“Which Consequence Should I Give My Child or Teen?” How to Create a List of Consequences and Rewards for Children

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What is the best consequence to use for a particular behavior? This is probably the most common question we receive during our online parent coaching sessions. Parents wonder which consequences to use, how to set them up effectively, and how long to give them.

A great way to start figuring out the right consequences for your situation is to sit down during a calm moment and create a list, or “menu,” of consequences and rewards for your child. Each behavior you are worried about should have a specific consequence. And the best part? You can even have your child help you create the menu.

To help you get started, we created a set of example consequence menus for kids ages 5-9, 10-14, and 15-17. These menus are grouped by age and developmental level so they will be most effective with your children, no matter what stage they’re in.

Free Downloadable Consequences and Rewards Menus

Menu of Daily Consequences and Rewards for Ages 5–9

Menu of Daily Consequences and Rewards for Ages 10–14

Menu of Daily Consequences and Rewards for Ages 15–17

As you come up with your menu, keep the following five tips in mind:

1. Use These Consequences Menus as a Starting Point for Your Ideas

Included in the menus are some of the most common suggestions that we give to parents. Our suggestions are based on what we find usually motivates children and teens in that age range.

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At any rate, you know your child best. And you will know what motivates her. If you know that your child doesn’t care about electronics, for example, feel free to use something else instead. It can actually be helpful to sit down with your kids and ask them what they would like to work toward for a reward, for example.

Related content: Giving Kids Consequences: Exercise as Punishment

2. Consequences Are Most Effective If They Are Time-Limited and Task-Oriented

What this means, in the simplest form, is that if you take something away, your child should know what specific behavior he or she needs to show over a specified short-term period of time in order to earn it back.

Let’s say your teen daughter is verbally abusive to you. As a consequence, you decide to keep her cell phone until she can go for two hours without swearing or calling anyone a name. During that time, she will be practicing the desired behavior (i.e., no swearing and no name-calling).

Your child is then rewarded when she is able to carry it through for the entire two hours. If she can’t, the two hours start again from the time she misbehaves.

Remember, as James and Janet Lehman, creators of The Total Transformation® parenting program, tell us, the goal here is to teach your kids what to do differently next time. If you simply ground them or take something away for long periods of time, you’re simply teaching them how to “do time,” which is not the goal.

In general, we do not recommend withholding a privilege for more than three days. After 3 days, the privilege can start losing its motivational power. The exception would be if there was a safety issue involved. For example, if your teen was driving under the influence then the consequence would be significantly more severe.

3. Use Only One Consequence at a Time

We recommend picking one consequence or incentive to go with the behavior you are focusing on. Ideally, you will have had a chance to let your child know ahead of time what that consequence or reward will be.

In this way, your child knows exactly what he or she will lose or gain as a result of the choices they make. Sometimes when parents are in the middle of a heated power struggle with their child, they feel tempted to give multiple consequences for the same behavior to “make” their child comply. But this is almost always ineffective. We call this “consequence stacking,” and it should be avoided.

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Here’s an example. Let’s say your child swears at you and you say, “That’s it—you’ve lost your phone.” Your child, of course, talks back defiantly and you reply, “Okay, for talking back, now you’ve lost television, too!” Or maybe, “No video games for a week. Now it’s for two weeks! Three! Nice going, you’ve lost them for a month now!” As you get angrier and angrier, the consequences just stack up. And your child, at that moment, doesn’t seem to care.

The trouble with consequence stacking is that it ultimately undermines your authority because you are bringing yourself to your child’s emotional level by giving a knee-jerk punishment rather than a well-thought-out consequence.

In order to avoid this temptation, we recommend waiting to give consequences until everyone is calm and then picking one thing that will be an effective motivator for your child.

4. Don’t Forget About Problem-Solving!

Many times we hear from parents, “I keep giving consequences, but my child’s behavior isn’t changing! What am I doing wrong?”

James and Janet Lehman point out that “consequences alone do not change behavior.” If that were the case, you could take away a privilege and your child wouldn’t act out anymore.

Instead, it is better problem-solving that helps your child act differently. Indeed, better problem-solving in the future is the key to lasting behavior change. And giving consequences and rewards is a tool you can use to keep your child to his or her word.

5. Be Patient and Consistent

It takes a child time to learn new behavior patterns. And it will take them time to realize that you are serious about consequences and that you will give them consistently. Therefore, don’t be discouraged if, in the beginning, your child’s behavior does not seem to change. Just let the consequences do their work and give it a little time. Most kids with behavior problems come around when this is structured right.

