Discipline Strategies

Managing Disobedience

I have many parents come to my blog looking for answers on their children’s behaviour. They tend to land on my posts about:

(When my 4 year old hits 4 1/2 and the behaviour ramps up again, you will see me post about 4 1/2 year old behaviour :) .) One of my favourite parenting podcasts is from an ABC Local Radio program Tripe P Parenting. Each week they have Professor Matt Sanders on to talk about a range of parenting issues. I don’t necessarily agree with 100% of what is said, but I like the overall philosophy and it always gives me something to think about. Recently the podcast was on Managing Disobedience which contained some great information of discipline strategies for children and I thought I would share with you some notes from the podcast.

Triple P Parenting Podcast – Managing Disobedience

Professor Matt Sanders listed four traps that parents tend to fall into when disciplining children who aren’t co-operating. (Note that these aren’t direct quotes but I have paraphrased the podcast.)

1. Asking too much.

Either asking them to do too many things in one instruction or simply giving too many instructions. In on observation at his practice a parent made 90 instructions to a child in 20 minutes – “don’t do that, hop down from there, move away etc etc etc.” You can halve disobedience if you halve the instructions that you give a child.

2. Vague instructions.

Many parents make very vague requests of children. For example “Don’t be silly!”. When they really mean don’t jump on the couch. It is better to tell children what it is that you want them to do, not what you don’t want them to do. So instead of saying, “Don’t jump on the couch” you can tell them “If you want to jump, go outside on the trampoline and jump.”

3. Poorly timed instructions.

Expecting children to cooperate with instructions when they are in the middle of their TV program or sometimes without any warning, is asking for them to be disobedient. You are better off to say “at the end of this show” or “we will be leaving in 5 minutes”. Giving children warning about change can reduce disobedience.

4. The escalation trap.

Professor Sanders gives the following great example of how this happens: Parent in a civil and calm voice: Please turn off the TV and have a bath. Child: Ignores and doesn’t move. Parent turns up the volume and repeats: Please turn off the TV and have a bath. Child: Ignores and doesn’t move. Parent turns up the volume again and often adds in a threat: Turn off the TV and have a bath. Child: Begrudgingly gets up, turns off TV and has a bath. In this example the child has accidentally rewarded the parent for shouting as the child has only co-operated once the parent has reached boiling point. Parents can then fall into the trap of thinking that the only way to get their kids to do anything is turn up the volume. This is the opposite of what an unco-operative child needs to learn. They need to learn to co-operate when they are asked in a civil and calm manner to do something.

So what can parents do to avoid these traps?

Professor Sanders says that are two ways in which parents can avoid these traps the first focuses on preventative measures:

  • Make sure the kids have plenty to do. Interested and occupied kids are less likely to be disobedient and disruptive.
  • Acknowledge and encourage children when they are co-operative. Make sure that feedback is clear and specific, eg thank you for taking your plate away from the dinner table.

The next bit of advice is for when children are being unco-operative:

  • Get close (arms length) and in a firm and calm voice ask them for their co-operation (eg turn the TV off). Don’t yell from the other end of the house.
  • Give them five seconds to to get themselves ready without any further comment.
  • Make the same request again – don’t raise your voice, use the same firm and calm voice.
  • If they co-operate, acknowledge this.
  • If they don’t in a calm voice explain that you have asked them twice and they are still not co-operating and go to a back up.
  • Back ups will vary depending on the circumstance, but may be something like not watching television the next day.
  • Other back ups are quiet time and time out.

Now this is a part that I don’t agree with. The quiet time Professor Sanders describes is similar to time out, but that it occurs in the place where the lack of co-operation occurred. I do want to say that the quiet time and time out that Professor Sanders advocates, is not like the punitive version many of you may have seen on Super Nanny. As a new parent I did use time out with my first child, but very quickly worked out this was not a discipline strategy for me (and it didn’t work!). But besides the time out bit at the end, I think this podcast offers sound advice to parents. An alternative to time out You can see the alternative I use to time out in this post here. All families are different and what may work for one, might not for another. What discipline strategies do you have that work for you?


  1. says

    Well, perhaps this goes without saying, but I’ll lead off by stating that we do not use corporal punishment or shaming / blaming techniques in our house.

