How to be assertive rather than passive or aggressive--

When you want something from your kid, use the following

1. Clearly state your expectation.  

"Be sure to wash the dishes."  "It’s time for you to get the
trash out."  "I need you to pick up your dirty laundry."

2. If your child does what she is told to do, reward her
with acknowledgment and praise.    

"You did a great job of doing the dishes."  "Thank you for
getting to bed on time. "I appreciate that you picked up your
dirty clothes."

Note: "Rewards" such as hugs, kisses, and high-fives increase
your children's motivation to do what you ask them to do.

3. If your child refuses or ignores your request, then
a clear warning (with your best poker face) should be
given immediately in the form of a simple “If/Then”

"If you choose to ignore my request, then you choose
the consequence, which will be ________ " (pick the least
restrictive consequence first, such as grounding and no
phone privileges for one evening).

4. If the warning is ignored, then allow her to make a
mistake - do NOT save her from making the poor choice
to ignore your request - then follow through with the

"Because you chose to ignore my request, you also chose the
consequence, which is grounding and no phone tonight."

5. If your child refuses to accept the consequence (e.g.,
she gets on the phone anyway), take everything away
(or at least her "favorite" stuff and/or activities) and
ground her for 3 days. If she has a rage-attack when she
finds out she is grounded for 3 days, the clock does not
start until she calms down. If she violates the 3-day-
discipline at any point, merely re-start the 3 days rather
than making it 8 days or longer.

Consider the following --

1.   Make the discipline fit the “crime.”

For example:

  • Child comes home after curfew > he/she is grounded the
    next day
  • Child shoplifts > he/she must confess, apologize, make
    restitution, and accept the consequences
  • Child destroys property > he/she must pay for the
    damage and/or help fix the damage

2. Make your time-line anywhere from 1 evening to 7
days (3 days works best).

When disciplining strong-willed children, grounding and taking
away all privileges (e.g., TV, phone, video games) works best.  
However, consequences should be short-term (usually no more
than 3 days).

Remember, we are taking everything away!  Therefore the
consequences must be short-term to keep children from feeling
as if they are on
Death Row and from subsequently rebelling
because they think they have nothing else to lose.  Short-term
consequences work because they fit the way children think, not
the way parents think (3 days is an eternity to a kid).

If your child is grounded and breaks the same house rule
that got him into trouble to begin with, parents should never
lengthen the time of the restriction (e.g.,
"O.k. Now you're
grounded for 2 weeks!!!"
).  Simply restart the time of the
original time-line.  

For example: A child completed 1 day of a 3-day discipline for
truancy.  On the second day, the child sneaks out of the house
to be with friends.  The parent should just start the same 3-
day discipline over again.  Using this technique, parents keep
restrictions from piling up on their children.  Children are more
likely to hang-in when they can see light at the end of the

3. Let your children know exactly what they must do to
earn their way off the discipline – be very specific!

The child must (a) stay in the house since he is grounded,
(b) avoid engaging in the withheld privilege (e.g., stay off
the phone), and (c) avoid repeating the original offense (e.g.,
shoving his mother and calling her a "fuckin' dumb ass").

Unclear examples:

  • Parent: “You won’t get ungrounded until you learn to
  • Parent: “When you have a better attitude, I’ll think about
    letting you go to your friend’s house.”
  • Parent: “You’ve lost all privileges until you can show
    some respect.”

Clear examples:

  • Parent: “You will be ungrounded 48 hours from now as
    long as you come straight home from school, do not play
    your video games, and avoid hitting your younger
  • Parent: “You will be ungrounded 3 days from now if you
    stay in the house, stay off the phone, and go the entire
    time without saying to me I hate you."
  • Parent: “You will be ungrounded 24 hours from now if
    you stay in the house, stay off the computer, and clean
    up the broken glass that resulted from your temper

4. Avoid power struggles at all cost.

Power struggles can create frustration, anger and resentment
on the part of the parent and the out-of-control kid.

Resentment can cause a further breakdown of communication
until it seems as if all you do is argue with her.

In order to end such arguments, it must be the parent that
begins to take charge in a positive way.  However, the most
effective step,
to simply stop arguing, can also be the most
difficult.  It sounds quite simple,
just stop arguing, but in
reality, it takes discipline and effort to change the pattern of
behavior.  By refusing to participate in the argument, the power
of the out-of-control kid disappears.  She only continues to
have power over you if you allow her to.

To stop the power struggle, prepare yourself ahead of time.  
Sit down, after your child is in bed for the night and it is quiet,
and make a list of the times that you most often argue. Is it
getting ready for school, doing homework, completing chores,
getting ready for bed, etc?  For each situation, determine a few
choices that you can give her.

