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Loss of privilege: discipline tools for kids

4-15 years

Loss of privilege is when you take away one of your child’s activities or belongings as a consequence for challenging behaviour. It can be a good way of teaching children the difference between acceptable and unacceptable behaviour, which is the aim of discipline for kids.

Loss of privilege: the basics

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 families. 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. And when you praise your child for behaving well it encourages him to keep doing the right thing in the future. 

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, water and the feeling of being 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 jumper’ or ‘If you and your brother fight over the computer, I’ll switch it off 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 did work 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. It’ll 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 a useful consequence when there isn’t a natural 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. A natural consequence could be that she can’t find her shoes. If she still refuses, this could be a good time to take away a privilege, like afternoon TV.

The privilege you’re taking away doesn’t have to be related to the behaviour you’re trying to change, but your child needs to understand why he has lost the privilege.

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, ‘Imogen, if you choose not to do your homework, you’ll miss out on going to the park this afternoon’.

Children under three years might find it hard to understand the link between their behaviour and the loss of a privilege. Our Toddlers Behaviour Toolkit has other strategies for managing toddler behaviour.

Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) need to understand when the privilege will be available again, because they might think it’s lost forever. You can read more in our article on managing challenging behaviour in children with ASD.

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, ‘Ellery, 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 her quietly for doing the right thing. Keep giving her attention and praise while she’s behaving the way you want. For example, ‘Amalie, I really like the way you’re using nice words to talk to your brother’.
  • If your child doesn’t stop the behaviour, wait for a short period (about 15 seconds) and then follow through with the loss of privilege. For example, ‘Luca, you didn’t stop yelling, so you can’t watch TV for half an hour’.
  • If your child keeps misbehaving, follow up with another behaviour management strategy – for example, either the loss of another privilege or time-out.
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 he needs to let out his feelings. If he cares about losing the privilege you’ve chosen, you should slowly see a change in his 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 or credit top-up
  • an after-school activity
  • a lift to a social activity.

Tips for using loss of privilege

Choose what you think will work best for your family. Some parents find this consequence helpful in guiding their children’s behaviour and others don’t. 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:

  • 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.
  • Be clear and specific about the timeline. For example, ‘We don’t throw balls in the house. If you throw a ball inside, I’ll put it away for the rest of the day’.
  • 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.
  • When you’re choosing the privilege to take away, think about the overall effect. For example, missing a game for a team sport might affect the whole team, not just your child. But a little less screen time could be a healthy outcome for most children.
  • Be consistent in using loss of privilege as you’ve planned. This helps your child to understand that it’s her 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 he’s upset at losing his 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 his behaviour.

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Last updated or reviewed
28-11-2016

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Raising Children Network is supported by the Australian Government. Member organisations are the Parenting Research Centre and the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute with The Royal Children’s Hospital Centre for Community Child Health.

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