    On the discussion, I agree 100% with the first and second points above – for me, learning how to giving a *small* number of *specific* instructions has greatly increased our children’s level of compliance and reduced our stress around the whole thing. I don’t think quiet time is always a bad thing, either – sometimes if a child is mouthing off and being really cheeky to me, is angry and frustrated in themselves, or there is ongoing sibling conflict, I will send them somewhere by themselves to have some cool-down time. It’s not timed and it’s not meant to be punitive, but if they bounce out 30 seconds later in the same foul mood and start the behaviour up again, they’ll be sent back. I think of it as sort of a quarantine ;-)

    Basically, I am a big fan with my kids of withdrawal of privileges / logical consequences. For example, in the TV case study above, if I get to the third time of asking, there will be no TV the next day (and obviously this is signposted for the child). If they have been doing crafts on the dining room table and won’t pack up after being asked three times, the craft box is put away out of reach for 3 days. Things like that. My elder two get pocket money but it’s contingent of doing a set list of chores appropriate to their ages (make beds daily, set table for dinner, tidy floor of loungeroom before bed etc). If they don’t do the chores, they don’t get paid. They do the chores almost all the time!

    With toddlers I must admit I do really like 1-2-3 magic … all of mine have responded really well to reinforcement of the request – request – count-out model, and it has certainly minimised conflict. What I like about it is that it’s simple and consistent, and toddlers quickly get the hang of what is expected of them.

  2. says

    Some parents just have no idea about what it takes to parent. They think they’ve got to be nurturing or gentle or positive, but these words are used really as a front for poor management of their children. These parents whinge about their poorly behaved children, compare their lot with yours all the time and look to other parents for help and for ‘magic bullets.’ How do you do this. How do you do that. Do you think grasping at tactics will magically improve your child’s behaviour. No way.

    The first parenting lesson I learned was when I was in the army. Did any of the instructors lay a finger on us? No. Then why would all of us hand on to everything that they’d say? Because they were committed, objective oriented and established team mentality. An established culture was transmitted and ensured everyone worked as a unit. There were no questions and no doubts that this was the only way to go.

    Triple P parenting comes straight from Psych 101 and from any intro Organisational Behaviour course. Which leads me to my theory that bad parents have dual standards for their children. You know how to motivate other adults. You know how to behave. You know what to do for yourself. So why don’t you apply these same rules on your child? Why let your child sit on the table and risk falling off? Why ask a child to turn off the TV several times if you know a grown person can tune out your nagging easily? Be reasonable, but apply good consistent rules.

    Great parents don’t rely on a list of tactics and processes to output a good child. Great parents have perspective and set their children up for success. Plan ahead. Understand your child’s strengths and weaknesses. Think of your options ahead of time. Be objective. Extrapolate from your own understanding of human nature. Be intuitive.

    Good post.



  3. says

    Fantastic post and brilliant comments too.

    Oddly I was typing up a draft post on clear communication techniques when Colin Re-Tweeted your link and I popped over to have a look :grin:

    A couple of strategies that work really well for us

    1. make sure you have the childs attention – that usually means getting down to their eye level and often in our case waving a hand in front of their face to distract them. Once my girls are focused on something, they are FOCUSED and it often takes a hand obscuring their vision for a second to break that focus. No point asking a child to do something if they don’t have their attention in the first place, it is just frustrating and they don’t get why you are suddenly yelling if they are hearing it for the first time.

    This has really reduced the need for discipline in our house.

    2. we do a count down,

    for example if a child has run off and I want them to come back

    – call their name
    :pause to let them process and turn attention to you:

    – name again, I would like you to come back NOW
    :pause to allow processing time:

    – I’m going to count to 3 and then I am leaving/taking fav. toy away/not inviting friend over (other non physical threat)
    :pause to allow them time to start returning:

    – ONE

    The count down works really well for us. After years of doing it the key is to
    1. find the most highly motivating consequence for the child if they do not do as told.
    2. follow through with the consequence if they don’t.

  4. says

    I do not want to start a flame war in the comments section here, so let me say that at the outset.

    But can I just say, if Colin’s comment above was intended as a rebuttal to my own (and thus, by implication, suggesting that because I do find some discipline tactics and processes helpful, that I “just have no idea about what it takes to parent”), I have a hard time not resenting that. I might be misreading and I hope I am, but as mine is the only other comment here at the moment, I do find it a bit offputting.

    Look, I may *not* be a great parent – often I suspect indeed that I am not. However, I’m not certain that the success or failure of my parenting (or anyone else’s) can be assessed from a comment on a blog post. And specifically, I actually *do* “think {I’ve] got to be nurturing or gentle or positive”, but I don’t believe I use these words “as a front for poor management of … children”. Nor do I “whinge about … poorly behaved children, compare their lot with yours all the time and look to other parents for help and for ‘magic bullets.’” I am satisfied that my childrens’ behaviour is age appropriate, courteous and robust, as it happens. But as you don’t know me or my children or the complexities of my situation, you’ll just have to take my word for that, I guess.

