Tag Discipline

Teaching Kids Anger Management

parents and young boy in intense conflictA frequent question I get from parents is what can be done to teach a kid how to control his or her anger. This entry reviews six of my favorite strategies.

#1: As is the case with so many issues in parenting, we do well to begin with a gut check. “How am I doing with managing my own anger?” While hypocrisy is an upgrade over disengagement, our credibility is enhanced when we walk our talk. Moreover, if I’m losing it with some regularity, I could be significantly contributing to my child’s problem with anger control.

#2: Also like so many issues in parenting, proactive strategies usually work better than reactive ones. We all lose IQ points when we’re angry (i.e., the more primitive parts of the brain take over), so if I wait until my kid has lost it to do my interventions, my odds of success are not great, and I may end up loosing it as well. I do better if I think ahead and imagine which situations could be challenging and prepare my child (and me) with a plan.

#3: Anxiety and anger are incompatible with a relaxed body. The first step to doing this is to belly breathe (instead of chest breathe), comfortably but deeply, both in and out. With anger and anxiety, the breath rises up and becomes shallow. With peace and relaxation, the breath drops and becomes deeper. The next thing is to relax all of the muscles. The metaphor I use is to try to turn each muscle into a cooked piece of pasta. I have a free 15-minute audio file that helps a kid build up this sort of muscle memory. You can download it here; strive to have your kid practice it three times a week until s/he is able to relax his or her entire body effectively and instantly.

#4: A useful cognitive approach is to try to move the focus of attention away from angry kidthe agitating agent or situation. Sometimes this can be accomplished by separating from the bother (e.g., having siblings separate). Other times this can be done by focusing on a coping or happy thought (i.e., true things that make a kid feel good). Or, it can be done by engaging in something fun or positively engaging.

#5: You can incentivize your child handling challenging situations well. Let’s say your guy is a little league pitcher who tends to lose his composure during games when things don’t go his way. You might tell him that he earns his technology (e.g., video games, cell phone) the next day by not showing negative emotions during the game. Of course, following up with proportionate positive commentary is a nice adjunct.

black mom with kids, white background#6: Try not to let advantages accrue to your child because of his or her temper outburst. If s/he is able to get out of undesirable responsibilities (e.g., chores, homework), gets more attention (e.g., one-on-one attention is most likely to occur during or after a fit) or gets his or her way because of the loss of control, then the frequency of such behaviors may rise, and not necessarily with intention. I would also be very cautious about trying to protect your child from any appropriate consequences that might come his or her way (e.g., a coach wants to bench your kid for a game for having thrown his bat in anger after striking out). It’s good for the anger control problem to not lead to good things (which includes the avoidance of important undesirable activities) and to be associated with developmentally appropriate consequences that sting.

If these strategies don’t work, please consider seeking out a child psychologist. S/he can help you to develop a more elaborate plan for resolving or improving this problem. For a referral, click here.

Disciplining a College Student Who Comes Home

attractive college student sittingA reader suggested this topic (I love such requests). Before I get to some suggestions, let me say that I’m basing this column exclusively on my clinical experience and intuition. With that caveat in mind, here are 10 suggestions to consider in regards to disciplining your college student who has come home for a visit.

