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Discipline Makeover

THE SYSTEM

First, says Lancer, Rob and Tracy need to meet with their older daughters to discuss their behavior. "Make it pleasant," he says. "Sit down with a plate of cookies, go to the park, or maybe out for ice cream."

LANCER'S RECOMMENDED STEPS:

STEP 1: Explain that while you love them, that doesn't mean they can misbehave.

STEP 2: Together, draw up a short list (around five items) of specific responsibilities and prohibited behaviors. It might include such rules as: You will not say or do mean things to each other (like grabbing toys or pushing). You will pick up your things when asked without whining or arguing.

By eliciting your children's input, Lancer says, you give them a feeling of responsibility for their own behavior. This strategy also invites discussion, so you can explain, for example, why it's important that your family treat one another with kindness and respect, or why everyone should pick up her own things.

STEP 3: Explain that when a child breaks a rule, the parent may either issue a warning or simply announce that there will be a consequence.

If the child heeds the warning, praise her. But if you get to a third infraction, impose a consequence.

"Don't feel like you have to come up with it on the spot," says Lancer, "and certainly not if you're upset." You can announce the consequence later in the day, once you've thought about it calmly.

With your children, make a list of mild-to-severe consequences for misbehavior. Include time-outs (one minute per year of age, Lancer suggests) or confiscation of a favorite toy for from a half hour up to a few days.

In general, he says, "choose the mildest consequence you can think of that will be effective and graduate to stronger ones as needed."

Whatever the penalty, it must have meaning to the child. Lancer recommends that the Whites ask Sydney and Jessica, "What kind of consequence do you think will help you behave?"

To help foster the concepts of good behavior and consequences, Lancer encourages Rob and Tracy to discuss with the girls what happens to adults when they break rules. For instance: If Tracy didn't buy groceries one week because she "didn't feel like it," the family couldn't eat.

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