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Coming up with consequences for kids that work is not always easy, especially when you’re in the heat of the moment and you just need your kids to do what you ask (preferably without yelling)!  

You need to find something that works and stick to it… if you want a behavior to change.

why children yell

Why Over-the-Top Consequences Don’t Work

How many times do we (myself included!) make up crazy consequences on the spot… “If you do that again, we are not going to the beach!”  Or “If I hear that again, no TV for a week!”

These are not things that we want to do, so why do we say them?   We are in the heat of the moment.   Oftentimes, we don’t follow through with the consequence because we realize that it was too harsh for the action.   We realize that we overreacted.   

We may realize that by punishing the behavior, we have now punished the entire family (by taking away an outing, etc.).   

The problem is that when parents or teachers do not follow through on the consequence that was threatened, it can leave children with the idea that “It doesn’t matter if they listen or not… since mom/dad isn’t actually going to do anything.”

Note: While it is very important to follow through, there are times when we need to realize that we have over-reacted and we need to talk to our child. 

It is important to mention that if you do overreact, don’t be afraid to talk to your child. Show your child that you make mistakes, too.   This can be a great learning lesson.  “I overreacted and said things that I didn’t mean, like telling you that you can’t go anywhere for a week.”   Your child can learn from your example.   

Give Them Three Options

If you ask them to do something (clean up their room) and they ignore you, you have three options:

1- Get upset & lose your temper (I’ve been there)
2- Just do it for them because it’s easier (yeah, I’ve been there too)
3- OR… the simple tip that I want to tell you today. (read below)

A little girl with her arms crossed and her mother standing behind her.

How It Began

I came up with this idea because of a situation that I found myself in during my college years.  I was in a communications class and we were having a discussion about companies: the boss and the employees. 

Our first discussion was about what employers could do to get their staff to abide by certain rules at work.

Brainstorming Traditional Ways

  1. Telling them what to do. 
  2. Sharing what other businesses do, etc.
  3. Talking about the consequence given by their boss/employer.

The Better Idea

Afterward, my professor offered one other solution: what if THEY came up with the consequences?  Their own consequence?

We all looked a little dumbfounded. Wait, what?

Creating their own Consequences that actually WORK!

“No, really,” he went on to explain, “Let me give you an example…”

Picture This Scenario:  

A classroom full of college students (us), with a professor ready to teach (him) … and our cell phones start ringing.  They were constantly ringing during class.

The professor stands up and tells us, “Although I need you to keep your phones silent during class today, most of you will forget.” 

He then asks, “What do you think should happen to someone if their cell phone goes off during class? ”  

He waited for us to respond.

We all laughed and looked around, still a bit confused.


I remember thinking, ‘Did he just ask us what WE think we should do if someone’s cell phone goes off?’

The room was silent for a while because none of us had been asked that kind of question before.  

We brainstormed.  We made lists.  We talked about it and came up with something that we all agreed upon.  One idea.  

Being college kids, we went for something funny… we would have to stand up on a desk and sing “I’m a Little Tea Pot” if our cell phones rang during class (I’m not kidding…this really happened).

The Outcome

Only ONE person had their cell phone go off that semester.   It worked.  We created the consequence and we knew exactly what would happen if we broke the rules of the classroom.

Why does it work? 

It works because they are involved.  They are helping you to come up with the idea.  It will stick with them more.  They will remember it more.  It works because it is memorable. 

It’s memorable.

We created the consequence, so we remembered it.  You know the saying about how we can kind of understand things by hearing it, but when we are hands-on creating it ourselves, we remember it more?  That is the case here.

It’s self-initiated.

This worked because as a team, we came up with a consequence that we ALL wanted to avoid.  At home, your kids can dream up a consequence that they don’t want to do… maybe a dreaded chore (like cleaning out a closet) or time out or losing electronics.

It’s a ‘line in the sand.’ 

‘If you break the rule, this happens. No questions, no negotiations.’   
No more nagging or going on and on about what you’re doing to do if your kids don’t listen to you. Letting them come up with the consequences helps to involve them and let them know that you value their input.

How to make this work (home or school)

This can work in your home or in your classroom.  To begin, you will help the child learn why it is important, how they will earn or avoid the consequence, and then you will come up with ideas… together. 

Set a Meeting.

Set up a meeting with the kids and talk about what you expect from them. Do you need them to help out more by doing more age-appropriate chores?   Do you need them to stop arguing with a sibling?  
Whatever it is, talk about the behavior. 

