Question: I've been trying for two months with little to no success to get your "ticket" system to work on my 4-year-old daughter. The target behaviors are ignoring me when I tell her to do something and blatantly refusing to do what I tell her to do. She has three tickets a day. When she loses one, she has to sit in a chair for 15 minutes, and if she loses all three before the day is done, she spends the rest of it in her room. One problem is that she waits until the end of the day to lose all of her tickets, meaning that she really doesn't spend any "punishment" time in her room because it's time for bed anyway. But the biggest problem is that losing a ticket and sitting in time-out doesn't seem to faze her at all. Any ideas?
Answer: I disagree. Losing a ticket obviously fazes her. Otherwise, she would not be cleverly waiting until the end of the day to lose most of her tickets. That tells me that she not only doesn't want to sit in the time-out chair but also doesn't want to spend any significant amount of time in her room.
Before we go any further, I should explain the "ticket" system to those readers who are a tad late to the game. First, several (no more than three) misbehaviors are clearly spelled out on a "target behavior list" that's affixed to the refrigerator door. Second, three to five "tickets" are cut from construction paper and put up on the refrigerator, next to the misbehavior list, using a magnetic clip. When a targeted misbehavior occurs, the parent closest to the scene of the crime removes one of that day's tickets from the clip. Each time a ticket is removed, the child in question must sit in time out for a certain length of time. When all the day's allotment of tickets is gone, the child spends the rest of the day in her room, which has been stripped of most of its "entertainment value," and goes to bed at least one hour early.
Over the years since I developed it, lots and lots of parents have told me that the ticket system has helped them solve many a discipline problem. It seems to work best with children 3 through 12. I generally do not recommend its use with a teenager. Also, as I have said before in this column and in several of my books (most notably, The Well-Behaved Child: Discipline That REALLY Works!), if the parents' attitude is not proper, no discipline method is going to work for long. An improper attitude includes impatience, frustration, anger, anxiety and any other manifestation of stress. Whatever the method, discipline should be delivered dispassionately. If there's emotional "pressure" behind it, the method in question is very likely to fail.
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Circling back to your question, the fact that you don't feel you've made significant headway in two months with your daughter leads me to believe that your delivery is the problem. Granted, some kids are more stubborn than others, but a determined but calm enforcement style will bring even the most strong-willed child into line in a relatively short period of time.
One more thing: the fact that a child acts unfazed by a consequence does not mean it's not having any effect. Children are clever, and acting like being thrown into the proverbial briar patch is a vacation is one form their cleverness sometimes takes.
Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents' questions on his Web site, Rosemond.com.
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