Understanding the Impact of Withholding Privileges in Disciplinary Techniques for Children

Disciplining children is a delicate aspect of parenting that greatly influences their behavior, values, and overall growth. Among the approaches employed by parents and caregivers, the concept of “withholding privileges” emerges as a commonly used and debated technique. This method involves taking away privileges or rewards when a child misbehaves, with the intention of instilling responsibility and accountability for their actions. While withholding privileges can be effective if applied thoughtfully and proportionately, it also raises concerns regarding its long-term effects on a child’s well-being and the parent-child relationship.

The Principle Behind Withholding Privileges

Withholding privileges is based on principles derived from psychology, particularly the concept of operant conditioning. According to this theory, behaviors are shaped by their consequences – positive consequences reinforce behavior, while negative consequences discourage it. In terms of disciplining children, withholding privileges falls under the category of consequences. By removing or limiting privileges, parents aim to discourage negative behavior and motivate the child to make better choices.

Types of Privileges

Privileges can encompass a range of activities, possessions, or experiences that hold significance for a child. These could include things like screen time, access to toys or electronic devices, participation in activities, going out with friends, or receiving special rewards. The particular privileges that are taken away can vary depending on the child’s age and interests.


  1. Immediate Impact: Taking away privileges often leads to an immediate change in behavior. Children understand that their actions have consequences, which makes them more likely to think about their behavior in the future.
  2. Teaching Responsibility: One of the goals of using this technique is to teach children about taking responsibility for their actions. It helps them realize that the choices they make have consequences and that they need to be accountable for their behavior.
  3. Internalizing Values: With consistent use over time, this approach can help children internalize values such as self-discipline, respect for rules, and consideration for other people’s feelings.
  4. Proportionality: It is crucial to ensure that the punishment matches the offense. If privileges are taken away disproportionately, it may lead to feelings of unfairness and frustration, potentially undermining the effectiveness of this technique.
  5. Communication: Effectively implementing this technique requires communication. Explaining why a privilege is being taken away helps children understand how their behavior directly links to the consequences they face.
  6. Consistency: Consistent consequences for actions are key to achieving success. When children consistently experience the outcomes of their actions, they are more likely to adjust their behavior.

Long-Term Effects

However, it’s important to consider the long-term effects that taking away privileges can have on a child’s well-being and the parent-child relationship.

  1. Rebellion: If removing privileges becomes the primary method of discipline, children may perceive it as unfair treatment and develop feelings of resentment. In some cases, this resentment can lead to defiant behavior as a way of rebelling against perceived control.
  2. Emotional Impact: Repeatedly experiencing the loss of privileges can impact a child’s self-esteem and emotional well-being. They may start associating their self-worth with their behavior and the privileges they receive, which can result in feelings of inadequacy.
  3. Focus on Avoidance: Children might start prioritizing avoiding punishment over internalizing values. This external motivation can hinder the development of intrinsic motivation to behave appropriately.
  4. Communication Breakdown: Relying solely on measures like taking away privileges can impede communication between parents and children. Children may fear sharing their mistakes or concerns due to the fear of losing privileges.
  5. Limited Problem-Solving Abilities: As children grow, there is a risk that they may not acquire effective problem-solving skills because their behavior is primarily influenced by consequences rather than a genuine understanding of the reasons behind their actions.

Maintaining a Balanced Approach to Discipline and Connection

The key to effective discipline lies in finding the balance between establishing boundaries and nurturing a strong, positive relationship with your child. Instead of solely relying on removing privileges, parents can incorporate techniques that encourage understanding, communication, and emotional growth:

  1. Encouraging Positive Behavior: Recognizing and rewarding positive behavior can motivate children to make good choices and develop a sense of self-worth.
  2. Setting an Example: Children often learn by observing their parents. Demonstrating appropriate behavior can influence their understanding of what’s considered acceptable conduct.
  3. Open Communication: Fostering conversations about behavior, consequences, and emotions builds trust and promotes mutual understanding between parents and children.
  4. Collaborative Problem Solving: Working together to find solutions for conflicts or behavioral issues empowers children to develop essential problem-solving skills.
  5. Natural Consequences: Allowing children to experience the consequences of their actions in controlled environments can help them learn about cause and effect.

While using the loss of privileges can be an effective method for disciplining children when done thoughtfully and in proportion, it is vital to be mindful of its potential long-term impact on well-being and the parent-child relationship. This highlights the significance of adopting an approach to discipline that incorporates techniques emphasizing reinforcement, communication, setting a positive example, and problem-solving. By creating an environment that encourages appropriate behavior and promotes emotional growth while fostering strong bonds with their children, parents can strike a balance between discipline and connection.