  • Explain the difference between good behaviors and poor behaviors.
  • Explain what is acceptable and what is not acceptable. 
  • Give examples of the difference between positive and negative behavior.   
  • The children need to walk away from this meeting understanding the house rules. 
  • The child needs to know exactly what bad behavior looks like, so they will understand how to avoid consequences.

Brainstorm Consequences

Spend a period of time thinking of ideas.  In 15 minutes, you’ll have a wonderful list.   

Brainstorm consequences with the kids (a younger child may need more help/guidance, while the older child will likely catch on to this quickly.  You can write these on a sheet of paper as you are brainstorming (if you have older kids- let them add their idea to the paper). 

Your end goal for this activity is to come up with one consequence (per child) that works for your family.  It may be different due to the difference in age, but you can also agree on one consequence for everyone if that works better for your family. 

Make It Visible

When you come up with the consequence that your family agrees on (it might be different for each child), write it down.  

Keep in handy for a few days (maybe on the refrigerator) until everyone remembers. 

If you still see behavior problems and your child blames it on not remembering, extend the time that the new consequence is visible.  The amount of time depends on the child. 

Instilling Good Character Traits

Chores should not be overlooked.  They give your child a sense of purpose and they teach great life-lessons.   I suggest using a chore system that promotes the character trait of work before play, as well as the importance of helping your family.

If you want to start chores with your kids, but not have to deal with a chore chart, try these Swap Chores for Screen Time chore cards. We have the cards & they are easy to keep up with.

They have worked wonders in our home.  It makes it easy to say “Ok everyone- please grab two chore cards!  When you have finished with the chores, you can go play!”

chore chart

The Final Step: Follow Through 

If you want to see a change for the long term, you are going to have to learn to follow through & stick with it for a long time.  If any consequences are going to work at home or in the classroom, you’ve got to follow through and be consistent.

It takes three days to break a bad habit & 21 days to build a new one.  It will be challenging at times, (trust me, I know!) but following through during those first three days are going to be the KEY component to creating better behavior.

Related Posts:

inner voice

teach your kids to clean their room

Thanks to our contributor Katie, a stay-at-home mom, for sharing her story with us today!

Hi there!

I’m Becky, a former elementary school teacher turned certified child development therapist and blogger. I work at home with my husband and together we are raising (and partially homeschooling) our four children in the Carolinas. I love diet coke, ice cream, and spending time with my family.

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  1. Love this idea!

    I actually have done it with a classroom of students, but never thought of trying it with my own kids t home. Isn’t that funny?

    Definitely giving it a try.

    1. What if your child is cheeky and says 1 hour of watching television as a consequence?

  2. Going to try this because my consequences never seem to motivate my child. One time I threatened my three year old son with “Do you want a time out!?” To my surprise and humbling disappointmentioned he said “Yes, Mommy!”. He went to the corner put his hands on the wall and asumed the position like he was under arrest. The next day he asked cheerfully “Mommy, can we play time-out again?” Ugh, so much for disciplinary actions.

  3. My mom did something a bit similar when I was little. She’d give me 3 choices, usually of privilege to lose and make me pick one. It was horrible because I felt like I was disciplining myself. She told me recently she stopped doing it because she’d list the consequence she wanted me to pick, then 2 harsher ones I wasn’t supposed to choose, but I guess I had a guilty conscience because I always picked the harshest one. In the end she just felt guilty about the choice. I guess 3 equal options would be the way to go.
    My daughter is only 21mos, but when she’s old enough I think the idea in the post is a good idea.

  4. Scientific studies have already found punishment to be ineffective and in some cases even harmful. There are better methods if parents just care enough to seek them out and apply them instead of relying on things just because it’s how they were raised.

    “In a brain scan, relational pain—that caused by isolation during punishment—can look the same as physical abuse. Is alone in the corner the best place for your child?”

    1. Consequences are not the same as “punishment” but if your kids don’t learn consequence from you, they will be in trouble as they grow older. Consequence is a natural part of living. Parents who think they can raise children without consequence are setting their children up for failure. Doesn’t mean you have to be mean and yell. I don’t! Just kindly follow through on consequence and watch what happens.

    2. Also, that “Time” article doesn’t say anything about how teaching consequence is bad. It refers to kids feeling isolated in time out. I personally use a “calm down corner” after validating my children’s feelings and they definitely don’t suffer from feeling unloved, unaccepted, or lonely. They have a happy mom who constantly expresses love and joy for them and know if they make a choice, there are consequences (whether good or bad) it is anything but old school. It’s life!

      1. My daughter told me that she likes to have time out when she is throwing a fit or acting out because it gives her time to calm down and helps her feel more in control.

