How to remove privileges and shape behaviour without feeling like the "bad guy"

     Remove privileges effectively to teach new behaviours     

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  One of the two punishment procedures that I actively teach my clients is response cost. It is an evidence-based solution and effective in decreasing unwanted behaviours – as long as it’s used correctly!

            So what is response cost?

            Response cost is when we remove something – an activity, a toy, or a privilege – as a direct result of an unwanted behaviour. We take away their motivation behind the behaviour to teach them the consequences of their actions. It happens in adulthood, too. When we have bad behaviour at work, the consequence is that we lose that job and that paycheck.

            When you’re using response cost, always pair it with a replacement behaviour and positive practice.

            This is important! This is the key to effectively using response cost. Don’t just take away the privilege. Especially with younger kids, they need you to clearly teach them a replacement behaviour. Then they need the chance to practice the behaviour.

            Keep in mind that it is also important to identify the function, or the motivating factor, behind the behaviour. Was the child trying to gain attention, access an item, avoid something, or self-motivate? Find out what is motivating your child’s bad behaviour and take that away.

            Let’s consider some examples.

            Consider a 16-year-old who has borrowed his mom’s car. Curfew is 11pm, but he doesn’t get in until 2am. His mother takes the keys away and says, “next weekend, you cannot have my car”. Notice how the consequence suits the function. The teenager wanted the car and took advantage of having it. Now he will not get the car the next weekend. He loses the privilege. This teaches him a clear lesson; if you do not follow curfew and take advantage of having the car, you won’t get it again.

            Consider a 5-year-old who is playing with her little brother. She starts to play too rough and pushes him down, hurting him. In this situation, the little brother is the motivation. He is the playmate that is motivating her behaviour. You can remove the brother and soothe him. Now the 5-year-old must play by herself. Then you must clearly teach the replacement behaviour; “next time, don’t rough house with him and just play another game instead. When you’re ready, let me know, and you can try again”. Give the child the opportunity to practice this new behaviour that you’re teaching them.

            Consider an 8-year-old who is jumping on the couch while he watches TV. Instead of yelling for the 100th time “stop jumping on the couch”, hit the mute button on the TV. Instruct them to sit down and, as soon as they do, turn the volume back on. If they start jumping again – mute! The child will very quickly learn that they must sit while watching TV.

Remember to show the child through your actions that these are the consequences for their actions. Instead of yelling and shaming them, stay calm and model good behaviour. Using response cost correctly is going to help your kids regulate their own behaviour and choices. It’ll empower them to make decisions for themselves and follow through!



Your behaviour guide and coach, Stephanie Wicker-Campbell, has been supporting families just like yours for almost fifteen years! Teaching special needs children and studying early intensive behaviour intervention for over six years laid the foundation for her work with Simply Kids. Grounded in behaviour science, Stephanie's passion for counselling and developmental psychology play a big role in her coaching programs. Defining success by the progress of her clients, her goal is to no longer be needed. So, get in touch and work her out of a job!

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Stephanie Wicker