I have a two year old; I know that, especially with young children, they don't really connect a consequence in the future with a behaviour now. ("If you do that you can't have dessert after supper", which is 3 hours away).

I have been trying to apply a consequence as soon as possible after the behaviour occurs (or immediately), so for example, if she plays roughly with a toy then it gets taken away immediately, etc.

Is there a general guide/rule of thumb for how much time this is per age of child? At two, how long can I reasonably expect her to connect behaviour with future consequence, and how does this increase in the future?

I know this is probably very child specific, but I was wondering if there were general guidelines I could work within.

3 Answers 3


My 13 year-old still doesn't respond to consequences that aren't pretty much immediate. At this point, he probably never will. Same for non-immediate rewards. After a while, trying to use incentives like that just felt mean.

My 10 year-old does consider future incentives, but she doesn't really need them. You generally just have to set expectations with her.

In other words, you mostly just have to see how your individual child responds.

  • I understand, but my two year old literally does not connect any consequence for her behaviour that is more distant than a minute. My question is not to discuss the appropriateness of taking away dessert, my question is that my child is mentally incapable of this thought process, and I wish to know at what age she will be. Nonetheless, there are many many cases where a child/teenager/adult has to deal with future consequences of their actions (if they don't do their homework, they won't get good grades, they don't do their job, they will get fired). This doesn't actually answer the question.
    – stan
    Jun 15, 2020 at 7:42

Great question! I have a 2 1/2-year-old and I am currently focusing on acting immediately after the behavior occurs. As far as a general rule, tbh I am going with the flow and seeing how far in the future I can I give a promise as a reward. As an example: if I make mention that if she behaves at her grandparent's house, I will promise her a popsicle when we get home (warning, grandparents will probably never admit that she's a handful haha) but most of the time by the time I pick her up, she won't even remember..so I know that I can't provide a consequence that extends that many hours either. I hope that's helpful, and perhaps you'll get more advice here- but for now, I've just been going with the flow since every child is developmentally different! Good luck!!


I finally found an answer to this, it seems like children under the age of 6-7 years old don't connect future consequences with their actions.


For children younger than 6 or 7 years, withholding privileges works best if done right away. For example, if your child misbehaves in the morning, do not tell her she can't watch TV that evening. There is too much time in between, and she probably will not connect the behavior with the consequence.

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