Teaching Self Discipline
Actions Speak Louder Than Words
Average parenting doesn't cut it for kids who are of the
Explorer persuasion. I don't think there is a bigger rule-tester than my son.
These kids need parents who are able to learn from their mistakes and who are constantly
looking for effective and creative ways to raise the challenge which they spawned.
I personally believe that parenting techniques can and do make a HUGE difference in
whether an Explorer child is classified as ADD and whether or not he ends up in jail.
This does not mean that bad parenting causes ADD! Attention deficit disorder
is usually characterized by physical differences in the forebrain and in dopamine
activity. But research increasingly is showing that changes in disciplinary
techniques can be very effective for ADHD kids with behavior problems. In the short run,
medication will tend to work better, if your goal is a perfectly compliant (and drugged)
child. In the long run, I think it is better if children are able to learn self discipline
without the use of meds. If you would prefer a spirited and challenging child who is
simply more manageable, then using some creative discipline techniques can probably get
David Keirsey, from "Drugged Obedience in the
"Let us review the lessons the child learns, depending
on whether he is treated as a defective person who must be drugged, or as a very active
person who must learn how to control himself to keep that wonderful privilege of having a
teacher and classmates:
I can't control myself
I can't learn without drugs
I can't win friends
I can't become competent
I'm not OK
Using Logical Consequences:
I can control myself
I can learn without help
I can win friends
I can become competent
ADHD kids are difficult to discipline.
They often don't respond to "punishment" very well and are far more likely than
other kids to engage in domestic warfare in response to criticism, punishment or any other
sort of negativity. Yell at an ADHD child and he's likely to throw something
against the wall, even if he knows this will cause him further trouble. But these
kids desperately need firm discipline - lot of it!
Discipline can and will make the difference between an
adult life spent in jail and one which is productive and rewarding. Unfortunately many of
today's parents simple do not discipline their children effectively. This includes some of
my best friends - smart, well meaning and highly education people. In my opinion, on
a scale of one to ten, the average parent today is a three. The Explorer child,
especially a hyperactive boy, needs a nine or ten.
I have found three discipline strategies which are closely
related and highly effective. I use a mixture of all three. When I use them my son's
behavior is great. When I forget to use these strategies and slip into easier
methods of discipline (yelling, threats and bribes) it is amazing how quickly my son's
behavior deteriorates. The methods listed below require a lot of determination,
thought, creativity and planning, but the results will be worth it. As I said
before, these methods are highly related and in fact there is a lot of overlapping between
1. Choice. This method is described
Edison Trait by Lucy Jo Pallidino although the strategy has been around for a
2. Abuse It - Lose It. Created by
David Keirsey to deal with prison inmates and modified for "mischievous"
kids. Keirsey's article on the method has been reprinted online at http://keirsey.com/abuselose.html.
3. Logical Consequences. Another
method that's been around for awhile. Described in the book "Backtalk -
4 Steps to Ending Rude Behavior in Your Kids" by Audrey Ricker, Ph.D., and Carolyn
Let me again stress that I have used all three methods with
great success, while traditional techniques like lectures, arguing, threats, and
yelling often only start a war between parent and child. I highly recommend that
every parent and teacher who deals with ADHD children read the three sources I have listed
above. It will cost a total of probably $20 or $30 and may save the life of
your child (not to mention your sanity).
I like a description of three different types of parents I
read somewhere: The Brick Wall Parent, the Jelly Fish Parent, and the Backbone Parent1.
The Brick Wall parent is super-controlling and judgmental, and the ADD child is likely to
rebel. On the other hand, the Jelly Fish Parent is a wimp and the ADD child is
likely to become spoiled and throw tantrums, having no respect for anyone. How can
he be expected to control himself when the adults aren't even in control of the
situation? The Jelly Fish parent is likely to snap once in a while and suddenly
become a Brick Wall parent after they can't take anymore.
The Backbone parent, on the other hand, respects
the ADD child and gives him a measured amount of freedom whenever possible, mixed with
loving, firm and consistent discipline. The Backbone parent is in
control, but is not controlling. Obviously you
want to be a Backbone parent.
