How to Use Privileges
Privileges are not rights; they're special, enjoyable, or even exciting activities or accesses to material objects. Staying up late, spending the night at a friend's, or using the Internet are privileges. Privileges are not tangible, and so they are more effective as rewards for older children.
In contrast to rewards, which are a one-time occurrence, privileges can be ongoing. Privileges are most effective if they are time-limited or performance-based; for example, your daughter gets to stay up until 10:00
The younger your child, the more you need to bring privileges from the abstract realm into the concrete realm by use of a visually based chart or points system. Keeping track of points shows that your granting of privileges is not arbitrary; a chart shows that privileges correspond to concrete logic that's fair and predictable. Older children can think ahead a little more, and so rewards can take more work — but not too much — to earn.
As your child grows older, you will probably be taken off guard by all kinds of requests for privileges you've not prepared for: “Can I buy a brand-new car if I get a job?” “Is it okay if I spend Thanksgiving at my boyfriend's house?” “Would you be mad if I put food coloring in the pool?” and so on. Don't let your child put you on the spot — you don't have to answer immediately.
Tell your child you need time to think about it or to talk it over with your partner, and you'll get back to her in an hour or the next day. Then look at your reward system and see if your child has been complying with requests for desired behaviors. If performance has been so-so, you can offer to switch the new privilege for an old one; it it's been great, you can grant it; if it's not so hot, you can say no and point to the specifics as an explanation.
Don't take back a privilege that has been earned as a one-time reward. If good behavior has earned your daughter permission to stay out late that night, and then she behaves badly, don't take away the one night of extended curfew you've already granted.
What you can and should do, is remove the ongoing, time-based or performance-based privileges. If you've agreed that your daughter is expected to maintain a B average in order to play basketball, and her report card shows a C average, take away the privilege immediately and until the next report card comes in — even if it's the middle of the season and your daughter is starting point guard with state championships coming up next week.
Don't feel bad if you have to take away privileges. Once you state them explicitly, your child has total control over whether to earn them or not, and it is not your fault if she doesn't come through for herself. If you don't take away privileges, you're not giving your child the opportunity to learn how to plan ahead or to form the habits you've requested in the first place.