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A Guaranteed Discipline Method for Kids
Finding Discipline That Works
All too often, parents say that the disciplinary consequences that they give to a child just do not seem to work. It is frustrating when a parent tries hard to have a positive effect in discipline but cannot seem to achieve it. The secret of making consequences effective may lie less in the actual consequence as the method in which it is applied.
Responsive vs Reactive Parenting
The first step in using Stacked-Relational Consequences is for the parent learn to be responsive instead of reactive to the child. Children can feel reactivity in a parent, no matter how hard the parent tries to hide it. It is that reactivity in the parent that will sabotage any and all discipline methods. Indeed, learning to be a responsive disciplinarian is a fundamental key to the Stacked-Relational Consequence method.
Reactivity in discipline might be described as not having a good of a grip on yourself as you would like to have in the discipline situation. This does not mean that you are not permitted to be angry; you can learn to communicate your anger without being reactive. Reactivity is what turns consequence into punishment. Consequence is a natural outcome and response to poor behaviors, while punishment is a personal issue of revenge. The old adage that we ‘should never punish a child when we are angry’ is completely wrong…what the saying should be is that we ‘should never punish a child, and we should use our anger effectively in response by giving ‘natural consequences’ to the child for misbehavior.'
Reactive parents usually only have a lose approach to child discipline, or alter their approach depending on their mood or the offense committed by the child. If a parent wants to have a positive impact in disciplining their child, they need to have a clear plan to do so. The clear plan includes a set protocol of steps used to achieve the desired end.
Consequence vs Punishment
Consequence is a natural penalty of violating some agreed upon rule. Speeding in your car, for example. When the officer stops you, they are likely not angry with you. You broke an agreed upon standard, and the officer is enforcing the rule by giving you a penalty. It’s not personal. The same attitude is very desirable in disciplining children.
Notice in the above illustration, the word ‘penalty’ was used, and not punishment. Though you may feel punished by the speeding ticket, the person you should feel punished by is yourself, not the officer. Because you know the officer is just doing their job, and it is not personal, you interpret the ticket as a natural consequence, and not a punishment. Simply put, punishment does not work…our prisons are proof of that! So, the consequence of getting a ticket ($$) serves to alter your future behavior. In addition, the ‘Hard Consequence’ of the ticket is only half the story: you then have to go home and face your partner with a ticket. That is the ‘Relational Consequence’. The lesson becomes: for every Hard Consequence there is a Relational Consequence.
In most cases, due to reactivity, parents apply far too much consequence (or punishment) too soon and too fast. A good example of this is “grounding”. When we take everything away from the child in one fell swoop, we do not have any tools left. This is what I call the “lifer” effect: once the child has nothing left (like a lifer in prison), they have nothing to lose by making your life a living hell for the time the grounding is in effect. This approach comes about because the idea is that if a bigger, longer, and stronger consequence is applied, the child will “learn”. The problem is, this does not work in the long run. There is a better way.
The Better Way: Stacked-Relational Consequences
The first homework to do is to sit down and make a written list of at least twenty five privileges that the child has that can be withdrawn as ‘Hard Consequences’ (if you can think of more, all the better). The first item on the list is always ’time’, meaning ’time out’. It is not advised to use removal of items that belong to the child as consequence tools. When you take things that were given as gifts, or that are owned by the child, you induce a sense of betrayal and vindictiveness in the child. It is experienced as punishment. Believe me, they will pay you back. Still think it’s OK to take something that belongs to a child as a ‘punishment’? How would you feel if your spouse took back something they gave to you as a gift, say, your wedding ring as a ‘punishment’ for disagreeing or displeasing them?
Remember though, that you can remove a child’s ability to use something they own by using a different strategy. For example, don’t take the bike away that Santa brought for Christmas, but take away the privilege of playing outdoors for twenty four hours.
Keep your Hard Consequences list in the front of a notebook that is kept just for tracking consequences. Put this notebook somewhere safe, as it tends to ‘go missing’ by way of little hands! You should reserve a few pages dedicated for each child. At the top of a page, write the child’s name, and make headings: “offense“ , “consequence”, “date given”, and “expiration date/time”. This may seem a bit much, but when you have several children, you need to be able to keep accurate track of the consequence and it’s terms. The purpose of a long list of possible consequences is to keep the child guessing what will be used as a consequence; this keeps the process more effective.