Some ADD specialists advise parents to use lots of rewards,
charts, stickers, etc. in combination with the loss of privileges when a child does
not comply. I advise against this strategy, as do many experts. It is
ultimately very controlling behavior. Children who are controlled in this way do poorly as
soon as the rewards are taken away, and they do not develop inner
discipline. They behave only for rewards. You want to teach a child inner
discipline and values. The frequent use of bribery will not get you there.
Most ADHD children I know are highly sensitive and fiercely
independent by nature. Their spirit is like an untamed lion, ready to pounce at the
slightest provocation. But many parents do not realize how sensitive and delicate
the ego of these kids can be because they seem so very thick at times. Be careful
not to crush the fragile spirit of this child or you will wind up with someone who is
either very depressed or openly hostile. The three discipline techniques I use
respect the child's spirit but are extremely effective.
Before I get into the three discipline techniques, a word
about discipline itself. Your Explorer child may be extremely persistent (mine
is). You must match that persistence. NEVER GIVE IN. Not once. If you give in
one time out of 100, just that one percent chance of getting his way will propel
your child to keep pushing for another payoff. And never make a rule that you cannot
enforce (I actually allow my son to jump on his bed). If you discover you have done
so, change the rule. Let me repeat: NEVER GIVE IN. YOU are the boss. It is
your child's job to challenge you relentlessly. It is your job to rise to the
challenge. Again, NEVER GIVE IN. This should start when a child is a toddler,
because it's a heck of a lot harder to crack down on an older child who is already
spoiled. (The term "spoiled" refers to a child who gets his own way, not
one who is rich). If your child wants some candy at the store and you say
"no", then you should never, ever, ever change your mind. Once your child
learns "no means no" then he'll give up a lot quicker.
Incidentally, psychologists believe that
children develop a conscience at age 7 or 8 only after they have learned that their
actions have consequences. Spoiled or neglected children who have not experienced
consequences do not develop a conscience. Also, research has shown that the happiest
children are ones who have received firm, fair and loving discipline. Next happiest
are kids who have been over-disciplined. The most unhappy kids of all: Those who
received the least discipline.
|At age three my son Ryan, a real
"Explorer" type, had a wonderful daycare teacher named Betty who he absolutely
loved. She was a firm disciplinarian and some of the other parents didn't like her
for that reason. At home, Ryan often talked about Betty and in school he gave her
great big hugs.
Then he was moved to a new
room. He has always adapted quickly to new surroundings and did great at
first. But after a few weeks I noticed that he seemed to be more difficult than
usual. He was grumpy, much more hyperactive, and got into lots of trouble at
home. I started getting notes from his new teacher that he was hitting the
other kids and at nap time he refused to stay on his cot. Instead he was running around
the room and yelling. Finally one day he bit the teacher. The other kids didn't want
to be around him. Doesn't this sound like the type of problem behavior we associate
with ADHD, the textbook case where the author says "so I prescribed Ritalin and he
calmed right down"?
I decided to take some time off of work and observe his
classroom. I noticed immediately that Ryan's new teacher was not at all in control
of her classroom. The boys were all over the place. Instead of disciplining them,
the teacher focused on the quiet girls. She was very soft spoken and seemed overwhelmed by
the high energy level of the boys, especially Ryan. Intuitively, I could tell she
did not care for him and blamed him for not following her instructions. She seemed
depressed and rarely smiled. Her helpers attempted to keep Ryan under control during
naptime by rubbing his back and finally by holding him on their laps (as he squirmed to
get off). How did the Center discipline kids in order to keep them from
disrupting other kids during naptime? "Sometimes we give them an extra five
minutes on the cot after naptime is over" I was told.
Can you identify all the problems in the classroom which
were contributing to Ryan's behavior?
1. The kids were in charge.
2. Ryan was rewarded with extra attention when he
misbehaved. The teachers rubbed his back and held him while the good kids were
3. The classroom was over-stimulating because the kids were
out of control.
4. A lot of the kids (including Ryan) weren't getting any
sleep, which was making them even more over-stimulated.
5. There were no realistic consequences for kids who did
not follow the rules and stay in their cot.
6. The kids were not provided with a quiet environment in
which to take a nap because so many of the kids were causing problems (especially mine).
7. The teacher had unrealistic expectations that 3 year old
boys should listen to and follow her instructions.
