Winning the Power Struggle
Dr. Phil checks in with parents who were having a tough time disciplining their children.
Lisa and David applied the tools they got from Dr. Phil to their 4-year-old son Caleb. For example, one of the reasons they weren't enforcing time-outs was because Caleb would urinate on himself to get out of them. Now Lisa makes him wear a garbage bag over his clothes, and continue his punishment.
"Caleb hated the garbage bag," says Lisa. "I just took all the power away from him." Learning to take things away from Caleb when he misbehaves and giving him special attention has caused major improvements in Caleb's behavior. He acts out less, he's not fighting as much, and he's doing great in school. "Caleb has made so much progress," says Lisa, "and so have I."


But it's not a perfect world, and other problems with Caleb have cropped up. He has started to act out more in public, to take items from stores, and lie. Lisa is also having a problem because David contradicts her when it comes to discipline. For example, she doesn't let the kids roughhouse inside, but it all goes out the window when David gets home.


"Boys are going to be boys," justifies David.

Dr. Phil first addresses the problem of Caleb acting out in public. "He's smart enough to figure out when he has the power and when you have the power," says Dr. Phil, explaining that Caleb does respect authority and is starting to understand boundaries. Still, if they're at a doctor's office and Caleb misbehaves, Lisa needs to deal with it with alternative time-outs.


In a situation like that, an alternative to going home immediately, is to tell the receptionist that you're going to have a time-out with your child, and you'll be outside sitting in the car. When they are ready to see you, they can call your cell phone. "But you need to yank him out and put him somewhere he doesn't want to be, doing something he doesn't want to be doing," says Dr. Phil. "He needs to know there are immediate and swift consequences."

As for Caleb's stealing, Dr. Phil explains that stealing means nothing to a 4-year-old. "That's an abstract word. But taking something, having something that doesn't belong to you, is understood even at 4 years old. What you need to do is be very straight with him: 'This is not yours and you do not take something that is not yours unless you talk to me first.' Explain that, and if he persists in that behavior, then he needs to take that item and go give it to the store manager, or the policeman that's standing out there — 'I found this on the floor and I put it in my pocket, I'm sorry.' If he has to do that, I promise you he'll stop."
Dr. Phil tells Lisa and David that they need to deal with the fact that they are disagreeing about what the standards of discipline will be. "If you two disagree about what each other is saying, the kids will exploit that."


Dr. Phil tells David that there is a boundary problem with regard to the boys when their father is home. Because Lisa's boundaries keep the kids from roughhousing inside, when David comes home, they go outside those boundaries. "This is something you guys need to negotiate because the kids will pay for your disagreement," he says, stressing to David, "You're probably the most important element in getting these boys under control and staying under control. And entertaining yourself with the roughhousing when you're home comes at a high price when you're gone."