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Discipline Makeover

THE MAKEOVER

When the Whites meet Lancer for a problem-solving course in child discipline, they readily admit that they're inconsistent disciplinarians. They feel particularly out of control with Sydney. The previous Sunday, for instance, she spent most of the day confined to her room because of her misbehavior. "And as soon as she was let out, she was at it again  -- arguing with us, teasing Jessica, working Bentley into a frenzy," says Rob.

By comparison, Jessica has been more compliant. However, with a frustrating tendency to ignore simple requests like "Please put on your shoes," her parents find they have to repeat themselves, sometimes more than four times, before Jessica responds. "I don't think she's deliberately disobeying," says her mom. "It's like she's spacing out."

More troublesome is Jessica's new habit of sassing her parents. "I want to nip this in the bud," says Rob. Adds Tracy, "Part of the problem is that sometimes I allow it."

Bentley's turbocharged toddlerhood is a big part of what keeps her parents rattled. She can easily sustain a 20-minute tantrum to get what she wants.

With all this on the table, the Whites ask Lancer to begin the makeover with Sydney's disruptive behavior. "I'll be watching Jessica and Bentley play, when Sydney, back from school, blows in like a tornado," Rob says. "She throws her book bag and her shoes on the floor. She grabs stuff from Jessica and drags Bentley around by the legs. And I'm just running after her saying 'Sydney! Stop!'"

Rob wonders whether Sydney, as the oldest, resents her sisters for displacing her as the center of attention. Indeed, sibling rivalry between Sydney and Jessica has become relentless.

Sydney, like the other two children, needs some regular one-on-one time with her parents, says Lancer. "Right now, she's feeding her need for attention by provoking your anger," he tells them.

Just as important, Lancer says, the Whites need to break their association between disciplining their children and being mad at them: "As long as you're reacting to their behavior out of anger, you're out of control. Taking charge with your child begins with taking charge of yourself."

If Sydney enters the room creating chaos, don't chase after her, he tells Rob: "This is where I disagree with many child-discipline books that say you have to react with discipline right away or it's no good." He urges Rob and Tracy to take a step back when their children's behavior upsets them.

"First you have to calm down," he says. "Think about what you want to do. Does this child need a hug, which can be effective when misbehavior stems from a need for attention, or does she need what I call a consequence? And if it's a consequence, what would be appropriate and effective? A time-out? The loss of a specific privilege? These decisions require calm and focus."

This point made, Lancer offers the Whites specific instructions for how to change Sydney's disruptive behavior, as well as Jessica's more passive disobedience, and both girls' sassiness and sibling rivalry.

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