Related content: 4 Tips for Giving Consequences to Young Kids and Toddlers

Think about a policeman giving speeding tickets. Just because someone doesn’t slow down after their first ticket doesn’t mean that speeding tickets don’t work. They do work, it just takes some drivers longer than others to learn to slow down.

We encourage you to download copies of these consequence menus as needed with your child. We hope that this will be a helpful resource for you as you work on your child’s behavior. Feel free to leave us a comment and let us know how it’s going. And please share any consequence suggestions that worked with your child!

Menu of Daily Consequences and Rewards for Ages 5–9

Menu of Daily Consequences and Rewards for Ages 10–14

Menu of Daily Consequences and Rewards for Ages 15–17

About

Denise Rowden is a parent of two adult children and has been a parenting coach since 2010. She has worked in Special Education, Alternative Education and adolescent group homes. She has a BS in Psychology from the University of Southern Maine and is currently working on her Life Coach certification from the International Coach Federation.

Comments (28)
  • Marcia
    Hi, I have a 15 years old daughter. I’m concerned about her well behavior. We tried all the consequences. But she still doesn’t care. She is my youngest daughter. I have 4 girls. She doesn’t know how to have a conversation with the family or friends. She just like toMore make jokes to feel feet in on the conversation
  • Deborah
    What consequences can you give an 18 year old the only things that are important to her is her phone (which the house would explode if I tried to take that off her) and her allowance my daughter has adhd is currently looking for work
    • Denise Rowden, Parent CoachEP Coach

      At 18. your daughter is now an adult, so you wouldn't give consequences the same as you would for a minor child. We have several articles that focus specifically on parenting adult children you may find helpful: https://www.empoweringparents.com/article-categories/ages-and-stages/adult-children/.

      Thank you for reaching out. We appreciate you being part of our Empowering Parents community.

  • Dede143
    I have 3 kids who do not listen to a word we asked them to do they won't keep their room clean they won't do their chores which the room is one of their chores they get paid for doing them so they do get a reward if they doMore it right they are eight nine and 11 the two younger ones are girls older ones a boy none of them care if we take things away they have severe ADHD two older ones of them's got a slow learning disability they are very loving and outgoing for friends Schools teachers etcetera but at home we have a problem with authority and I don't know what else to do consequences don't work rewards dont work I just need help
    • RebeccaW_ParentalSupport

      Dede143 

      It can be very

      frustrating when your kids do not follow directions or respect your authority,

      especially when they are able to do so for others.  As Sara Bean points

      out in https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/angel-child-or-devil-child-when-kids-save-their-bad-behavior-for-you/, it’s actually a good sign that they are

      able to follow the rules and be respectful outside of your home, because it

      indicates that your kids have the skills to manage their behavior

      appropriately.  Now, it’s more a matter of applying that knowledge to

      their behavior at home.  You might find our article, https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/how-to-get-kids-to-do-chores-without-an-argument/, helpful as you move forward

      on addressing this issue.  I hope you will write back and let us know how

      things are going for you and your family.  Take care.

  • RebeccaW_ParentalSupport

    RondaMccarroll 

    I hear your concern about enforcing consequences with your

    daughter, for fear that she might try to hurt herself again.  That’s

    understandable, and any parent in your position would feel a similar way. 

    I strongly recommend working with local supports to address this, such as a

    counselor or any other professionals you might have in place as part of your

    daughter’s treatment plan and/or discharge instructions.  Because they

    have the benefit of directly interacting with both you and your daughter, they

    will be in a better position to help you develop a plan to implement moving

    forward to help you keep your daughter safe, as well as helping your daughter

    to learn more appropriate coping skills.  If you are not currently working

    with anyone, one resource might be the 211 Helpline.  211 is a service

    which connects people with supports in their communities, and you can reach

    them by calling 1-800-273-6222, or by visiting http://www.211.org/ 

    I recognize how scary and overwhelming this must be for you right now, and I

    wish you and your family all the best moving forward.  Take care.

  • Concerned momma

    I have a young child almost 3 that doesn't respond to our discipline which is stern talks time outs and 123 spankings right after

    She seems to be aggressive toward her sister 18 monthes but acts completely different one on one. I feel like she is trying for any attention even if it's negative and now I feel like it's our fat she is aggressive. What should we try next time to effectively change behavior for the better?

