This is your last warning!


WARNINGS are not a consequence for misbehavior…I’m warning you!

There are times when a simple warning or cautious reminder is appropriate as a response to a minor undesirable or even a moderate misbehavior:  

“Hey, remember you need to keep your hands to yourself or I will ask you to put your toys away.”

 ”I’m just reminding you if you throw your fork, you will not get your dessert”

In this way, warnings can be effective as reminders of consequences to follow continued misbehavior. 

However, warnings themselves are not consequences. 

The power of a warning comes from its association (i.e. experience your kid has) with the delivery of another specific consequence following the warning. Whether it is the loss of a toy, removal from a fun activity, or some other consequence you have already determined (hopefully), the effect of your warnings will be a direct result of how predictive the warning is of the consequence.  

What does that mean?  

It simply means if you want your warnings to be effective as a “hey, don’t do that again” tool following some misbehavior, your kid needs to have experience with the fact that the consequence is the next thing coming down the line.  The only way they will learn this is through experience.

Follow these guidelines:

1.  Warnings should occur one time before delivering the actual consequence. This helps with the connection. “Stop or I will say to stop again,” comes to mind.  We have talked before about the whole “I’m counting to 5” nonsense, so this should not be news. Therefore, if you make a warning, you better be ready to follow through.  If you are not, figure something else to do instead.

2.  Please, do not make your warnings in question form, “do you want me to take those trains away?” Stop it.  You sound ridiculous.  What do you expect them to say?

3.  All warnings should be stated in an unemotional tone of voice simply as a reminder of the consequence. 

4.  Finally, but maybe most importantly, warnings are more effective when paired with positive consequences that can be earned for changing the behavior to a positive one. For example,

“Remember, if you keep your hands to yourself, you can play with your Little Ms Martini Barbie, but if you hit your friends, we will have to put them away.” 

(I made the Barbie thing up, sorry).  

Use every chance you can to praise and bring attention to the behavior you want so you will not have to rely on the warning or negative consequence. That is much harder.

PLEASE do not warn your kid about a consequence you have no intention of delivering.  That is a veiled threat…and will create more misbehavior than it solves.  

Don’t say I never warned you.

No reaction might be the best reaction of all…


Treat one time events for what they are…one time events.  Reactive parenting often creates more opportunities to be reactive (i.e., more bad behavior).

I recently read a book, Anything You Want, by Derek Sivers (a guy who turned a little hobby of selling music online to a business generating $100 million in sales and ultimately a $22 million payday for Sivers).  He made a point about not punishing a group at large (customers) due to the bad behavior of one person or a weird one time event.  For emphasis, he mentioned two examples of when over-the-top changes were made as ridiculous reactions to a single event: his elementary school banned grape juice at the school after a single spill (and later banned orange juice for the same reason) and the need to take our shoes off at the airport due to the infamous “shoe bombing.”   These stories and his point made me think of how that relates to parents in so many ways (of course)…

Has there ever been a time when you “banned the grape juice” at your house.  It might not have been grape juice that spilled, but might have been something that your kid misused or even an activity that went wrong and you effectively “banned” it?  Have you taken your children to a special place and things just did not go right and you pledged “never go there again?”  Have you ever treated a child to something special and it blew up in your face and you vowed to avoid using that treat again because it “didn’t work?”  Have you ever gotten a note home from the teacher about a “new behavior” and excessively worried about it and made reactive changes because of it?

I believe this happens and it is important to realize it when it does so you can avoid the pitfalls associated with these types of reactive decisions.

The lesson here is a general one, but a thinker sort of lesson: avoid over-reacting to any one particular behavior or circumstance within which a behavior occurred. This includes when your kid hits another kid at school, bites the neighbor, throws a huge hissy-fit at the shoe store, or says something like, “I hate you,” “I hate school” or drops the F-bomb. 

These are all common things that kids do and there is rarely a need to over think these things and worry about making changes due to one of these things happening. 

I am not saying they need to be ignored, but I am saying there is generally nothing to worry about.  Be aware: let her teachers know you are concerned, let his coach know you have talked to him about kicking the ball instead of the other kids, let the neighbor know that her cat will be safe in the future, and then move on. Lock it away in your parent brain, be prepared the next time similar situations present themselves, talk to your kids about it at the times when the situations are likely to occur again (the closer to the event as possible, the better) and use it as a teaching experience.  No need to expend too much energy on these events or try to heavily punish them “so it will never happen again.”  

The good news about behavior is that there are very few things that are learned after one experience (taste aversion is one…I bet you can think of something you had a single bad experience with and have not touched since).  This should give you some relief when it comes to making the decision NOT to make a decision about something until later.  

Give yourself the the benefit of time and thought before making decisions to “take away the Nintendo” for a month or to “never go out for ice cream again!”  Give yourself the advantage of “sound body and mind” when making these decisions rather than the reactive and emotional decisions we can sometimes make. 

Sometimes you will find that making no decision is the best decision of them all.

Time out: the baby with the bathwater. Listen carefully.


