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Removing privileges is a popular discipline technique among parents, but should you use it? And if you do, how?
Today's question is simple — should you take stuff away from your kids when they do things you don't like, as a way to teach them just how much you don't like it and hopefully to get them to stop doing it? The answer, though? Not straightforward at all. 

If you were looking for a "yes" or "no" answer, you can stop reading right now, because you're not gonna get one. I'm a mom to one tween and one teen, and I'm still struggling with this question myself. You will, however, get some reasons to remove privileges, some reasons not to, and some tips on how to do it if you decide to use this discipline technique. 

Removing privileges as a parenting tool: Why not to do it

I think we can all agree that we want to raise children to be generally decent people. That is, we want to teach our kids to have empathy, to do the right thing, to be kind to others whenever reasonably possible, not to pick fights for no reason, to use their words instead of their fists, and not to boss others around just because they're bigger and stronger. Among many other things, of course. 

The "positive parenting" school of discipline holds that punishments aren't a good way to teach our kids to be kind and compassionate at all. If we don't want to see these things in our kids, in short, we really shouldn't engage in them ourselves, either. And punishments can very much fall into that category. 

Most of us know that spanking isn't all that great or productive by now, and many have turned to less physical techniques such as time-outs and the removal of privileges, as alternatives. Advocates of "positive parenting" don't see these alternatives as good enough.

They would like parents to ask themselves if they want their kids behaving "well" because they're afraid to have their stuff taken away, not because it's the right thing to do, lying, and not learning how to take responsibility for their own actions, because consequences are externally imposed by parents.

If your answer is that you'd like your child to do the right thing because it's the right thing, "positive parents" would advise you to focus on setting limits and communicating very effectively — AKA reasoning with your children. Sometimes this works. Seeing if it does is always a good idea, in my opinion.

What if it doesn't work, though? Your child promises to do better, but doesn't, or your child just ignores you and carries on doing whatever they want to be doing? One fascinating study ended with the conclusion that there's no evidence that "positive parenting" or parenting without punishment is the better approach, emotionally or in terms of behavioral outcomes. It might work swimmingly if you already have a compliant child, but otherwise? Other tools may have to come out of the bag for the sake of everyone's sanity.

Why to consider using the removal of privileges as a discipline technique

The American Academy of Pediatrics is fully behind the removal of privileges as a parenting technique, saying: "Discipline older children by temporarily removing favorite privileges, such as sports activities or playing with friends." It's better than spanking, effective, and considered totally appropriate when done right. 

Such a strategy is seen as being a healthy part of an "authoritative parenting style", in which parents respond with warmth and connection but also have high expectations of their children. This is the parenting style that research widely points to being most successful. The other two are permissive parenting, in which no boundaries are set, and authoritarian parenting, in which parents lay down the law without all that much consideration for a child's needs. 

Taking privileges away: How to do it if you do it

OK, now for some practical tips:

  • If you take privileges away, use logic. Don't take access to soccer practice away because your child spent the money you gave him to buy books on fast food, potentially causing them to be more unhealthy. Don't say your child can't play with Lego because they've been spending too much time on the internet, potentially making the offline world even less exciting. Removing access to a light-saber toy because your child hit her brother over the head with it, or saying your child cannot have screen time until they demonstrate they have done their homework, is more logical. 
  • Try to make sure the removal of this privilege doesn't punish others as well. Saying you won't take your child to the cinema because they misbehaved punishes everyone if that means everyone has to stay home, potentially causing all-round resentment from different quarters than you expected. 
  • Taking the thing away is punishment enough. Don't also talk about why for hours. 
  • You're trying to correct behavior, not create anger. Taking away a privilege for a short amount of time will work fine for minor infractions. (I remember my mom once told me I couldn't hang out with my friends for the rest of the school year after coming home late one time. I didn't learn anything. I was just angry. She didn't even follow up on the threat.)
  • That brings me to another point: If you say you're going to take a certain action in response to a certain behavior, do it. Think it out carefully before you share this information with your child and make sure it's reasonable, though. 
  • There's no need to yell. Just inform your child of your chosen consequence calmly. 

The goal of removing privileges should be to correct behavior and teach a lesson, not to make your child feel bad for the sake of it.

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