13.2 Discipline Tools
We must use each discipline tool according to the “Four R’s” or we will turn it into punishment.
Show Children How to Make Amends ☆☆☆☆
Whenever possible, use this tool, because it is always logically related. We only need to present it respectfully and have reasonable expectations. For example, if a child writes on a wall, ask a helpful question, “How can you get these marks off the wall?” Our question makes it clear it is the child’s responsibility to clean the wall and the child’s answer will reveal how to do it. If children don’t know how, we can give information. This is how children learn self-discipline and resourcefulness. The child does not have to do it all at once or use a toothbrush, since this would be unreasonable and punishing. When children know how to correct mistakes, they often do it on their own in the future— becoming self-disciplined.
• Whoever drops it…………………. needs to pick it up
• Whoever spills it………………….. needs to wipe it up.
• Whoever breaks it……………….. needs to fix or replace it.
• Whoever loses it………………….. needs to find or replace it.
• Whoever left it open…………..… needs to close it
• Whoever left it on………………… needs to turn it off.
Do not tell children what to do; suggest it as an option. Explain how children can make amends in a calm, friendly, matter-of-fact tone of voice. You can even give them choices about ways to make amends. For example, if children break something, they can either fix it or do extra chores to earn the money to replace it. If children are too young or inexperienced to do the activity, they can help you. For example, if a toddler spills a drink, the parent can hand the child a towel and put a hand on top of the child’s, to show how to wipe the spill.
When another person (rather than a “thing”) is hurt, there are several ways to make amends. Look at the wound, get ice, write a letter of apology, give a hug or kiss, or say “I’m sorry.” Avoid getting into a power struggle making them do any of these things. (See the “Sibling Conflicts” section in the Child Problem Toolbox for details on handling an insincere “sorry.”)
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A Graduate’s Story. My husband and I were both working late one evening and hired Allison to babysit our two children. Isaac, 9, was playing outside when his tennis ball landed on the roof. He asked Allison if he could get the ball and she said “No.” Isaac decided to get it anyway. Soon, Isaac’s friend, Aaron, showed up and climbed on the roof with Isaac. When Allison saw them both on the roof, she asked them to get down. The boys said they were “stuck” and refused to come down. (It’s debatable if this was sincere or a game.) Allison asked nicely, then firmly, and finally demanded they come down. The next-door neighbor came out. She knew the sitter and the boys. She, too, insisted the boys come down. The boys got off the roof only after Allison and the neighbor walked away.
The next morning, my husband told Isaac, “We are aware of what happened with Allison last night. You need to be thinking about what you did. When you come home from school today, be prepared to talk to your mother about appropriate discipline.”
When Isaac came home, I went to his room. “We need to discuss what happened last night when Allison was here.” Isaac made excuses for why he was on the roof, insisting he was stuck. I listened to his feelings and reasons, but didn’t accept any as an excuse. I said, “Isaac, I know you think you are old enough to be allowed on the roof, but when a sitter is here, we expect you to do what she says. Allison told you not to get on the roof and you chose to defy her. Now we need to talk about what happens next.”
“There are three issues here,” I said. “First, you got on the roof when you weren’t supposed to and wouldn’t come down. Second, you involved Aaron in this . . .” Isaac interrupted, “But Aaron decided, on his own, to get on the roof!” I calmly asked, “And whose roof was it? “ I paused while he thought. Then I continued, “When Aaron is at our house, I expect you both to follow our rules.” He nodded in agreement. “Third,” I continued, “this behavior is unacceptable anytime, but this incident occurred when a sitter was here. Now, we need to decide what the appropriate discipline is for each part of this problem.”
Isaac suggested restricting himself to the house for three weeks. Normally, I would have thought this was unreasonable, but this was a serious offense. I suggested we break down the time. Since Isaac abused the privilege of playing outside, he would be restricted to the house the first week. The second week, he could play outside by himself. The third week, Aaron could play at our house, if they were supervised. If all went well, the fourth week would be back to normal. (This is called a “regressive restriction,” which is explained in the Restrictions section.) This plan also took care of problem number two, the fact that Aaron was involved. Isaac agreed to give up his privilege of being on the roof, even to help his father clean gutters, until late autumn, which was not far off.
