The Big List of Effective Consequences (a.k.a. What to do When You Butt Heads with Your Kids)

I hope you were able to attend some of the talks at last month’s Catholic Homeschool Conference. After 14+ years of homeschooling, I still find there is always something new to learn.

Browsing through some of the comments and chat feed, I was reminded that many parents really struggle with getting their kids to obey and/or do their school work:

We started homeschooling last year The transition from public school (4 boys) has been challenging.

I’ve got two boys and am trying to homeschool them the last two years and it’s not going well… I can’t get them to do work.

“Finding the right practical consequence is what I find hard to think of when they do disobey.

“Obedience is one of the hardest things to master as a parent with children.”

Yes, I know. I’ve been there.

So, as an addendum to my talk on “How to Get Your Kids to Obey”, I’m sharing this big bad list of effective consequences.  It really helps to know ahead of time what you’re going to do if your child flat out refuses to complete a math assignment, or argues about having to take out the garbage, or  has gotten into the terrible habit of ignoring you every time you ask him/her to do something.

Having a consequence in mind as soon as your child shows any resistance helps in several ways:

  1. It reduces your feelings of frustration or helplessness
  2. It gives you a sense of control over the situation, which comes across in your tone of voice and demeanor
  3. It puts and end to the nagging and arguing which can easily escalate into a yelling match
  4. It helps avoid over-punishment or threats of ridiculous, unrealistic punishments which reduce your credibility

So without further ado, here is The Big List of Effective Consequences — not comprehensive by any means, certainly not hard and fast rules, but rather ideas of what you could do under different circumstances.

For Little Kids, 3-7 years old:

A) If they won’t eat their dinner/fruits/veggies/whatever it is you want them to eat:

  • No dessert
  • No leaving the table until the food is finished
  • Take the food, put it in the fridge, and serve it at the next meal, and no snacks or other food until that food is consumed

B) If they won’t clean up their toys:

  • Set the timer. Give your child 5-10 minutes to study up. Once the timer goes off, confiscate any toys that aren’t cleaned up for 3-5 days.

C) If they won’t share a toy or take turns:

  • Confiscate the toy for 3-5 days

D) If they hit their siblings or say mean words:

  • Send them to stand in the corner facing the wall for 5-10 minutes (or longer depending on the offense) and until they are ready to apologize sincerely. A good apology should include these words, “I am so sorry for doing _________ or saying __________.  Will you forgive me?

E) If they take a tantrum:

  • First determine the cause of the tantrum. 
    • If a child takes a tantrum because he is tired, hungry, or having difficulty expressing his wants, verbally acknowledge his emotions and the cause for his feelings. For example, “You are upset because you are hungry.” Then model how the proper way to express their needs. ie. “Do you need a snack? Say,Mommy, can I have a snack, please?’”  Once the child has calmed down and made his request in a nice tone of voice, give him what he needs or wants (obviously within reason).
    • If a child takes a tantrum  because things are not going his way or he is not getting what he wants, again, verbally acknowledge his emotions and the cause for his feelings. You can try to calm your child using distractions and humor. But then make it clear to the child that taking a tantrum is not the way to get what he wants and because he took a tantrum he will not get what he wants. For example, “You are upset because you don’t want to go home yet. But it’s time to go home. Get up and let’s go. Because you took a tantrum, we aren’t coming back here for a long time.” This will probably make your child even madder. However,  it’s important to teach your children that tantrums are not an effective way of communication and will even cause the opposite result of what they want. Your job is not to placate your child, but to teach him a lesson. Do this by giving a consequence directly related to what he’s screaming about.
    • So, if your child takes a tantrum because she wants a lollipop, tell her she won’t get one for the next three days. 
    • If your child takes a tantrum because he doesn’t want to go to bed, put him in his room and shut the door. Sit outside the door and wait until he calms down. Once he calms down, enter the room and say, “Good calming down.  Now it’s time to sleep. No story tonight because you took a tantrum.  Good night, I love you.
    • Prolonged tantrums are often a show. If this is the case, don’t give your child the pleasure of your attention. You can say something like, “You can stay in this room/corner until you have calmed down. I’ll come back when you’re done.” 
    • Once a child has calmed down, always offer praise for calming down and give lots of love. But remain firm in the consequence.

