Loss of privilege: the basics
Loss of privilege is taking away something your child enjoys as a negative consequence when your child misbehaves. For example, you might not let your child play video games if they refuse to do their homework.
The privilege you’re taking away doesn’t have to be related to the behaviour, but your child needs to understand why they’ve lost the privilege.
Some parents find that loss of privilege works well in their families. Other parents use loss of privilege rarely, or not at all.
Privileges and rights
A privilege is something your child 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.
Why use loss of privilege?
If your child loses privileges as a consequence of challenging behaviour, it means your child has to take responsibility for their behaviour. This helps your child 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 your child in the long term too – for example, when they need to know the limits at work.
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
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 their room, but your child won’t do it. A natural consequence could be that your child can’t find their shoes. If your child still refuses, this could be a good time to take away a privilege, like visiting a friend or going on a planned outing.
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. Instead you can use toddler behaviour management tools to make it easier for your child to behave well.
Autistic children or children with learning difficulties might need your help 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, ‘Jiani, stop yelling or you won’t get to use the PlayStation today’. But always step in straight away to prevent dangerous or aggressive behaviour – for example, kicking or running onto the road.
- If your child stops the behaviour, praise your child quietly for doing the right thing. Keep giving your child attention and praise while your child is behaving the way you want. For example, ‘Jiani, I really like the way you’re using nice words to talk to me now’.
- 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, ‘Jiani, you didn’t stop yelling, so you can’t use the PlayStation today’.
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 whether you’ll choose something else, or because your child needs to let out their feelings. If your child cares about losing the privilege you’ve chosen, you should slowly see a change in their behaviour.
Examples of privileges
Privileges that you could take away from your child 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
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 morning’.
- 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 time playing online games 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 behaving in a particular way earns negative consequences or rewards.
You’ll know whether the loss of privilege has worked 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. 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 their behaviour.