  5. I have 2 birth children and have fostered children with “issues” for several years. Consequences are essential for ALL children. I found that treating them all equally, making sure everyone knows what is expected and what to expect in return and being totally consistent are the keys to a happy family. We also had a good and a bad consequence jar. So when a child did something good they got a lucky dip from the good jar (10 minutes extra special time with me, a treat, not having to clear the table etc) and if they did something wrong they had to pick from the not so good jar ( an extra helping of dessert, clearing the table, loading the dishwasher, helping with some housework, loosing 30 minutes of electronic time or getting logs in for the fire etc) we decided what went in each jar as a family so everyone was involved and it worked. The good jar always emptied way before the bad one. Also rephrasing my approach, do you want to tidy your room or groom the dog. If you give them a choice instead of asking them to do something gave them some control and choice but removed the option of just saying no.

  6. So, I have a question and am wondering if you’ve ever run into this? This is exactly what we do with our kids, and it works! But, I do have a friend (I know that sounds pretty cliche, but for reals!) I would love to forward this to her, and we’ve talked about it, but her response would be “but then how do I get them to follow through with the consequence, because THAT would then be the fight?” So, what would you offer to someone who would let their kids pick their consequences, but then the offense comes, and the child refuses? When she asks, I no longer have anything productive to offer. Any help or ideas you have would be appreciated! I’d love to help her find something that she felt she could try and look forward to positive results! Thanks!

    1. OH man- that’s hard. I wouldn’t really give them a chance to refuse. I HIGHLY suggest the book Boundaries for Kids.

      1. I’m curious about the book you mentioned. Is it Boundaries for Kids? Or Boundaries with kids? Sorry, looked it up on Amazon, and saw a workbook type book. Wasn’t sure if that was the book or not. Thanks 🙂
        I have a 4 year that lovesssss to push the boundaries at times. Lol

      2. I am a mother of 4, grandmother of 10 and known as Super Granny. I am a parenting coach that helps families with these type of issues. I LOVE my job! This question comes up regularly! What parents need to realise is (Dr Phil says) Never pick a fight with your child, but if you do, never lose”. They smell when you are not confident (fake it till you make it) stick to your guns and insist on the consequence CALMLY then have them draw another one if they refuse. Its never too early to take this approach, because, think of it? What does this look like in teenage years??? When they learn to respect your NO, they will respect you sticking to your guns. Don’t be afraid to put down a boundary because you are scared that “they will refuse”. Step up to the plate – your child has the right to feel that you are confident and that you have his back.

        1. Agreed. 🙂

          Ps- I saw your other comment about when they are approved. I had over 140 comments to read through this weekend, from a post going viral, lol, so I just hadn’t see it until tonight. 🙂

      3. How do you not give them the choice? I ask, they don’t do. I give consequence. They ignore me. They walk away. They simply don’t do it. And they have so many reasons why it wasn’t their mess, not their turn, why they shouldn’t have to help but someone else should, they’ll do it when…., they forgot, etc etc. I have 5, mostly teens and the older they get the more entitled they get (it’s my life and I’ll do what i want to do). They were good at their chores pre teen yrs. And can you give a 19yo consequences?

        1. A 19 year old is an adult. In my personal opinion, you should sit down with them and give them clear guidelines as to your expectations for how they should pitch in as a fellow adult in the house. And then don’t treat them like a child. Don’t nag them to do things because you need to treat them like an adult. If they refuse to pitch in and be a part of the household in a productive way, then they should look for their own apartment or place where they can rule their own roost. And if they choose that route, wish them well and let it be. Doesn’t need to be dramatic or complicated. The other teens should pitch in also without complaining. A family meeting should be held to set ground rules about also pitching in without issue. Setting clear expectations takes the ambiguity out of it. If they don’t want to abide by the expectations after the family meeting, they can certainly get a part time job and pay a maid to come and clean for them every week (seriously!!). And if they choose that route, don’t fight them about it, let them do it. They are learning work ethic, providing someone else with a much needed pay check, and giving you a break from feeling responsible for chasing everyone down to do their part. Look into the book called Love and Logic. It works for toddlers all the way up through the teen years.

