When Your Child Does Not Care About Consequences

Make sure your consequences are effective in changing your child's behavior.
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Many parents resort to time-out and taking away their child's privileges for misbehavior with the goal of reducing and even eliminating undesirable behavior. In these situations, parents want children to be motivated to make better choices following a consequence. So it can be frustrating when your child doesn't seem to care about the consequences given.

Perhaps they return to the same misbehavior within 10 minutes of you handing out a consequence. Or maybe, they laugh when you tell them they are being punished.

Either way, it's important to evaluate the situation. Here are four questions to ask yourself if your child doesn't seem to care about consequences.

Do They Really Not Care?

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

Pay little attention to your child's comments about your discipline. Pay much closer attention to their behavior. If their behavior changes following a consequence, take it as a sign that your discipline strategies are effective.

If they continue 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 they say, "I don't care," ignore them. They may be looking to start an argument to delay going to their room, or they may be trying to upset you. Don't take the bait.

If they become increasingly disrespectful, offer a single warning. Stay away from a never-ending cycle of punishments, as this rarely leads to positive behavior change and negatively impacts the parent-child relationship.

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 their behavior.

Your child may continue to make poor choices because they are not having a need or desire met. They may want to connect with you, talk with you about a concern, or need help making better choices. Consider approaching these recurring behavioral issues from a different perspective.

Are You Using the Right Type of Consequences?

If your consequences don't change your child's 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 their bike out of the designated area, take away bicycle privileges. If they refuse to pick up their toys, take the toys away.

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 others. Tailor your discipline to your child's needs.

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 when you caught them 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 two minutes, they likely won't mind. In fact, at this age, they might think going to their room is a privilege.

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

Children who receive consequences that are too harsh don't care 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.

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 their electronics, you might find you're better off assigning 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 your efforts are quite effective.

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Article Sources
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  2. Larzelere R, Knowles S. Toddlers need both positive parenting and consistent consequences from mothers. Presentation at the Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association. August 6, 2015.

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Using discipline and consequences. Updated October 2, 2017.

  4. Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention. Why are discipline and consequences important?. Updated November 5, 2019.

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