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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  1. Melody Report

    Thank you so very much for your assistance! I really apreciate it, and I’ll be our readers do to. I thought I’d take a moment to share a site that I’ve found very helpful to tracking behavior and moods. This is a free site with optional upgrades that enable you to track and chart moods and any meds:

  2. Carole Banks, Parental Support Line Advisor Report

    Dear ‘Gray hair before my time’:

    We’re sorry to hear this is happening. It can be very difficult when our children get into the habit of lying to solve problems. Hopefully it will not come to an investigation by your state, but if it does, trust that the facts will be discovered.

    James Lehman, author of the Total Transformation Program says, “Kids lie to solve a problem.” Sometimes they lie to solve the problem of ‘getting into trouble’; Sometimes they lie to not face what they have done—to protect themselves from your disappointment in them or your disapproval; and sometimes their lies are exaggerations.

    It can take awhile for a child to learn that it’s better not to lie but lying probably won’t go away all together. And it can take time for kids to understand that lying won’t change what really happened.
    James Lehman writes, “Parents should hold their kids responsible for lying—but the mistake parents make is when they start to blame the kid for lying.” He suggests that you not over-react to lying—don’t take it personal—but have a simple consequence each time kids lie. Over reacting and giving severe punishments will probably encourage lying to avoid punishments, rather than to discourage lying. For more suggestions on managing lying read James’ article: Why Kids Tell Lies and What To Do About It

    With regard to walking away from her when she is upset, here are some ways to modify that technique. First, make sure you are very calm and not speaking to her in anger. You don’t want to use this technique of walking away to ‘punish’ or ‘isolate’ her. It’s meant to help both you and her to calm down. Say something like, “Find a way to calm yourself down. Maybe you can take a few deep breaths. We’ll be in the kitchen.” Keep her pediatrician informed of the nature and frequency of her temper tantrums. And call the Support Line for more ideas on using the techniques in the Total Transformation Program.

  3. Melody Report

    Dear Grey,
    Thank you so much for leaving a comment. I’m sending you my thoughts of strength, hope and grace. May you find the wisdom you are seeking, even if I can’t anser your question. I have, however been in similar situations repeatedly with my 9.5 yr. old daughter. She is now in treatment with a diagnosis of childhood bipolar disorder. It is always a trial and error process to find what works for her from week to week, month to month, and year to year. I would recommend you call the parent helpline here at empowering parents, or email if you can.

    To that end, if you would like to read my followup to the above blog entry it is on my personal blog entitled “The Following Day…” (and I’m at )

    Please read other entries if you like and feel free to comment on anything that resonates with you. Subscribe to follow other entries as well. I wish you all the best!

  4. Gray hair before my time Report

    Our 8 year old daughter is starting to do more lying and is starting to tell horrible stories to people that we BEAT her. We are getting scared that the wrong people will hearthese stories and we will be investigated! Any ideas on how to correct this terrible behavior. She also won’t let us walk away when she has a melt down, last time we tried to walk away she almost brokeour picture window by throwing things at it.

  5. Melody Report

    Wow, thank you so much everyone for your kudos and feedback. It is great to know that so many of you find hope and help in my article. Feel free to check out my blog @

    Denise, Thank you for your advice and I hope those that need it will be able to find it. One caviat to that though, for my oldest, I know that if I validate or identify her feelings in the moment her irrational rage and agression escalates. Then, there is less of a chance to get through to her rational side and help her to problem solve untill time passes. I don’t know if it is unique to her of if there are other parents out there who find their child’s will seems to be strengthened by validating or identifying thier feelings in the heat of the moment.

  6. Denise Durkin Report

    Hi Melody,
    I enjoyed reading your post. As a follow up to Elizabeth’s suggestion of asking your child what they can do differently next time, I’ve found we can also jump right to asking them options “in the moment”. I’d like to share a little trick that folks I work with (I’m a children’s behavioral consultant) find helpful when tantrums crop up. It’s a strategy I call VAL, (it’s not new; I just gave it this name) and it’s an acronym for Validate, Appropriate, and Limits. It can be helpful to remember in the eye of a storm such as the one you describe ;). It works by us Validating the child’s desires and emotions at the first sign of a tantrum, i.e.: “I know you want such and such… that you feel angry and sad about such and such…”. The second step is to offer Appropriate replacement behaviors to the tantruming. “If you want to let out your feelings, try stamping your feet, or crumbling up newspaper when you’re upset. Should we do it together?” (or not!) And give him a chance to make up his own. “What other ways can you think of to get out ‘the grumpies’?” The L is for setting Limits. “…because throwing things isn’t allowed in the house.” Really, the validation piece is the most important, because it’s so helpful for kids, like us, to be understood. When they feel understood by us, they feel “psychologically seen and heard” and this is really important in helping them feel respected and also consequently helps to calm them. I hope this little feedback is helpful! Kindest, Denise

  7. Elisabeth Wilkins, EP Editor Report

    Melody, I love that you had your son practice good behavior for a short period of time in order to get his toy back. I really do believe that the more we can get our kids to practice what we want them to do, the more they will have a positive alternative next time. James Lehman also says that we should ask our kids, “What can you do next time instead?” (Another way to create those new, improved behaviors we want.) I use this with my son all the time, and it really works. Also, kudos to you for following through with the garbage can consequence. You are a wonderful mom!

  8. Alexis' Mom Report

    I too have been trying to find the ‘HOOK’ for my 7 yr old ADHD daughter. It seems no matter what kind of consequence I come up with, they do not work to no avail. I am going to try this, and pray that it works. I love the new mantra as well. I’m posting it around my home, to remind me not to snap and ‘lose it’, as usually happens daily. Thanks for the article. Keep ’em coming! They are very helpful and encouraging.

  9. heatherbabes Report

    Hey, that’s fantastic news! Glad you found something that worked AND you maintained! Way to go kiddo and mom!

  10. brendamom Report

    Melody, I like 2 things about your story: 1) you use something besides time-out, which doesn’t work for my 7yo add boy. 2) it’s only 15 minutes. I tend to put toys on “time out” for a day or a week and this causes big drama. Thank you so much.

    Last night my son wouldn’t put away his legos or go to bed. My script change was to go to my room 🙂 He said “I can’t do it unless mommy helps me” and my hb said “well she’s not coming out”. Then the screaming, yelling, drama, oy. Finally we said “forget the toys, just go to bed already” and all of a sudden he says “but I don’t want my toys to end up in the trash”. but he didn’t want to pick them up either so that they wouldn’t–and btw nobody said they would end up in the trash anyway. [Drama on high volume]. Anywho, your post has given me hope and for that I thank you.

  11. cmas447 Report

    Oh boy, have I been there! My 9 yr old son really hates to be told what to do so now we tell him once and no nagging. If he doesn’t act, then we say “Nick, wasn’t there something you were supposed to do?” Then he (most of the time) says “oh yea” and does it. Great job, Mommy!!! Consistency, consistency, consistency!! Eventually, it all sticks to the sides of their brains 🙂

  12. Melody Report

    HA! “Lather, Rinse, Repeat” ie. Respect, Rewind, Repeat..
    MY NEW MANTRA! Thank’s for the kudos 🙂
    I pray it will eventually sink in and we’ll have at least “shiny happy” adults one day!

  13. Kim Stricker Report

    Way to go! Respect. Repeat. Rinse. Relather. I too find myself requiring repsectful behavior over and over again. The fifteen minute increment is doable to kids…not so punishing. Eventually, it will sink in. And then we will have shiny, happy kids.



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