Finally, I asked Isaac how he could make amends with Allison. He suggested writing an apology. I agreed and added a firm suggestion, “I paid Allison to supervise you and your sister. What she had to handle was above and beyond the call of duty for a sitter. Since she worked twice as hard, I would like you to pay her extra for the time you spent on the roof. It amounts to $2.00.” Isaac agreed.
I also talked to Aaron’s mom and we coordinated our discipline. Aaron was restricted to his house for a week and voluntarily wrote letters apologizing to both Allison and me for his part in the incident. Isaac did not complain once while on house restriction. He confirmed our arrangements several times and knew when it was time for the next level of restrictions. It was hard for him to write and deliver his apology to Allison, but he did it anyway.
This mother could have easily turned this discipline into punishment. She could have demanded the apologies and payment. She could have blamed and shamed Isaac. Although she was not pleased with what happened, she was pleased with the discipline they arranged.
Children need to learn that making mistakes isn’t as important as what they can do to prevent or correct them. When we teach children that mistakes are bad, they will spend their energy denying responsibility or covering up. Hiding mistakes prevents someone from fixing them or learning from
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them. Children can take responsibility for what they have done, whether or not it was a mistake. For example, if children steal something they must give it back in person and apologize. If it was a teen who was old enough to shop alone, the teen could have supervised shopping visits before regaining this privilege.
Offer Choices ☆☆☆☆
Throughout our tour of The Parent’s Toolshop, we have learned to use choices within limits: to prevent problems, gain cooperation, prevent and redirect power struggles—and now, to reveal and follow through with discipline.
It is important to only offer choices we are willing to allow. If we say, “Eat your peas or leave the table” and the child leaves the table, we can’t say, “Get back here and eat those peas!”
Offer a choice between positive behavior and the result of negative behavior. Remember that both choices must be respectful to the child. Unfair choices, like “Do it or get a spanking” are power threats. There are several formulas appropriate for discipline:
Adjust the choices as issues shift. This is tricky, but it can prevent power struggles at each level of your response. Consider the bike example and notice how the focus of the choices changes to avoid power struggles at each step:
The only exception to this scenario is if the child refuses to come out of the street to have this discussion. A friendly, nonthreatening approach is more likely to result in the child coming out of the street. (“Hey Jon! Come here a second,” instead of “Jonathan Michael Jones! Get over here this instant!”) We may need to run in the street, get a hold of the handlebar, and say all of the above firmly but respectfully as we guide the bike back up to the sidewalk. This approach is called . . .
Any action must fit the “Four R’s.” The action must be related to the behavior. It must be reasonable and done in a respectful way. Usually, we want to reveal our plan so children are expecting it, but there are times when the very act of revealing the plan turns the statement into a threat.
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A Graduate’s Story. I drive my two teenagers to school every morning. They worked out a plan for who sits in the front seat. Whoever sits in the front gets to pick the radio station. If they argue about seating arrangements or break their agreement, they both automatically sit in the back seat. Then they argue about which radio station to play. I’ve tried saying, “If you two are going to argue, I’ll turn off the radio,” but they either can’t hear me or take it as a power play. This week, I simply took action. When they started arguing I turned off the radio without revealing my plan. They immediately stopped arguing and asked, “Why did you do that?” Now, I had their full attention. I said, “I can’t listen to the radio and arguing. If you two can’t agree, we won’t listen to any music.” So far, it’s worked! They are back to their seating agreements and haven’t argued about the radio all week.
Taking action involves deciding what you will do, not what you will make the child do. If you have already revealed a discipline and children test you, simply follow through with what you said you’d do, with as few words as possible. It is perfectly okay to take children by the hand and start walking, turn off a TV, or lock a toolbox if you have revealed your intention to do so.
