I recently was asked if it’s “Ok” to let a child earn back electronic time that was taken away as a negative consequence due to behavior. My opinion on the subject is that it’s appropriate, but only sometimes (like, once in a blue moon!). Here’s my stipulations:
- Don’t get into a habit of letting them “earn back” a privilege.
You took that privilege away for a reason! Regularly letting a child earn back a privilege will make that consequence seem less severe for them. Why be upset about losing a privilege if you know you’re probably going to earn it back? This then decreases motivation to choose positive and pro-social behaviors. It all comes down to follow through. Let’s look at an example for adults: If my boss tells me that I have to stay late every time I hand in a report late, but almost every time he lets me leave early anyways…? Guess what, I’m not going to be all that motivated to hand in my report on time… because I’ve learned that there’s no follow through on the consequence.
- Don’t undo the entire consequence.
When using negative consequences, the best (fastest) way to decrease negative behavior is to use a negative consequence every single time it happens. So if a parent does decide to let a child “earn back” something, don’t let them earn ALL of it back. For example, if your child lost 15 minutes of electronic time, give them maybe 10 or 5 back. Or it they lost ALL electronic privileges (computer, phone, Xbox, etc.), pick ONE device that they can use.
- IF you are going to let them earn back a privilege, make sure they’ve gone above and beyond to earn it.
Your child should do something EXTRA special and out of the ordinary in order to earn that privilege back. Maybe your kiddo didn’t do their chores and lost TV time for the day, but later did their normal chores AND extra chores to. Maybe your child hit their sibling and lost phone and computer privileges, but apologized (without being prompted) to their sibling and helped them with a task.
One last hint: if your child comes to expect to earn their privileges back (i.e., by asking “so do I get my time back since I apologized to my sister?”), then you’re likely letting them earn back privileges too often. Also… the answer to that question should be “no.” Don’t give in if your kiddo asks for their negative consequence to be undone!