The other advantage of tracking the consequences is that you will then be able to see that the number of consequences will go up steadily at first. This, believe it or not, is a good thing, because it shows that the child(ren) are actively testing the system. If you plotted the consequences on a graph, you would see what is called a ‘resistance curve’. Your job is to keep the effort going long enough to begin to see the child’s resistance begin to ease. When this happens, the number of consequences you have to use to get the desired compliance will reduce.
Stacking the Consequences
The next step is to learn the method of “stacking” the Hard Consequences. The basic unit of Hard Consequence is fifteen minutes time out, in the child’s room (for brevity, ‘15’). The discipline method, as written here, applies to children age five and up. The method for younger children is similar, but the child only has a time out one minute for each year of life, and the time out is done in front of the parent, in a designated, lightweight, portable ‘naughty’ chair for just this purpose.
In order to give a directive, say the child’s name, in a voice as neutral as possible. Why neutral? Because children often complain that every directive is ‘being yelled at’. Direct the child to give and maintain eye contact. Give the central directive of what you want the child to do or stop doing. Keep the directive simple, short, and one step. Do not say ‘please’, because by saying that, you have turned a directive in to request, and requests can be declined. If the child does not comply with the directive within a silent count of three, you begin to immediately count aloud, with a finger raised for each count: ‘One, two, three’. This count is done rather quickly, not: ‘One……One and a half…..’
Once you reach ‘three’, point your three fingers in the direction of the child’s room, say their name, and say: ‘Now you have 15 in your room.’ Do not say anything else! Repeat the silent count to three, and then ‘stack’ the consequence by adding another 15 in the same way you did the first, up to one hour. If they still refuse after getting a full hour of time out, begin to apply privilege removals from your privilege list, using the same count method, in twenty four hour increments until you get compliance. If the child complies at the first request, the fifteen minutes in their room is all the consequence you need to give. If they are grumbling as they go to their time out, ignore this. After all, aren’t you grumbling as you drive away with your speeding ticket? Of course, if the broken rule is more serious, an added twenty four hour privilege removal may be in order.
Some may object sending a five or six year old to their room for a whole hour. Don’t sweat it, an hour in their room is not abusive. Some say that a five year old will not remember why they had the time out if it is this long. Give me a break, a five year old is brighter than this, and has a great memory. Some parents may be tempted to insist that the child simply sit on the bed and do nothing, but don’t do that. If the child wants to play in their room or watch the television (that was foolishly permitted to be there in the first place), allow this. The emphasis is on separation from the family community due to behavior, not vindictive punishment! It is enough of a Hard Consequence that they are not able to do what they wish outside of their room.
Doing the three count may not always be indicated; if there is a behavior that you want to extinguish, you can put the child on notice that there will be no warning or count, just an ‘automatic 15’. Examples of such behaviors might be offensive words or expressions, or any violence.
Carrying Out the Hard Consequence
Let’s say that the child complied to a thirty minute Stacked time out. Now what? First, the time out needs to be actually timed. Don’t neglect to do this, as if your timing is arbitrary, this is not fair and the child will experience your efforts as either punishment (if you keep them in for forty five minutes) or a joke (if you let them out after five minutes). Cheap egg timers work well, as they can be placed near the child’s room (not in the child’s room), are loud enough to hear the ‘ding’, and if they get lost or broken (again, little hands) it’s no big deal to replace them. If the child comes out of the room before the time is up, the time starts over. It’s OK if the child cries, wails, yells, or screams in their room. It’s even OK if they decide to break their own toys. But let them know that there will be additional penalties if they decide to damage walls, furniture, or windows.
For longer penalties, such as giving one or more ‘24 hours without’ something, remember to record the date and time that the penalty began, and when it ends. Children are highly talented manipulators, and they will come back to you fifteen hours into the penalty and ask if their ‘time is up yet’. Having the penalty written down helps to keep things fair and above-board.