When you take action you may or may not say anything. We’ve learned a lot about what to say in various parenting situations. Often, we need to take some action while we are speaking. If we speak, we want to use all the communication skills we have learned. Sometimes no words are necessary; our actions speak for themselves.
A Personal Story. My husband and I sleep in on Saturdays, when we can, and our kids occupy themselves while we sleep. Before they were teens, they would often get too loud or start arguing and screaming and wake me up. I felt aggravated and resentful when I went downstairs. If it hadn’t happened for a while, I would remind them of the discipline for screaming while others are sleeping. “You can watch TV quietly or you can play quietly in your own rooms—you decide.
If they woke me up again, I did one of two things. If I was still calm enough, I’d say, “I can see you two have decided to go to your rooms for a while,” as I turned off the TV. If I was fuming, I stumbled down the stairs, walked into the family room, turned off the TV, and left. I didn’t say anything. They knew what they did and why I took action. If it happened the next weekend, I would simply take action at the first incident, because the rule and discipline were still fresh in their memories. I only had to do this a half dozen times before the problem stopped for good. Today, many years later, my teens sleep in later than I do!
Allow Natural Consequences ☆☆☆☆
Natural consequences happen if the parent does nothing. They are predictable and always logically related. To follow through with a natural consequence, parents must hold themselves back from rescuing children. We can reveal a natural consequence or our unwillingness to rescue children. If children insist on behaving that way, they are choosing to experience the natural consequence of that behavior. Do not say, “I told you so”; Instead, ask, “What can you do now?” or “How can you prevent this the next time?”
A Personal Story. When Chris was three, he wore a superhero sweat suit with matching winter boots the entire summer! I told him he would get too hot (the natural consequence), but he didn’t! My friends still remember this and tease Chris and me (in a friendly way) about how cute he was.
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Parents often worry that their children’s mistakes could ruin their lives forever. Few mistakes are this serious. Fear encourages parents to control their children’s lives, rather than letting go, so the children can learn how to live their own lives. With teens, these behavior choices and natural consequences usually occur away from parents. This is an even greater reason to allow teens (and children of all ages) to experience the consequences of mistakes that aren’t dangerous, so they will learn sooner rather than later.
In the following examples, the parent probably has a chance to reveal the natural consequence. If the child still chooses that behavior, the parent could use another discipline tool or let the natural consequence occur.
► Forgetting a school lunch and being hungry.
► Forgetting homework and experiencing the school’s consequence.
► Coming home late and missing dinner.
► Not washing a breakfast bowl until later and having a harder time cleaning it.
► Not practicing enough and doing poorly at a recital.
The first time children forget books, homework or lunches, or if they forget only a few times a year, it is less risky to deliver the item. Use problem solving to have children select self-reminders they can use. If they are regularly forgetful, don’t rescue them. Let them experience the natural outcome. If the child experiences the result and comes up with a plan for remembering, the problem will usually resolve itself.
A Personal Story. I have a policy that I am only willing to deliver forgotten lunches, homework or books three times each school year. I have the same “three strikes” rule about driving the kids to school if they miss their bus. The first time it happens, I willingly deliver the item or drive the child to school. I remind them that I am only willing to do this two more times the entire school year. We do problem solving so the child has a plan to prevent the problem from happening again. If I have to deliver an item or drive a third time, I reveal my intent to not rescue them again. We do problem solving again. This time, we discuss the school’s consequences and what the child can do to solve the problem on their own if it happens again. So far, my kids have reached the “third strike” only once. Most years, they only get one strike.
Use restrictions sparingly; they are one of the most misused and overused tools of discipline. Restrictions are power plays, because parents have the power to restrict something. Restrictions are best arrived at through problem solving, with the child’s involvement and understanding.
Restrictions are only logically related to an abuse of a privilege or right. Most rights and privileges have a responsibility connected. The obvious effect of not accepting the responsibility is to lose the privilege.
