I had a whiny little girl in my office the other day. It was clear to me the mother had gotten used to all that irritating behavior. Not that she liked it. Just put up with it. You could see she was unhappy and stressed. I stopped my conversation with her and turned to her daughter. “Laura,” I said, “You’re going to have to stop whining because I can’t hear your mommy.” That only worked for about three minutes. So [drumroll, please] in came the consequence.

Use Natural Consequences

I told her, “I know you really want to leave. However, I need to speak to mommy. And I will speak to mommy. But if I can’t hear her or she can’t hear me, I’ll have to stop and wait for you to quiet down before we can continue. So your noise will make the whole visit take that much longer.” Well, folks, you could hear a pin drop.

That child just turned into an angel in front of my eyes!

Her mom beamed, I’ll tell you. And by the way, she was only four. She understood. Clear as a bell.

Clever Way To Explain Time Out

Some time later, she–quietly–started kicking the chair. I chose not to address her again because that would have paid entirely too much attention to her misbehavior. As she was sitting right next to her mom, I said to the mother: “Now that is a good illustration of when to use time out. You put her in that corner right there for four minutes. Get a big portable kitchen timer and set it.” The mother anxiously explained that she would never stay in time out. “Sure she will!” I replied. “Each time she leaves the time out area, you–gently–bring her back in and reset that clock. You make an offhand remark like, ‘Oh, gee, it looks like we have to start the clock again.’ She’ll get it. Don’t worry,” I assured her.

Never Bribe But Do Use Rewards “Spontaneously”

Well, while I was describing all this, little Laura’s eyes were as big as saucers. Trust me, at four years of age, she understood perfectly. My friends, that was the most well-behaved child I’d seen in weeks! So I used that golden opportunity to explain to the mother what positive discipline looks like. I said, “Well, mom, Laura is sitting there absolutely like an angel. I can see the halo growing around her head already. Now, if you see that in a few weeks she has no more temper tantrums at all and you really trust her to be good, you might consider buying her a portable CD player and headphones so that when you come out, you can provide her with the crayons and music. But, of course, you have to see consistent effort on her part before you do that. At least three weeks.”

Notice, I would not suggest this parent make a bargain with the child. You know, something in which she tells the child what she will do if the child behaves. I don’t recommend that at all because you are training the kid to work for a material object when what you want to do is train the child to want to be good. Good things should just happen once in a while. No discussion.

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