Kids Who Ignore Consequences: 10 Ways to Make Them Stick

by James Lehman, MSW
Kids Who Ignore Consequences: 10 Ways to Make Them Stick

Does your child ignore every consequence you give him? This week, James Lehman gives you 10 specific ways to make consequences work—even for the most resistant child.

When kids are faced with something unpleasant, they'll often act like it doesn't matter to them. When your child says, “I don't care” or seems unaffected when you give him a consequence, what he’s really saying is, “You can't hurt me.” That’s because receiving a consequence makes kids feel powerless. Their sense of self almost requires them to respond by shrugging and saying, “Whatever,” simply in order to feel in control again.

Focus on what you want your child to learn from the consequence—not whether or not he's going to care.

Personally, I don't think parents should worry too much when their child appears not to be affected. Instead, I think you should focus on what you want your child to learn from the consequence—not whether or not he's going to care. In fact, I think trying to get your child to care is a misdirected goal. Don’t put so much weight on making him “hurt” that you're not thinking about trying to get your child to learn a new behavior. If your child can stymie you by saying “I don’t care,” you’re giving him way too much power.

To put it another way, if you're looking for your child to surrender, forget about it. A consequence is not designed to make your child say, “I’m sorry, Mom, I was wrong.” Rather, it’s there to help your child change his behavior. Think of it this way: the consequence for not following the speed limit is that you might get a speeding ticket. You may shrug and say, “Whatever,” to the police officer when he pulls you over, but that won't stop him from giving you that ticket. And if you say, “I don't care,” he'll say, “Well, here you go, sir. Have a good day.” He won’t argue with you; he’ll simply hand you the ticket and walk away.

In my opinion, you have to be like that police officer when giving your child a consequence. Don't get sucked into an argument when your teen says, “I don't care,” because that argument brings you down to his level—and that's what he’s looking for. Instead, just say, “All right, fine, but you’re still going to lose your cell phone for 48 hours.” Then simply turn around and leave the room.

Again, if you're trying to get your child to care about the consequence you give him, that's like trying to get him to like you. You shouldn’t try to control his emotional life. Just say, “These are the consequences.” And even if he says he doesn’t care, let him know that he will encounter them again if he breaks the rules.

How to Give Consequences So They’ll Stick—Even When Kids Say They Don’t Care

1. Use Consequences That Have Meaning
It’s almost never effective to give your child a consequence in the heat of an argument. Often, parents will be either too harsh or too lenient, because nothing appropriate comes to mind immediately. I advise parents to sit down and write a “Consequences List.” You can think of this as a menu of choices. When compiling this list, keep in mind that you want the consequence to be unpleasant, because you want your child to feel uncomfortable. If, like most teens, your child’s cell phone has meaning for him, don’t be shy about using it as leverage. It’s also important to think about what you want him to learn—and this lesson should be attached to the consequence. So let's say your child curses and is rude to his sister, and you want him to learn how to manage his feelings. I think an effective consequence might be that he would lose his cell phone until he doesn’t curse and isn’t rude to his sister for 24 hours. In those 24 hours, he might also have to write a note of apology to his sibling stating what he’ll do differently the next time he gets frustrated. If he fails to write the letter, he doesn't get his phone back—and the 24 hours starts all over again.

2. Don’t Try to Appeal to His Emotions with Speeches
Remember, your job is not to get your child to love his sister or to appeal to his emotions with a speech, because all he will hear is, “Your sister looks up to you, blah, blah, blah.” Your job is to take his phone and say, “Hey, we talk to each other nicely around here. And if you can't do that, then you can't use the phone. We’ll talk about giving it back to you after you talk nicely to your family for 24 hours.”

3. Make Consequences Black and White
When you give a consequence, the simpler you keep things, the better. Again, you don't want to get into legalese or long speeches. What you want to do is lay out your consequences for your child’s inappropriate behavior very clearly. It's often helpful if he knows ahead of time what will happen when he acts out. Just like there are speeding signs on the highway, the consequences for your child’s behavior should be clear to him. Tell him, “If you talk nastily to your sister, this is what's going to happen from now on.”