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Don’t restrict responsibilities or children’s commitments. Restricting children from an extra-curricular activity when the offense has nothing to do with the activity is illogical and unreasonable. If it is a team sport, the entire team suffers and the child is forced to neglect a responsibility. The only time it might be reasonable to restrict an extracurricular activity would be for poor grades or in-game fighting. Grade requirements should be established before the child makes the commitment and are usually a school policy. If children want to take on additional activities, get an agreement that they will maintain their other responsibilities or give up the activity. When children are involved in more than two extracurricular activities, it is probably too much. Allow children to try out different activities, one at a time. If they want to start something new, they must decide which activity they are going to temporarily give up.
If misbehavior occurs during a sport or extracurricular activity, deal with the act, not the place the act occurred. For example, if children fight during a game, the coach is the appropriate person to restrict children from playing. Parents can suggest children make amends with the other player; an apology, written or verbal, for example. If that is not possible, parents can brainstorm what children can do the next time they are tempted to fight. Involve the coach to reveal that, if it happens again, they will sit on the sidelines for one game (to start).
Avoid restrictions from special events, such as school dances or scout/church outings. You especially want to make an exception if the outing would be a positive learning experience or was planned far in advance. A more logical and reasonable discipline can be in effect before and after the activity. Special activities should only be restricted if a severe infraction occurs that is logically related to that specific event. When there is no logical connection between the event and the restriction, it’s unreasonable and clearly a parent’s effort to make the child suffer.
Negotiate restrictions in direct relation to the severity of what occurred. You want children to have an opportunity to show they can behave responsibly. While they are restricted, they can’t put the lesson to use
When a restriction is over, ask “How can you show that you are ready for this responsibility/ privilege?” Review agreements or conditions related to the privilege.
Use Problem Solving ☆☆☆☆
We learned in the Clear Communication Toolset how to do parent/child problem solving. We learned that the last step might be to reveal a discipline, if the behavior happens again. Here, discipline is proposed for the future. Sometimes, however, you will want to use problem solving to plan discipline at the time of a severe violation. When used to plan a discipline, you follow the same steps, except the problem to solve is “What discipline is appropriate?” (The story of the boys on the roof illustrated this process.)
Involve children in deciding disciplines. If the child can describe what they did wrong, why it was wrong, and what they plan to do differently, they have probably learned the lesson. There may not need to be any discipline at all. If discipline is needed, we can ask children what they think it should be. Children are often better at suggesting discipline that meets the “Four R’s” than parents! When children suggest something that doesn’t fit all four R’s, simply adjust it until it does.
A Personal Story. When I was 16, I passed my driving test with flying colors. I enjoyed cruising past friends’ houses, honking a “Hello.” One day, I looked at a friend’s house for a brief second, as I honked my horn. When I looked back to the road, it was too late, I hit my friend’s father’s parked car. Fortunately, it was an old tank and didn’t have a scratch. My bumper was so crumpled I couldn’t drive it further.
I had to go to my friend’s house, tell them I hit their car, and ask to call my parents. Having to make this call was a natural consequence I couldn’t avoid. Fortunately, the friend’s family was nice about the accident. My mom was calm and I was impressed that she first asked “Are you okay?” before asking about the car. “We’ll discuss this when you get home,” she said.
My dad drove me home. He didn’t say a word. Now I knew I was in big trouble. I had already thought about what I did and what should be done about it. When I arrived home, my mother first asked me what happened and then listened. I told her and then handed her my driver’s license and bank book. I restricted myself to the house for three weeks and gave up my phone privileges.
She accepted the license, saying, “You can get your license back when you pay for the damages.” She looked in the bank book and said, “This is not enough to cover the damage to the car. You’ll need to do some extra work to make up the difference.” She accepted my restriction to the house, but said it would only last until I had paid for the damages to the car. She then said, “Your phone has nothing to do with driving. Besides, if you are stuck in the house that long, you’ll never survive without your phone.”
