What to Do When Your Child Doesn't Care About Consequences

Make sure your consequences are effective in changing your child's behavior.
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When you send your child to time-out or you take away his privileges for misbehavior, you expect the consequence to sting a bit so it will motivate him to make better choices. So it can be frustrating if your child doesn't seem to care about the consequences you give him.

Perhaps he returns to the same misbehavior within 10 minutes of you handing out a consequence. Or maybe, he laughs when you tell him he's being punished.

Either way, it's important to evaluate the situation. Here are four questions to ask yourself if our child doesn't seem to care that he's in trouble:

1. Does He Really Not Care?

A child might say, “I don’t care,” when a parent takes away his cellphone because he doesn’t want his parents to know that it upsets him. In reality, however, losing his phone privileges may actually bother him a great deal.

Pay little attention to your child's comments about your discipline. Pay much closer attention to his behavior. If his behavior changes after you've handed out a consequence, take it a sign that your discipline strategies are effective.

If he continues to violate the same rules, however, you may need to find a new consequence. Effective consequences should help your child make better choices in the future.

When you take away a privilege or place your child in time-out, and he says, "I don't care," ignore him. He may be looking to start an argument to delay going to his room or he may be trying to upset you. Don't take the bait.

If he becomes increasingly disrespectful, offer a single warning. If his behavior continues, take away another consequence.

Keep in mind that you can always choose to walk away from the conversation as well. Don't worry about getting the "last word" in. Instead, focus on giving your child a consequence that will help change his behavior.

2. Are You Using the Right Type of Consequences?

If your consequences don't change her behavior, think carefully about the type of consequence you are using. While taking away cellphone privileges may be an effective consequence for a cellphone violation, it may not work well for a sibling rivalry issue.

Try to tie the consequence directly to the misbehavior. If your child rides his bike out of the designated area, take away his bicycle privileges. If he refuses to pick up his toys, take his toys away from him.

Just like there are many different types of discipline, there are also several different kinds of consequences. Some kids respond well to time-out while positive reinforcement works best with other kids. Tailor your discipline to your child's needs.

3. Is the Time Frame Appropriate?

The most effective consequences are given immediately following the behavior problem. So if it’s two weeks before you realize your 5-year-old colored on the walls in the spare bedroom, a consequence won't be as effective as if you'd given it to him when you caught him in the act.

The amount of time the consequence lasts is another factor to consider. If you place a 12-year-old in time out for 2 minutes, he likely won't mind. In fact, at this age, he might think going to his room is a privilege.

Taking away his electronics for six months isn't a good idea either. Consequences that drag on too long cause kids to lose motivation to behave. 

Children who receive consequences that are too harsh don't care about about earning back their privileges. But consequences that are too light won't teach your child a life lesson. Create consequences that are time sensitive and specific to your child's maturity level.

4. What Consequences May Work Better?

It's a good idea to have several consequences in mind when you're handing them out. And sometimes, it takes a bit of trial and error.

If your child's behavior doesn't change when you take away his electronics, you might find you're better off assigning him extra chores. So think carefully about what impacts your child the most. 

Just remember, that sometimes, behavior problems get worse before they get better. If you start ignoring temper tantrums, for example, your child may scream louder. But that doesn't mean it's not working. In fact, that means you're efforts are quite effective.

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