You can turn off the TV until the whining stops. You can take away the tricycle 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’ll never get to use crayons 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 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 participate in that community. Nothing awful happens. If the child physically tries to rejoin too soon, 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 opportunities we enjoy and care about.
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, also. Nobody has to be angry, disappointed, or emotional when enforcing this consequence of removal. By choosing to be disruptive the actor made a choice; the consequences of that choice affect others, not only the adults but also everyone else.
When that denial lasts for a very short time, the opportunity becomes accessible almost immediately.
Deny Activities is a simple and natural consequence. I wish to point out that word “natural.” A natural consequence of misuse directly relates to the removal of the opportunity. It’s there or it’s not, naturally. When things are not naturally related—what is called a “contingency“—big problems can arise. “If you run into people on the tricycle, you can’t sit at the table for lunch.” That’s not natural. A contingency links unrelated items: if you do that, you lose this other thing.
Let us say a desirable activity is coming up, such as a rodeo is in town, tree-cutters are coming to care for the tree in the play yard, or we have a sunny day for a trip to 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 his sister and soup spills on the floor. “Because you quarreled, 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. We are not going to the rodeo.”
Note: I am not advocating either of these, I simply want 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, a very mean one.
Scenario One, the surprise removal of something promised, is unethical and mean-spirited.
Scenario Two, a contract is violated, so it is ethical, but it is not within the concept of Deny Activities as offered as a consequence option. 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 and nasty.
Deny Activities 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 of time.