A Tip for Picking an Effective Consequence

Posted January 27, 2016 by

A Tip for Picking an Effective Consequence

A frequent question we hear from parents is, “What should I choose as a consequence?”

Our answer is always to choose a task-specific consequence. These are the consequences that will help your child practice skills and behaviors that need improvement.

Here’s an example of what we mean by task-specific.

For example, instead of saying, “Clean your room now or I’m taking away your phone for a week!”

Try: “You know it’s your job to keep your room clean. It’s still messy. If it’s not clean by dinner, you’ll lose your cell phone privileges.”

Hopefully by dinner the room will be clean. But if it’s not, sit down with your child and tell him that he needs to tidy his room, and keep it clean for 24 hours, in order to earn his phone back.

An effective consequence requires kids to practice a behavior that needs improving. Otherwise they are just doing time.

If your family is working on consequences, you can find a great article here: Why Don’t Consequences Work for My Teen? Here’s Why and How to Fix It.

Thanks for being with us here. Feel free to share your thoughts with the Empowering Parents community below.


Marissa S., Empowering Parents Coach


Need more help with consequences? You may like James Lehman’s video program, The Complete Guide to Consequences



Marissa is a proud mom to two boys, age 10 and 5. She earned her degree in Sociology from Saint Joseph’s College of Maine and has been a 1-on-1 Coach since 2011. Prior to coming to Empowering Parents, Marissa gained experience working as the House Manager of a group home for teenage boys, as a Children’s Mental Health Case Manager, and also spent several years working on the Children’s Unit at a Psych. Hospital.

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  1. Macmom (Edit) Report

    I’d like a consequence for lying. My 9yr old has been caught in a lie several times now and I’m don’t know a good consequence to teach her with

    • Empowering Parents Coach drowden Report

      You ask a great question. Lying can be a tough behavior to
      manage because you’re not always going to know when your child is lying. When
      you do catch your child in a lie, it’s usually more effective to focus on
      helping her develop better problem solving skills, as Janet Lehman explains in
      her article https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/how-to-deal-with-lying-in-children-and-teens/. This doesn’t mean you can’t hold
      your child accountable for lying with a consequence. Having her go to bed a
      half an hour earlier or not being able to watch TV for the evening are examples
      of small consequences you could use. I hope you find this information useful.
      We appreciate you writing in. Take care.

  2. Charlene Weeks Report

    My six year old son and his same age friend intentionally used their football and toys to see how hard it would be to break a hole in the screen on our porch. They each blamed the other as the initiator. They both expressed apology. What would you suggest as a consequence.

    • Empowering Parents Coach Marissa Stephens, 1-on-1 Coach Report

      Two moms 

      Thanks for writing in with your question! Figuring out an
      appropriate consequence for a behavior is a challenge for many parents. If this
      is the first time a particular behavior has happened, than a limit-setting conversation,
      letting your son and his friend know what the rule is about throwing things
      into the screen should be sufficient. You might let them know that if it happens
      again, there will be consequence. The consequence should be time-limited and
      task-oriented, such as the loss of the football until the kids can show you for
      one hour that they can follow the rule of not throwing things into the screen.
      One-on-One Coach Rebecca Wolfenden has an article to help you create a list of
      age-appropriate consequences, which might also be helpful, entitled https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/which-consequence-should-i-give-my-child-how-to-create-a-list-of-consequences-for-children/. Best of luck to you and your family!

  3. irisgripri (Edit) Report

    Thank you so much for the long reply! I appreciate it a lot and will give your idea a try, it sounds like something that could work for us!

  4. gec58187 Report

    Hello, This is my first post.  My son is 10 years this week, with ADHD (on meds), and it looks like ODD (he’s being tested/evaluated for that and it looking likely if not obvious).  Despite his looking forward to his birthday this Thurs, his choices and behaviors have been some of the worst in the last year, and ever.  Including hitting me, throwing food in the home, and ofcourse the constant arguing and blaming even, even for his throwing food at night after I went to bed.  I’m so exhausted and upset (single mom, very little outside support), I haven’t  done much regarding his birthday.  I’ve tried to come up with consequences and thought about partially celebrating it (i.e. cake, dinner, candles) and postpone anything else till I have the time and energy (or when his choices improve?).  I love him, but he has to learn that unacceptable behavior can’t happen without a consequence.  I’m too tired and I fear he and I as a family are falling apart. I’ve already had a friend take him for a weekend just to give myself a break. Sometimes, he can be so good, so much fun, and knows what he needs to do and does it without question. 