And whenever you're going to introduce an idea to your child that may be unsettling, anxiety-provoking, or frustrating to him, do it when things are going well—not when everybody's screaming at each other. Wait until a calm moment and then lay out the consequences simply and clearly.

4. Have Problem-Solving Conversations
I think it’s vitally important to have problem-solving conversations with your child after an incident has occurred. When things are going well, you can say, “If you get frustrated with your sister in the future, what can you do differently, other than to call her names? Let’s make a list.” You might help jump start some ideas by saying, “Instead of calling her names, how about going to your room and listening to some music for a few minutes? Could you do that?” And try to help your child come up with his own ideas. He might say, “If she follows me around the house, I’ll go to my room.” You can then say, “All right, why don't we try that? For the rest of today, if your sister bothers you, pick one thing that you’re going to do from this list and see if it's helpful.”

Conversations like these are how you get your child to think about alternative solutions other than yelling at his sister, name-calling, or acting out. Look at it this way: we all get frustrated, we all get angry, and we all get anxious. But everyone has to learn to deal with those feelings appropriately—and a problem-solving conversation is the most effective way to talk with your child about change.

5. Don't Get Sucked into an Argument over Consequences
Don’t accept every invitation to argue with your child. Understand that he wants you to get upset so he can drag you into a fight. Your child also wants to show you that he's not hurt by the consequence you’ve given him. Believe me, I understand that it's annoying and frustrating as a parent. Kids will try to push your buttons by saying, “Who cares; whatever.” But don't get sucked into it. Just say, “All right, it’s too bad that you don't care—that means it's just going to happen more often.” Then go do something else. And remember, while you don't want to get sucked into a power struggle, you also don't want to destroy your child’s pride by demeaning him, either—you just want him to stop talking poorly to his sister.

6. Don’t Teach Your Child How to “Do Time”
Many parents get frustrated and ground their kids for long periods of time in order to make the punishment stick. Personally, I think that’s a mistake. If you simply ground your child, you're teaching him to do time—and not to learn anything new. But if you ground him until he accomplishes certain things, you can increase the effectiveness of the consequence by 100 percent. I always say to make your consequences task-oriented, not time-oriented. So if your child loses his video game privileges for 24 hours, he should be doing something within that time frame that helps him improve his behavior. Simply grounding him from his video games for a week will just teach him how to wait until he can get them back—not how to behave more appropriately. Remember, if you ground him for 30 days, you’ve fired your big gun. If you ground him for 24 hours, you still have plenty of leverage. Many parents believe the key to making consequences effective is to get a bigger hammer, but that’s not a sound teaching method.

Again, we want consequences to be learning experiences. A consequence that doesn’t fit the crime will just seem meaningless to your child, and won’t get you the desired result. Remember, you don’t want to be so punitive that your child simply gives up. That will never translate to better behavior.

7. Engage Your Child’s Self-interest
Learn to ask questions in ways that appeal to your child’s self-interest. So for example, you might say, “What are you going to do the next time you think Dad is being unfair so you won't get into trouble?” In other words, you’re trying to engage his self-interest. If your child is a teenager, he won’t care about how Dad feels. Adolescents are frequently very detached from that set of feelings. They might feel guilty and say they're sorry later, but you’ll see the behavior happen again. So learn to appeal to their self- interest, and ask the question, “What can you do so you don't get in trouble next time?”

Put it in his best interests: “Understand, if you're going to talk to your sister meanly or curse at her, things are only going to get worse for you, not better. I know you want to keep your phone, so let’s think of ways for you to be able to do that.”

8. How Will I Know If a Consequence Is Working?
Parents often say to me, “My child acts like he doesn’t care. So how do I know if the consequence I’m giving him is actually working?” I always tell them, “It’s simple—you’ll know it's working because he’s being held accountable.” Accountability gives you the best chance for change.

9. Some Things Should Never Be Used as Consequences
In my opinion, there are certain things that should never be taken away from kids. For instance, you should never prohibit your child from going to the prom. Not ever. That’s a milestone in your child’s life; personally, I think that milestones should not be taken away. Your child is not going to learn anything from that experience—he’s just going to be bitter.