Remember, many children easily forget and easily let go of things. One minute they might be screaming and shrieking, the next moment they’re running around laughing. So, learn to let go and try not to stew over your children’s behavior.

I have found that tantrums peak at around four years of age and usually end once a child becomes socially aware, around five. This is especially true if you do not placate your children every time they take a tantrum by giving them what they want.

For Big Kids, 8-13

A) If they won’t do their chores or do a task you ask them to:

  • make them do additional chores

B)   If they leave their shoes/clothes/personal items on the middle of the floor:

  • Give them one warning and have them put the item away. Next time, confiscate the clothing and/or put the shoes where it’s highly inconvenient for your kids to retrieve them ie. the basement, shed, etc.

C) If they whine, argue, or complain about their school work:

  • Assign extra work

D) If they refuse to do their school work or the extra assignment:

  • Withhold all privileges until the work is done, and done well.  Such privileges include desserts, snacks, playdates, family movie night, listening to music/audiobooks, any recreational screen time, attending extracurricular activities, etc.

E) If they are mean to siblings:

  • Make them write a letter of apology, at least three paragraphs long
  • Make them write a list of ten to twenty good qualities their sibling has
  • Make them do their siblings’ chores for the rest of the day or week
  • Or make them give the sibling a gift

F) If a child is habitually mean to a sibling, or if two siblings are always fighting:

  • Stop providing playdates and tell the children they need to first get along with each other before they get to play with other kids. You will probably need to have some good discussions with the kids one-on-one to determine and address the root cause. Often it is the case where one child needs to stop provoking and the other needs to stop over-reacting.  See these posts on sibling quibbling and tattle-tales.

G)  If they distract others during school:

  • Send them outside and have them run thirty laps around the yard
  • Have them do twenty pushups, sit-ups, and jumping jacks
  • Send them to another room to work by themselves

H) If they procrastinate or lallygag with their schoolwork:

  • Tell them certain subjects need to be done by a certain time. Set the timer and follow through. If the work is not competed by the assigned time, withhold privileges.

I) If your children disobey in any other way, withhold the privileges they love until they comply. Our family does not own a T.V. We watch one movie per week as a family, and that’s all the kids get. So, just the prospect of not being allowed to watch the family movie often keeps my kids in line.

J) If your children are disrespectful in word or deed:

  • Make them write a letter of apology, at least three paragraphs long, covering each of the following topics: What I said/did that was disrespectful, Why I should always be respectful towards my parents, What I will do to make up for the disrespect.
  • Note that the middle school years is a time of hormonal change and rapid growth. Expect some regression in behavior including increased pushback, moodiness, and testing of limits. This is also a time when children become more critical of everything, including themselves and their parents. However, do not allow your child to get away with being disrespectful to you or your spouse. You and your spouse must work as a team in this regard.
  • If your child is disrespectful to your spouse, come of the defense of him/her and vice versa. You can say something such as “You may disagree with your mother, but you may not speak disrespectfully to her. I will not stand for anyone — not even you — to speak to my wife in this manner. You will write a letter of apology to her and make up for this disrespect by doing the laundry and dishes for a week.”

A word about video games: Just say no. Don’t even get started. Once a child starts on video games, you set yourself up for a never-ending battle to limit and control the gaming. Video games are electronic crack; we instinctively know that, and there are multiple studies showing the detrimental effect of video games on young people. The same goes for social media. No social media until your teens have the maturity level of a trustworthy, responsible adult, otherwise it only creates FOMO, anxiety, and depression. Trust your better judgment. There are many far better ways to keep your kids occupied. See my post on boredom busters, educational screen-free activities and how to keep them busy.

