Are you a frustrated parent with children dodging your directions and discipline? If so, there are those who think you might benefit from the parenting tips of Lisa Whelchel, known for playing “Blair Warner” on the ’80s sitcom Facts of Life and author of Creative Correction, a parenting book which inspired a cut-and-pasted summary called “Creative Consequences.” Contrary to others’ recommendations, four parents with a combined 80 years of parenting experience take issue with most of Ms. Whelchel’s tips even in light of her 22 years of experience and her fans affectionately referring to her as an “expert.”
Snarky and sometimes helpful commentary is herein provided by Gary, the father of two adult daughters and grandfather of a whole bunch; Janet, who has two daughters, one tween and one teenager; Terri, the mother of two teenaged sons and an adult daughter; and myself (Diana), the mother of a teenage daughter, an adult daughter, and an adult son.
Ms. Whelchel says: Make a homemade “Correction” can and fill it with tickets or slips of paper with various consequences written on them. Instead of giving your child a time-out, send her to the can for a slip. Toss in a blank piece of paper, a “mercy” ticket. This gives you an opportunity to talk about how God gives us mercy even when we deserve punishment.
Janet: Toss in a “damnation” ticket while you’re at it. That will give the kid something to really think about.
Gary: There should be “Correction” cans for each family member as a sign of equity and fairness. Include things like a romantic dinner out (with/without a husband/wife), shopping trip without grumbling, manicure for the husband (it’ll confuse him as to whether it is a punishment or something he should like), or no “evil eyes” on the daughter’s long-haired boyfriend for the next five dates.
Diana: By all means allow this to unfold: Johnny colors on the wall with crayons. The “Correction” can sends him to bed, which coincidentally sits next to another wall, which he then colors with the crayons from his backpack. Sorry, Ms. Whelchel, correction only works if there’s a connection between behavior and consequence.
If time-outs don’t work, try a “time-in.” This can be accomplished by sending your child to a designated spot where he must complete a task that has a definite beginning and end. This could be putting together a small puzzle, stringing 50 beads on a piece of yarn, or tracing the alphabet. A time-in diverts his energies and encourages him to focus on something positive.
Diana: If I had used crafty tasks to discipline my child at home, I’m pretty sure I would’ve received a few phone calls from teachers saying my kid either seized up at the mere sight of yarn or fell to the floor in tears eking out, “But what did I do?!” when the teacher broke out the beads.
Janet: Yes, I see. This could also encourage your child to build his or her future license-plate-making skills in the process.
Timers set definite boundaries. For example, with a timer, you can say, “I’m setting the timer. I want [task] done in 15 minutes. If you haven’t finished by then, your correction is [task].”
Diana: Two hours later the “15” is worn completely off the timer, the child has created eight messes, and the parent is sitting in the corner drinking straight from a wine bottle at 11 a.m.
Gary: This also works especially well with spouses who say, “There’s only 10 minutes left in the game.” Set the timer with the “correction” being, perhaps, unplugging the TV or just changing channels to Jerry Springer. A second offense could be just un-subscribing to those sports channels.
If you repeatedly open the door to your child’s room only to catch him in an act of disobedience, take your child’s bedroom door off the hinges.
Janet: After having a wide open view to the messy room for more than one smug day of your sentence, you will change your mind and promptly put the door back.
Gary: This works wonders until you leave and forget where you stored all of the kids’ doors. The property manager may ask you for additional repair money before you can leave.
Diana: This is a great suggestion for the teenager who desires privacy but misuses their privacy or the door (teenagers who slam doors can create damage). For younger kids, I’m confused as to why “doors open” isn’t a standard rule. If the child was placed in the room with the door closed as a punishment, removing the door is going to allow the child to escape.
Adjust bedtimes according to your children’s behavior that day. For each infraction, they must go to bed five minutes earlier, but if they’ve been good, they can earn the right to stay up an extra five minutes.
Gary: Their bedtime? Why not mine? They’ve made life miserable all day. I should go to bed early and they can go whenever they want. They will sleep in late tomorrow and that’s even better for me! I win at both ends!
Diana: Just about everyone agrees that consistency and routine are important, but sure, screw around with the end-of-the-day routine and see where it gets you. Good luck getting a child of six to remember the infraction they committed 12 hours earlier that now results in a change on a clock they don’t understand. And good luck getting this child to sleep after establishing that sleep equals punishment.
An especially tough but effective correction for teenagers who forget to wear their seat belts is to add an additional day past their 16th birthday before they can take their driver’s test.
Gary: This is actually smart, except for that “add a day” part. Add a month or even a school year and see if they forget a second time.
Diana: Another tough but effective correction is telling a teenager who won’t wear their seatbelt to get the hell out of your car. The most effective seatbelt reminder starts when the child is too young to understand physics. If even one person isn’t wearing their seatbelt, pretend the car won’t start.