    • Marissa EP

      @Concerned momma 

      With a child under the age

      of 5, consequences are not always the most effective tool in changing behavior.

      Spanking is also not something we would recommend, especially when the behavior

      you are trying to correct is aggressiveness towards her sister, as it can send

      a very confusing message to a child. Staying calm and using redirection to

      another behavior or activity, as well as a positive behavior chart for the good

      behaviors can help to reinforce the types of behaviors you want to see from

      your daughter.  Empowering Parents author Dr. Joan Simeo Munson offers

      some additional tools to address aggressive behaviors in children under 5, in

      her article https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/hitting-biting-and-kicking-how-to-stop-aggressive-behavior-in-young-children/. Best

      of luck as you continue to work on this with your daughter.

  • Girl Mom
    We have a 14 year old girl and thought she was being open and honest with us. We have expressed to her many times if she wants friends (boys or girls) to hang out at our house we have no problem with that BUT one of us needs to beMore home. Even have an area for her to hang out in w/TV. She and a friend (girl) came to our house after school, which is fine, but then i caught them with boys in my house. This is the second time! First time we grounded her for 2 months. Then literally 3 weeks later she did it again!!! We are at a loss. How do we get through this? She can't be trusted alone while we're at work. What are we doing wrong??
    • RebeccaW_ParentalSupport

      Girl Mom 

      It

      can be so frustrating when your child repeats a behavior for which she has

      already received a substantial consequence.  Something I often discuss

      with parents is that consequences do not change behavior if your child is not

      also learning more https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/the-surprising-reason-for-bad-child-behavior-i-cant-solve-problems/.  That is, what will she do differently the

      next time she is home by herself after school, and wants to invite friends to

      come over?  You may also find our article https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/is-your-child-responsible-enough-to-be-home-alone-dos-and-donts-for-parents/

      useful as you figure out how to move forward with your daughter.  Please

      be sure to check back and let us know how things are going for you and your

      family.  Take care.

  • boymom
    We have a 16 year old boy who is a really good kid.  One of those kids whom everyone says they want their boys to grow up to be.  However, we caught our son "vaping" last spring, thought he had stopped, then found out that he is smoking marijuana.  WeMore have set rules, have him seeing a psychiatrist, psychologist, and we are in family therapy.  We have created a "path' for him to follow, he can choose the path with rewards, or the path with punishment.  We drug tested him last week and he was clean, however within one hour of testing him, he had a friend over and his sister caught them "vaping" in his room.  We have taken his phone and car away, as those seem to be ways to coordinate purchases and meeting up with friends to do bad things.  His friends are those good kids, from good homes, and so many of them are making horrible choices.  Any further suggestions, other than what we have done and are doing?
    • DeniseR_ParentalSupport

      @boymom

      It can be worrisome when your teen continues to make the

      same bad choices over and over again regardless of the consequences. From what

      you have written, it sounds like you have set clear limits around substance use

      in your family and in your home. You’ve also taken steps to hold him

      accountable when he doesn’t meet these limits, both things we would recommend

      parents do when they find out their child is using drugs or drinking. You’re

      also doing what you can to monitor his behavior by using periodic drug tests.

      The only thing you might change is how the consequences are being instituted. I

      understand the logic behind taking these privileges away. However, it’s

      probably not going to have the effect you’re hoping for. From our perspective,

      in order for a consequence

      to be effective it needs to be task oriented. Taking something away, such as

      his phone and driving privilege, without a plan in place for what he needs to

      do to earn them back may not be effective. Instead, you might limit his driving

      privilege whenever he tests positive for drugs. The article https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/my-child-is-using-drugs-or-drinking-alcohol-what-should-i-do/ may offer you

      additional information for dealing with this tough issue. We appreciate you

      writing in and wish you the best of luck moving forward. Take care.

