About loss of privilege
Loss of privilege is taking away something your child enjoys as a consequence for challenging behaviour. 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 does need to understand why they’ve lost the privilege and see it as reasonable.
Loss of privilege and other consequences work best when you combine them with strategies for encouraging positive child behaviour, like positive attention and praise. It’s also important to link these consequences to your family rules and involve your child in discussing both rules and consequences.
A privilege is something your child enjoys. For example, watching TV or playing video games is a privilege. A right is something your child needs. For example, children have a right to things like food, water and the feeling of being loved. 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.
This will increase your child’s success in the short term – for example, in following rules at school. It will help your child in the long term too – for example, when they need 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 or related consequence – for example, if your child breaks a family rule by swearing.
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 – for example, by putting their skateboard away for an hour.
Loss of privilege works well when you usually have plenty of warm and positive interactions with your child. If your child’s behaviour or other things in your life are affecting your interactions with your child or you’re struggling with your child’s behaviour, ask for help. Ask your GP or child and family health nurse for advice and a referral to a counsellor or other professional.
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 for the afternoon’.
Loss of privilege isn’t useful for children younger than 6 years because they can’t connect their behaviour with the consequence. For children 3-6 years old, you could use other strategies to guide young children towards positive behaviour, including natural or related consequences or time-out.
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 autistic children.
How to use loss of privilege: steps
Use these steps to put loss of privilege into action:
- Talk with your child about your family rules and the reasons for them. For example, ‘We speak gently and politely to each other because it’s kind and respectful’.
- At a time when you’re both calm, talk with your child and agree on a loss of privilege that’s fair if your child breaks a rule. For example, ‘If you yell at me, you’ll miss out on PlayStation for the morning’.
- Give your child a chance to change their behaviour before they lose the privilege. For example, ‘Jiani, stop yelling, and please speak in a quiet voice’. 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 for doing the right thing. Keep giving your child attention and praise while your child continues behaving well. For example, ‘Jiani, I really like that calm voice you’re using 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 this morning’.
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 for an agreed time include:
- a favourite toy or game
- screen time including TV, electronic games and computers for anything other than schoolwork
- mobile phone access or credit top-up
- an after-school activity.
Tips for using loss of privilege
If you choose to use loss of privilege as a consequence in your family, these practical tips can help this consequence work well for you:
- Make sure the privilege you’re taking away is reasonable, brief and practical. For example, ‘No bike for a month’ is harsh. Your child might be resentful and less likely to cooperate with you. It might also be hard to stick to.
- Be clear and specific about the timeline. For example, ‘Because you won’t help clear the dinner dishes, you’ll miss out on your screen time tonight’.
- Put up a list of your family rules and consequences on the fridge (including any loss of privileges) as a handy reminder.
- When you and your child are discussing the privilege they’ll lose, 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 is less likely to affect others.
- Be consistent in using loss of privilege as you’ve planned. If you say you’re going to take away a privilege for a certain amount of time, make sure you do this every time the behaviour happens. Consistency makes it easier for your child to learn which behaviour isn’t acceptable in your family.
You’ll know whether the loss of privilege has worked if the challenging behaviour stops or happens less. But you might need to use it a few times before you see a change in your child’s behaviour.