Now that the kids are starting school and fall sports teams, I need to know if I should take away team sports or after school activities as punishment? They like their activities, so it seems like a good punishment, but their father and I often feel weird that we’re using something that effects the rest of the group or team. What do you think?
Confused about Consequences
I get asked this question a lot. There are a few things to consider when choosing a consequence:
1. Is it effective? Does it motivate your child to stop and think about their behavior and make better choices? If negative reinforcement works for your child (taking something away, or having something bad happen when they make a bad choice), then you want to choose consequences that are effective. I worked with a family who took a favorite truck away from their young daughter for 24 hours. At first, this worked well, but after the second time, she told them, “I don’t care, I’ll play with my other trucks instead.” Choose something that works and be willing to change things up when needed.
2. Does it take something important away that you don’t want your kids to miss out on? If sports practices and games give your kids the physical exercise that help to improve their mood, keep them physically healthy, release pent up energy, and have a needed break from school and family, it may not make sense to take them away. If art lessons allow your child time to express himself, connect with healthy friends, and learn coping skills (drawing is a great coping skill for unpleasant feelings), you may want to choose a consequence that doesn’t have so many other unintended negative consequences. Often sports and after school activities contribute to better behavior because of the physical exercise, self-expression, and time with friends. Taking healthy activities away may make it harder for kids to turn their behavior around.
3. Does it impact other people? I often hear parents threaten to cancel a trip to Grandma’s or a playdate if kids don’t stop misbehaving. First of all, parents usually feel too guilty to follow through on this one, as they know it’s not fair to Grandma or the friend to cancel at the last minute, so it only reinforces bad behavior because kids know an empty threat when they hear one. If you do cancel, you might be modeling things you don’t want your kids to adopt, including not fulfilling commitments, or not respecting other people’s time. If your child is a part of a group or team, it may not make sense for them to miss a practice, performance or a game, as it lets the rest of the group down.
4. Is it something you’d rather your kids not do? I like to take away things I don’t like: video games, sugary treats, TV time. I also like consequences to make my life easier, not harder. I will often have my child do a chore for me, like emptying the dishwasher or cleaning the bathroom, as a consequence. Why take away the healthy, good things when you can take away the things most of us can’t stand anyway (hello, screen time!) And the hour of screen time they lose isn’t an hour where they can argue with you or have you play with them to entertain them. It is reading time, study time, quiet time in their room, time for them to make an apology card about their bad behavior, or do one of your chores.
5. Does the punishment fit the crime? People learn best when the consequence makes sense for the behavior. Your young child draws on the wall? The consequence is cleaning the wall. Your ninth grader has failing grades? The consequence is less screen time, more study time. Your sixth grader talks rude and disrespectfully to you? The consequence is no phone time until a really good letter of apology is written. Your teen leaves dirty clothes and dishes everywhere? The consequence is she gets to do several of your chores to pay you back for the time and energy you used cleaning up after her. You get the picture.
I hope these criteria help you determine which consequences might work best for your family. I also encourage you to try positive reinforcement (positive rewards for good behavior), as that works well for a lot of kids, too. Good luck!
Shelby Riley, LMFT is the owner of Shelby Riley, LMFT and Associates, LLC. She is currently the Past President of the Pennsylvania Association of Marriage and Family Therapy (PAMFT). Remember to check out Shelby’s website www.shelbyrileymft.com for useful information about therapy for individuals, couples, and families.