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Overheard in a discussion group for parents:

“I’ve taken away his XBox for the whole weekend, but he just smiles.”
“I can’t motivate her. Her bedroom is basically empty at this point.”

When we want our kids to learn a hard lesson or make an important change in their behaviour, we are willing to go to the mat. We try to persuade. We explain. We warn. We negotiate. When we run out of all those options, what else is left? What could possibly convince this child to budge? We don’t want to spank. We don’t want to scream and shout. What else is there?

We look around and we think about seems to really matter to our kids. What’s going to really get through to them? Maybe it’s hockey practice. Maybe it’s an upcoming birthday party. We know it won’t be pretty, but we have to get this message across… somehow.

What our rebellious kids *actually* learn when we take away privileges

“This weekend, when he has nothing to do, he’ll figure it out…. Right?”

When I listen to other parents, I hear them encouraging each other to get tough. I’ve even heard parents advise each other to: “Lock him in a dungeon.” It sounds extreme, but it comes from a place of real concern. Another parent warned that unless there are consequences, “you’re going to have one of these lazy, entitled kids who never leaves your house and thinks the world owes him something.”

We just want our kids to have a learning experience. We’re not trying to be cruel. However, what if they don’t learn the lesson? What else could they learn instead?

“I’d better not get caught again.”

Some kids learn to avoid the consequence, but continue to follow the same pattern of behaviour. They erase browser history, hide wrappers, tell lies, arrange alibis. The behaviour continues, just out of sight.

If your child has gone into ninja mode, then there’s something missing. You’ve tried to convince them that there’s a better way to behave, but he or she is just not on board. Their calculations haven’t included the longer-term consequences for their actions, or they haven’t seen the benefits of taking a different path. You’ve convinced him or her to make a change, but not the kind of change you were asking for.  

If you discover that your child has gone into “ninja-mode,” you might be very worried. We all want our kids to be honest and to do the right thing, but you can also look at this from a different perspective: it takes planning and self-control to go into hiding. Maybe your child prefers to protect your feelings and values your relationship. These aren’t bad things after all; we just have to get them working toward a more worthy goal.

It will take a deeper conversation to help these children get back on the right track, and we’ll talk about that in a future post. 

“I don’t care. Go ahead, take it.”

Does this sound familiar? If we were raising tiny mountain gurus who have no attachment to material possessions, this would be perfect… but in terms of teaching a lesson, it’s a fail.

If our children are willing to sacrifice possessions or privileges, then they’re telling us: “I’d rather win. It’s worth it to me.” The message gets through loud and clear: “You don’t control me. I get to make my own choices.” And in a sense, they’re absolutely right. They do have choices to make, and we can’t force them. They are missing the lesson, and teaching a lesson of their own. However, if we persist, we might be able to help them choose a better path (of their own free will.)

It might seem ridiculous when kids defy us and dig deeper holes, daring us to impose more and more severe consequences. We want the immediate outcome to *work.* Unfortunately, kids have their own values and when *control and independence* are at the top of the list, the rest is disposable.

In order to make progress and guide our children to make really good choices, we have to tap into their values (don’t worry, more on this coming soon!)

“Now it’s WAR.”

Parents take away privileges to teach a lesson, but sometimes the wrong lesson comes across. In this case, children get this message instead: “If I’m not happy with what you did, I’m going to make sure you suffer.”

They don’t see a logical and appropriate consequence. They don’t see justice. They just see that you took something away, and now it’s their turn.

Instead of seeing an improvement in behaviour, you start to notice things disappearing, like your sunglasses or the remote control. More refusal, more resistance, even sabotage and stone-walling. Your exercise in behaviour modification worked so well that your kids are now using the same methods– on you. Uh oh.

Does this mean I can NEVER take anything away from my kids?

So, you’re probably asking a reasonable question: is it EVER okay to take things away? Of course.

Sometimes it will make perfect sense, especially if:

  1. You have already talked with your child, and set a boundary about a privilege
  2. You have tried to problem-solve together
  3. You have explained the reason for the removal, and it makes logical sense to both of you
  4. The child is missing the skills and experience to handle this privilege, and this is causing problems

Sometimes removing an item is necessary, so that you can make a plan together and problem-solve. If a particular game is triggering explosive tantrums, then you may need to set it aside and find an alternatives, or practice a plan to prevent the outbursts. If a computer is being used to send abusive messages or access inappropriate content, it makes sense to cut off access until your child can handle more independence. If an evening activity is leading to bedtime meltdowns, you don’t have to keep going back every week.

In these cases, taking away a privilege

isn’t really a teaching tool on its own,

but it gives you the time and space

to make those learning opportunities possible.

If you are searching for these learning opportunities and feeling stuck, we should talk!