Consequences for Kids that ACTUALLY work!

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!

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