When preparing the choices, make sure to list only those that
you are willing to carry out.  If, for example, you are not willing
to pick up your kids and bring them to school in their pajamas,
don’t threaten to or they will know that they still have control
of the situation.  Once you have decided on the choices you will
give your child, stick to them and practice your self-control to
not yell.  Walk away, leave the room, and wait outside if you
have to.  But an argument can only happen if there is more
than one person.  With just one person, it is simply a temper

Some examples of choices to give your out-of-control kid:

  • "You can be home by curfew tonight, or you can stay
    inside the house all day tomorrow."
  • "You can get dressed, or you can go out exactly as you
  • "You can clean your room, or you can sit home while
    your friends go out."
  • "You can clean up the dishes, or you can sit with no TV
  • "You can be pleasant at the dinner table, or you can leave
    the room and eat your dinner alone, after we are
  • Your child wants a candy bar for breakfast: "Would you
    like toast and jam or cereal for breakfast?"
  • Your child forgets to do her chore: "Are you going to take
    the dog for a short walk now or for a long hike after

Always reiterate to your children that their behavior is
their choice.  They will reap the rewards or deal with the
consequences of their behavior.  As difficult as it may be,
do not yell, and do not talk to them after the choice has
been given.  Let them struggle with the decision of which
choice to make.

Old habits are hard to break, so it may take awhile for your
out-of-control kids to understand that you are serious and are
no longer being controlled by their emotional outbursts.  Keep
your cool and continue about your day, not letting them see
the frustration you feel.  And always, always, follow through
with the outcome that you have described to them.  Be
consistent.  Most importantly, when they make the right
decision, be sure to give them a dose of intensity (in the form
of acknowledgment and praise) and let them know how proud
of them you are.

5. Speak in the positive rather than the negative.

Because children tend to tune-out negative messages, we as
parents want to focus on the "does" instead of the "don'ts."

Examples of changing
don't into do:

"Don't leave the milk out."         
"Put the milk back in the refrigerator."

Negative: "Don't park your bike there."         
"Your bike belongs in the garage."

Negative: "Don’t yell at me."             
"I’ll listen when you speak softer."

6. Problem-solve rather than vent your anger.

Children get a payoff in the form of your intensity and energy
whenever you react in anger. Thus, their misbehavior is
reinforced, and they will push you the same way again and
again and again.

Examples of
problem-solving rather than venting:

Your son spills the juice he is carrying-

Vent: "How many times do I have to tell you to watch where
you're going!"

Solution-oriented: "Here's a sponge. Wipe it up and try

Your seventh-grader slams the door and yells "you're not fair"
after you break up a sibling argument-

Vent: "Don't tell me what's fair! You're getting a smart

Solution-oriented: "It's not easy to settle arguments. When
you're ready to talk it over, come out and we'll see if we can
solve this problem together."    

Your 17-year-old daughter racks-up a huge cell phone bill-

Vent: "That's it young lady. I'm tired of paying these
outrageous bills. Give me that cell phone!"

Solution-oriented: "You will have to do a few extra chores to
help pay this bill. I'm going to get you a pre-paid cell phone
with a limit of 90 minutes per month. If you choose to go
over that limit before the month is over, you choose to go
without minutes."

7. Discipline rather than punish.

Discipline is a means of helping the child learn acceptable ways
to deal with personal feelings and desires. Punishment, on the
other hand, is a reaction to misbehavior that is usually hurtful
and may even be unrelated to the misbehavior.

Punishment is ineffective because it does not teach appropriate
behavior. Though it may prevent a repeat of the behavior in the
short-term, it does not teach the child "what to do instead," so
it rarely works in the long-term.

Punishment may release the parent's angry feelings and make
the parent feel better, but it can create fear or humiliation in
the child, and rarely leads to the creation of a respectful

Children are punished when…

·        their behavior is controlled through fear
·        their feelings are not respected
·        they behave to avoid a penalty
·        they behave to get a bribe
·        the parent only tells the child what NOT to do

Children who are punished...

·        feel humiliated
·        try to hide their mistakes and misbehavior
·        tend to become angry, aggressive and resentful
·        fail to develop “self-control”
·        blame others

Research supports the conclusion that discipline works better
than punishment.  Children who are punished become very
different people than children who are disciplined.
When You Want Something
From Your Kid--
Ask The Parent Coach—


Regarding the 3 day discipline, my son seems unaffected
by having his things taken away. Actually, he doesn't have
much of anything he enjoys doing. Honestly, he is quite lazy
and perfectly content just to stay in his room and sleep.

Question: what do I do with this since taking stuff away is
not really much of a consequence for him?

Thanks in advance,



Hi M.,

You just listed two things he seems to enjoy: (1) staying in
his room and (2) sleeping -- both of which are privileges by
the way.

A child's bedroom is as much a privilege as his bicycle.
Also, napping through the day is a privilege. Thus, ground
him FROM his room -- not TO his room. Also, he should not
be allowed to nap (e.g., on the coach, in the recliner, etc.)
while on the 3-day-discipline, rather he should be
performing a chore or two.