    2. I have certainly been in THAT situation before /-: ! So I finally learned to say, “OK, but now you have to follow through on the consequence that MOMMY/DADDY chooses,” and you give them what that is. In many cases with my own children, it is, “Hand over your phone.” THAT is one highly prized commodity in this world, so I have found that to be the consequence that works most often. If your children are little or do not have phones, I have learned that giving them a particular task to do THEN STAYING THERE AND MAKING SURE IT IS COMPLETED helps, too. I know, I know – that sounds so inconvenient, and it is (-; ! But trust me – after raising five children (plus one husband (-; ), I have SLOWLY come to learn that constant vigilance is tantamount to success. Something that helps me is to imagine that I am the child in this situation. Look closely at the mom (me) and try to assess her true feelings about this situation. Does she seem fed-up to the point where she’ll just throw her hands up and say that she’ll talk to Dad about it? Or does she seem to mean business this time, and I can believe that she’ll follow through? If there’s one thing kids can pick-up on, it is weakness, and when I do this exercise and see me through my child’s eyes, it can be very eye-opening (no pun intended (-; ). There has to be a line drawn at some point, and the person drawing should be the parent, NOT the child. When that happens (and I know from experience, believe me )-: ), the reins are being handed over to the child, and it can be very difficult to regain power again. And by power, I mean the responsibilities and duties of parents to their children, NOT an ego-trip, like too many people today say it is. Children desperately need limits, just like they need love, and when that control is given to the children, it usually produces an unhappy relationship, to say the least, between the child and his parents.

  7. My friend has a 7 yr old who is allowed to misbehave all the time. Talking back to whom ever she feels like. Doing as she pleases. All day long. So not just one or two times. I’ve been around about 4 yrs and try here or there when i have her and it works with me because i have a 16 and 24 yr old and don’t she knows i don’t put up with this. Idk how i can help her without over stepping the line.

    1. I think that I would say “Oh when ___ used to do that, it was so hard. If you ever want advice, I’d love to tell you what did & didn’t work… we tried it all!” or something like that.

  8. This method might come handy when it comes to both kids and employees. The basic idea of letting the person, who is not abiding any kind of rules, know that going against the rules might create consequences will not only instill a sense of accountability in them but will also help them improve their performances in their own spheres. This, in my opinion, will help them construct a path that they themselves will refuse to not choose. Such a step will ensure a better and error-free performance in the long run. Thanks for sharing this article; I will surely share this one with my colleagues. Have a great day. Cheers!

  9. This method might come in handy when it comes to both kids and employees. The basic idea of letting the person, who is not abiding any kind of rules, know that going against the rules might create consequences will not only instill a sense of accountability in them but will also help them improve their performances in their own spheres. This, in my opinion, will help them construct a path that they themselves will refuse to not choose. Such a step will ensure a better and error-free performance in the long run. Thanks for sharing this article; I will surely share this one with my colleagues. Have a great day. Cheers!

  10. This did not work. They’re too smart. They came up with stuff like “ride my bike outside anytime I want” and “spend alone tablet/xbox/laptop time in my room” and even “make me go swimming by myself”. All things they wish they could do. Back to taking keys away from my 16 yr old, grounding my 7 yr old to a chair in her room, and making my 4 yr old stand in a corner.

  11. That sounds like a good plan. Could you guys give me examples of these consequences? My daughter is 5 years old and we have trouble with her talking back and sometimes not listening at all. Thank you.

  12. I used this method when I worked as a youth worker in a residential with state wards. . Every time, it worked and the youth would set consequences harsher than I would have. Also natural consequences work better. If they behaved badly on an outing, they did not come next time. They selected the men, shopped and prepared the meals they chose and cleaned up afterwards. A chore list was posted and they wrote their names into what chores they would do each week at our group meetings.

  13. Been there done all that. I have two girls and three boys. Even with lots of common sense and patience children will test those boundaries and our last nerve.
    What worked almost immediately for me was giving the two choices first choice is to do or stop doing whatever it is you need them to do or stop doing second choice was to lose a privilege like no iPad for the next hour or something that sounds way worse to THEM than the first choice. I was amazed at how quickly it worked.

  14. Great article! I used this idea often when my kids were young and found that they took the job of deciding the consequences very seriously. For a while my oldest (who struggled with memorization) had to say the alphabet when he broke a ‘non-serious’ rule. It was perfect and often my younger one would chime in and help him get it right. Serious rules (like not going out past our tree line and therefore too close to the road) had a more serious consequence (he had to come inside for a set time and had to stick close to mom when he went outside the rest of that day). I only had to enforce that one once and he never tested it again. In every case the consequence was consistently enforced by a friendly and firm parent. Both kids understood that if they decided they didn’t want to do the consequence then a harsher one (determined by a parent) would be put into place (i.e. the toy they refused to put away would be put in the captured toybox). My overall goal was to help them realize everything you do has consequences and to teach them to think about whether or not the consequence was worth it. By the time they were teens (even tweens) I rarely had to enforce a consequence (although nature did many times!) and it was wonderful to listen to them talk about how they made the choices they did, based on what the resulting consequence would be. They still made mistakes…but don’t we all 🙂