Structured discipline plan helps parents think smart

MYRTLE BEACH — Somebody once said that necessity is the mother of invention. The frustrations Dr. Larry Koenig and his wife, Nydia, faced while trying to raise their five children motivated the family psychologist to find a better method of discipline.

The techniques they refined 20 years ago in their own home evolved into the Smart Discipline system now used by countless parents all over the United States and in several other countries.

Koenig who lives in Baton Rouge, La., presented his Smart Discipline seminar to a rapt audience at St. Andrew Church recently. All were facing the typical challenges that come with raising children — the bickering, the major school project due tomorrow, the dirty room, the lack of respect — in short, a litany all parents have experienced.

The two-hour seminar teaches the importance of creating a structured discipline plan. Koenig used the rule-based foundation of adult society as the model for Smart Discipline.

In adult society, some rules are codified, others are understood, and the laws of nature just are. Break any of them, and there will be a consequence.

Parents begin the Smart Discipline process by identifying problem behaviors they want to change. The next step is creating a list of rules — which must be appropriate for the age of the child — and putting those rules into writing. Koenig’s book, “Smart Discipline for Parents,” includes charts to make this task easier. There are parallel charts for children ages 4 to 8 and 9 to 16.

The consequence for breaking rules is a systematic loss of privileges. Parents need to determine which privileges are most important to a particular child and then rank them in ascending order. A small child might lose access to a favorite toy, while a teen could lose a trip to the local mall with friends.

Koenig’s chart for a child between 9 and 16 has squares for seven rule infractions and five privilege losses. Every time any rule is broken, a square is marked. After seven infractions, the child loses the lowest-priority privilege. If the child breaks another rule, the next privilege in the sequence is lost and so on. Once a privilege is lost, it is not regained until the child starts a new chart.

Children in the older age group start a new chart every week. Younger children start a new chart every day.

Parents should call a family meeting to present the list of rules and consequences to their children. Koenig warned parents to expect resistance from a child older than 9 or 10. The chart should be displayed on the refrigerator or some other place where it cannot be overlooked.

It does not take a child long to realize the association between bad behavior and loss of privileges. Koenig’s chart has a place for parents to acknowledge a child’s improvements, and he stresses how important it is for parents to do this.

Ken and Laura Corbett, parents of four young boys, are planning to institute Smart Discipline in their home. Ken says, “The key in our opinion is the mother and the father. … No question we have to be together in this job. … It’s our responsibility as mother and father, not the school’s or the church’s” to educate and discipline.

Noreen Hancheck, first-grade teacher at St. Andrew, said she attended the Smart Discipline seminar to learn “how it could work in the classroom. He had a lot of good ideas … about how they learn to control their own behavior. … They look at the chart, and it’s a visual reminder.”

Koenig has also written a book about using Smart Discipline in a classroom setting.

Koenig offered some guidelines that parents need to remember:

·    Do not give warnings or second chances.
·    Give incentives for good behavior.
·    Do not give back a privilege that has been taken away until it’s time for a new chart.
·    Do not give long-term punishments, such as grounding for two months, because the tendency is to give in before the time is up. Instead, take away important privileges for short periods of time.

Koenig then moved on to another topic. He explained how children form their beliefs about themselves. The process starts when they are very young and has five identifiable steps.

First, children gather information about themselves from what they hear people say about them. Second, they make conclusions about themselves based upon what they’ve heard. Third, they look for evidence to support their conclusions. Fourth, their internal self-talk reinforces their earlier conclusions. Fifth, their conclusions become solid beliefs.

Koenig illustrated this process by citing an example from his own life. He was in a lower elementary grade when the teacher assigned the children to draw a picture. He drew a picture of the valley where he lived. The teacher stopped by his desk, picked up his picture and showed it to the class, saying, “Larry is still drawing lollipop trees.”

For years after that, he convinced himself that he could not draw. He avoided drawing whenever he could. Somebody finally talked him into buying a how-to-draw book when he was 32 years old. With practice, he realized he could draw quite well. He’s been drawing ever since.

“Every child born has at least three wonderful talents,” Koenig said. Children with exceptional talent get accolades, while average children get overlooked.

It is very important for parents to realize their children have talents and to help identify them. He added, “The definition of talent is practice.”

Koenig emphasized that one positive comment at the right time can last a lifetime. After hearing the same positive comment three or four times, a child will make the effort to prove its validity.

Parents should make positive comments to their children directly, make certain their children overhear positive remarks, and write them down on paper — and then leave them where they will be found. “They’ll disappear straight into your child’s heart.”