Loss of Privilege: Discipline tools for kids

Discipline is teaching children the difference between acceptable and unacceptable behaviour. Using loss of privilege as a consequence for challenging behaviour can be a very effective form of discipline for children.

What is Loss of privilege?

‘Loss of privilege’ is taking away an activity or one of your child’s belongings – for example, a toy – as a consequence when your child misbehaves.

Some parents find that loss of privilege works well in their family. Other parents use loss of privilege rarely, or not at all.

It’s worth keeping in mind that being positive and affectionate with your child is a good place to start when guiding his behaviour.

Privileges and rights
A privilege is something your child likes or enjoys. A right is something your child needs. For example, children have a right to things like food and water and to feel loved. But getting to watch TV or play at a friend’s house is a privilege.

You can take away a privilege as a consequence for challenging behaviour, but you shouldn’t take away a right.

Loss of privilege as a consequence
Loss of privilege is one kind of consequence.

You can use consequences to show your child what happens when she behaves in a certain way. For example, ‘You’ll get cold if you don’t wear your sweater’ or ‘If you and your brother fight over the remote control, I’ll switch off the TV for 30 minutes’.

Consequences can help you put limits on your child’s behaviour and encourage your child to follow your family rules.

When my child got older, I found that it was hard to find effective consequences because ignoring his behaviour no longer bothered him. What worked really well was taking away his TV time if he wasn’t following our house rules. He quickly learned that I meant business and he would miss out on his favourite shows.
– Parent of a child aged seven years

Why use loss of privilege?

Losing a privilege can help change your child’s behaviour if the privilege is something he values and doesn’t want to lose. It’s a good idea to use loss of a privilege at the same time as strategies to encourage good behaviour.

Also, if your child loses privileges as a consequence of challenging behaviour, it means she has to take responsibility for her behaviour. This helps her learn self-discipline and means you won’t always be the bad guy who hands out punishments.

This will increase your child’s success in the short term – for example, in following rules at school – and help him in the long term too – for example, when he needs to know the limits at work.

When to use loss of privilege

Loss of privilege can be useful when there isn’t a natural or logical consequence – for example, if your child breaks a family rule and swears.

You can also take away a privilege when you need to back up other consequences. For example, you’ve asked your child to clean her room, but she won’t do it. You’ve set a consequence – your child will miss out on TV until she cleans her room, but she still refuses. This could be a good time to take away a privilege, such as a lift to friend’s place.

You could say, ‘Ada, you’ve decided not to clean your room, even though I’ve asked you twice. The consequence for this is that I won’t allow you go to Mariam’s place’.

This means that the privilege you’re taking away doesn’t have to be related to the behaviour you’re trying to change.

Who to use loss of privilege with

Loss of privilege works well for school-age children who can understand that the consequence is the result of unacceptable behaviour. For example, ‘David, if you choose not to do your homework, you’ll miss out on going to the beach this weekend’.

Children under three years might find it hard to understand the link between their behaviour and the loss of a privilege.


How to use loss of privilege: steps

Use these steps to put loss of privilege into action:

  • If you’re targeting one part of your child’s behaviour, plan ahead for the privilege, or privileges, that you’ll take away if your child breaks the rules.
  • Give your child a warning before you take the privilege away – for example, ‘Aisha, stop screaming or you won’t get to play on your computer today’. You might choose not to give a warning for dangerous or aggressive behaviour – for example, kicking or running onto the road.
  • If your child stops the behaviour, praise him quietly for doing the right thing. Keep giving him attention and praise while he’s behaving the way you want. For example, ‘Ahmed, I really like the way you’re using nice words to talk to your sister’.
  • If your child doesn’t stop the behaviour, wait for a short period (say, 15 seconds) and then follow through with the loss of privilege. For example, ‘Luca, because you didn’t stop yelling, you can’t watch TV for half an hour’.
  • If your child keeps misbehaving, follow up with another consequence – for example, the loss of another privilege.
  • If your child says, ‘I don’t care’ when you take a privilege away, try to ignore this and continue with removing the privilege. Your child might say this to see if you’ll choose something else, or because she needs to let out her feelings. If she cares about losing the privilege you’ve chosen, you should slowly see a change in her behaviour.

Examples of privileges

Privileges that you could take away from your child might include:

  • a favourite toy or game
  • screen time including TV, electronic games and computers for anything other than schoolwork
  • time at a friend’s house or a party
  • mobile phone access
  • an after-school activity

Tips for using loss of privilege

If you choose to use loss of privilege as a consequence in your family, here are some practical tips to help this consequence work well for you:

  • Choose what you think will work best for your family. Some parents find this consequence helpful in guiding their child’s behaviour and others don’t.
  • Make sure the privilege you’re taking away is reasonable and you can enforce it. For example, ‘No bike for a month’ is harsh and might be hard to stick to.
  • Talk with your child about your family rules and the consequences of breaking them. For example, ‘At our house we don’t hit people. If you hit someone, you’ll miss out on ballet class for that week’. Put up a list of your family rules and consequences on the fridge (including any loss of privileges) as a handy reminder.
  • Be consistent in using loss of privilege as you’ve planned. This helps your child to understand that it’s his behaviour that earns positive or negative consequences.
You’ll know whether the loss of privilege has been effective if the challenging behaviour stops, or happens less. But it might take a week or two before you see a change in your child’s behaviour.

What about giving in after a privilege has been lost?

It can be really tempting to give in and let your child have the privilege back – especially if she’s upset at losing her computer time. Most parents give in from time to time and that’s OK. But if you can stay clear and consistent, and follow through with the loss of privilege, it will help your child to change her behaviour.


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