Have you ever tried something new, a new electronic device or something for the kids and got frustrated and said,

“This *&^% thing doesn’t work…why does everyone say these things are awesome…this thing is stupid!” 

Then someone comes over, grabs it, does something simple to it and says, “you’re doing it wrong…that is why it wasn’t working.”

It wasn’t working because you weren’t doing it right or you overlooked something very elementary.  Very simple.  I can’t help but think of the ultimate family man, Clark “Sparky” Griswold, in Christmas Vacation karate chopping the reindeer because the light switch was off, preventing the display of his Christmas cheer:

Here is the connection:

There are a lot of behavior strategies that are commonly misunderstood and misused and when they don’t work there are books written and websites dedicated to very strong responses regarding how awful these strategies are and how they “never” work.

Case in point, I commented on an internet article on time out two months or so and received a lesson in the incredible emotions, disdain, and clear misunderstanding connected to this thing we call “time out,” not only on my Facebook page, but on the other pages associated with the conversation.  It was if those who even think about time out should be reported to child protective services.  

What was clear was that the term “time out” has been over-used, misused and mischaracterized so that many parents who thought they were using “time out” were unsuccessful.  It created more problems, it was difficult to maintain, it did NOT help.  This resulted in “time out” (even though what they were likely doing was wrong and NOT time out) being framed as a terrible, heartless parenting strategy that “never works” (the phrase “never works” is what triggered me to respond to the article due to how insanely incorrect this statement was). 

OK, now, for my thoughts.

I strongly believe in an incredibly positive and proactive style of parenting and behavior management.  I believe reinforcement strategies are the strongest tools in your parenting tool belt.  Proactive teaching in a way that reduces, as much as possible, the likelihood of “error” or challenging behavior is my mantra.  For example, waking up several times throughout the night to take a child to the bathroom can and does work to teach toilet training sometimes without error!  Helping your child navigate the social demands of a birthday party before the party, teaching ahead of time, turns a potentially difficult situation into a successful learning opportunity. Taking shorter trips to the store so it can be successful instead of painful is more effective than taking away your kid’s Nintendo DS (or threatening Santa’s naughty list) because they screamed through the two hour long escapade through the mall on the week before Christmas.  Check out my archives and my Facebook posts and see how much I believe in prevention and proaction…its pretty clear.  

I do not believe punishment strategies are to be used to shape behavior, but do believe there are times when time out, when used appropriately and with sufficient caution, is an effective and prudent strategy.  Decades of research have supported this.  I have a top 10 list…check it out here.

Let me clarify what I mean when I say, “punishment.”

Punishment: something that makes the likelihood of that behavior less likely to occur in the future (not this time, next time).  It is not what we think should be “punishing” (sometimes yelling at your kid for saying a dirty word makes the kid say more dirty words…whoops), but what actually happens to the behavior.  Does it go away, or persist despite your “punishment” efforts?  

As I have stated in previous posts, things like spanking, timeout and harsh words don’t always fit this definition.  If spanking does not reduce the future likelihood of a behavior occurring it is not punishment. STOP IT.  If time out does not reduce the future likelihood of a behavior occurring it is not punishment. STOP ITIf harsh words do not reduce the future likelihood of a behavior occurring it is not punishment. STOP IT

So, in many cases, these strategies do NOT work because of the nature of the behavior and are therefore potentially harmful for a variety of reasons, but it is not the strategy that should be deemed ineffective.Herein lies the misinformation and misleading comments from those in the parenting “web world.”

So, here is the lesson. 

Think through the strategies you are using to reduce unwanted or undesirable behaviors.  Are they working?  Are you finding yourself doing them more instead of less?  Have you read up on “time out” and how it should and should not be used?  Do you actually even keep up with this to know?  Is your spanking reducing the occurrence of the behavior for which you spanked?  Remember: it is not what makes the behavior stop in the moment, but what makes the behavior less likely to occur again.

Be informed…let me help.

“The tantrum stopped! It worked!” Not so fast…


Anything that stops a tantrum in its tracks will likely make that tantrum occur MORE in the future. 


I have had parents tell me “see, that worked!” when they do this.  Interestingly, they say this as they are paying me to be in their living room helping them with their kids.  The irony is usually not obvious.  I usually stand back and say, “we need to talk about what you mean when you say, ‘It worked’ so we can move forward on this.”

When you are thinking about strategies that work, I mean really work, you need to look at behavior over time.  If it really works, it means the behavior you are trying to stop is actually occurring less and less over time.  NOT in the moment.  

If you continue to spank your kid for the same reason…spanking is NOT working.  If you continue to send your kid to time out for the same reason, time out is NOT working.  Also, if your kid isn’t brushing his teeth more, then your sticker chart is NOT working. 

I will say, if you do stop a behavior in its tracks, you now know why the tantrum was happening.  You paid attention to her and she stopped crying? (she wanted your attention).  You turned the TV on and he stopped whining (he wanted the TV on).  You sent her to time out when she was laying on the ground in front of the bathtub and she stopped, got up and went to timeout? (chances are…she wanted to avoid the bathtub). 