  1. Figure out what is not okay with you and let your college student know about that before he or she arrives home (e.g., having a love interest share his or her bedroom, anything that’s illegal).
  2. With the exception of matters reviewed in the previous tip, try to not legislate behaviors that you can’t legislate while your college student is away (e.g., how much s/he studies, whether or not s/he goes to religious services, how much exercise s/he gets, what s/he eats). At this point in the game it’s unlikely your efforts will influence your college student’s attitude or behaviors very much; it’s more likely that you’ll create tension between you. Plus, I bet your college student would score high on a multiple-choice test regarding your attitudes on such topics.
  3. If you have to make points that might not be welcomed, try to do so by asking questions instead of making statements. For example, “I know you said you haven’t been doing well in math. What do you think the pros and cons would be of going to talk to the professor during office hours?”
  4. Try not to get your feelings hurt when your college student prioritizes 2 happy teens, african-americanhanging out with friends over spending time with you. It’s normative for him or her to want to do that. (If you have some special event you want him or her to attend, provide as much advance notice as possible.)
  5. When you are communicating focus on listening, providing empathy and offering specific and proportionate positive feedback. S/he may act like this doesn’t matter, but it usually matters a lot.
  6. Ask for your college student’s advice and opinions and be open to his or her wisdom.
  7. lesbian couple27. Let your young adult know that you’re available to talk about anything and that you don’t plan to be intrusive or nosy.
  8. 8. This goes for year round: take advantage of texting. Your college student may be more use to communicating through this method than others. Many parents of teens and young adults report that their progeny seem more open when texting than when communicating through other venues.
  9. The only reasonable punishments you probably have available to you involve not allowing access to those luxuries, services or resources that you provide (e.g., your car, the cell phone plan you pay for, a stipend you provide). If you believe your teen is at risk for violating the primary rules you’ve established in #1 above, let him or her know that access to such and so is contingent upon his or her compliance with this or that (e.g., access to your vehicle during week #2 is contingent upon using it responsibly during week #1). It’s important to establish this up front with a young adult (i.e., imagine how you’d want to be treated, and not treated, by a boss).
  10. If conflict between you and your adult child has become a regular part mom and kidof your relationship (e.g., s/he is squandering tuition monies by dialing it in at school), use the time at home to schedule a consultation with a skilled family therapist. For a referral click here.

In closing I’ll share links to two related blog entries: strategies for when your adult child moves back in with you and an entry on helping college students to get the most out of the academic experience at college.

Good luck!

10 Important Considerations When Disciplining a Teen

angry male hand upThe first thing to keep in mind about this topic is that all of us who parent teens (and I parent 3.0 of them as I type this) get confused and feel unsure about how to respond to certain situations that arise. Everything about our teens, at least if they are mentally healthy, screams “independence!” And, we want for them to learn to be independent. However, we also want them to be safe, to relate well to others and to be strong in their ability to do important things when they don’t feel like it. So, this is complicated stuff. For this reason we all do well to not bully ourselves for our inevitable confusion and mistakes. That said, here are 10 considerations to keep in mind.

  1. The etymology of the word “discipline” is to teach, not to kick butt. Effective discipline means that your intention is not to be punitive or to vent. Your intention is to increase your teen’s success and effectiveness.
  2. Discipline works best when it is proactive instead of reactive. You do well to think ahead and try to rework situations so that your teen’s risk of showing defiance is lessened.
  3. Spending an hour a week doing special time with your teen will be a teenandmomhuge support to your discipline plan.
  4. Without surrendering your ultimate authority, try to collaborate with your teen about his or her responsibilities as well as what pleasures you’ll provide (e.g., a cell phone, video games).
  5. Try to give your teen advance notice of what chores you expect to be completed when. It’s also a good idea to find that middle ground between having no chores and having a number of chores that interfere with more important agenda (e.g., getting enough sleep and physical activity, doing well in school and doing well with potentially impactful extracurricular commitments).
  6. Ensure that your teen is investing an adequate amount of time on homework each school night. As a rough guide for a floor commitment, multiple 10 minutes times the grade s/he’s in (e.g., 100 minutes for a teen in 10th grade). I would insist on this floor even if your teen gets good grades doing less; the reason for this is so that your teen develops the skill set of doing academic work when s/he doesn’t feel like it. While this skill set may not be needed now, it will be needed when the difficulty level of his or her course of study catches up with his or her IQ.
  7. resistant motherMake sure you have a good monitoring plan. This includes explicitly establishing that sex and substance use are not okay. See my blog article on this topic for more.
  8. If your teen gives you a hard time about chores or academic work, consider setting up a contract: doing “x” (e.g., homework without a hassle) earns your teen “y” (e.g., access to a cell phone); moreover, doing everything expected in a given day earns your teen a set amount of money towards a weekly allowance. This way your teen either earns or doesn’t earn pleasures that are important to him or her, placing more responsibility on his or her shoulders and less on yours.
  9. If your teen defies you, or commits a significant infraction, use grounding. Grounding means that s/he cannot use the pleasures you provide (e.g., cell phone, TV), or leave the house for pleasure, for some period of time between two hours and two days. The length of the grounding would normally depend upon the seriousness of the infraction. Also, make sure your articulate what kinds of circumstances will cause a grounding in advance. This website sells gear that can help you enforce restrictions on electronic devices.
  10. If these strategies don’t work, or your teen does something serious therapy with teen(e.g., arrested for DUI), consider seeking out the services of a child psychologist. To access data bases of child mental health professionals, click here.