    Support appreciated and ofcourse ideas.


  5. mom22boys (Edit) Report

    Yay!  I’m so glad to help.  Honestly it’s what it came down to for us- he didn’t have an attitude of obedience toward his parents.  He didn’t deliberately  just walk out of the house or say No way I’m not cleaning up my room/ turning off TV etc. He just whined, argued, and just made a big stinking problem out of just about everything. When he is preoccupied much of the time with saying “Yes Mom” it just comes out better. lso, when we are hearing more of those words, we behave more patiently with the missteps and can remind (however I don’t give credit for reminded Yes Moms) He knows that once he gets into the swing, it is just fine to OCCASIONALLY say “Yes Mom, I will, would it be ok to finish this chapter first and then do it?” or even to kind of groan “Yessss Mom” from time to time, as long as he stays in control of himself.  I think it all depends on what your child’s misbehavior entails.  They will test and try to get you to give multiple instructions so they can rack up a bunch of Yes Moms.  And we of course don’t abuse it.  We aren’t asking anything out of the ordinary and my oldest needs lots of instruction to remember his daily grind, other kids might not.  My boys (6 and 12) at one point were competing.  Whoever had the most % over their goals at the end of the week (they had different requirements bc 6 year old talks less and needs less guidance), the winner got to pick the Sunday outing or activity.  It was funny because they always decided together anyway.  We haven’t used the outing goal since last Summer.  We put the younger child into this last time because it helped get his brother in gear, because the younger was better at it!   I also give a minus 2 for arguing.  My son will admit it really does make him happier when he’s done this for a week or so,so we keep it going as long as we can until someone gets sick or we get out of practice.  

    Iris, we just take a piece of paper and put Yes Mom/Dad at the top.  Then make a section with the day and the goal “SAT 60” and often I will write “30/30” to push him to get 30 in the am and 30 in the pm. Then we just use tally marks.  He tends to exaggerate, so usually the parent has to fill those out unless we ask him to.  One day on an outing I kept track on my phone notepad.   If he has lost a privilege and has to meet his Yes Mom goal for three days, I will follow it up with… you will then re-lose the privelege unless you maintain this level of Yes Moms until further notice, or two weeks or whatever.  It works pretty well for us. Sometimes not immediately, but overall it becomes a big change that stays for a while and my son doesn’t fight it when we reinstitute it because he knows it helps us all. Keeps us from having to come up with mundane jobs or consequences and the cure for the problem is built into the plan and consequence.  We came up with this last year when I took his Super Bowl away from him because he was being so horrible for weeks and of course I was totally impatient and a nag by then.  So I told him the day before, that before the Super Bowl starts you have to get 60 or 100 or something Yes Moms/Dads or you’re not watching.  He really went to town and it has been a viable resource for us ever since.

  6. aimer (Edit) Report

    i have a 16 year old who is very strong willed. Quite negative/critical in nature. weekends sleeps in until 11 pm, rolls out of bed , computer, down for a late breakfast which he expects me to make, then maybe a walk around the house then back up to his room for a few hours. he is engaed in sports hockey once a week, works out after school 3x weekly each time for 11/2 hours. gets average grades, has a tutor which I pay for, but when asked to clean his room, do laundry, help out around the house we get  ill do it later, never gets done, I promis, still never gets done. we have cut out the innernet until he does it but that doesn’t really have long lasting effects. mu husband has some lecture loud voice engagements with child which usually ends up in cursing from the child. he attends regular sunday mass, but I guess im at a loss about my expectations, any suggestions, I don’t want loud confrontations.