Now that you know, what are you gonna do?  Think about why, and get back to me…

“Don’t point that at me! Do you want to make me take you out of this store?”


I was recently walking down the hall with a group of younger elementary school students and their teachers.  One of the kids (the one I was there for) was a bit “wiggly” in line and was not following the directions to “keep your hands at your side” and a “bubble in your mouth” (funny way to keep the mouth closed, which is to blow up your mouth like a balloon)—see this for why this works.

One of the teachers then went up to him and said, “do you want me to put my hand on your shoulder?” in a tone that made me think she was saying that as a threat of punishment.  Kind of like, “do you want to go to time out?” or “do you want me to call your mother?” 

The kid looked up and said, “yes.”  Whoops.  They walked down the hall together…one happy, one frustrated (I’ll let you decide who was who).

This makes me think of at least 2 things:

  1. We often ask questions that are not really questions, but threats-sometimes baseless or veiled threats.
  2. We often assume some things are punishers or things the kid wants to avoid, but sometimes they are not (it was clear the kid actually did want the teacher to put her hand on his shoulder).

Please be careful and listen out for these questions.  Don’t ask questions to which you don’t want the answer or the answer is already obvious. 

Do you really want to know if your kid wants you to count to 3?  Does it really matter what your kid’s answer is to your question, “do you want a spanking?” 

“Actually, mother, I do believe that my behavior warrants a time out and possibly a spanking…I agree with you…I just wish you would have asked me if I wanted you to count to 3 before”  

CLARIFICATION:  I have heard kids say “YES!” to this question, but in a harsher tone like, “I don’t care…take away my Wii…I don’t care.”  At this point you are in a tug-of-war and you need to drop the rope.  You should not have asked the question in the first place.  Please don’t get into this.  If you want to take away the Wii, take it.  Don’t ask for permission from your child first.  

Be careful to understand what might be punishing (something that actually reduces the occurrence of future behavior, by definition) and what might be reinforcing (increasing future occurrence of the behavior, by definition).  The student in the example above was able to gain access to a personal escort (and the attention associated with that) by jumping around in the line.  Her presence was NOT a punisher.  Sometimes your reactions (although potentially strong and intended to be punishing) can be desired by the kid. 

Ever heard of people “pushing your buttons?”  It happens, and 3 year olds are completely capable of doing it (just in case you haven’t noticed).

Let me know what you think!…”do you want me to have to ask you again?!? Huh?!?”

Top 10: Time out!

10 need to know facts about time out:

  1. “Time out” is officially an abbreviation for “time out from reinforcement,” which means it works because the kid is removed from reinforcing (motivating) things following unwanted behavior.

    Therefore, be very careful of where you send your kid to time out…make sure there are not a lot of people around, a lot of toys around or other things with which the kid can engage.  And if it is your attention he wants…read #6.

  2. Time out is a strategy, not a place.  Therefore, it is not necessarily a chair or a place in the corner, although it can and does help to have a predetermined place for this.
  3. Time out will not work if it is used when the kid is avoiding demands, work, homework or something else he or she does not want.  Actually, it can be counter-productive (you would essentially be giving them escape by sending them to time out).
  4. Time out durations longer than 3-5 minutes are not more effective than shorter durations.  Therefore, you can keep the time brief and be as effective.  The whole “minute per year of age” as a guide for how long the time out should be is a myth.  It’s not going to do lasting harm, I just would not feel obligated to follow the “rule.”
  5. It is helpful to have a timer. This is more for your consistency than anything else, so when you start a time out, tell your kid “you need to be calm for 2 minutes, I will start your time when you are calm.”
  6. DO NOT ENGAGE WITH YOUR KID DURING TIME OUT.  PLEASE!  Don’t fall into the trap of saying “I can’t talk to you while you are in time out.”  Think about that for a moment.  Wait it out.  This is not a time to berate your kid.  SHH!
  7. If he gets up and out of the time out area, be close enough to quietly and calmly redirect them back to the time out area.

    WARNING: some kids like this “game” and it can turn into a bit of a dance (notice if the kid is laughing, running or trying to play chase).  If this happens it is OK to ditch the time out and simply ignore and make sure the options are limited for things your child can get into (see #10).  Whenever the child wants something, calmly remind him he has to “finish his time” before doing anything.

    If you do get into the dance, time out might not be the best choice for you…ignoring strategies will be more effective and manageable.

  8. Keep it brief and move on. Wait until she is calm to talk. This is the time to talk about what happened…not before or during the time out.
  9. When you return, start by saying, “thank you for calming down, you are done with your time.  Now what happened?”  Do not force the answer, but do use this question as a barometer for if the kid is ready to move on or not.  If not, tell him “I’ll give you a few more minutes to calm down then we can talk about it.”
  10. If your kid wants your attention and you are ignoring her, you are essentially conducting a time out.  This is a version of what is called a “non-exclusionary time out,” which means you can get the behavioral effects of a time out without physically removing the child.  I also call this a “walking time out.”  If you do this, remember #8 and re-engage with your kid as quickly as possible when she is doing what you want her to be doing (e.g. not annoying you, waiting patiently, etc.).