A Super Discipline Strategy: Time Out

timeoutTime out can be a wonderful discipline strategy for children 12 and under. I’ll first review two context issues, describe the procedure and end with four caveats.


Time out works best when it is employed in a loving home where kids are getting regular doses of quality and special time. Research makes it clear that the most effective parenting style is both warm and firm; so, it’s not enough to be just firm or just warm, a mixture of the two is best. Also, the etymology of the word “discipline” is “to teach” not “to kick ass.”

There are two paths for your child to land in time out. The first one is to refuse your directive (e.g., to do a chore). The second is to do something inappropriate that is worthy of a punishment. In the first instance, time out should be implemented if your child does not comply by the third command; at the point of the second command sound tense and issue a warning that time out will follow if your child doesn’t comply. (Try to leave only five seconds in between commands to lessen your chance of getting angry and losing IQ points.) The second instance happens as soon as you witness your child doing the inappropriate behavior.


Your child should sit in the time out chair for one minute per year that s/he has upset boy2lived outside the womb. This time guideline should not be shared with your child, nor is it usually advisable to display a timer for him or her. Time out is punishment and it is more punishing if your child does not know how long it will last (i.e., the real intervention is the threat of time out at the second command, so this should be an unpleasant experience that is worth avoiding, from your child’s perspective anyway).

The time out location should be something akin to a dining room chair that is moved away from entertainment centers or things that can be kicked or grabbed.

Your child should be ignored while in time out (i.e., no one should speak to your child while s/he is in the time out chair, especially siblings).

Once the minimum sentence has elapsed check and see if two conditions have been met: your child is sitting quietly and your child is either willing to comply with the original command or is willing to offer a sincere apology for the infraction that landed him or her in time out. If one of those conditions has not been satisfied then just walk away and start a new minimum sentence (e.g., another five minutes for a five year old); in this instance, you would usually not indicate to your child that his or her time out has been extened.

asian daughter kissing momIf your child is in time out for an infraction against someone else, arrange for him or her to make reparation later. That is, once time out has been finished, and everyone is calmed down, it’s a good idea to do a psychological autopsy of what happened. The goal would be to get your child to suggest a plan of reparation (e.g., using his own allowance to replace the magazine he ripped up). However, you may offer the plan if your child can’t or won’t cooperate. This is done more for the sake of your child’s character development than it is for the sake of the aggrieved.

If your child gets out of the time out chair, then physical restraint may be in order. The method is you (but only if you’re calm) sit behind the time out chair and cross your child’s arms on his or her chest, holding him or her by both wrists and using only the amount of pressure needed to keep him or her in place. The time out minimum sentence starts once you can leave without your child leaving the chair. (There are other methods that can be used in these instances but see my parenting book or a child psychologist for those.)


I would avoid sounding like you’re apologizing after time out is finished.bored kids

I would avoid praising or encouraging your child after time out is over. S/he did the crime, paid the time and now everyone gets back to normal without any parades. However, the next time your child handles the same sort of a situation better (e.g., s/he got into time out for refusing to pick up toys but then picks up his or her toys well the next day), I might give a little bit of extra, but proportionate, positive attention to that moment.

