Earned Privileges for Children

After observing many, many parents and children, I have come to the conclusion that all too often, parents automatically give their children privileges as if they were rights. To be fair, there is quite a bit of cultural pressure to provide things for our children that other parents give to their children. This culture of automatic privilege creates an expectation of entitlement in children.

Often, parents use the removal of privileges as a tool for discipline. This is a fine and often effective approach. But a problem with the approach these days is that the child has so many privileges that taking one or even two away are not very effective at changing their behavior.

How many times have you taken something away, only to hear the child say: “I don’t care” ?

In some situations where there have been multiple attempts to modify the child’s behaviors unsuccessfully, it may be a better idea to “draw a line in the sand”, and remove all privileges when that line is crossed. This is a drastic behavior shaping move to make, and should only be done with great consideration, planning, and as a team effort by all of the adults that care for the child. Once decided to be used, the primary adults responsible for carrying it out need to follow through to a high degree (100%). If not, the whole process will be ineffective.

The first consideration is to fully understand what the word “privilege” means in this context: it means everything that is not necessary for daily living. That means such things as: food treats, special food, such as favorite cereals or soda, between meal eating, cable for the in bedroom TV, special events, going to friends homes, and use of the phone. (I am sure there is even more!) Essentially, anything that belongs to you, is paid for by you, that the child uses, is a privilege.

One thing you may notice is that I do not list toys and other private property of the child’s. Taking such things as part of “privileges” is very drastic, and should be considered only in the most difficult cases. The reason for this is that when we take a piece of property from a child, we are risking violating a deeply personal concept. What we can do though, is to make the use of that item difficult or restricted. If the child is not permitted outdoors, we have kept them from using their bike. If we pull the cable from their room, they cannot use the TV very well. If we state that none of their toys can be played with in the community areas, we have removed a privilege.

One exception to toy or property removal is if the child throws or tries to destroy their own toys and property. In this case, taking the stuff away is done in order to protect the child (and your doors, wall, and windows) from harm.

The second consideration is that this method will “tie down” the adult(s) responsible for administering it. And that really means “tied down”: you will be administering the process 24/7. If you do not feel that you can do this, then don’t even try the method!

The final job on the list is to create a contract that includes the “line in the sand”. This should be the criteria that when met, means that all privileges are removed. A good criteria is “three strikes, and you’re out!” The contract then details how privileges are returned. A good rule of thumb is a return of one privilege (chosen by the child) per day that the undesired behaviors do not reappear. The value of having the child choose what is returned is two fold: to give the child some control in the situation, and to discover what privileges the child prizes most (this can be useful later when you only remove one privilege). If the child earns back ten privileges, and the undesirable behavior re-presents, all privileges are again removed, to be earned back day by day. Look up the “Privilege List” for an outline of common privileges that are seen by many as “rights”.

Remember to consult with the other adults on your parenting team, and really work together!

Good Luck!


This contract is for:________________________________________

Specific behaviors that will cause all privileges (see “Privilege List”, attached) to be removed:

Additional privileges not listed on “Privilege List”:

Privileges will be returned at a rate of one privilege per day (choice of which belongs to ______________). All earned privileges will remain in place as long as the above listed behaviors are not presented. Should any of the behaviors present, all privileges will be once again removed and need to be re-earned.


___________________________ ___________________________

___________________________ ___________________________

___________________________ ___________________________

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Lah 5 years ago

This article is brilliant !

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