8. The teacher disliked certain kids.
I set up a meeting with the Director of the daycare center
and the head teacher and asked them to make certain changes. Interestingly, the
teacher started out by saying that Ryan was behind his peers in his ability to listen and
follow directions, a very typical thing for a teacher to say about an ADD
child. The day after the meeting Ryan returned to the sweet, lovable, active
little kid he was before. He stayed on his cot and went to sleep. He didn't
fight with the other kids. He got along with his teachers. At home he was much
happier and easier to have around. What changes were made which made this dramatic
switch? I'll get in to that under the topic "Abuse It -Lose It."
The purpose of this example is to show how kids need and want
firm discipline, and how a lack of it can lead very very quickly to the type of negative
behavior we associate with ADHD. Ryan hugged the disciplinarian teacher and bit
the wimpy one. Doesn't that tell you something? Incidentally, the
disciplinarian was later compelled to quit her job because certain parents and teachers
disagreed with her techniques, including the wimpy teacher that Ryan bit.
Method #1 -
Choice. In this method you give the child the
power to choose between two options and then appear disinterested in what they
choose. This gives the child a limited amount of the freedom and independence he
craves as well as the structure he needs for his sense of security. It is important
that the adult NOT try to influence the child's choice. Nor should the parent appear
either pleased or displeased with the choice made.
Example: You want your child to clean his
room, but he won't. Maybe he starts but gets sidetracked and you end up yelling at
him to stay focused. He gets mad. You get mad. And on and on.
Believe me, I've been there. Now my 5-year old son Ryan has a choice. The rule
is this: Ryan can watch TV whenever he wants as long as his room is clean.
That's it. I don't care if his room is clean or not. I don't care if he
watches TV or not (OK, I'm pretending here). It's his choice and he can do whatever
he wants. If he says "Mom, can I watch TV?" I say "Sure, if your room
is clean." He may say "I don't want to clean my room." I say
flatly "OK. But you can't watch TV then." "FINE!" he says and marches
off. I don't mention it for the rest of the day. Several times he tells me
that he doesn't feel like cleaning up his room. "OK" I say mildly.
The next day he has become bored with his ability not to have to clean up his room.
Suddenly it occurs to him that he has the power to watch TV whenever he wants. All
he has to do is clean up his room! Presto. He hyperfocuses on picking up his room,
marches up to me and says "Mom! I cleaned up my room and I'm going to watch TV
now!" "OK" I say. Ryan starts for the TV, then turns around and
proudly proclaims " And you didn't even have to tell me!" I smile and say
"That's right. You know how to clean up your room whenever you want and I don't have
to tell you." Incidentally, since I implemented the "TV/clean room
Rule" Ryan has watched a lot less TV and his room has been, well, a lot messier.
Notice that Ryan is learning self
discipline. That is, he's learning that he can clean his room when he wants to and
he experiences a sense of satisfaction when he does so. He doesn't need Mom standing
over his shoulder. I should also note that for this method to work I had to gather up many
of his toys and put them in storage because there were simply too many for him to be able
to put away by himself.
I recently read a clever application of
Choice by Dr. John Rosemond, who has a newspaper column called "Daily
Doctor". His teenage son was hanging around a group of kids that were known
vandals. Rather than tell his son not to hang out with these kids (which would
certainly backfire) he gave his son the following choice. "You can spend as
much time as you want with those kids. BUT if this group of kids is implicated in an
act of vandalism, I am going to make you fully responsible for paying 100% of the cost of
the vandalism unless you can prove you were not there." For a while his
son continued to hang out with the vandals, but one day he came home in a panic and told
his father that the kids were planning an act of vandalism and he wasn't a part of it so
don't make him pay for it. He then decided he didn't want to be around those kids
Method # 2: Abuse It - Lose
It. This method was created by David Keirsey,
a psychologist and expert in Jungian/Myers temperament types, to deal with prison
inmates. Keirsey found that prisoners did not respond well to traditional punishment
(the prison population is highly ADD). All it did was make them angry and
defiant. Keirsey studied the problem and developed something that did work: Abuse It
- Lose It. In the 1970's Keirsey discovered that the basic principles of Abuse It -
Lose It also worked for hyperactive kids (which he called "mischievous") in
school. He described the most extremely hyperactive, attention seeking,
problematic boys in school, not just your run-of-the-mill hyperactivity.