    • Empowering Parents Coach Marissa Stephens, 1-on-1 Coach Report


      Ah, the joy of teenagers! I can certainly hear how
      frustrating your son’s behaviors can be, and would agree that loud
      confrontations only add to the chaos and fuel the power struggles. Because it
      sounds like your son is having success in some important areas of his life, it
      may be helpful to look at ways you can use natural consequences to motivate
      your son to complete tasks like laundry and room care. Sara Bean has a great
      article addressing  just that, called https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/5-areas-to-let-your-child-face-natural-consequences/.  Good luck to you
      as you continue to work through this with your son.

    • Dad (Edit) Report

      Keep praying for your child. God chose you as a parent for a reason. Don’t engage when one of you are angry. Screamers demonstrate they’re not equip to handle the situation. Also, it’s teaching your child a wrong way to handle problems. Stay calm. Set expectations with your son and include a timeframe to get them done.
      Lay down the cards. You can say something like this: ” Son can I talk to you for a minute. I noticed that when I asked you to…. it doesn’t get done. I want you to know that’s not acceptable.i will let you…..after you finish what I ask you to do. The sooner you finish…the longer you can play/ watch/etc. When I check your room make sure there’s nothing on the floor.
      Notice and Reward good behavior right away.
      His task: clean up/etc
      Positive consequence: he gets to play after
      No task… No reward
      It’s like getting a job. Treat your child like an employee. No work …no pay. No yelling/ screaming/ cursing. Do not engage when your very angry. Make it clear that while he’s under your roof, your rules are to be followed.
      Show love but be firm and don’t bend your rules.
      I hope this helps.👍

  7. D (Edit) Report

    How in the world is a messy room connected to a cell phone or its use?  Firstly, a messy room is a child’s business…as a parent it’s our job to model, show and explain the benefits of a tidy room (e.g.. less stress, know where belongings are, free to have company over without embarrassment etc. etc.) Children figure out very quickly about the “remove privileges games” that parents play….soon that kid will be down to a bare mattress and won’t care, and that “teaches” nothing. I could go on an on here but wanted to say that this post is way off base!

  8. Docnoronha (Edit) Report

    My daughter screams and threatens and gets her way. My younger son is terrified of her and I don’t have spousal support for discipline . She just won’t do I tif she does not want to. She knows standing in front of my face and screaming will make me give in for the sake of peace in my house.

  9. CariShepard (Edit) Report

    Okay, I need some help coming up with consequences.  My oldest (he is 22 but due to his having Down Syndrome and Autism is functioning at a much younger age) likes to get up at night and take pop/soda that is purchased for his father (his father uses the pop/soda like many people use coffee as he works night shift and typically takes 3 bottles with him for his 12-hour shift).  We have tried having him replace the pop/soda (1 six pack taken with 4 six packs, we tend to buy it on sale when it is 4-5 six packs for $10) — this isn’t working.  When he is caught, he swears he won’t steal again, yet continues.  We do attempt to keep it locked, but sometimes there are a bottles in the fridge (most people prefer to drink cold pop/soda) or left out for one reason or another.  My son then blames his taking it on it being left where he can get it or worse yet, on me not getting up and catching him before he gets it.  (We have an alarm on his door due to his wandering tendencies, and he knows the rule is at night, he is not to go past the bathroom door — basically he can use the bathroom and then back to bed.  If I don’t get up and sit on the couch until he returns to bed he feels that means he has ‘permission’ to get into stuff {food/pop}.)

    • lynlite (Edit) Report

      Leave the pop at work. Sometimes you can win through teaching but you’ve done an excellent job teaching but your son seems to have a delay in his self control. You can try to teach the self control in other ways but if the pop is important, keep it out of reach. Maybe if you have a pop free house then he can earn pop as a reward, it certainly seems to motivate him. 😉

    • Empowering Parents Coach Marissa Stephens, 1-on-1 Coach Report


      Thanks for writing in with your question, and I can hear how
      frustrating your situation must be.When
      it comes to giving consequences for a child, teen, or young adult with a
      developmental disability, I would encourage you to check in with your child’s
      doctor or treatment team, to help determine what might be a developmentally
      appropriate consequence, or help identifying what consequences may have been
      helpful in the past. Best of luck to you and your family as you continue to
      work on this with your son.