I learned a lot from this experience. This was the worst thing I had ever done, yet my mom treated me with respect throughout our problem solving. I was so impressed that she changed the illogical part of my self-discipline, even though she was disappointed and angry. My parents didn’t have to enforce this discipline; I did it myself. Since I came up with the discipline, I couldn’t shift the responsibility for what I did to someone else. By the time I had worked through my self-imposed guilt, I had earned the money, repaired the car, and I was ready to drive more safely. I didn’t have another accident for 20 years, and that one was the other guy’s fault!
Did you know . . .
The original meaning of the word “educate” is “to draw forth” information? Yet, so often we try to teach by cramming information into people
Ask questions, instead of lecturing. When parents are faced with disciplining their children, they often tell children what happened, how children should feel about what happened, and what they should do next time. They think they are “teaching” them a lesson, but they are really taking on full responsibility for pulling the “lesson” together. The F-A-X process we learned in the Child Problem Toolbox helps children figure out the “lesson.” Parents ask questions that draw the information out and help children piece together the puzzle for themselves. This approach helps children learn from their own answers. It prevents parental lectures that children tune out and keeps the ball in the child’s court, where it belongs. Acceptable questions avoid the word “why,” which puts children on the defensive. Instead, ask “what” and “how” questions, such as the following:
Start with verbal agreements. Written contracts can be disrespectful and send the message that parents don’t trust children to keep their agreements. If children forget, simply remind them once of
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the agreement and follow through with your end of it. Use nonverbal reminders after that. (See problem solving in Chapter 10 for ideas.) Let written agreements serve as reminders, not evidence of guilt.
The following story is a good example of how disciplinary problem solving actually sounds. The story involves the two boys who climbed on the roof—it seems that summer they were into testing limits. The mother said her son had never been in trouble before he climbed on the roof. With great credit to her handling of this situation, she says he has not severely tested limits or gotten into any trouble since then (1993).
A Graduate’s Story. My son, Isaac, and his friend, Aaron, asked if they could ride their bikes to a convenience store. Aaron’s mother and I both said the store was too far. It was also too dangerous to ride through the woods (and against park rules) and cross a four-lane intersection to get there. So the boys got permission to ride their bikes as far as the park and then sneaked off to the store. When they arrived, Aaron began shaking pop cans. Isaac was not causing any trouble and he repeatedly told Aaron to stop. When Aaron refused to behave, Isaac started to leave—but it was too late. The cashier had already called the police. Both boys had to sit in the back of a police car while he called their parents.
As I drove the boys home, I could tell they had been crying. Isaac looked really angry, too. I asked them both, “So, what did you learn?” Isaac didn’t answer. Aaron said, “Not to go to the store without permission.” I asked him, “What else?” He added, “To treat the stuff in the store with respect.” I only added, “Well you’ll need to work this out with your parents. I assume you know we won’t be seeing you for a while.” He nodded. I gave Aaron a hug and wished him luck in telling his parents.
I asked Isaac to wait in his room while I pulled my emotions and thoughts together. “Sitting in a police car was already a consequence that imposed suffering,” I thought. Since Isaac wasn’t the one who was causing the trouble in the store, I didn’t think I had to be extra hard on him. Nevertheless, discipline was still in order, since Isaac knew he wasn’t supposed to ride his bike through the park or to the store. I went to Isaac’s room and sat on his bed. “What happened?” I asked. Isaac didn’t say anything. I was determined to listen and not lecture, so I sat quietly and waited— and waited—until Isaac finally told me the story. “What did you learn?” I asked. “Nothing,” was Isaac’s reply. “That’s not the answer I’m looking for!” I said with raised eyebrows and a smile. “Not to go anywhere with Aaron,” Isaac added. I summarized, “I guess you learned how you can get in trouble when the person you are with acts irresponsibly. It’s important to choose your friends wisely, huh?” Isaac nodded in agreement. I continued, “You know, you showed good judgment in telling Aaron you were going to leave if he didn’t stop,” I said. “I guess next time you’ll do that sooner, huh?” Isaac nodded.