For Teens, 14-18 years old

As kids grow into teens, you should find your need for using consequences decrease. At this age, gentle reminders, candid conversations, and a lot of understanding and encouragement go a long way. By the late teenage years, our kids should have developed strong interior motivations for doing the right thing and for acting responsibly and virtuously. 

However, teens nowadays deal with tremendous stress — from coping with pressure to perform athletically and academically, to figuring out who they are and what they want to do with their lives, to sorting out the truths and lies fed to them by a culture and media that is constantly at odds with our faith and morals. It’s tough being a teen.

So, there is no surprise that there will be times — hopefully few and far between —  when we will still need to put our foot down. Here are some examples of what you can do if your teens start testing your limits:

  1. If your teens come home past the agreed-upon time without a good reason or do not communicate with you that they’re going to be late:
  • Ground them
  • Withhold the privilege of using the car 

B)  If your teens are irresponsible with their chores:

  • Assign additional chores

C) If your teens are irresponsible with their schoolwork:

  • Withhold the freedom to go out or use the internet until homework is completed
  • Withhold the privilege of listening to music.

D) If your teens misuse the internet (spend too much time on it, go to bad websites, etc.):

  • Set the timer and highly limit the amount of time they can be on the internet. Be sure to use a filter and parental controls such as Net Nanny or Covenant Eyes
  • Allow your teen to use the internet only while you’re in the same room as them. I highly recommend that teens only use electronic devices in shared family spaces. No smart phones or devices in bedrooms.
  • Share articles on the deleterious effects of social media, internet addiction, and porn with your teens. Discuss them with your teens.
  • Hold off giving your teens a smart phone for as long as possible. When you do finally give them one, disable the internet and do not allow social media unless you are committed to monitoring their usage very closely. Then, very gradually allow more freedom with the phone as you observe them using it responsibly.

E) If your teens are disrespectful:

  • Do the same as suggested for disrespect in middle schoolers. Parents must defend each other and have zero tolerance for disrespect. Make your teens write a letter of apology and render acts of service to make up for the disrespect. 
  • One way to deal with continued disrespect is by freezing their funding: no allowance, if they get one, and no purchasing new clothes or other personal items unless absolutely necessary until habitual respectful behavior is achieved.  If they earn their own income, no additional funds or financial support until habitual respectful behavior is achieved. By the way, if they earn their own income, teens should put most of that money into savings for college. 

The four things most teens love: their electronic devices, the freedom to go places, money to spend, and music.   All of these are privileges you can withhold if necessary.

By now you’re probably thinking that Mary Cooney is one mean mama.  However, it is not mean to use appropriate consequences in a firm and calm manner. It is mean to lose your temper, sling sarcastic or belittling comments at your children, or over-react with unjust punishments. And that’s what often happens when you fail to apply appropriate consequences in a timely manner and nagging escalates to yelling.

The consequences I listed above do work but only under the following conditions:

  1. You communicate your expectations clearly.  It’s often helpful to have your children repeat back your request so you both know they understand. For example, if you say, “Son, please take out the garbage.”  make sure he responds showing he heard and understood. If your son does not jump up and say, “Sure, Mom,” follow with, “Did you hear what I said? What do you need to do?
  2. You are firm and consistent about following through with the consequence.  If on Monday you told your son he wouldn’t be allowed to watch the family movie on Saturday night, come Saturday night you need to stick to your guns.
  3. You use proper timing. Timing is everything. 
  • First, if a child is starting to get into an argument with you because he/she does not want to obey, apply a consequence before you start to get annoyed or angry. Simply say something like, “I’m ending this conversation. Since you do not want to obey, you will not have the privilege of __________ until it’s done.” Then leave the room. Resist the temptation to argue. You do not have to convince your child that you are right. You just have to follow through with the consequence. Actions speak louder than words.
  • For young children, it’s generally a smart idea to apply a consequence right away, otherwise they may not understand how it relates to the misdemeanor.
  • With middle schoolers and teens, it is wise to wait until tempers have cooled and you have more privacy. Avoid scolding your middle schoolers and teens in front of others. This is just too embarrassing for them and will only lead to resentment. Find the prime time to get your message across so it will be well received. For example, if a teen comes home too late at night, don’t pounce on him as soon as he come in. Simply say “You’re late. We’ll talk about it tomorrow.” This way your teens knows you’re unhappy about the event and you will both have time to think about it before discussing.