      • CariShepard (Edit) Report

        Marissa EP CariShepard , they are as stumped as we are.  I know developmentally he is anywhere from 2 years to 4 years (to at times any age up to his chronological age).  His assessments put him squarely at 3 years 1 month last year (but again the range can go from 2 year to 22 though the older ages aren’t consistent).

  10. Jennifer Report

    Our 15 year old son takes things around the house (like tools, tape, scissors, tape measures, etc) and uses them for purposes which often causes them to be damaged.  Then, on top of that, he doesn’t return them to their rightful spot (even if they have not been damaged) so when one of the other family members needs these supplies, we can’t find them.  What would  a task-specific consequence look like in this case?

    • Empowering Parents Coach Marissa Stephens, 1-on-1 Coach Report


      Hi, thanks for writing in with your question. I can
      understand how frustrating it must be to not have tools and materials in their
      places when you go to use them. When you find this is the case, you might put a
      privilege on hold until the materials are put away, and if they are damaged,
      the privilege might be put on hold until the item is repaired or replaced.
      Janet Lehman, co-creator of our Total Transformation program offers some
      additional tips in her article, https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/how-to-get-your-child-to-listen-9-secrets-to-giving-effective-consequences/.
      Best of luck to you and your family as you continue to work on this issue with
      your son.

  11. mom22boys (Edit) Report

    When my son was younger, I always tried to use surprise (not warned) logical consequences and empathy to the infraction. So sad, you threw a toy, you lose the toy.  You don’t turn the TV off when asked or have a fit about it, so sad, no TV for the weekend, etc.  However, starting at about age 9 it became very difficult to figure out his “currency” and related consequences didn’t fit griping, snarking, or arguing.  It really is screen time, treats, and mostly that phone (even tho it is wifi only), or occasionally an outing is cancelled, period.  I still try to use related consequences if I can (ie:you bought more than two treats on your lunch account this week, I shut down extras on your lunch account next week), but for attitude issues with adolescents and teens, that is difficult.  And I pay thousands of dollars for tournament baseball and am not about to throw it away for simple smaller behavior issues, by not taking him to practice (OK for rec sports).  Baseball is very good for him.  A few years ago, he had to sign a contract with us that showed that he could maintain his homework schedule and grades, and attitude specifics in order to be signed up for Fall.  But now we are past that at age 12.  Our favorite go-to consequences are task-specific which I learned from James Lehman’s video!  They are now no phone/screen/dessert/nerf gun/ phone/bedtime extension/playing with neighbor kids, until I see three days of (insert behavior change).  It works beautifully and is a nice short term goal.  Sometimes it takes only three days to succeed, sometimes two weeks, but it is clear expectation.  And the weirdest thing we created and instituted with our son last year and have gone back to it many times to curb snarky, disobedient behavior, is a “Yes Mom/Dad” tally sheet and goals.  Nipped that negative attitude in the bud AND he became HAPPIER and we certainly did.  He can get into very bad habits at 12 pitting himself against us.  But it works like this: Goal is 30 Yes Moms for a school day, 60 for a weekend day.   He concentrates on saying Yes Mom and taking care of things and he ends up with WAY more “yeses” and freedom and nobody is griping at him. He is clearly so much happier with those guidelines. We don’t take advantage, it is just a nice replacement for stomping off, arguing, debating, or the grunted “ok” or no answer at all.  My 6 year old likes it too!  Keeping track is a pain, but it is proactive once a problem is seen and gives him a goal to shoot for. Once he has earned back whatever he needed a week of good Yes Moms for, we keep it going for a few weeks or a month to seal in the behavior.  We could do it year round, but it can be a bit cumbersome.

