Whenever we’ve started a new discipline technique, or have added to it or taken away from it, we’ve discussed the changes with our children. It’s gratifying to know that James Lehman also agrees with this action. The discussion depends on age and developmental levels. However, now Thomas is 11 and Brandon is 8 and both are able to understand the concepts of “punishment,” “discipline,” etc.
We sat the boys down at the dining room table for a family discussion. I spoke for Daddy and I and made it clear that I was speaking on behalf of the “parental unit” that we are together. Some call that a “united front.” What follows is the basic agenda I followed:
1. New Beginnings
I told the boys that we all make mistakes sometimes. I explained that Daddy and I both felt we had made mistakes in the past when it came to helping the children learn from their mistakes and that we were going to start doing things somewhat differently.
2. Clear Expectations
We told the kids what it was we wanted from them as far as the behavior goes. We did not only discuss the bad things. We also discussed what we liked about their behavior. This is sometimes a problem for Thomas as he often does exactly the opposite of the good once he’s been praised for it. It’s part of his oppositional defiant disorder. But, just because something is understandable, doesn’t make it acceptable. We outlined our house rules.
We told the kids that consequences were nothing new to them but that perhaps in the future the types of consequences they face may be a bit different. As we haven’t gotten quite that far in the Total Transformation program, I told them we weren’t sure what differences there would be but wanted to prepare them for that eventuality.
We discussed again the purpose of consequences. It is not enough to just be sorry for something. You can spill a glass of milk and be sorry but the mess still remains. You need to make amends and clean up the mess as well as being sorry about it!
4. Good Consequences and Bad Consequences
We reminded the children that everything they do is a choice. And every choice has a consequence. We do not accept the excuse of I had to because the only thing one has to do in life is to live and die and not even take a breath in between. The boys are in control of the choices that they make. It is up to them to make good choices. Daddy and I are in charge of consequences. If the boys choose to act positively and make good choices, good consequences usually follow. These can take various forms such as privileges to play games, watch T.V., stay up later, etc.
Currently, the way this works in our home is that all privileges remain intact provided that good behavior choices have been made. Rewards are given for particular achievements, such as good grades on a report card. Punishment usually consists of losing all privileges until the child complies and decides that he wants to take proper action. If the child does not wish to do the proper action, then that’s his choice. He can continue to sit at the table, watching the rest of us live life and have fun until he decides he’s ready. Thomas once sat there until bedtime. Once the next day began, he was given a chance to comply again with the proper behavior choice, if he chose not to, that was fine. It was a new day and time for new beginnings. He chose to comply.
When the child complies in order to reinstate privileges, they are rewarded with praise. That isn’t false praise either. The child will feel better about it because he knew he made the right choice and more attention is placed on the correct behavior, causing the child to remember the correct action more than the negative action that got him punishment in the first place.
Further, by making the punishment end when the child decides to comply, the child is in control of how long the punishment lasts. This is important to a child with oppositional issues! He can’t blame me for missing a particular T.V. show because he was in a time-out. It would have been his choice to comply and get back to the T.V. or not to comply and miss it.
Time-based time-outs only teach a child to sit quietly for a pre-determined amount of time. What if it’s not enough time to make the child want to behave What if it’s too much time The average one minute per year of age may work on average, but these kids are not average kids! And it still hasn’t solved the original problem if the child went to time-out for failure to listen to the parent when he was asked to pick up his room, after a time-based time out, the room is still messy and the child will still have no motivation to clean and will just argue again.
Sometimes it’s not enough to perform the corrective action just one time. For instance, Brandon often leaves his monster trucks around our house. I have to constantly remind him to pick them up even while he’s doing it. He gets distracted. So, I decided he needed practice picking up his monster trucks. I had him pick them up one day. Then I took out five again and placed them back where he left them and asked him to pick them up again. I did this until he picked them all up without being distracted. He has not since had a problem picking up his monster trucks when he’s done with them or when I ask the first time.
That’s how we currently handle the issues. And as I explained to the kids, some of those things may be modified as we go through the program. We’re still learning. The ultimate thing I want my children to learn is that it is okay to make mistakes but we should learn from them rather than keep repeating them. Parents are human and not perfect. Children don’t have to be perfect either. But it is our job to help them learn from their mistakes so that they make positive choices.
About Heather E Sedlock
Heather is a mom of two special needs children and has spent over a decade working with them and other children who present challenging behaviors. She has been writing for over 20 years.