  • Ronda
    We just had our first parent/teacher conferences and my 6 year old daughter is doing very well in her 1st grade subjects, however her teacher is concerned about her disrespectful behavior in school. She tends to put others down and say mean things that is causing them to be sad.More My daughter has T1D however at these times her BG is within range. She does have a problem being respectful at home as well. She is an only child and grandchild so there are several opinions on how her behavior should be handled. My husband is competitive in nature and he will call out our daughters behavior in front of other children asking if they act like that. I feel at times that my daughter thinks that other children are better than her or comparing herself to them which in fact she is very well off. Is she too young to be so self conscious? Is this causing her to be mean to other girls? Could it be jealousy?
    • RebeccaW_ParentalSupport

      @Ronda 

      It can be really difficult to hear that your child is

      having social difficulty with her classmates at school, and I’m glad that you

      are reaching out for support.  I’m pleased to hear that you have checked

      and determined that there do not appear to be any underlying medical reasons

      for your daughter’s interactions with her peers.  I also understand

      wanting to know the reason that she is acting this way with the other girls. 

      The truth is, there could be numerous reasons why your daughter is choosing to

      act this way.  Ultimately, figuring out the reason why isn’t as important

      as determining how you will address it with your daughter.  Whether she is

      doing this because she feels inadequate, jealous, self-conscious, or any other

      way, the fact remains that it is inappropriate to treat others this way

      regardless of the reason or feeling behind it.  It could be useful to talk

      with your daughter about your expectations for how she will treat her

      classmates, and role-play some scenarios with her so she has an opportunity to

      practice her social skills.  Dr. Joan Simeo Munson has some additional

      techniques you might find useful in her article http://www.empoweringparents.com/young-kids-at-school-4-top-issues-that-cause-a-rocky-start.php. 

      Please let us know if you have any additional questions; take care.

  • katrina
    Hi I have a 8 year old son who's behaviour is getting really bad he is disrespectful and gets angry and aggressive he looses his temper and daily and doesn't play well with other kids he blames everyone else for his actions an# lies a lot even about small thingsMore we have a loving family and I have tried to speak to him at all different times and he just doesn't seem to have any issues that would explain why he behaves like this I find myself getting really annoyed with his behaviour now we'reas before I was much calmer but it's been months now and I feel I'm loosing .
  • Missy
    My daughter is 14 years old.  She tends to get my things without asking & either wasting them/not bringing it back etc.  I have told/yelled/punished her over and over again about going in my craft room and getting things.  How do I get her to stay out of  my things. More I have even changed the lock on the door and she STILL does it!  I am at my wits end!  Please help me find a solution to this problem!  I even told her it's like stealing!  And advice is appreciated!
    • DeniseR_ParentalSupport

      @Missy

      What a frustrating situation. I can understand why you are

      upset. It may be useful to know that one way boundaries like you describe are

      pretty common with kids. I do have a couple of suggestions you might try.

      First, it would be helpful to hold her accountable for this behavior by having

      her either pay rent on the items she uses or have her replace the items if

      she’s not able to return them. It’s also going to be productive to sit down

      with her during a calm time and problem solve with her what she might be able

      to do differently in the future. For example, if she’s interested in doing an

      arts and crafts project, perhaps she could let you know ahead of time what

      supplies she would need. Or perhaps she could do extra chores around the house

      to earn money so she’s able to buy her own craft supplies. For more information on

      problem solving, you can check out this article - The Surprising Reason for Bad Child Behavior: “I Can’t Solve Problems”.

      We wish you the best of luck moving forward. Take care.

  • chekota777
    I have three daughters ages 7,9, 10. My youngest has ODD, my middle has not been diagnosed yet, and my oldest has multiple diagnosis. I have tried traditional parenting classes and they don't cover what I need. I am hoping to find resources that will help our family. Haveing 3More that all have mental, conduct, and behavior problems is hard sometimes like we are in a losing battle and the kids don't know we are trying to do best by them.
    • RebeccaW_ParentalSupport

      chekota777 

      We speak with many parents who have tried many different

      parenting resources, and do not feel that the information applies to the

      behavioral issues they are experiencing with their kids.  You are not

      alone in feeling frustrated and stuck.  We have numerous articles on

      parenting children with ODD, which you can find http://www.empoweringparents.com/category-Oppositional-Defiant-Disorder.php. 

      If you are looking for resources which might be available in your community,

      you might try contacting the http://www.211.org/ by

      calling 1-800-273-6222.  Please know that it’s also normal for kids to

      lack appreciation for all that parents do for them.  If you haven’t done

      so already, I encourage you to develop a support system for yourself so you can

      get validation for all the hard work you are doing and encouragement you need

      to keep going.  211 might also have information about supports for you as

      well.  I appreciate your writing in for support, and I hope that you will

      continue to check back and let us know how things are going for you and your family. 

      Take care.