I needed to move into discipline. I knew I’d have to be careful not to lecture so I could keep Isaac involved, although he wasn’t very talkative. I began, “You knew it was against the rules to go to the store, right?” Isaac nodded, “Yes.” “Well, there are a couple issues here,” I continued. “You rode your bikes beyond the park, where you told us you would be, to the store where you were not allowed to go. The cashier has said you and Aaron aren’t allowed back in the store, so that takes care of that issue. What do you think the discipline should be for abusing your bike privileges?” Isaac suggested a bike restriction for three weeks. I suggested a regressive restriction, “How about no bike at all for one week. If all goes well, the next week, you can ride your bike on our street only. If you are responsible, the next week you can ride around our block, and the next you can ride one block over.” Isaac agreed.
“How long do you think you should be restricted from going to the park?” I asked. Isaac suggested, “Until Spring break,” which was in one month. Although this was a long time, I agreed, adding a few conditions. “When Spring break arrives, you can go to the creek, but still can’t go into the park without an adult or older teenager, okay?” Isaac nodded. “Anything else?” I asked.
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Isaac shook his head. Isaac and I gave each other a hug and he chose to stay in his room for a while. When he came out, I didn’t say anything more about what happened. Isaac followed through on his discipline without any reminders.
Reveal Logical Consequences
Logical consequences are the riskiest of all the discipline tools, because it is so easy to violate any one of the 4R’s of discipline: The consequence is not logically related to the behavior or the logical connection is unclear. It is presented disrespectfully, is unreasonable, or is not revealed ahead of time.
These mistakes usually occur when parents choose or present consequences in anger. Taking time to calm down and plan an effective discipline is far better than rashly reacting and making one of these mistakes. During our think time, children can also be thinking about what they did and an appropriate discipline.
Identify the goal of the misbehavior before using logical consequences. Natural consequences are useful with any of the four goals of misbehavior. We aren’t involved; we are simply letting nature take its course. When we use logical consequences, however, it’s important to consider the child’s misbehavior goal:
Logical consequences are not always appropriate for very young children or teens.
Follow through as soon as possible, even if it is inconvenient for the child. I call this an “ inconvenience consequence.” If children are upstairs playing and have left the TV on, call them downstairs to turn it off. Yes, we are sitting right there, but if they turned the TV on, it is their responsibility to turn it off. Don’t go out of your way, however, to make a consequence inconvenient
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A Personal Story. Fall was ending and winter was arriving. I had kept the front door open for months, but had the heat on now and wanted the front door closed. Chris was not used to closing the door behind him. The first time he forgot, I called him in and explained, “I have the heat on now. You need to remember to close the front door when you leave.” “Okay, Mom,” he replied. The next time I walked through the living room I found the door open again! (I knew it was still PU. Although I had explained, it was still reasonable that he’d forget.) I called to him, saying “Chris, the door is open!” He came running back to close the door. I revealed a consequence, “If you want to play outside, you need to remember to close the door behind you. If I find the door left open again, I’ll know you’ve decided to play inside.” “Okay, Mom,” he replied. Again, I found the door open. I felt bad having to call him in, but I did anyway. All I said was, “Chris! Door!” He yelled to his friends, “I gotta go inside now!” and he came running. He said, “Sorry, Mom,” and went downstairs to find something else to do.
You may be thinking your children wouldn’t be this cooperative. (Remember that I’m already seeing the long-term benefits of using the Universal Blueprint. I am not immune, however, to problems!) At first, children might think we are being unreasonable. Don’t get into power struggles; acknowledge the inconvenience and the value behind the request. Follow through consistently, or children will try to negotiate exceptions to the rules.
There is never just one possible logical consequence for a problem situation. Logical consequences often take great thought, creativity, and effort, which is why we want to use them sparingly. Here are a few examples of logical consequences:
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