Children always have something that they value -- even if
that "something" is to simply do "nothing."

Hi Mark,

Thanks for the phone consult yesterday. It has really given
me food for thought  ...thought that will be put into action
effective immediately.

The problem we are currently facing is that our daughter
refuses to stay grounded. When we tell her she's grounded
for 3 days, she just scoffs and leaves anyway.

Any suggestions?



Hi T.,

When a child refuses to accept appropriate discipline by
leaving the house while she is suppose to be grounded,
parents must be willing to implement "tough love" (which
is often times as tough on the parent as it is the child).

First of all, this is the perfect time to go into her room and
confiscate her favorite stuff.

Second, parents should give a warning ahead of time that
if their child leaves while on grounding, then the police will
be called and a runaway complaint will be filed.

If the child ignores this warning, then parents must follow
through -- call the cops and file a complaint.

If the cop's "lecture" to your daughter (after he finds her)
is largely ineffective, then warn her that you will be willing to
go to the nearest Juvenile Probation Department and file an
incorrigibility complaint.

If this warning is ignored, follow through with the stated
consequence. In this way, you will receive much needed
outside support from a probation officer (easier said than
done - I know).

Once your daughter is on probation, she will have to answer
to both you and her PO.

This type of "tough love" separates the men from the boys,
and the women from the girls. If parents try to save their
child from legal consequences, they do themselves - and
their child - a huge disfavor.

No parent wants to involve their child in the court system,
especially when it costs the parent money. But sometimes
it is a necessary step in order to save the child from
potentially  destroying herself. Better that she experience
some mild, short-term pain now (in the form of legal
consequences), rather than a lot of severe, long-term pain
later (e.g., drug addiction, pregnancy, legal problems
associated with shoplifting, and other dangerous problems
that seem to come up when a child is allowed to "run wild").

Dear Mark-

We have had our first 3 day grounding. So far - so good.
However, our son has insisted that we are being totally
unfair as is threatening to run away. Is this a possibility?
How can we intervene before he makes this poor choice?

As always, thank you for your support.



Hi J.,

When parents begin to implement appropriate discipline
for broken house rules, some children may respond by
threatening to runaway from home if they do not get their
way.  If this occurs, defuse the situation, but do NOT
threaten or challenge your child.

For example, say something along these lines:

"Son, you know that I can't control you.  And if you really
want to run away from home, I can't stop you.  I can't watch
you 24 hours a day, and I can’t lock you up in the house.  
But no one in the world loves you the way I do.  That is why
we have established these house rules.  

Because I love you, I can't stand by and watch you hurt
yourself by _______________ (e.g., not going to school,
using drugs or alcohol, destroying house property, etc.),
and running away from home will not solve the problem.  
You and I know it will only make matters worse."

If, after trying to defuse the situation, your child runs anyway,
follow these guidelines:

Children who run away are not bad.  They have made a bad
decision. They got themselves caught up in pressures that
they felt the need to escape from. Instead of facing their
problem and solving it, they chose to run from it. We need
to teach our children how to face their problems, even if the
problem is us. When they have the right tools to fix some of
the things that may be going on in their lives, the pressure
lessens, and there is no more need for them to escape.

Parents of children who run away are not bad parents.  
You cannot lock them in.  As much as you would like to
build a wall around them, it is their choice whether or not
to walk out the door.  

If your child runs:

  • Call the Police, IMMEDIATELY! Don't wait 24 hours,
    do it right away.
  • Ask investigators to enter your child into the National
    Crime Information Center (NCIC) Missing Persons
    File. There is no waiting period for entry into NCIC for
    children under age 18.
  • Get the name and badge number of the officer you
    speak with.
  • Call back often.  
  • Call everyone your child knows and enlist their help.
  • Search everywhere, but do not leave your phone
  • Search your child's room for anything that may give
    you a clue as to where she went.
  • You may also want to check your phone bill for any
    calls they may have made recently.
  • Call the National Runaway Switchboard 1-800-621-
    4000.  You can leave a message for your child with

When your child comes home:

Take a break from each other.  Do not start talking about it
right away. Your emotions are too high at this point to get
anywhere in a conversation. Go two separate directions
until you both have gotten some rest.

Ask and Listen.  Why did they leave? You may want to
evaluate a rule or two after speaking with them, but do not
do so while having this talk. Tell them you are willing to think
about it, and you will let them know.

Tell them how you felt about them going.  Let them know
that they hurt you by leaving. Let them know that there isn't
a problem that can't solve. If they ever feel that running away
might solve something, have them talk to you first.  You
could always offer other choices, so they can make a better

Get some help.  If this isn't the first time or you have
problems communicating when they get back, it's time
to ask for help. This could be a person that your child
(e.g., an aunt or uncle), or you may want to seek
professional help.

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