I also believe that sports should not be taken away. I have no problem with kids missing a practice if that’s part of a consequence, but taking away the sport entirely is not a good idea.

10. Don’t Show Disgust or Disdain
When giving consequences to your child, I think you should be consistent and firm, but don’t show disgust or disdain. In my opinion, you should never be sarcastic with your child because it's wounding. What you’re trying to do is raise someone who can function, not somebody who feels they're a constant disappointment to you. It's very important to shape your behavior so that your child knows you're not taking his mistakes personally. Remember, the look on your face and the tone of your voice communicates a lot more to your child than your words do. Positive regard is critical for getting your message across.

I think it’s important to remember that life is really a struggle for many kids. Going to school is difficult, both academically and socially, and there is tremendous pressure on children and teens to perform today. Personally, I think that kids should be recognized and respected for that. Think of it this way: what you're really trying to do is work on your child’s behavior to get him to try to do different things. So if your child misbehaves and you ground him from everything indefinitely, you're losing sight of all the other things he did right—and he will, too.

Instead, we want to look at inappropriate behavior as a mistake your child makes. Parents often wonder why their kids make the same mistakes over and over, and I say, “Well, they do that because they’re kids. They’re not pretending. They perceive things very differently than adults do.” We want our kids to learn, so we use the things they enjoy as leverage to teach them better behavior. After all, giving your child a consequence until he shows you he can do better is an effective tool you have at your disposal at all times—even if he tells you he doesn’t care.


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James Lehman, MSW was a renowned child behavioral therapist who worked with struggling teens and children for three decades. He created the Total Transformation Program to help people parent more effectively. James' foremost goal was to help kids and to "empower parents."


thank you for this imformation i have a 3 year old that is ver combative and likes to scratch himself, i am having a very difficult time trying to figure out what to do to get him to stop. any suggestions?

Comment By : aallen0923

Effective and appropriate consequences are one of those most difficult parts of parenting. It is obvious from this article, that the way the consequences are presented to the child is equally important. This is the most helpful discussion of consequences I have ever read and contains multiple levels of helpful suggestions. I will have to reread it many times in order to remember all the helpful information it contains. Thanks for such an "empowering" article.

Comment By : Red3

what consequences would you recommend for a 12 year old child who repeatedly calls the Department of Social Services and files a false report to try to get the parent in trouble?

Comment By : bewildered dad

Thanks for the super tips to help us parents stay focused on this important issue! I have used these at home to great success. I also implement 'the jar'. That is a special jar that my son has put 6 - 8 rewards he gets for 'holding it together' all week. When his behaviour starts to show signs of becoming unacceptable, a gentle reminder of him to try his solutions that we came up with and the reminder of the reward in the jar for 'holding it together' can have him self regulate. I will discuss implementing a clear consequence plan at school as it seems like this time of school, th year gets hard as the kids are starting to get on each others nerves. I know he was suprised to get the 'lose minutes on recess' thrown at him yesterday. I think this caught him unaware and has only caused him to obsess over this.

Comment By : queenofwien

aallen0923 At 3 years old routine is very important to the child. If there is a part of the routine that your child always looks forward to (say playing in the park), you can withhold that for one day as a concequense and tell him, "If you do not scratch yourself, and try to be very good, we will get that back tomorow", at his age if your schedule allows you could just delay the reward for later in the day or promise a special reward for doing good for a set number of hours.

Comment By : dlenore

We did this with our 17 year son who tested positive for drugs. We toldl him he had a curfew of 8pm every night until his drug tests came back clean. He obeyed us for 2 nights then decided he didn't want to come home over the weekend. How can consequences be enforced? Is this consequence too tough? How can he realize that this is not appropriate behavior in our home?