There are several important aspects of time out that I’m not covering here as this is merely a blog (e.g., how to communicate to your child about it, the rationale for each step). However, I’ve covered these matters in Chapter Five of my parenting book or your local friend child psychologist can likely give you what you need.

therapyIf you have a regular call to do time out, I would think of that as a symptom. And, like any persisting symptom, I’d err on the side of having it evaluated sooner rather than later. For a referral click here.

Good luck! (Next week I’ll review punishment strategies for teens.)

Affluenza?! Phuleeze!!

frustrated man2This weekend a news story broke about a teen who was stated to be suffering from “affluenza.” The teenager reportedly got drunk, got behind the wheel of a car and killed four people. A psychologist reportedly then used the term “affluenza” to describe a condition from which the teen is suffering. “Affluenza” was indicated to have to do with things like not being made to experience consequences, having parents who don’t discipline sufficiently, and who resist the discipline efforts of others, and, in some cases, living with affluence. This condition was reported to have been used as a mitigating variable for determining the outcome of the teenager in court.

I’m not writing this blog to comment on the legal issues or what might constitute justice in this case, as those questions are outside the purview of my discipline. I am writing for two purposes: First, I wish to eschew mental health professionals making up their own terms and using them this way. Second, I wish to remark on the true psychological factors that sometimes can come into play in cases like this.

“Affluenza” is not only not an official diagnosis in either of the primary psychiatricquakery vs science diagnostic systems in the world (the DSM and the ICD systems), but it isn’t even a condition under investigation by researchers. In this context the term was justified by the psychologist, in an online interview, based on his “30 plus years of experience.” So, is that the criteria we use? Once a mental health professional gets enough years under his or her belt s/he can just start making up conditions and using them to mitigate legal consequences? How many years of experience before it’s okay to do that? What if someone with more years of experience disagrees? As someone who devotes his career to bringing quality mental health science to the public, and who finds that the public is confused enough already about real conditions, I find such behavior, if true, to be reprehensible. I don’t know more about the specifics of this case than what I saw and read reported on CNN.com. But, if it’s true that a psychologist, acting in his capacity as an expert witness, used this term, and the use of that term affected the outcome of the case, then I hope it will also be true that the licensing board(s) in any state(s) where that psychologist is licensed will ask him to explain himself.

character lots of booksI don’t pretend to understand the nuances of this particular case. Hardly. But, I can speak generally about the factors that can sometimes facilitate a teen acting in this manner. There are often at least two primary factors in play:

• #1: Poor monitoring. As readers of this blog, and my parenting book, know the research correlating an absence of effective monitoring and risky behaviors among teenagers is compelling. Moreover, unmonitored teens tend to associate with other unmonitored teens; this can then create a risk taking and destructive synergy.

#2: Poor discipline. Again, I’ve written a lot about this. Discipline does not equal butt kicking. The etymology of the word is “to teach.” Effective discipline involves growing a kid’s capacity to do things when s/he doesn’t feel like it by using education, warmth and firmness. It also involves allowing youth, in most circumstances, to experience the consequences of their choices.

Tolstoy said it well “Happy families are all alike. Every unhappy family is unhappy black baby in parents handsin it’s own way.” Resilient kids and effective households not only employ effective monitoring and discipline, but they also:

• Do things to promote closeness between each parent and each child (e.g., special time).

• Engage in adaptive and regular rituals.

• Discover and promote each youth’s competencies.

• Collaborate effectively with other adults charged with important functions in each youth’s life.

dad with son on shoulder• Maintain good self and relationship care among the parents.

• Maintain good health habits (sleep, diet and physical activity).

• Promote adaptive thinking and independence in each youth.

• Get effective and appropriate help whenever a youth is showing signs of struggling.

These 10 strategies, which are a central them of this blog and my parenting book, operate as a science-based foundation for promoting resilience in kids. The more they are present in a family the lower there is the risk of symptom and dysfunction in youth. The more they are absent the more the soil becomes fertile for stories like we are reading and viewing this weekend on CNN.

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