This is the first in a two-part post about discipline. The second of the two is titled: Time-Out that Works. Time-Out will never work if you don’t use the two posts as what I think of as a lifestyle. Similar to the advice, diets don’t work. Just implementing discipline for a while won’t work. I find families that use a plan for a while and then “fall off the wagon” are the most frustrated and have a lot of discipline “events.” Years ago a mom brought me a three page “episode” chart documenting every horrific tantrum that her daughter had over a several month period. Honestly, I can not think of one horrific tantrum either one of my children had at home or in public because they were so use to calming themselves down and then moving on with life. Make sure you print a copy of the Discipline Refrigerator Cheat Sheet, that I give to parents in my office, that is a quick reminder of the basic principles of discipline that works!
Parents are confused about discipline. I hear things like, “My parents just expected me to behave and I did” or “I’m the parent, I should not have to earn respect” or “My parents spanked me, and I turned out all right” all the time from parents. There are so many “professionals” who come up with parenting methods, how do you know which one is right, and more importantly, which one works?
I read an article in Parenting Magazine where an M.D. decided to do a professional literature search to find out what the best method of discipline was because he was having trouble disciplining his own children! After sifting through hundred of research findings, he came up with one method of discipline. Boy, was is lucky that it was Ed Christophersen’s method, because that’s who taught me pretty much all of my “academic” knowledge about kids!
Dr. Christophersen has always told me that he and Dr. Barry Brazelton came up with time out about the same time. Dr. Christophersen in Kansas and Dr. Brazelton in Washington. At one point, they were students together at the University of Kansas. The credit for my discipline plan goes to Dr. Christophersen. He came up with it, I have made it my own after raising two children and teaching it to hundreds of parents and students. I still use many of the examples he used when teaching parents about time out.
Time out doesn’t work because it is not taught to parents correctly. Over time, time out has become like a game of telephone. One person telling the next how to do it, sometimes the media, and it gets all changed around and then popularized. Pop culture time out is when a child sits in a “naughty,” Time Out chair, or on the bottom step, stands in the corner, etc. for one minute for every year of age. The most common complaints about pop culture time out is that children won’t stay where you put them, they won’t go to the place they are supposed to go at all, and/or they get out and do the same thing again. Unless you have a kid, and there are a few out there, with an amazingly complaint temperament, in other words they were born compliant, pop culture time out doesn’t work. I hear, “My child won’t do time out,” many times a week!
Time Out Theory
A parent can never really apply time out principles to the thousands of scenarios for “bad” behavior unless you get the theory behind it. It’s not hard, it’s just necessary. There are three types of attention: positive, negative, and none. Everyone prefers positive over negative, but one of the secrets about discipline is that children prefer negative attention over no attention. There have been entire books about being shunned and how awful it is, like everyone’s favorite from high school, the Scarlet Letter. When I was teaching college students, the textbooks called time out, love withdraw, you are not with drawing your love, just your attention for a very brief amount of time. If discipline isn’t working, most likely, your child is somehow getting negative attention.
“Why would my child want negative attention when I give them so much positive attention?” many parents ask. Kids only want your negative attention when it is not possible to get your positive attention! You would never watch your son punch your daughter and then say, “Good punch, buddy!” Children only try to get your negative attention when it is not possible to get your positive attention. Remember, they prefer positive over negative and negative over none.
I think of kids as Diet Coke addicts and each parent as a pop machine (I’m from the Midwest, we say pop not soda!). Your children know exactly what button to push on both of you to get their Diet Coke. When the Diet Coke comes out, they are happy. When the Diet Coke does not come out when I put money into a machine, I start pushing all of the buttons. I don’t like Sprite, root beer, or orange, but I want something for my money. However, I am never there an hour later. At some point, all reasonable people give up and realize they are not going to get their money back or any pop and walk away.