Comment By : Frustrated

This article was great! I recently attended a conference at my church entitled "Bringing Kids into the Kingdom." There were a number of points covered in this article and others from this site that were incorporated into the conference. Many had to do with the "old style" of parenting. It was great to finally be confirmed concerning practices/sports/band being taken away. I am a band director and have had several students come and tell me that as a consequence for poor grades, their parents were pulling them out of band and/or sports. Yeah, like that was really going to effect their grades? I don't think so. With a few, I was able to step in and change the outcome but for others the parents had a parenting model in place and wouldn't budge. I felt bad for the students and kept in touch with their school counselors. Sure enough, their grades never made it back up and in some cases became worse.You cannot take something that important completely from a child and have them go "wow!" We tried the "forever grounding" with our son when he was getting into trouble and as soon as he had a night with his friends....he got drunk. So...for those that are wondering, what is said here speaks volumes.

Comment By : Donald

Excellent article James. Right on target as usual. Your guidance has been very helpful for pre-teens and teens. Would you consider expanding to cover adult children living back at home (such as after college) ? One of the difficult aspects is determining how much to enforce consequences vs treating them as adults. Thanks for considering.

Comment By : Larry

This was a great article. Does any one have any thoughts on how long to withhold something taken away from a 3 year old? If we tell our son that his consequence for treating his friends poorly at school is no TV for the afternoon how much time defines the afternoon? Or should we say "no TV for 2 hours..." He obviously does not understand the concept of time yet, but does know things like "After lunch" - "After nap" - "After snack" etc...

Comment By : Leslie

Dear James, Thank you for this article. Something that I practice and also teaching with my clients. I would love to be able to speak to you. I am also an MFT and foster mother and author. I have worked extensively in the foster and adoptive arena. Stacey Soares, MFT

Comment By : Stacey Soares,MFT

This is the best article on consequences I have ever read and I've been reading a lot these past few years. Thank you for succinctly laying out all the pieces that are needed to help both parents and children make effective changes.

Comment By : Momof3

* Dear Frustrated That is a difficult situation. The truth is, we can't force our kids to do anything. We can set rules, boundaries, and limitations, and they can choose to ignore them. Giving your son an 8 pm curfew until he tests clean on a drug test is too long term and vague to be effective, and as you've found, he can ignore it easily. It also does not give him any new skills to practice, and therefore, you are unlikely to see a change. Remember, your goal is to help him stop using drugs, and to make safer (and legal) choices. While this issue is larger than we can address in this format, there are a couple of suggestions we can make. First, you might consider some shorter term goals and expectations, giving him something to work on each day. For example, you might require that he attend a weekly drug and alcohol counseling session, and tie that attendance to a privilege on the weekend. With input from your school or community-based resources, you might come up with other concrete, tangible actions or behaviors you need your son to complete each day before he has access to electronics that evening. Certainly, if he has access to a family car, that might be off the table until you are sure he is making safe and legal choices behind the wheel - and him giving you "his word" is not enough. If you are a total transformation customer, I encourage you to call the support line specialists, who can help you formulate a detailed plan to help your family. And please reach out to resources in your area; your son's school guidance office is a good place to start.

Comment By : Megan Devine, Parental Support Line Advisor

* Dear ‘aallen0923’: We appreciate your question asking how to handle your son. The best person to ask is his doctor. Let the pediatrician know that your son is very combative and that he likes to scratch himself. The doctor will make sure there are no underlying medical conditions and will be able to access what approach to take. In general, some of the emotional work of young children is to learn how to soothe themselves. Children learn by seeing what their parents do and by hearing what their parents say, so we must role model good self-discipline in order for them to learn how to discipline themselves. This will help your son feel safe when his emotions are getting the better of him. Teach him the words that describe his feelings and to connect those feelings to what is happening. Help him learn to recognize his triggers and learn what kind of help he needs from others and how to ask for it. Because of his young age, focus on the first three lessons of the Total Transformation program and be sure to call the Support Line to discuss how to modify the tools and techniques for a pre-school child. Keep in touch with us.