Carrying Out the Relational Consequence
Following the completion of the Hard Consequence, verbally tell the child (through the door, if it is closed) that they can come out of their room. If they decide to stay in their room longer, allow this (and enjoy the time). But when they do come out, they need to come and see the parent who gave them the consequence. Your overall tone should now be gentler and loving…think ‘Mr. Rogers’. Sit in a chair and have the child come to you. Hold both of their hands and direct them to eye contact. Do not speak if they are not giving eye contact; just wait until they do or repeat the direction to do so. If they refuse, go back to doing a three count towards a 15.
Once eye contact is gained, ask the child what they did to get the consequence. Note that you do not ask ‘why’, but ‘what’. If the child states that they cannot recall, invite them back to their room to think about it. You can help them remember, but only a bit. Once this is completed, continue to hold their hands and eye contact while you begin to speak about the clear Relational Consequence of their offense.
A clear Relational Consequence for most people means anger; the child’s behaviors have angered the parent. It’s fine to let the child know that you may be angry at their behavior, but this does not go far enough. Anger is a “secondary” emotion. Under all anger is a different emotion. This may be disappointment, frustration, or feeling of being violated. Expressing these to the child (once you, as well as the child has calmed during the time out) is what is needed.
Besides the Hard Consequence, the child needs to hear that their behavior has damaged their relationship with you (or others as well). They need to hear specifically how they damaged the relationship(s). This may include trust issues, being insulted or emotionally hurt, disrespected, unappreciated, ignored, etc. If more than one person is hurt, the relationship with each person needs to be covered.
The Relational Consequences conclude with a set of assurances, meaning that the child is assured of another round of consequences for repeat misbehavior, your willingness to help them in avoiding repeat misbehavior, your forgiveness, and your positive regard for them (“I love you”, accompanied with a hug). This wipes the slate clean.
So much goes on during the Relational Consequences portion of the method, not just stating how the child’s behavior has disappointed or hurt you. You are letting them know that when they behave poorly, not only do they get penalties in life, but they create the added penalty of damaged relationships. In addition, children are taught how to enter the interpersonal space of ‘difficult intimacy’. That is, working through a painful situation with someone they love and care for. And these are all great lessons for a successful life.
Consistency is Comforting to Children, Even in Discipline
If Stacked Relational Consequences are consistently used, it becomes a small and important relationship ritual. This set routine is actually comforting to the child, because of it’s predictability. It continues to create and grow a mutual respect between parent and child. The child comes to a deep understanding that they obey their parent not out of fear of punishment, but out of concern for not wanting to damage the relationship. Once the child’s resistance to the method drops, as evidenced by the frequency and extent of consequences getting more mild according to your tracking them, you can choose not to do the Relational Consequence each and every time you consequence, but until the resistance peaks out, it should be done every time a Hard Consequence is given. Following this drop, Relational Consequences should be done at least every three times a Hard Consequence is given.
Stacked-Relational Consequences are designed to, over time, help the child become more positively responsive to the lightest pressure (consequence level) possible to achieve the goal of correction and behavior management. Believe it or not, you can get to the point where all you have to do is say the child’s name and raise one finger, and the child will respond positively. The method also provides for a clear and measured means of giving consequences. It will take some time for the child to begin to “get” that if they accept the initial 15, they are far better off than proceeding to continue to express negative attitudes and behaviors and not complying with your directives. There is no guessing for the child or the parent. If you pass the police officer doing ninety, it is a forgone conclusion what will happen.
If carried out long enough, consistently enough, and as outlined, the child’s behaviors will change for the better. In observing people us the method after stating that the method did not work for them, it usually becomes clear that they are either not being consistent, they are not using the method as designed, or they gave up way too soon. The average child may need between 500 to 700 repetitions of the consequence cycle, and stubborn children may need upwards of 1200 repetitions.
Sounds like hard work? Yes, it is. But how much do you want to gain control of your child’s behaviors? And more importantly, wouldn't it be great if they listened to you not out of fear, but out of respect for their relationship with you?