Your job is to be a half broken pop machine. They may kick the machine, they may spit at the machine, but at some point they will give up. The other types of pop represent negative attention. I don’t want Sprite, but I will take it over nothing. Kids don’t want to be yelled at, but they actually prefer it over nothing. That’s why they won’t stay in time out, because they are getting nothing. When they get up, they get something in the way of yelling. It becomes a sport for some children, and they actually learn to not only thrive on negative attention, but run the household by trying to get it. When parent’s feel guilty that they don’t always feel like they love one of their children, it is most likely because that child has learned how to manipulate the whole household by getting negative attention. People in the workplace can do this as well, usually not consciously.
Time-Out from Positive Attention
Time-out from Positive Attention is what time-out as we know it was originally called. By dropping the Positive Attention, the entire system is changed. Positive attention is also called Time-In. Hugging, kissing, cuddling, and bedtime stories technically are time-in. The real time-in, however, is how you are treating your child in between those sweet, irresistible moments. I always thought of it as a running dialog when my kids where infants until around third grade. Thinking out loud, in a positive way, about what they are doing. After third grade, they start NOT wanting you to talk all the time and you just start bugging them!
An example would be, your daughter miraculously decides to take her plate to the dishwasher without being asked. You have a decision to make based on your kid. Some kids love it when parents make a big deal out of anything, some kids hate it. I have one of each. For my son, it was a soft, “thank you for taking care of your plate.” For my daughter, “Awesome! Thank you for helping. I love it when you help me!” Noticing the little things is the positive attention you will “Time-Out.”
I had one father ask me if noticing every little thing kids do that they are supposed to do anyway is why all the young adults he supervised needed so much attention. Good point, but, no. By the time kids become adolescents and adults, their “self-talk” takes over. If they are used to a positive commentary about what they are doing from their parents, they take over beginning around the time they don’t want to hear you talk anymore!
The Hardest Pill to Swallow: Parent’s Own Behavior
Think about what you did if you have ever gotten a warning from a police officer. Unfortunately, I have gotten too many warnings. I drive away saying, “Yes, I got away with it!” If I get a ticket I swear I am going to stop speeding. I don’t want to tell my husband about it because it will effect our insurance.
I don’t speed again for….weeks! If a ticket came out of my dash every time I went even one mile an hour over the speed limit, I would actually adjust downward. The sign says Speed Limit. Limit means top. However, I speed every day because I get away with it everyday. There is an unwritten rule even police officers have told me they follow. It’s not worth their time to stop someone who is going 5mph under in the city, under 10mph on the freeway.
Kids are the same way. Give them lots of warnings and don’t follow through, they will expect warnings before they do what you want them to do. More likely, they will never do what you ask them to do! If they get away with something one time out of one hundred, they will always see if it is the one time you are too tired to get off the couch. If you consistently implement the rules, the ticket pops out of the dash every single time, your discipline will be much more effective.
Please understand, there will never be a time when you will be able to say, “It’s over! My kids never misbehave, anymore!” They will always try to get away with stuff. It’s their job. Consistency in giving consequences for negative behavior does two things. Consistency reduces anxiety. If your significant other comes home one night with flowers, the next night with flowers, the next night with rage, the next night flowers, rage, flowers. You would be on pins and needles before they arrived everyday, worried that it would be rage that day. If they always come home with flowers, you know what to expect and you look forward to their return home.
Consistency also builds respect for parents. This is especially important for moms and their sons, particularly if there is any chance the son will be larger than the mom in the end. My son outweighed and was four inches taller than me by the time he was in eighth grade. At 17 he is eight inches taller. He could put me over his knee and spank me! If you have ever worked for a boss that didn’t know what s/he was doing, you most likely did not respect them. A parent who constantly “caves” or doesn’t follow through consistently with consequences when necessary, will appear as though they do not know what they are doing and will not be respected. You will need respect when your child is a teenager and they could spank you.
So, the two aspects of discipline that I just outlined: noticing positive behavior and parents monitoring their own behavior need to be in place FIRST! Discipline will not be successful if they are not. This is where I’m going to leave you hanging. Start these first and I’ll post what you really want to get to next. Consequences! How do you really make them pay for that nasty behavior? Tune in next time, and I will tell you.