Comment By : Carole Banks, Parental Support Line Advisor

Topic point number six says: "But if you ground him until he accomplishes certain things, you can increase the effectiveness of the consequence by 100 percent. I always say to make your consequences task-oriented, not time-oriented. So if your child loses his video game privileges for 24 hours, he should be doing something within that time frame that helps him improve his behavior." Does this mean cleaning out the garage, writing an essay on better ways to communicate without using profanity, doing community service or -- what exactly? I am stumped when trying to come up with concrete examples of accomplishments that would "fit the crime," so to speak, when dealing with issues that have come up recently with my 17 year old daughter.

Comment By : momtoone

* Dear ‘bewildered dad’: Consequences alone do not change behaviors. James Lehman says, “Punishment that does not include learning how to solve the problem appropriately next time—and then being held accountable for your behavior—is not effective. When your child is given consequences, it should be a learning experience, not a punitive one.” The behavior of calling DSS is in essence an attempt to intimidate you. It’s designed to ‘get to you’ and to force you to back down. James calls this using ‘Anger with an Angle’. But don’t renegotiate your rules out of fear of your child’s behavior. While your child is acting out use James’ problem solving language and calmly state, “Calling DSS is not going to solve your problem.” After this incident, discuss what happened so your child can learn skills to help [her] control her anger next time instead of acting out. There is more information and techniques in this article from James: Anger with an Angle: Is Your Child Using Anger to Control You? We appreciate your question and wish your family success as you work on this behavior.

Comment By : Carole Banks, Parental Support Line Advisor

* Dear Leslie: It’s always important to let your child’s pediatrician know about your son’s social development. You will want to learn if you will be able to give him the help he needs or if the pediatrician recommends professional assistance. Because your son is only 3 years old, a consequence after school will not help him learn the skills he needs to improve his behavior. It takes practice and repetition to learn skills. Set up some play dates with kids his age. Does your child need to improve his ability to compromise, to share, to control his temper or impulses? He will need your coaching--and sometimes a time out--right when the behavior occurs. James Lehman recommends using problem solving language when we coach our kids: “If you want to play with the toy your friend has, ask him if you can have a turn.” Focus on the first 3 Lessons in the Total Transformation program. Call us and let us know how it’s going. We’d be glad to offer more ideas and techniques from the program.

Comment By : Carole Banks, Parental Support Line Advisor

I liked this article; My only concern is where it says not to take away sports. But, when I allow my 14 year to play sports and his consequences for poor grades (D's and F's) are to miss a practice and he doesn't care...then he starts to miss numerous practices, which makes him miss numerous games.. which doesn't seem fair to the other players or the Coach. Or the kids who tried out for the team and didn't make it. So, I feel it's best to just not let him play. What do you think?

Comment By : Looking4solutions

* Dear ‘momtoone’: This is a really good clarifying question. We are frequently asked for this kind of help from callers to the Support Line. When James Lehman refers to making a consequence ‘task’ oriented, he is referring to adding a task portion, or learning experience, to the consequence. The learning experience (task) should be directly connected to the behavior that needs to change. Let’s use your example of your daughter using profanity. Tell her, “It’s not okay to speak to me that way. I don’t like it.” Now you might remove a privilege as a consequence. Tell her she has lost the use of her cell phone for the next two hours. But this consequence does not have a task attached to it yet, so you’ll also need to tell her that in order to get her cell phone back, she has to speak respectfully during those two hours. The task she is practicing is managing her feelings in a socially acceptable way and not lashing out at others. You could also add another task and tell your daughter that in addition to speaking respectfully for two hours, she needs to write down 3 things she will do differently next time she feels like swearing. So instead of concentrating on the consequence, be thinking about the behavior that needs to change and how your daughter can problem solve about that behavior and perhaps practice that behavior in order to earn back a privilege.

Comment By : Carole Banks, Parental Support Line Advisor

* Dear Looking4solutions As you've discovered, tying your son's participation in sports to his grades is not effective. As James mentions, sports are a great outlet for kids, and we don't want to take that away. Your school might bar kids from participating in sports if they have failing grades; if so, don't protect your son from that natural consequence. Whether or not the school has rules around grades and sports, you might have more success if you focus on daily privileges tied to completion of schoolwork. For example, if his grades are poor because he is not finishing homework, then you might create a mandatory study time each school day, say from 6 to 8. When his work is done, he can have time with his electronics or on the computer. If he does not complete it, he has no access to those things, but he gets a chance to try again the next day. (see End the Nightly Homework Struggle in the EP archives for more details) Talk with your son about what he needs to do differently in order to bring up his grades. Remember, kids don't see the importance of school to their future the way that adults do, so lecturing him about it is unlikely to change things. Stay focused on the actual work he needs to complete, and what he can earn each day as he has completed his work. Good luck, and please keep in touch.