If you have dawdlers, try this: Whoever is last to the table at dinnertime becomes the server. But there’s a catch. Even if you’re first, your hands must be clean or you’ll end up serving the food, pouring the drinks, and fetching the condiments (after washing your hands, of course!).
Gary: The author apparently has had problems retaining her staff of servants and came up with a defensible system that makes serfdom appear to be good parenting.
Diana: Establishing a negative connection with the food service industry could result in a) your kid telling restaurant wait staff they should’ve been faster to the dinner table, and b) the awkward realization that waiting tables is one of the most common jobs for high school and college students but your kid won’t take that job because you taught them early on that waiting tables is for “dawdlers.”
If your children are constantly turning in sloppy schoolwork, get a few photocopied pages of printing or cursive exercises. Then ask your haphazard child this: “What takes longer: a report done neatly in 15 minutes or one you’ve sped through in 10 that must be redone and warrants a page of handwriting practice?”
Diana: Any parent trying this should expect to hear a kid make a strange noise and get a stuck expression of “Huh?”
Gary: Be prepared for your child to ask: “What takes longer: a neat report done in 15 minutes by hand or one that’s done and spell-checked in 10 minutes by that laptop I keep asking for?”
You’ve heard the reprimand “Hold your tongue!” Make your child do it: literally. Have her stick out her tongue and hold it between two fingers. This is an especially effective correction for public outbursts.
Diana: Show of hands: Everyone who can still make disgusting and/or loud noises even though they’re holding their tongues.
Gary: I’ve never heard such a reprimand, but if I had, I suggest ignoring the stares from normal parents and Child Welfare staff who are in the same store. I seem to remember my mom holding my tongue for me while shopping. That was before we had leashes for kids, though.
My friend, Becki, tried a variation on this idea in the car. If things got too raucous or there was too much fussing between siblings, she would cry, “Noses on knees!” Her children then had to immediately touch their noses to their knees until she determined that they had learned their lesson.
Gary: Becki grew up in that one-room school where the sole teacher made them put their noses in a circle on the chalkboard six inches above their height. Might be more fun to yell: “Noses on the car ceiling – now!” Then, “Noses on the car windows – now!” Then, “Noses on your sister’s nose – now!” This will get the kids to quit fussing and it will be a conversation starter for every driver you pass on your trip.
Terri: Seriously, if you can get your kids to put their noses on their knees, why can’t you just get them to be quiet? This is like saying you can catch a bird if you can put salt on its tail.
Diana: Oh, Becki. Touch your nose to your knee. Note how this has left your mouth and your hands free to carry on all manner of mayhem. The workable alternative is for the parent to pull the car over when the kids act up. Turn off the engine without saying a word and don’t start the car again until everyone is quiet. To make sure this works on the way to scheduled appointments and events, make several training-runs to the park and other non-urgent places the kids like.
Next time your child “forgets” to put something away, put it away for him. When he asks where it is, tell him that he’ll just have to look for it. Believe me; he will learn that it’s a lot more trouble to find something that Mom has hidden than it is to put it away in the first place.
Janet: That’ll teach him. Problem with that: in my case, I would never remember where I hid it.
Gary: I’ve found that giving it to Goodwill and letting the child go buy it back (if it’s there anymore) is a more profound and memorable lesson.
Diana: This technique promises great family fun when your child discovers her father’s collection of porn or his mother’s “massager.” The parent who hides stuff from kids should expect that kid to return the favor (with your keys and/or checkbook or when you’re old and need your glasses or cane). A workable alternative is the Family Lost-and-Found box. It’s a large cardboard container into which all stray items go with a line marked just before the top of the box. The line indicates when the box will be bagged up and taken to the thrift store. If, however, you’re the kind of parent who is just going to replace the iPod, give up the pretense and admit you let your children run your household.
If you have younger children who are messy, try this: Put their toys in a “rainy day” box to bring out later. This has the added benefit of making an old toy seem new again. Or set the toy somewhere out of reach but within sight for a predetermined number of days. This increases the impact of the correction by keeping the forbidden toy fresh in their minds.
Diana: Or, stop buying them so much crap. If you have family and friends who shower them with gifts, bag up an amount and donate it to a women’s shelter. Leaving “forbidden” toys within the child’s sight will teach them one thing: engineering. And not the good kind. Expect a loud crash and a middle-of-the-night ER visit after the child’s elaborate ladder-construction of end table, kitchen chair, and plastic crate falls down upon said child.
I heard from a mom who had tired of her three sons’ ceaseless noises and sound effects—so she got creative. If her boys did not take their commotion outside, she would make them sit down and listen to the “Barney” theme song cassette for 10 minutes. For adolescent boys, it’s torture!
