Leading and Caring for Children

Consequence Alternative

Deny Activities

In addition to removing your attention by ignoring you can remove opportunities.

You can turn off the TV until the whining stops. You can take away the wheelchair if it is used to run into people. You can take away the crayons for marking the table. You can take away the privilege of playing with blocks if you throw them.

So you take it away. How long? A year? A week? An hour?  Maybe they never play with blocks again in their whole lives. That will teach them a lesson!

My experience has shown me that removing the opportunity for about one short minute seems to work best most of the time. A one-minute delay seems long enough to convey the message that if one acts irresponsibly, then opportunities are not available. One minute is long enough to disrupt the engagement. If I try one minute and the same awful stuff happens, e.g., the whining continues, then I try four minutes. If it continues further, I know I am in a testing game. I don’t play those games. The opportunity is lost for the rest of the day.

The implication is that one has to act responsibly, in accord with the goals of the community, or one loses the opportunity to be in that community. Nothing really happens. Nothing awful happens. If the child physically tries to rejoin, then the community acts in unison to prevent that from happening.  Essentially denying activities is a community action, which adults lead and everyone can be involved. We protect the space we enjoy and care for.

Some examples: being able to eat lunch with others is a privilege of being a responsible member of a community; being able to participate in a meeting time or music time is, too. Nobody has to be angry, disappointed, or emotional any way. By choosing to be disruptive the actor is making a choice, and the consequences of that choice affect others, not only the adults but also everyone else.

And with the short time of exclusion, redemption is accessible immediately.

It is a simple and natural consequence, but problems can arise when one tries to expand upon this idea of a contingency: if you do that, you lose this.

Let us say a desirable activity is coming up, such as a rodeo is in town, tree-cutters are coming, or we have a sunny day for the park.

Scenario One  “I have a surprise! This afternoon I am going to take you to see the rodeo.” At lunch the child quarrels with sister and soup spills on the floor. “Because you did that, you lose the rodeo trip.”

Scenario Two  “If you and your sister care for each other today, I am going to take you both to the rodeo.” At lunch the child quarrels with sister and soup spills on the floor. “You were quarreling, right? You know what I said earlier. You lose the rodeo trip.”

I am not an advocate of either of these, I simply wanted to highlight a distinction. Often I hear people set contingencies this way, and it appears related to this idea of Deny Activity, but it’s another animal.

Scenario One, the surprise removal of something promised, is unethical and mean-spirited.

Scenario Two, a contract is violated, is ethical, but it is not within the concept of Deny Activities I present here. Deny Activities relies upon the natural relationship between opportunity and responsibility. There is no natural relationship between the rodeo trip and spilled soup. That imposed contract created the appearance of a connection, at least from the adult point of view. From the child’s view it’s still artificial.

Deny Activities, as I present it here, is a natural arrangement that needs no contractual agreement because of the implicit understanding that participation requires being responsible. Throw a ball in someone’s face and you lose the opportunity to play with the ball, at least for a little bit.

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  1. Specify the behavior exactly
  2. Take a before measure
  3. Identify the A-B-C pattern


  1. Change the consequences
  2. Pick a new behavior to reward
  3. Change the antecedents
  4. Continue to measure

Examples of SandyJeremy, and Charlie

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