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When Kids Don't Care About Consequences

The Background

Much of what we are trying to ‘get our kids to do’ revolves around accountability. When the child behaves ‘well’, we’re happy; when there’s undesirable behavior, we look to teach them to do better.

Consequences seem logical enough…actions have consequences, right? Sometimes.

Alas, this is what I hear from parents all the time:

  • my child just says she doesn’t care about the consequence and walks away

  • no matter what I take away, the behavior never changes

  • she just doesn’t want to: stop lying, do her homework, be kind


Fact: 90% of the time, consequences are simply punishment in disguise.

While punishment might stop behavior in the short term, it rarely ‘teaches’ the skill that we want children to acquire (be truthful, take responsibility, respect others).

We can’t punish our children into better behavior. Sigh.

The good news? Your child DOES want to do well. “I don’t care” or seeming indifference is simply a way of protecting themselves. Receiving a consequence makes him feel powerless; shrugging and feigning indifference helps them feel control again. She’s saying, “you can’t hurt me.”

IMPORTANT NOTE: Logical consequences are the tool of choice only 10-15% of the time.


If consequences are the right tool, and if done correctly, then you should pay little attention to any opinions or gripes your child has about your discipline. Here are some scripts to help you:

Script #1

“Ok, I understand that you don’t care about your phone. I’ll just put it over here until tomorrow night”.

  • Communicates: “I am not getting into a power struggle.” Kids, especially oversensitive or power-kids, will always choose arguing over doing what we’ve asked. If “I don’t care” is effective bait, you’ll find yourself in an impossible conversation (argument, yelling match) of how they should feel. Instead, model the behavior you want: control your emotions and address the consequences calmly and rationally.

Script #2

“I understand being upset with rules and limits. I'll put the phone over here until tomorrow."

  • Communicates: This is a safe space. I am a parent with the authority to make rules and set limits, AND it's ok for you to express emotions and be upset; I’ll still be here....and so will the consequence.

Script #3

“I get that you don't like it. But we all make mistakes; I’m sure you’ll do better next time”.

  • Communicates: It’s OK to make mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes: that’s how we learn. Next time you’ll know how to do the right thing and there will be no consequence. You’ve got this!


Our kids are doing their job: they are asking us through their behaviors to be the captain of the ship – to define ourselves clearly – to have boundaries and make the limits clear. Start by practicing one of the above. Just once. And then bite your tongue and see what happens.

IF you are realizing that maybe consequences just aren't working, let's reassess - Grab a free assessment here (or just reply to the email); I’ll untangle what’s going on and help map out what you can try instead.

I've been there; I can help.



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