Biggest Mistakes Parents Make, Part 2: The Triplets
Dr. Phil gives advice to parents of destructive 3 1/2-year-old triplets.

"Our triplets have turned our lives upside down," says Kristi of her and her husband, Ward's, 3 1/2-year-old boys. "There's no control in this household anymore ... They control us." Kristi says that the triplets are very destructive. "They've even gone so far as to urinate on each other in the house.

"We have locks on every interior and exterior door to keep them in the house and safe," says Kristi. "If I take my eyes off them for one minute, they definitely get into trouble. I can't take it any more. I feel like I'm failing as a mother. Dr. Phil, the triplets are driving me crazy. What are we doing wrong?"

"You guys are making some big mistakes, and I'm going to tell you what I think those mistakes are," says Dr. Phil. "But the thing I want to make clear here is this is not an issue of blame, you should not feel guilty. You guys are doing the best job you know how to do."

Kristi replies, "I thought we did a good job with the two older children, but it seems so different when there are three the same age." She adds that their situation is beyond chaos, "we can't even take them out in public."

As far as disciplining the triplets, Ward says, "We've tried all different things. We've tried time-outs. I've even spanked them, and it's like everything is OK for the next 10 or 15 minutes, but then they're back doing the same thing again."

Dr. Phil reviews what the couple has said about each other's discipline style. "Ward, you say that she is too permissive, and Kristi, you say that he actually rewards the boys' bad behavior. You also made the statement, 'I feel that we have a pretty structured situation at home.'"

"Yes," answers Kristi. "They come home from school and they have snack time and playtime. Daddy comes home and we have dinner. After dinner, we have playtime again. After playtime, we have bath time, and then it's bedtime."

"So, you have four or five times during the day that you do something that is scheduled," says Dr. Phil. "But I'm telling you, inbetween those times, your place looks like the bar scene at Star Wars. They're in there writing on the walls, hitting each other with hammers, they're painting the cars ... You call that structure? That seems to be chaos."

Dr. Phil explains, "I'm going to tell you how it got that way, and what you need to do to change it, but there's no point in talking to you if you're not acknowledging that what you're doing is not working and that you're going to have to change something to get these boys under control.

"Both of you are very loving parents. It's obvious that your children really have a bond with you, and they do want to please you. But let's look at the ugly side of this. Whether you want to admit it or not, those kids are creating resentment because they are so intrusive to your lives. You don't want that to continue. You have to understand that there are certain realities here. You have five kids in this home, and that's a big load for anyone."

Dr. Phil continues, "What I'm about to tell you to do, you're not going to want to do. What you're going to have to do is fall on those triplets like a ton of bricks. You have got to get those boys under control. You're going to say, 'I don't want to be mean to them. I don't want to be ugly to them.' I don't want you to be mean and ugly to them, but you need to come at them with what they see as a 'shock and awe' campaign.

"Honestly, you have to get their attention. I promise you, they are looking for limits. And the number one rule you have to have is: Children have to be able to predict the consequences of their actions with 100 percent accuracy. They have to know 'If I do this, I can predict what's going to happen 100 percent of the time.' Not some of the time."

Dr. Phil asks Kristi about a recent incident, "You put one of the boys in a time-out recently and he got mad and spit on you..."

"Yes," says Kristi. "He told me 'No, I'm not going to time-out.' And he kept spitting at me and telling me 'no.'"

"At that point, the entire world needs to cave in on that boy!" replies Dr. Phil. "He needs to know, 'When I spit at my mother, bad things happen.' Every child has a different need and personality. And, every child has a different lever. There is something that every child values. This is a rule of human nature. People will perform less desirable behavior in order to have access to a more desirable behavior. You need to find out what that is for each of those boys. You have to find the lever and do contingency management. They are looking for limits. They don't like the chaos. Don't blame yourself. Find the lever, and set up a situation where their consequences of their actions are predictable 100 percent of the time."