Tag Archives: discipline at home

Humor Can Help! (Dr. Doug Riley)

BTAboutThemHere are two scenarios. Ask yourself; which is better?

Scenario #1: You get into a lengthy argument with your child that results in yelling, screaming, time out, and hurt feelings over typical things she does to cause tension in your home (such as leaving half-eaten plates of chips and cheese on your nice coffee table, leaving clothes strewn all over the house, trashing her bedroom, and so on).

DRileyScenario #2: You engage your sense of humor (which has been quite dormant due to the stress of parenting wars) and calmly tell your child what will happen unless she changes her ways immediately, but with this catch: The methods you intend to use will strike your child as being so odd and so strange that she realizes you are no longer playing.

If you choose Scenario #1, you will rapidly find yourself limited to coercive methods of talk, reasoning, and logic that have failed to work with your child. This keeps you pinned down to using grounding, taking away preferred objects and activities, and time out. And, as I frequently ask, if time out works so well, why do you have to use it six thousand times on your child before she finally goes off on her own?

But suppose you choose Scenario #2? When your child ignores you yet again when you give her a directive to clean up the place, you now have an entire new range of techniques to use. As an example, I once worked with a teenager who so routinely trashed her room that her parents joked that she didn’t know if her room had a hardwood floor or carpet because of the layers of clothing on the floor. Her clothing storage strategy was what I came to refer to as the “horizontal closet.”

Her parents assured me they had exhausted talk, reasoning, logic, bribes, rewards and punishments, all to no avail. Her father said, “It’s her room, let her live like a pig if she wants to.” Her mother’s position, however, was that no child of hers was going to exit her house without having learned to keep her room in a civilized manner.

I sat down with the family and thanked the girl for being willing to let her room be a laundry hamper. I explained to her that, from now on, everyone in the family was to throw their dirty clothes into her room. She gave me that look teenagers reserve for adults they think are morons, and replied, “Whateverrrr.” The outcome? After four days she promised to keep her room in better shape.

RileyBookOnce you decide to use your sense of humor, you also have options for managing other problems. Does your son argue with you too much? Tell him that, unless he stops, you will ground him from his mouth. For one hour he cannot talk, eat, drink, or make sounds of any sort. If he does, the hour starts over again.

Does your daughter make you ask her fifty-seven times to put her book bag some place other than where you will either step on it our over it? If so, tell her you will be willing to ask her twice to put away her bag, but reminders after that will cost her twenty-five cents each.

The key to using your sense of humor to get your child’s attention amounts to using techniques that are harmless to your child’s self-concept and are not driven by guilt or shame. At the same time, the techniques you come up with have to be something you absolutely will follow through with if your child calls your bluff and continues to ignore you.

The end result of using your sense of humor is something most parents find quite surprising. First, your child is likely to find the techniques funny, and this can break the ice. Second, even though talk, reason, and logic have not been working, when your child finds you are willing to go far outside the box to intervene, he or she often quickly regains the ability to listen and do as asked. Finally, your child is likely to come to see you as someone who genuinely is funny. Kids are drawn to funny, humorous adults, and it is precisely this attraction that helps you engage them in a way that is warm and loving. Result: You won’t regret you choice to become a parent in the first place!###

Dr. Doug Riley‘s latest book, Dr. Riley’s Box of Tricks, has more ideas on using humor and other strategies with a difficult child, For more information about Dr. Riley or to order the book, CLICK HERE to go to his website.



An Honest Mistake (Dr. James Sutton; inspired by Kent Nerburn)

BTAboutThemSome kids are often in so much trouble with their parents and teachers the line separating bad behavior and an honest mistake can become a bit blurry. With that in mind, let’s consider three defining characteristics of an honest mistake. Goal: More mistakes that are honest ones.

First, let’s look at an example, a great example.

featherworkKent Nerburn, specialist and researcher into Native American cultures and customs, and author of many books on the topic, shares how one tribal group effectively managed minor wrongs committed by a young person of the tribe (from his book, Make Me an Instrument of Your Peace):

I often think of the way Dakota Indians responded to a small wrong. When, for instance, a young person walked between an elder and a fire (an act of profound impoliteness in their culture), the young person said, simply, “Mistake.” It was an honest acknowledgement of an error of judgment, devoid of any self-recrimination or self-diminution. All present nodded in assent, and life went on.

How healthy such a attitude seems. We all commit mistakes in judgment, and we all need forgiveness. If we had the option of making a simple acknowledgement of our mistake and then going on with our affairs, how much clearer and gentler would life be? And how much healthier would our own hearts be if we looked upon the injuries caused us by others as simply the mistakes of human beings who, like us, are struggling to get by in a complex and mysterious world?”


As I see it, there are three important characteristics of an honest mistake, characteristics that stand in sharp contrast to deliberate or mean-spirited infractions:

  1. The person making the mistake should be the first to acknowledge it. This a huge step in solving the issue. If someone else had to recognize the infraction, is it still a mistake? Could not acknowledging it be perceived as an attempt to ignore or hide the problem, or hope others won’t notice? Could it lead to a lie about one’s responsibility for the incident?
  2. There should be a willing, self-directed effort to repair the mistake as much as possible. The youth in the story changed his movement so as to no longer offend the elders. A youngster who breaks a cup or a plate should pick up the pieces, put them in the trash, and offer to pay for the damage in some way.
  3. Because of actions #1 and #2, resulting consequences are minimal or not at all. Mistakes happen; standing responsible for them is considered commendable in our society. In fact, respect for a person can deepen when one sees how they handle an honest mistake. An honest mistake handled well can draw new respect.###
 Dr. James Sutton is a psychologist and founder/host of The Changing Behavior Network.