By Patrick J. McGrath, OC, PhD, FRSC
I'm running out of things to take away from my 10-year-old son. I took away the TV, Nintendo, and computer for two weeks. It didn't bother him. How can I give my son consequences that work?
Dr. Pat responds:
There are two parts to this issue. First, punishment is only half of the solution. Second, you have to use the right punishment.
Punishment is only effective when there is lots of positive feedback too. Are you paying attention to the good things he does? More positives make good behaviour occur and make your disapproval meaningful.
Positives should be at least three to four times as common as punishment. Count how many negatives and positives you give your child in a day. Increase your attention to the right stuff.
Punishment works best when it fits the crime and the child. Punishment works if it is brief and strong enough. Does your punishment fit the crime? Is it suitable for your child? Did he offend by using the TV, Nintendo, or computer? If not, can you figure out a punishment that fits the crime? Does he really like what you take away? What does he do when these are taken away?
Long-term punishments (and a week is an eternity for a 10-year-old) have three problems.
First of all, he gets used to it and can resent it for a week. He has no reason to feel good about you or himself for a week.
Second, you probably build up to it, so it doesn't feel that strong. Use a shorter punishment earlier before the problem is out of hand.
Third, long punishments prevent you from using punishment again. What can you do if he misbehaves, when you have taken everything away?
Figure out a punishment that fits the crime, is strong enough, but lasts only a short time.
For more information, see "Disciplining Your Child" in our Health A-Z.
Patrick J. McGrath OC, PhD, FRSC is a clinical psychologist and a researcher. He is Professor of Psychology, Pediatrics, and Psychiatry at Dalhousie University and Vice President - Research at IWK Health Centre in Halifax. He is also the CEO of the Strongest Families Institute, which provides mental health care to families across Canada.
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