How I Flipped the Script (And Found a Consequence That Works for My 8-year-old!)

Posted August 17, 2010 by

Not for Nothin’, but today was a great parenting day; albeit interspersed with the loud tantrums of my 8-year-old son. I found a “hook” for him today and seized the opportunity! I’m not sure why it clicked for us today, unless it was the fact that he’s been possessively obsessed with the Toy Story “Woody” doll/guy since he got him for his birthday last night; hence the screaming hit a new high this morning when anyone tried to look at or touch the toy. I snapped this morning and said, “OK, give me Woody.” Of course met with intense “NONONONONO!”, I said, “Give me the guy and show me 15 minutes without screaming at anyone. I’ll set the timer when you’re calm.” It worked! He said, “What!? I can get him back in 15 minutes if I’m calm?” I repeated myself and he handed me the guy with an, “OK.” So that was it; my “hook” and I rolled with it consistently all day!

The issue was — and is — his yelling at people, so for each time he yells his Woody guy gets  “put away” for 15 minutes. If he gets madder at that, the timer goes ahead another 15 minutes. I can’t start the timer until he is calm and respectful. In addition, if he is disrespectful or yells at anyone again in that time the timer goes back 15 minutes. (No more than 30 minutes.) In addition, *BONUS* I found this process was highly effective with motivating him to get the tasks done that were given to him today. At home his coping (or lack of) skill for dealing with anyone telling him what to do, or using something of his, or in any way displeasing him has been instinctively and habitually to yell. (*Wince*) Wow, it sounds like I have an absolute BRAT! 🙁

Increasingly, his emotional response and subsequent behavior goes from 2 (or wherever) to 9 or 10 with nothing in between. He seems to have developed very few social coping skills and it frustrates and angers me. As a parent I have been coming from the perspective that I am supposed to teach my children how to behave and how to respond to others appropriately, so I have always tried to catch and correct disrespectful behavior in several ways.

First, there is a time-out (though not always implemented calmly). Then after that, I try replaying the scenario and having my child ask, tell, show, or communicate whatever in a respectful way; even if that means I tell them the words to say and show them the body language that demonstrates kindness. Often, they will also lose something like a privilege or a token that they’ve already earned (which they could have used like $); unfortunately, I don’t do this consistently so maybe that sets up something like the gambler mentality of risk-taking in my kids… 😛 That’s a topic for another day, though.

I’m often so baffled by why a certain behavior continues when they get consequences that they hate. I am however, well aware of the concept that “any attention is better than no attention” so there is always that nagging feeling that they crave my attention through constant discipline. In my mind then, to be effective I don’t want them “hook” me, but I CAN’T just let the disrespectful behavior happen. Most of the time I don’t know what to do so I just keep doing what I’ve been told should work and try to stay consistent in the hopes that at some point it will kick in with them and they’ll learn.

Well, today it just clicked for my son and I, but I didn’t do what I usually do, either. I completely changed the dynamic. I did not yell (till the very end of the night, but I stopped myself took a breath and kept on). It was behavior specific: “You are yelling at X.” It was a consequence that mattered to him *HOOK*: “Give me the Woody Doll.” And it was for a small period of time for each occurrence so he could practice the expected behavior, “You show me 15 / 30 minutes without yelling at anyone and you can have him back.” Today, it just worked. I changed the script though and so, by the end of the day, he was so sick of my consistency and calm, that in a rage, he screamed and screamed, knocking things off the fridge and pushing over the garbage can, spilling its contents all over the floor (gross dinner stuff).

He had to clean it up – despite a great deal of protest – but I did not engage in a battle of repeatedly telling him to pick it up or yelling or physically making him (as I would have in the past). I just kept repeating calmly, “Yes You Can. And Yes You Will.” When he’d shriek, “It’s too GROSS!” I’d say, “I know.” And repeat my mantra 🙂 while continuing to do what I was doing. The noise volume was ridiculous which rallied other members of the family to “help,” but much to their chagrin I firmly shooed them away. (I flipped the script, Yikes!) He eventually crawled over to the grossness, and with whimpers and fake gags he picked up the can, used the paper towels I’d given him, and cleaned up and washed his own mess!

SOOOOooooo, you bet I praised him for cleaning it up so well (it was totally gross) and for facing something that he so obviously thought he couldn’t do. I told him, “I can see you are calm so I’ll set the timer and in 15 minutes you can have Woody back.”

“OK,” he said and asked for something to eat. It was an exhausting day, but it worked!


Melody is a wife and mother of three beautiful children ages 9, 8, and 3 years, each with their own challenges. A certified teacher, now a stay-at-home mom and family daycare provider, her days are filled with activity that engage a tremendous measure of energy, stamina, and courage! Melody blogs at My Twisted Stitches and is also a parent blogger for Empowering Parents.

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