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          Advice for Getting Your Child to Do Anything

          September 22, 2004

          Your day job may include deal-making in the boardroom, but the minute you get home, the rules change and you’re playing Let’s Make a Deal with your children. Parenting is about negotiating, but oftentimes it can turn into a downright power struggle. Will they eat their vegetables? Will they take a bath? Will they stay asleep? If you’re caught in a constant give-and-take with your child, Dr. Phil has advice:

          Be consistent in your discipline.
          Do you threaten to punish your child when he or she misbehaves, but then don’t follow through with it? Dr. Phil says you’re sending your child a mixed message. “If you give in some of the time, you’re tough some of the time, what you have is called the intermittent reinforcement schedule. It creates the most resistant maladapted behavior of all,” he explains. Being inconsistent sends the message to your child, “The last time it took five times before he caved. Then it was seven times before I got dad. So, I’ll just hang in there.” Your child is going to have to unlearn this behavior, because it’s taught him that he gets to do what he wants to do when he wants to do it.

          Try Commando Parenting.
          Commando parenting means having a whatever-it-takes mentality. When one couple couldn’t get their son to say in bed for the entire night, Dr. Phil suggested a drastic intervention. “If you have to, cut the top half of his door off, and lock the door from the outside so he cannot get out,” he explains. “Then if he yells, ignore him. If you’re worried, then get a little camera and put it in there.” Expect your child to be frustrated at first when you change the rules on him. “First he’ll throw a tantrum. Then he’ll yell and scream. Then he’ll say, ‘I got to go to the bathroom. I’m sick.'” Through it all, Dr. Phil advises you to stay tough and show a high level of commitment.

          Remove your child’s “currency.”
          When your child starts to misbehave, deprive him of something he values. “Take away his toys, take away his covers, take away his blanket,” Dr. Phil advises. “Whatever his currency is, he needs to know, When I do A, I lose B.’ Take it away, and he doesn’t see it again … Make a ceremony out of it. On Saturday, take it to the shelter and give it to the poor children.” Once you understand what your child values, and you control the currency, then you shape the child.

          Children should predict the consequences of their behavior.
          Children need to be able to determine with 100 percent certainty that forbidden behavior will be met with consequences. For example, Dr. Phil advised a mother whose daughters wouldn’t get out of their pajamas to tell them: “‘If you don’t change out of your pajamas, then you’re not going to have your pajamas anymore. I’m going to take your pajamas, and we’re going to throw them away.’ She needs to know ‘If I persist in this, it’ll cost me my pajamas.'” If you don’t enforce negative consequences for bad behavior, you’re going to teach your children that they can do what they want when they want to, and this will serve them poorly later in life.
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