Jack,* age 11, has been coming to Outreach for three weeks to address his anger issues. He had been working on identifying triggers and developing coping skills with his counselor, Christina Hostutler, when he said that he is often triggered by his parents taking away his computer time. Jack explained that he got in trouble for not completing a chore and for calling his sister names during an argument and got punished by losing computer time. He remembered getting instantly angry and having a “fit” because he really wanted to play Minecraft. Hostutler inquired if Jack had to complete his chore or work on the relationship with his sister; he said no, he just received punishment.
Jack’s parents were invited to participate in the following session to discuss discipline. They acknowledged that they often take away computer time as a punishment because “it’s the only thing that seems to matter or get a reaction out of him.” Hostutler explains, “the goal of discipline is to teach your child a better way of behaving, solving problems, or communicating; it’s not to make them feel as upset as we are.” She talked with the parents about using natural and logical consequences instead of punishment. A natural consequence is something that just happens based on your child’s decisions or actions. For example, if they refuse to wear snow boots sled riding, their feet will get cold and wet. A logical consequence can be used when a natural consequence is not available or is too dangerous. If your child is running around, knocks over a picture frame and breaks it, the logical consequence would be that they have to buy a new frame or work to replace it.
Jack’s parents reflected on the fact that the behaviors that initiated his punishment really were not improving—he was just getting angrier. Hostutler explained that using consequences, as long as they are communicated calmly and firmly, draw attention to the child’s choices rather than to the parent who is “mean.” Jack’s mom agreed to try consequences but had difficulty coming up with a logical fit for some of Jack’s behaviors. She was often frustrated in the heat of the moment and unable to think of a consequence right away and therefore would just take his computer time. “There is no need to feel pressure to discipline on the spot,” Hostutler explains. “Identify for your child the behavior that is inappropriate. Tell them you will need to think about how to address the issue and you will let them know when you have decided.” This not only gives the parents a chance to calm down and think creatively about consequences, the child has time to think about their actions too.
Together, Jack’s parents and the counselor identified common misbehaviors and brainstormed possible consequences. Jack has not been emptying the dishwasher after school, he waits until it’s time to clean up from dinner. His parents decided to explain to Jack that not having the chore done on time prevents them from cleaning up after dinner. Therefore, he is now responsible for emptying the dishwasher, loading the new dirty dishes, and cleaning the pans before he can relax for the evening. To address verbal battles with his sister, Jack’s father decided to make use of his new anger management skills. He would explain to Jack the importance of telling others how he feels and problem-solving rather than yelling and name-calling. Jack would then be required to complete a problem-solving worksheet and a letter to his sister explaining the problem and how he feels.
*Jack represents typical Outreach client. Details do not correspond with any specific case in order to protect client anonymity.