Comment By : Megan Devine, Parental Support Line Advisor

Thanks,for all the great information and tips of parenting. With all the information and tips; parents can really be able to help thier families cope with diffrent situatuions. As well as a network of people.

Comment By : great advice

I reall appreciate your article. We have been struggling with our younger son for years - he is 15 now. He is currently failing 3 out of 4 classes. He failed one class last semester and we made him repeat it this semester so that he doesn't feel like he got away with it. His problem is that he does not do his homework, study or complete the class work. He does have an IEP but it is not that he can't do the work he just chooses not to. He is often getting in trouble in school for being disrespectful or disruptive in class. We restrict his privileges during the school week (no tv, computer, playstation) so that he has plenty of free time to get his responsibilities done and then gets them back for the weekend - this does not seem to affect his behavior much. We are at a loss.

Comment By : bangingourheads

Dear bangingourheads, We got to the end of our rope with our son as well. Trying to mandate a homework time was a disaster. Taking away privileges didn't work. Bribes (some people don't like the word bribe, but I call 'em as I see 'em) didn't inspire him. He was held back once, and it still didn't phase him. The teachers' websites were vague about homework assignments, and when I asked my son for clarification, he "didn't remember." I finally attended school with him. I went to the class he was failing for two weeks until he was passing. I just sat in the corner of the room like an observer. Two of his other teachers told me he was doing better in their classes as well, ever since I started attending the one class. Now, he would prefer to "remember" what his assignments entail.

Comment By : Jan in AZ

Dear Parents: Please also do not take away music participation as punishment. I am an elementary band director, and every year I have to deal with parents (and homeroom teachers) who recommend students stop playing an instrument that they enjoy because a math (or other subject) grade is falling. Music study gives kids confidence and many skills that can help them in life.

Comment By : support arts for kids

Dear support arts for kids: You are SO right! Parents, don't punish teams and organizations by removing kids from Orchestra/Choir/Band or sports... it only makes it harder on the other kids and the teachers/coaches. Take them to those things and then bring them home to whatever appropriate consequences you have set... but don't punish the teams or teachers! If they fail classes and are excluded from sports or other activities, you should just say "I'm really sorry that happened, but you knew what the consequences of failing *whatever* would be... so let's sit down and come up with a plan that will get you back on track and prevent it from happening again in the future, OK?"

Comment By : Stormy Lynn

I am about at my wits end, I've been reading things here about how to handle situations more productively. My 12 year old daughter decided to stay after school for a football game that she was to cheerlead at instead of coming home and letting me take her or calling to see if it was okay. She has become more and more defiant towards me and acting as if she does not need permission if she feels it is something that needs to be done a certain way. I waited at home and she never got off the bus so I called and found out she had stayed and told her we would discuss it when she got home. When she came in I warmed her dinner up giving her time to transition then called her aside to speak with her about her behavior. I told her that it was unacceptable and that if she had called and asked we could have come up with something if she didnt think she could make it back in time (which by the way we could have) She had 2 hours before she had to be back at school. I told her that making decisions on her own wouldnt be tolerated and that it was unsafe. I took away one of her favorite games for 2 days and told her that if it happened again she would miss a practice. Then, I asked her to write a list of things she could have differently to avoid the situation. She will not write the list. I know I have to stand firm and have a consequence for that. But what? Should I make her do chores until she agrees to write this list or should she not be allowed to go back to practice? To be honest I was very satisfied with how I handled the situation and the fact that it didnt turn into a fight but I can't force her to write the letter. What next?