In school, the ability to attend the
classroom is considered a privilege. If the disruptive child decides to abuse the
privilege, he loses it. That means he has to leave school for the rest of the
day. It is not punishment. He can go home and play or do whatever he
wants. His parents do not say anything about it. He is not lectured or given
dirty looks. This is repeated each day. If he disrupts the class, the teacher gives
him a signal to go to the principal's office. A parent is called and takes him
home. At first, he thinks this is cool. But after a while, he feels left out.
He's not getting any attention, is he? And that's what a lot of misbehavior is
about: getting attention. Eventually he stays in class longer and longer
each day before he has to leave. Finally he can stay in class all day without being
disruptive. No one praises him for this, just as no one punishes him for being
disruptive. Praise and punishment interfere with his choice selection and are viewed
as subversive. Interestingly, the other kids start to like him better because he's
not so annoying to be around. And he gains self respect because he and he alone is
responsible for sitting still and behaving in class. He has learned how to do
it. His self esteem rises and he has friends. Keirsey was strongly opposed to
using stimulants like Ritalin. He claimed that Abuse It - Lose It worked better than
medication, especially in the long run.
|"It's interesting how age determines how
fast children will stop fooling around in class when their disruptive behavior is the
direct and immediate cause of their dismissal. A rule of thumb is that kindergarteners
take one or two days to stop, first graders two or three days, second graders three or
four days, and the rest five or six days." - David Keirsey, discussing his Abuse It -
Lose It Technique.
This strategy is useful when
a child is acting inappropriately in a particular location. For example, if the
child makes too much noise while everyone is watching a movie, then the child would be
removed from the room. The "privilege" is the ability to remain in the
room. Abuse that privilege, and you lose it. When explaining things to
the child, stress that he is being removed so as not to disturb everyone else, not as a
form of punishment. Remember that the goal of most misbehavior is to get
attention. If you quietly remove the child from his audience then you have just
completely screwed up his strategy for getting that attention.
"Time Outs" are really a lite
version of Abuse It - Lose It for toddlers and preschoolers. They misbehave and you remove
them from the location of misbehavior.
|I had just read about
Keirsey's Abuse It - Lose It form of teaching self discipline when I started having those
problems at Ryan's daycare center. Even though Ryan was only three at the time, I
decided to give this method a shot.
I typed up a written strategy and met with the Director of the Center and
his teacher. I started by asking the teacher what she thought about Ryan's
behavior. I had some real disagreements with the teacher and said so.
She viewed him as developmentally behind. In my opinion, Ryan was a master
manipulator, and had got the staff completely wrapped around his finger. After all,
he had figured out how to get them to hold him and rub his back during
naptime. I then suggested that we try something a bit radical, and handed them
a typed up set of rules based on an Abuse It - Lose It approach. The Director was
The new rules stated that at nap time Ryan
would get two warnings if his head was off the pillow. The third time he would lose
his cot. If he got up off of his cot, he would lose his cot immediately. If he
disrupted the class in any way, at any time, he would be removed to the front
office. The director could then call me at work and I agreed to pick him up and take
him home. The teacher was instructed on how to provide Ryan with his warnings: Make
eye contact, hold up one finger, and say clearly and firmly "Ryan Gallagher, that's
warning number one for having your head off of the pillow." He was to be given
no other reminders or lectures. Also, the teacher was instructed NOT to give him
any extra attention if he was being disruptive. No helpers rubbing his back,
etc. This only encouraged his behavior.
That night I talked to Ryan about the new
rule. I explained that it was necessary because the other kids were having trouble
sleeping while Ryan was making so much noise. It wasn't punishment, but I would have
to take him home if he was too loud in school, got off his cot, or hit one of his
friends. He listened very seriously and asked about the new rules the next
morning. Keep in mind that I have always been a consistent parent. He believed
what I said.
I assumed that he would test these new
rules and fully expected a call from the daycare center. Keirsey said that his method
works pretty fast for young children and can take several weeks for teenagers.
I did not expect the results that day, but when I picked him up that afternoon I was
told Ryan had used both "head off the pillow" warnings and then went to
sleep. He was fine the rest of the day. I thought, well tomorrow it'll be
different. But it wasn't. It was fine. Ryan was happier at home,
too. The behavior problems stopped just like that. He instantly reverted back
to his sweet squirrelly self, hugging and kissing everyone rather than hitting and biting
Would you believe that every day for the
next year Ryan used both of his warnings for "head off the pillow" and then went
to sleep! He lost his cot only once.