Gary: This was the same method used by the U.S. Military to force Manuel Noriega out of hiding in Panama. Its legality has not yet been settled by the World Court in the Hague.
Diana: Ceaseless noise and sound effects warrant punishment? This mom isn’t “creative.” She labors under the delusion that she birthed throw pillows. If you have the power to make them sit down and listen to Barney, you have the power to send them outside.
If your little one gets too hyper, come up with a code word to remind him to stop the action without embarrassing him. Whenever Tucker started getting too rowdy in a group, I would yell, “Hey, Batman.” He knew that he needed to calm down before I had to take more drastic measures.
Gary: “Batman” always embarrassed me when mom yelled that at me – and confused the heck out of my friends who thought she might be a few cards short of a deck for not knowing my name.
Does your child slam the door when she’s angry? You might tell her, “It’s obvious that you don’t know how to close a door properly. To learn, you will open and close this door, calmly and completely, 100 times.”
Diana: Show me an adult who can calmly close a door 100 times even in the best of moods and I will show you an OCD patient at Home Depot. Ask your child to tell you what’s up and go from there.
Terri: I love to slam doors when I’m mad, so my mother obviously failed me. And I would rather hear my child slam the door once and get it out of her system than to hear it close properly 100 times. I’d lose my mind!
Gary: Each time they continue to slam it during this corrective step (plan on it!) it will add another 100 times. Then your child will sue you when they come of age for inducing their tennis elbow and ending their lucrative professional career.
If your child likes to stomp off to his room [in anger], send him outside to the driveway and tell him to stomp his feet for one minute. He’ll be ready to quit after about 15 seconds, but make him stomp even harder.
Diana: It’s actually enough to send them outside. Making a child stomp around a solid surface, like a driveway, is flirting with an expensive visit to a pediatric orthopedic specialist.
Gary: This one is useful if you make him put on dad’s golf shoes and stomp all over the yard. Free lawn aeration this year.
The same goes for throwing fits. Tell your child to go to her room to continue her fit. She isn’t allowed to come out and she has to keep crying for 10 minutes. Ten minutes is an awfully long time, and it’s no fun if your parents tell you to cry.
Diana: Holy crap. I was with you until you said, “keep crying.” Now you’re just the parent of the kids from Children of the Corn.
Gary: While “throwing a fit” (a politically incorrect term if such ever existed), most kids won’t hear your instructions.
Another way to handle temper tantrums is to simply say, “You may continue your fit in the backyard. When you’re finished, you are welcome to come back inside.” When there isn’t an audience, the thrill of throwing a temper tantrum is gone.
Gary: This is great, but you can still hear them in your backyard. Take them to a park on the far side of town, drop them off and tell them you’ll be back when you think they are done, or in time for tomorrow’s breakfast, whichever.
Janet: Or you could just turn the water hose on him.
Diana: Where do you live that throwing a fit in the backyard can’t be heard by anyone else, like the napping baby next door?
If a job is not done diligently, have your child practice doing it. She’ll learn to be more thorough if she’s made to sweep the floor three or four times because her first effort wasn’t good enough.
Janet: Bonus points – you’ll earn more air time in her future therapy sessions.
Gary: Just drop them off at McDonald’s with their broom and make them practice there. Same lesson, but also prepares them for graduating with a Liberal Arts degree later.
When one of my children is acting disrespectful, disobedient, or defiant, I will instruct him or her to choose a chore from the Job Jar.
Diana: Chores as punishment? Good one. No way can that go wrong when it’s time to, you know, do chores.
Gary: We appear to be back with this effort to substitute child labor for missing servants.
I have a friend whose son’s morning chore was to get the pooper-scooper and clean up the doggie gifts littering the backyard. The boy was not doing this job with much diligence, so his father came up with this creative solution: After the boy had completed the task, he would be required to run through the yard barefoot! From then on, their lawn was perfectly clean.
Janet: The backseat of the dad’s car, however, was another story.
Gary: If the kids can’t handle chores related to their pets, I’d give them copies of recipes for cat-ka-bobs or “real” hot dogs and let them know what’s happening to Fluffy or Fido the next time Dad steps in it!
Diana: Children don’t see poop the way we do. If you’re not willing to enlist the help of a microscope and a textbook, be willing to inspect the child’s work and make the child pick up what remains – each and every time. Also, consider goldfish.
This concludes our perspective of “Creative Consequences.” Feel free to add your own tips in the comment section as well as your support for Ms. Whelchel. Gary was initially hesitant to contribute, saying, “It is only with great trepidation that I consider adding/deleting or altering this life-sustaining text from one of the [’80s] favorite hot gals for young guys – Lisa Whelchel. Since she has moved on to become a Christian author, I wonder if I’ll pay a ‘lightning bolt’ price for my commentary?”