Comment By : MW

* Dear ‘MW’: You don’t want to get into a stand-off where you’re holding your ground and she’s holding her ground. That’s missing the point of discipline—which is learning a lesson, not who is more powerful. When your child says, “You can’t make me,” your response should be, “You’re right. I can’t make you and I not interested in trying to force you. But I do want you to learn how to make the right decisions. If you make wrong choices, you may not like the consequences you experience.” You could simply tell your daughter, “I would like you to write that list so that you’re clear what you will do next time, but I’m not going to participate in a power struggle with you. If you will not write up a list of options, you’ll lose your game for one more day.” Let it go at that point and give her back her game because your original lesson will be lost in an on-going ‘tug of war’ between the two of you. Remember, you can always call the Support Line for more ideas on using the techniques in James Lehman’s Total Transformation Program.

Comment By : Carole Banks, Parental Support Line Advisor

my daughter is 16 with a juvenile record of at least 2 felonies. i have applied all the strategies with no real effect. my daughter just runs away from home in order to escape consequences. when she returns, i ensure that she faces the consequences that she ran from inaddition to writing about running away--all to no avail. she just runs again when she feels something isn't fair. now she's home and refuses to give up her cell phone as a consequence. that's the only thing that matters to her. she'll run away before she gives up that cell phone. she bought the phone when she was working & refuses to hand it over as a consequence. what do i do now about her defiance & verbal abuse being i'm unable to use the cell phone a consequence?

Comment By : mom @ witts end!

* ‘mom @ witts end!’: It is very challenging when kids refuse to hand over their electronics. Many parents feel stuck or powerless when this happens. One thing to keep in mind is that when kids run away, when your authority is not enough to get them to comply with house rules or to hold them accountable, we recommend seeking some local supports to assist you, such as a counselor, probation officer, or law enforcement. Calling the police can be a consequence in and of itself. You could also contact the cell phone company to see if there is a way you can temporarily stop the service until she writes down her plan for what she will do differently next time. Ultimately, though, it’s most effective to focus on what you can control such as your reaction or the other electronics she values. Keep trying your best and be empowered by reaching out for help when you’re feeling overwhelmed. We wish you luck as you continue to work through this.

Comment By : Sara A. Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor

My 20-yr-old daughter (who is still in college and lives with us on breaks and summer time) wanted to go away with her boyfriend for spring break. We told her that if she went out of state with the boyfriend, we'd put her belongings on the curb in front of our house and she could pick them up at her convenience. She chose to go with the boyfriend anyways. She came by after dark and picked up most of her things first. Now, 3 months later, she refuses to come home for summer break (staying with friends) but still expects us to take out loans (in OUR name) for the final 3 semesters of college. if we don't take out loans for her, she'll drop out of college and run away with the boyfriend. But, if we DO take out the loans, we're setting a precedent for our younger 4 children that they can do as they please and still get whatever they want from Mom and Dad. That was a dramatic consequence, we know, but we thought it through and presented it to her very calmly. At the time, she seemed not to care about her stuff. Now, she refuses to come home because we put her stuff (her "entire life") on the curb.

Comment By : momofnine

Can you give some examples on "Don't teach your child how 'to do time'?"

Comment By : milly

* Milly: When James says that he means don’t just take away a privilege for a week, 2 weeks, or a month. Going a long time without a privilege will just teach your child how to live without it—he’ll adapt. Instead, you want to take privileges away for a short period of time, usually no more than 24 hours, and give kids a task to do during that time to earn that privilege back. Some examples are:
No video games until you talk respectfully for 2 hours.
No computer for 24 hours and during that time you must make an amends to your sister.
No cell phone until you come home on time for 3 days.
Simply taking away a privilege is not effective. When you take away the computer for a week your child only learns how to deal with not using the computer instead of learning something that will better their behavior. You can add tasks like I did in the examples above: practicing talking respectfully, practicing coming home by curfew, and making an amends to your sister. These kinds of tasks teach your child something much more valuable than just “doing time.”