4.   You pick your battles wisely and use consequences sparingly.  Do not punish your kids for every little annoying, selfish, immature thing they do… after all, they’re only kids. The big offenders are flat-out disobedience and disrespect — those you should not tolerate. Other problematic behaviors you should tackle are those which compromise the safety and well being of others and those which are becoming habitual.

5.   You maintain a loving relationship with your children. Make sure your kids know you love them.  Give lots of hugs and affection, laugh a lot, smile often. Forgive and forget. Spend quality time together. Surprise them once in a while with a “just because I love you” gift. Your years together are fleeting, so make happy memories.

Finally, as I said at the beginning of the post, this article was meant as an addendum to my talk on How to Get Your Kids to Obey, available at the 2021 Catholic Homeschool Conference. On it’s own, this article is incomplete, as it only discusses the lowest degree of obedience, which is simple external compliance. But enforcing external compliance is not enough. If that’s all you do, you’ll end up with rebellious children. If you haven’t listened to the talk, I highly recommend you listen to it or read the following posts: How to Get Your Kids to Obey, How to Get Your Teens to Obey, and Discipline, Decision Making, and the Four Cardinal Virtues which combined give the whole big picture of what it means to teach children to obey, how to balance love and authority, and how to help your children develop interior motivations for doing what’s right. Because ultimately, you don’t want to control them. You want them to learn to control themselves, to gain self-mastery so they grow up to be responsible, considerate, and truly free adults.

Questions? Comments? Leave them in the comments box 🙂

Top image from Flickr

2 thoughts on “The Big List of Effective Consequences (a.k.a. What to do When You Butt Heads with Your Kids)

  1. I struggle with enforcing consequences. One question my husband raised is: shouldn’t we practise mercy by forgiving them as soon as they say sorry? What is your opinion? (Yes, we talked about purgatory as punishment after confession).

    How do you deal with an apology that’s not really an apology? In the heat of the moment, I find that apologies are mostly said through gritted teeth.

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  2. Hello! Yes, absolutely we should forgive our kids as soon as they say they are sorry, granted that their contrition is real ie. they are sorry because they realize what they did was wrong/hurtful, (as opposed to they say are sorry because they are getting in trouble). True contrition is always accompanied with a resolution to make amends and to not make the same mistake/offense again. An apology said through gritted teeth is, as you know, not sincere. It’s better to give your kids time to cool down and send them to their room to think about what they have done and why it was wrong before demanding an apology. Written apologies help kids think through their actions and ramifications.

    It’s good to keep in mind that consequences should serve two purposes: One, to make the child repair any damage they have done. ie. if a child breaks a window, he needs to help pay for it to the extent that he is able. If a child says mean, hurtful words, she needs to be extra kind to the child whose feelings she hurt. The second purpose is to teach kids a lesson, to help them learn that their actions have consequences they must be responsible for. If we do not let our children face the consequences of their actions, they will not grow to be responsible adults.

    So, even though you have forgiven your child, he/she may still need to face the consequences of his/her actions. And when a child is truly sorry, he/she will accept a fair and just consequence as a way of making amends.

    The problem with consequences arise when they are given out of anger and/or when they are not just. That’s why it’s often good for parents to wait and pray before correcting their child with a consequence.

    Hope that helps!

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