    • mom22boys (Edit) Report

      @Kim For young kids, they can lose the item they had issues about (TV/toy/basketball) until they show you for certain amount of time that they can play/talk respectfully (1 hour, until the timer goes off, res of afternoon- based on age).  They can also do a chore to replace the energy you used handling the issue or cleaning up their clothes off the bathroom floor for them (basically paying back your time/energy)- my kids as preschoolers could empty the trash cans and say to me why he was replacing my energy.  Little kids may not do a great job of vacuuming or dusting, but as long as they are doing their best, just tell them they really worked hard to pay you back. Forgive them and move on. My kindergartener can empty the dishwasher.  Sometimes I have the kids (6 & 12) do a job together if they have been bickering and taking up my energy to continuously intervene.  The job together is done to “practice” working together.  We have lots of jobs like that if they need more practice too.

  12. Tracie Report

    Wouldn’t it make even more sense to have a consequence that relates to the task they didn’t do? For example, what if you said, “Your room is awfully messy. I’m thinking you may have too much stuff in there for you to manage. Why don’t you spend a few hours in there cleaning up what is important to you. When you’re done, I’ll take care of the rest.” Then, when they are done, go in and remove whatever didn’t get cleaned up. You could get rid of it, put it away to be earned back by doing extra chores, etc.  This only happens once or twice before they understand their room needs to be clean. A phone has no link to a messy or clean bedroom, so taking it away isn’t really a logical consequence. If they were abusing their phone privileges by having it in their room when they aren’t allowed to, then it makes perfect sense to take away a phone.
    With teens, it might make sense to say, “I see you’re having trouble with keeping your room clean. So in the future, before I give you permission to go out, I’ll be checking your room to see if it’s clean. If it isn’t, you don’t even need to ask, because I’ll be saying no.” This puts them in control of the situation but the end result is the same.
    Of course, we want our kids to listen to us because we’re the parent and they need to respect our requests, but, in the long run, if the consequences are logical the kids seem to understand and learn from them much better.

  13. ForConsideration (Edit) Report

    Personally, I think always going for the cell phone is a mistake. I know it seems like it is the only thing they care about, but it’s not. There are other options. I prefer to tie it to something that they want. For example… “I’ve asked you a few times to clean your room and it’s still not done. If it isn’t done before your soccer practice, you won’t be going.” You can tie it to desert. You can tie it to a special event. If you are going to go for the phone, don’t make it an extended duration. That often punishes the parent as well because you can’t get hold of your child during the day.  I’m a fan of taking it away for the evening. For example, “I’ve asked you a couple of times to clean your room. If it’s not cleaned by dinner, I’ll be taking it for the evening. You can have it back in the morning, assuming your room is cleaned up.”. Might not seem like much of a different, but to a kid that’s a big deal, as it is when they are in prime communication mode with their friends. Just food for thought.

  14. Rose (Edit) Report

    I recently watched a video where it said to have consequences be most effective it needs to relate to the behavior itself. So taking away a phone pri ledge for a messy room, does not fit that criteria. Is there another consequence that would fit messy room? Thank.

    • mom22boys (Edit) Report

      @Rose I believe that is much easier when they are preschool/early elementary.  When they get older10 and up, there often isn’t a related task.  I struggled with that for years.  If I can make it related, I try to.  Sometimes we just have him do a certain amount of minutes of chores, ie: those last 30 minutes I spent handling your fit and arguing about whatever, was time I was going to be folding that basket of laundry and unloading the dishwasher. So now I am moving on to my next thing and you will complete those for me.  hat is 30 min of work, and you make take as long as you need to do it, however when you are done, you are free to play/read, etc.  My son is still very emotional at 12, so we deal more with the overreactions and attitude than we do deliberate disbehaviors, which may have easier related tasks (don’t come home on time, don’t go out with friends tomorrow and not until three days of following all house rules, etc) but we haven’t crossed that bridge yet.

    • Empowering Parents Coach Marissa Stephens, 1-on-1 Coach Report


      Thanks for your question! To clarify, the privilege in this
      scenario can be anything you choose to withhold, and doesn’t necessarily have
      to be connected to the room care. How
      they earn the privilege back though, is what you do connect to the messy room.
      The privilege would be earned back once the behavior that caused them to lose
      the privilege has been corrected, in this case, cleaning the messy room. I hope
      this helps!



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