Comment By : Sara A. Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor

Dear momofnine - That must have been a very hard decision to make with your husband. Your daughter is 20 and she is an adult. She made an adult decision to defy you while fully knowing the consequences. Plus she seems to be refusing contact with you and the rest of her younger siblings. You might want to talk with her and let her know what your requirements are for future support in college. If she is unwilling then it stinks, but there is not much you can do because she is an adult. Her poor choices might be instructive to her younger siblings, though they are probably sad she is no longer around. good luck.

Comment By : 3forme

My 14 year old daughter lies. She recently lied to friends making up stories about going out to the movies with her boyfriend over the weekend... I know this is a lie because she was with me the entire weekend, and I'm pretty sure the boyfriend is a lie too. The school called me to go pick her up because she was crying. I was able to put together that her friends might have learned that she was lying about the boyfriend and called her out on it. She also lies to me about homework. When I ask if it's done she will say yes when its not or say that she finished in class.When I try to reach out to her she shuts me out and says she doesnt want to talk about it. I've tried explaining to her that i cant help if she doesnt confide in me but she then says its her life and i should let her make her own mistakes and not worry about her. She has already lost her cell phone privelage because she is also failing 2 of her classes at school. I told her she can have her phone back as soon as i see she is passing again but she seems to be ok with not having a phone. I dont know how to talk to her without pushing her further away.

Comment By : almostgivingup

Growing up in a dysfunctional household - my adopted father was a VERY abusive man. Verbally, emotionally and physically. He played favorites with my adopted sister. She used to (and he encouraged her indirectly) to lie to him to get me punished in some way. Needless to say - I did his "time" (groundings, beatings, screaming fits). But, never in his time did he EVER think about becoming a better father. I remember even trying to foolishly prove to both my adopted parents that someone else was not telling the truth. There was no trust there.

Comment By : Dusty

I need some advice, My son is 9 yrs old and in the 3rd grade. He is not taking his school work serious. We are to the point that if he does not start he will not be able to go into the 4th grade. I have tried everything to help him and he just doesn't care. My final straw was he had a 20 question open book social studies test and failed, making a D. I have talked with his teacher many times and we both are not sure why he doesnt seem to grasp his school work. He has a field trip next week to watch a basketball game , should I not let him go? Should I continue to help and continue to let him fail? I am at my end and not sure what to do. Thanks for all your help.

Comment By : Cammy111

* To “Cammy111”: Thank you for writing in to Empowering Parents. Many parents struggle with knowing how best to help and support a child who is struggling academically. A common response to this frustrating behavior is for the parent to “take away” special things, such as field trips, play dates and the like. From an adult perspective, it would seem as if this would have a big impact and would cause the child’s behavior to turn around. Unfortunately it usually doesn’t work this way, for a couple of different reasons. First, it doesn’t teach the child any sort of replacement behavior and secondly, it’s a one shot deal sort of thing. Once the special event has passed, there’s no incentive for the child to make a different choice. For that reason, we often coach parents to have daily incentives that are linked to daily activities, such as chores or school work. Having a daily incentive allows for continued motivation more than having one thing that is either earned or lost completely. It’s also going to be important to have problem-solving conversation with your son to help him come up with a plan for how he’s going to improve in school. For example, you might sit down and ask him what’s going on that he’s having a hard time getting his work completed and what could he do differently. There are a few articles that focus on problem solving; here are a couple you might find useful: The Surprising Reason for Bad Child Behavior: "I Can't Solve Problems" and Good Behavior is not “Magic”—It’s a Skill The Three Skills Every Child Needs for Good Behavior. As for whether or not you should continue to help him or continue to let him fail, we would advise a combination of the two. What is meant by that is you would continue to offer the help and support he might need to be successful while understanding he is the one who is ultimately responsible for how well he does in school. If regardless of the help and support you offer him he continues to not complete his school work, then the natural consequence of that choice would be to fail. As Kim Abraham and Marney Studaker-Cordner point out in their article 4 Ways to Handle Back to School Behavior Problems with Your ODD Child, it’s our job as parents to offer our children the opportunity for an education and help them develop the necessary skills to be successful. What they do with that opportunity is their choice.

Comment By : D. Rowden, Parental Support Advisor

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