April 12, 2002
April 12, 2002


Stressed out parents have asked, "Other than standing guard with a wooden spoon for hours on end to control our boys, what can we do?"   The situations are normal horseplay, refusal to cooperate with family duties or to follow directives such as "Turn off the TV, now." First the adult must gain the child(ren's) attention.   In order to do that, whatever the guardian says must be adhered to without feeling sorry for the youngsters and therefore reversed.   In other words, if the parent states, "Go to your room" and then overreacts by adding, "for the next month after school," ; the parent is setting him/her self up for failure.  Either the directive is rescinded, or if not, the child loses sight of the objective and becomes resentful and sullen, about what to him or her, is an obvious miscarriage of justice.  This, in the child's eyes, detracts from what s/he has done and the lesson you wish to impress on the youngster is lost.

Send a child to his/her room for no more than a minute for mild infractions, such as pushing, shoving, whining, rough housing in the house, etc.  Parents look incredulously at me when I say this.  "Just think", I say, "How long that traffic light feels like when you are waiting for it to change."   The trick of good discipline is not to get even for the aggravated feelings you have, but to change the behavior by Behavior Modification techniques.  This means that each time your offspring, or step children act up, there must be immediate, but limited disciplinary action taken.  There may be, in one day, fiftyone minute time-outs, but each time there must be a response.  As one kid said to his parent when he was sent to his room for the eighteenth infraction, "Not Again?"  To which she replied, "Yes again.  And as often as necessary until you understand that this behavior is unacceptable to me."

So perseverance and consistency over the years finally wears them down, instead of them wearing their elders down.  Perseverance and consistency are the magic words. It is important to understand how Behavior Modification (BM) works.  I'll use training elephants as an example of BM.    An infant elephant is put between two huge already trained bulls with a chain around its foot, which is attached to deeply entrenched cement.  The result is the baby can' t move unless so instructed.  The pachyderms which we view alongside the road at the local circus could easily pull the flimsy stake out of the ground, but they believe they can not, so they do not try.

Animals have a limited understanding of our language and yet we manage to train them.  Isn't it amazing that our brilliant youngsters who can comprehend the words have gotten the upper hand in our homes? Another example which I use, is a problem I had with my cat, Susie.  When she was seven years old, she decided that she wanted to go out in the middle of the night, and then when she wanted to come back in she would meow under my bedroom window until I let her back into the house.  She had learned how to wake me by walking up and down the length of my body, meowing in my ear, and/or scratching at my face. Initially I had responded by pushing her away, then screaming at her to stop, then finally slapping at her which resulted in her meowing from the bottom of the bed where I could not easily reach her.  I would give up and she would win, leaving me with one sleepless night after another.  For as soon as I put her out, she'd want to return, and then want to go out, ad infinitum.   I was going to have to put this animal to sleep permanently or find a way to stop her.  

She was my husband's favorite cat so the first option wasn't applicable. I thought about BM and decided to ignore her pestering.  After one week of her walking, meowing, and scratching me she ended her vigil.   (Ignoring her cues was the answer).   She lived until she was seventeen years old and never once resumed her annoying behavior. BM is a technique that was developed by B.F.Skinner.   It works for any type of animal be it human or four legged.  Stop your chores momentarily, send the child(ren) to their separate rooms for one minute.  That is, one minute from the time that the child stops screaming, throwing or banging things around, or kicking the doors, etc.   The one minute is from the time that the child is peaceful and has contained him/herself.  

Isn't that what we are trying to teach?  The ability to calm oneself, by oneself, in stressful situations?   A parental goal for children is to teach them how to live in our stressful society without needing to escape with addictive behaviors, or medication to calm themselves.    You will no longer be frazzled and peace will rein within your family. Watch for more columns on discipline that works.