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
As you come up with your menu, keep the following five tips in mind:
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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Thank you for reaching out. We have an article that addresses this exact situation. You can find it here: https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/what-to-do-when-your-child-or-teen-is-suspended-or-expelled-from-school/
We appreciate you being part of our Empowering Parents community. Be sure to check back and let us know how things are going.
I can understand your distress. Many parents of adolescents and teens face similar struggles, so you are not alone. It may be helpful to review our articles on managing risky behaviors here: https://www.empoweringparents.com/article-categories/child-behavior-problems/substance-abuse-risky-behavior/.
We appreciate you sharing your story. Be sure to check back and let us know how things are going, Take care.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.