Fix the Problem, Not the Blame

Submitted by PeterAKenny on July 28, 2020

“The more I get after him, the worse he gets.  He’s just doing it to get attention,” complained one foster mom.  Mother has stated the major objection to the Lecture/Yell/Punish (LYP) method of discipline. It’s not that effective.

Of course he is getting worse. Most of us thrive on attention.  So stop rewarding his problem behavior. What else can you do?  Correct the problem directly rather than blaming and punishing the child.  Apply brief consequences.  Here are a few examples:

When he lies: Skip the lecture on the importance of trust.  Instead, after a falsehood or two, no longer accept his word.  Check independently on everything important that he tells you.

On stealing: After missing a few family possessions, one foster parent frisked his kids each time they left the house, even making a game of it.  Another parent searched their room while they were gone.

On playing hookey:  The school called to report an unannounced absence.  After this happened twice, mom took a day to ride the bus and sit in class with her teen foster daughter. When the daughter complained that mom was embarrassing her, mom replied with a smile: “School is important. I simply want to make sure you attend.”

When siblings fight:  Separate the combatants.  Make it a fun game.  Collect one of the combatants and take him with you as a helper.  Or play “Hugo.” Identify one of those yelling or fighting as Hugo, and then direct him to go somewhere else.

The hyperactive child:  Hold him on your lap and read him a story. Or set him on an armless stool with his legs dangling for a few minutes. Hopefully, balancing will require his full attention.

Consequences are designed to prevent problem behavior by providing a minimum of attention. The remedy is focused on stopping the behavior itself rather than trying to correct the personality of the child.  

In addition to brevity, consequences aim at stopping the questionable behavior itself rather than inducing guilt with a time-consuming lecture. Further, the child is not demeaned with actual punishments like grounding, isolation, or withdrawal of privileges.  The most important difference: Consequences are far more effective than a lecture and punishment.

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