Method # 3: Logical Consequences. When I was in high school, if I missed the school bus I
would have had to walk three miles through the cold Minnesota winter to get to
school. Needless to say, I never missed the bus.
The trick about logical consequences is
making sure the child does not perceive the consequence as a form of retaliation or
"getting even." Otherwise, a war may ensue. The excellent book
"Backtalk - 4 Steps to Ending Rude Behavior in Your Kids" by Audrey Ricker and
Carolyn Crowder is something I think every parent should read. According to the
authors, disrespectful behavior such as sarcastic remarks, put-downs, eye-rolling and
wise-ass remarks like the popular "whatever" should not be tolerated starting at
age three. This may seem impossible to some parents, but it's not. In fact, parents
who do not tolerate such disrespect raise responsible and caring children.
I cannot give their book proper credit in
the short space of this page. But here's an outline:
|4 Steps to Stopping
Balktalk Using Logical Consequences:
1. Recognize the backtalk (or other disrespectful behavior). If it hurts you,
embarrasses you, annoys you, or leaves you feeling helpless, it's backtalk.
Step 2. Choose the right consequence for the
behavior. This is the hardest part and the authors recommend that parents keep ideas
for consequences floating in their heads at all times. Any backtalk or rude behavior
automatically means that the child will not do what she wants or has planned to do -- such
as go to soccer practice or to a friend's house. The way to make the connection
between what your child is losing and what they did is this: Their backtalk irritated you
and used up some of your energy so now you're tired. Therefore, you're not going to
drive them to soccer practice.
Step 3. Enact the consequence, even if it's
inconvenient. Never give in to a request for a second chance.
Step 4. Disengage from a struggle with the backtalker.
Don't get sucked into an argument. Don't explain or justify what you just did.
As with the previous
strategies, it is important not to become angry or hostile. Do not
lecture the child or focus on what they did. The conversation should focus on how
it made you feel (annoyed, hurt) with a quick statement that the activity which was to
come next has been cancelled because of how you feel. For example, you can say
"I find that kind of talk disrespectful and it puts me in a bad mood, so I've decided
not to take you to David's house."
Here is a true case history told by Audrey
Ricker from the book "Backtalk."
"I will never forget the anguish I
suffered when my new husband actually enacted consequences on my son for
backtalking. When Noah informed his new stepfather in the same sarcastic tone he
used with me that "I don't help with dishes, and you can't make me do anything I
don't want," my husband acted immediately. He told Noah to do the dishes
alone. He told him to get into the kitchen and not come out until the dishes were
done. My son screamed and looked at me. I knew this was the first moment of
the rest of our lives, so I looked away. This was the first time in Noah's
life that anyone had made him do anything against his will...I was sure I was creating an
ax murderer, a serial killer, a ne'er-do-ell, or a delinquent.
"Disengaging from that struggle was
almost unbearably difficult. I sat in the living room, trying to read while my
husband watched television. I was sure my son would break every dish in the
kitchen. Every five minutes I had to stop myself from going in to check on
him. But in half an hour or so he came out and said casually that the dishes were
done. From then on, the dishes were his job in the family. My son never again
talked back to my husband -- or to me, either, for that matter. I am not going
to say we all lived happily all the time after that. I will say that in
that moment I learned that actions speak louder than words."
The authors describe the cessation of
backtalk as only one aspect of creating a secure, loving and respectful home. Parent
must also focus on modeling respectful behavior towards other family members, including
children. For example, be sure you look happy to see any family member that enters
the house or the room. Say hello's and goodbyes, ask family members about their
day, and listen to their answers.
1. Since posting this article, I've been
told that the "brick wall, jelly fish and backbone" metaphors come from the book
Are Worth It! : Giving Your
Child the Gift of Inner Discipline" by Barbara Coloroso.
2. Choice. The Edison
Trait by Lucy Jo Pallidino
3. Abuse It - Lose It.
Keirsey's article on the method has been reprinted online at http://keirsey.com/abuselose.html.
4. Logical Consequences.
- 4 Steps to Ending Rude Behavior in Your Kids" by Audrey Ricker, Ph.D., and Carolyn
Crowder, Ph.D. I highly recommend this book.