  5. says

    Sorry Kathy – actually I didn’t even read through your comment. I have this vision in my head and had to just ‘let go,’ if you get my drift. No flame war intended. And what I was saying definitely wasn’t meant for you.

    Oddly I was typing up a draft post on clear communication techniques when Colin Re-Tweeted your link and I popped over to have a look

    Too cool. It’s a good topic. Someone should definitely come up with a overview of what everyone has said on discipline.


  6. says

    We find that time out and quiet time do work for us…. but not always. It depends on the behaviour. I agree with some of Colin’s comments regarding basic respect. I try to see my toddler for the unique little person she is, and take that into account when communicating with her. Sometimes I find myself apologising to her if I lose my temper. She never says ‘Mummy, go in the corner!’ She hugs me and says ‘it’s alright Mummy, are you sad?’ : )

  7. says

    Great post Nicole and I agree with you time out does not work – for my kids at least. I tried it with my eldest and she just got to sitting on the stairs (the “thinking place”) bored saying “can i come off now?’ . No lesson learnt. No behaviour changed – nothing.

    I find withdrawl of privileges a lot more effective but most effective off all I found was using positive reinforcement.

    Drawing up a chart and rewarding positive behaviour instead of punishing negative behaviour seems to work best with my kids.

    Important thing I think is that children know you have boundaries (stick by what you say) and are consistent (dont let them jump on the couch one day and the next day discipline them about it).


  8. Cath says

    I use a bit of time out but usually it’s just as a circuit breaker when my 3 y.o. and I need to get out of each other’s faces for a bit! I’ve used it a couple of times as a ‘punishment’ but it has felt weird and it has crossed my mind “what is this supposed to be achieving?” so I don’t really do it much.

  9. says

    I love this post and have been really interested by the comments too.

    I think one of the big parenting mistakes that I have observed is that parents expect that their children to know how to behave without actually explaining to them what is expected.

    It really frustrates me when some of my peers (with children who have just turned 2), suddenly go from 0-100 in response to their child’s behaviour without first explaining what is required. (e.g. screaming at a child for climbing up onto a table straight away, without actually telling them calmly that climbing on tables is not appropriate or simply removing them from the situation).

    I have found time out has worked well with my daughter up until now. I do prefer using logical consequences (e.g. removing her from a situation, removing a toy etc), but at her age, I think removing privileges too far into the future (e.g. no TV tomorrow) is pretty meaningless. Unless there is an appropriate, logical consequence I can implement straight away, I do tend to use time out. It is effective for my daughter as she hates to be away from the action and fun.

    Lots for me to think about here though.

  10. says

    Thanks everyone for inputting to the discussion and it has shown me that as I noted at the bottom, each family will have their own discipline model. I think it is very comforting to note that all of us do need to discipline our kids – nice to know mine aren’t the only kids that muck up! :)

    Colin – Regarding the “Triple P Parenting comes from Pscych 101 and from any intro Organisational course”, I certainly believe it would have its basis in that, but that it also extends upon it. What I think it does well though is make it accessible and applicable to parents who may not have had any exposure to these concepts. I love that podcasting and blogs can help parents find information that they need.

    Marita – Such a good point about following through on what you say you are going to do. I find kids very happy to call your bluff!

    Kathy – I am sorry that you may have felt that Colin’s comment was a rebuttal. I am sure that as he stated in his response below yours that it was more a general vent.

    I completely agree that as a parent I need to be nurturing, gentle and positive – to me these are critical to my kids as sun, water and shelter are to a young tree. And BTW from what I read on your blog, it seems like you are doing a pretty fine job of parenting your girls.

    Colin – Thanks for coming back to clear that up.

    Kim – So agree about respecting children. The best way to teach them how to treat others, is by leading by example in how we treat them.

    Ann – As Prof Sanders said, “catch them doing the right thing!” :)

  11. says

    I really think there’s a lot of value to be had in making psych 101 type courses available and accessible to parents. It makes for some clarity in thinking for taking care of the children. Whilst I don’t profess to be an expert nor do I really claim to be a super parent, I’ve been happy with the low level pysch understanding I’ve got which supports my parenting approach. So yes, the Triple P parenting really gets my nod of approval. What I was venting about (which almost got me into trouble), are those parents who just don’t get it together and are trying to grasp at singular tactics to help them with their kids. I just don’t see it working like that. Cheers, Colin.

    ps. Tried to send Kathy an email explaining, but it bounced.