hungry or sleep on the floor is not an effective use of this discipline strategy. Instead, it is bordering on abuse.

Privileges are things kids enjoy but do not necessarily need, like using electronics, going to the movies, and playing with toys.

Removing privileges teaches kids that privileges need to be earned. Staying up late, using electronics, and visiting friends is contingent on good behavior. Here's a closer look at how you can incorporate taking away privileges into your discipline toolbox.

Remove a Privilege

When your child breaks the rules, carefully choose the privilege to remove. While one child may be affected by the loss of their toys, another child may not care about toys as long as they get to watch TV. Think carefully about which privilege means the most to your child. 

If you take away a privilege that your child doesn't really care about, it won’t be an effective negative consequence. Pick something that is really going to impact your child, but not in a punitive way.

Sometimes the loss of privilege can be a logical consequence. Carefully match the privilege you're taking away to your child's violation. For example, if a teenager is out with friends and doesn’t come home on time, take away the opportunity to hang out with friends. Or, if your child spends a lot of time texting friends instead of doing homework, take away the cellphone.

Avoid removing too many privileges at once. This authoritarian style of parenting is likely to cause children to focus on their hostility toward you instead of learning from their mistakes.

Explain the Consequence

Whenever possible, tell your children what privilege will be removed if they misbehave. If you're working on a specific behavior problem, explain the consequence for breaking the rule ahead of time. Say, “If you don’t listen and follow directions in the store today, you won’t be allowed to ride your bike tonight.”

You also might use a warning when your child misbehaves.

Say something like, "If you don't pick up the toys on the floor right now, you won't be allowed to play with them for the rest of the day."

Set a Time Limit

Make it clear how to earn privileges back. Usually, 24 hours is enough time for a child to learn a valuable life lesson. But, there may be times when it makes sense to create a timeline based on your child's good behavior. For example, you might say, “When you clean your room and keep it clean for two 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." Kids need a clear understanding of what steps they need to take to earn the privilege back. 

Stick to Your Limits

Don’t give in when your child begs, whines, or complains. If you do, 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 take away the privilege of attending the football game on Friday, don’t give in when their behavior improves. Stick to your limits so that your kids know you are serious and that you cannot be manipulated into changing your mind.

The one exception to this rule is if you take away privileges due to anger. For instance, if you say, "I'm never letting you play video games ever again," do some damage control when you're calm. Apologize and explain the new, more logical time limit. 

Make It Logical

It's always best to tailor the removal of privileges to the offense and to your child. But here are some examples of privileges that could be removed if you are at a loss for ideas.

  • Take away the cellphone when kids don't do their chores. Tell them they can earn this privilege back by doing their chores on time two days in a row.
  • Take away a favorite toy for 24 hours when your child refuses to clean up.
  • Ground teenagers from visiting with friends on the weekend if they don't get their homework done during the week.
  • Take away video game privileges when kids are not completing their homework. Tell them they can earn the privilege of playing video games every day after their homework is completed.
  • Remove television or computer privileges for 24 hours when kids talk back and become disrespectful.

Taking away TV is only effective if kids don't have another way to watch their favorite shows. If kids are able to watch Netflix or YouTube on their laptop or cellphone, or they can access their video games on the computer, it might be best to remove all electronics, not just one. 

A Word From Verywell

When it comes to removing privileges, the goal is not to punish your children, but to encourage them to make better choices. For instance, when you take away the cellphone, your children will have more time to think about the mistake they made and strive to make a better choice next time.

Overall, the goal is to teach your kids self-discipline and self-control. If they know they could lose a privilege they value for not exercising self-control or making good choices, they might think twice before acting out.

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. Nemours KidsHealth. Disciplining your child.

  2. American Academy of Pediatrics. What is the best way to discipline my child?.

Additional Reading

By Amy Morin, LCSW
Amy Morin, LCSW, is the Editor-in-Chief of Verywell Mind. She's also a psychotherapist, an international bestselling author of books on mental strength and host of The Verywell Mind Podcast. She delivered one of the most popular TEDx talks of all time.