  • My kids 0408
    I have a son that lies about everything can this be fixed by me or do I need to see a therapist
    • RebeccaW_ParentalSupport

      My kids 0408 

      It can be

      troubling to have a child who appears to lie about everything because the

      resulting lack of trust can do a lot of damage to your relationship.  As

      Janet Lehman points out in her article http://www.empoweringparents.com/How-to-Deal-with-Lying-in-Children-and-Teens.php, lying is a pretty common

      technique that both kids and adults use to solve different kinds of

      problems.  Something you can do as his parent is to help your son develop

      more appropriate skills through http://www.empoweringparents.com/the-surprising-reason-for-bad-child-behavior.php  Sometimes parents find it helpful to involve local

      supports, such as a counselor or therapist, in order to reinforce what is being

      taught.  If this is something you think could be beneficial, try

      contacting the http://www.211.org/ at 1-800-273-6222

      for information about available supports in your community.  Thank you for

      writing in; please write back and let us know how things are going.  Take

      care.

  • kt66
    I have a 17 year old boy who listens to offensive music that I feel affects his mood toward anger.  He wont blare it in the house. but I know he listens on his phone and in the car....I see the change come right over him and then its alwaysMore a fight with someone.  How do I "ban" it...its his choice of behavior after listening that gets him in trouble.
    • DeniseR_ParentalSupport

      kt66

      Disagreements over music are common between parents and

      teens. From our perspective, it’s often a battle better left alone as it can be

      tough to really control what he chooses to listen too. It can be helpful to

      recognize that taste in music does change over time. You may find that 6 months

      from now, he doesn’t even like the same bands he listens to now. I can

      understand wanting to control what seems to be influencing his behavior. It

      will be more effective in the long run however to focus on the behavior itself,

      by holding him accountable when he breaks a rule and also problem solving with him

      afterwards about how he could make different choices in the future. You may

      find these articles helpful to that end: Anger, Rage and Explosive Outbursts: How to Respond to Your Child or Teen’s Anger,

      The Surprising Reason for Bad Child Behavior: “I Can’t Solve Problems”,

      & How to Find the Behavioral Triggers That Set Your Kid Off. I hope you find this

      information useful. Be sure to check back if you have any further questions.

      Take care.

  • MelCar
    How do you  know when to give a consequence or reward. For example, my daughter (8yo) is always leaving clothes on the floor around the house. I want that to stop. Do I reward her if she picks up after herself.... say extra 15 minutes at bedtime and she eitherMore gets that or not (the not is the consequence) or do I add in a different consequence? for example, if she doesn't pick up her clothes she doesn't get the 15 minutes extra time AND she has to do an additional chore.  Or do I just say I expect you to pick up your clothes. If you don't do it then I will give you an additional chore.... like putting laundry away. Do I still expect her to pick up her clothes at the time I tell her she has to do the additional chore?
    • Marissa EP

      MelCar 

      In a situation like this, offering an incentive, such as

      staying up an extra 15 minutes at bedtime, will likely be the most effective

      way to go. When you offer incentives for the behavior you want to see, it is

      more likely those behaviors will continue. The plus to offering an incentive is

      that you have a built-in natural consequence. If your daughter does leave

      clothes out, she just wouldn’t earn that time and will have to go to bed at the

      normal bed time. On the flip side, giving a consequence, such as an additional

      chore, may not be as effective, especially if she is already not doing the

      first task. It may just lead to a bigger power struggle to try to now get both

      tasks completed. To help with the long-term change, it will also be helpful to have

      a conversation with your daughter and help her make a plan around how she can

      remember to take care of her clothes on her own. Good luck to you as you

      continue to work on this, and let us know if you have any more questions.

      • MelCar
        Marissa EP MelCar  Thank you! I didn't think about talking to her about coming up with a plan to help her remember! Thanks also, for your thoughts on the incentive vs consequence issue.
  • upset grandma
    I just called my son and he told us he put his five year old in a full day timeout in his room because at school another little boy approached our grandson and threatened to scratch him, our grandson spit at the boy and then the teacher sent him toMore the "positive reinforcement room" and they talked to him about his behavior.  Now he is being punished a Whole Day for something he was already punished for!
    • Meg az
      upset grandma I've always had trouble with a situation like this - i.e. essentially 2 punishments. I do think all day in his room is far too harsh for a 5 year old. Sounds liked your son was more embarrassed about what his son did, (spitting) than in looking toMore correct behavior.
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