ABC Parenting in Practice

In our ABC guide, punishment (P) is calm and peaceful. Don’t get fired up about the word punishment.  I mean really, my friend, who cares what term we use?  Get over the negative associations and don’t get caught up in semantics!  Just know that (P) should decrease the problem behavior.

Here’s another example:


Your second grader will shut down when you ask him to do certain things.  For instance, he’ll stop talking, his hands go over his eyes, he ignores you, puts his head on the table, or worse.

Here’s an ABC:     

Scenario #1

A = You are helping John with homework.

B = He shuts down.

C = You can:

  • P = Wait him out and make him finish the task OR
  • R = Scold him and send him to his room.

Now let’s change the precipitating event:


Scenario #2

A = You say to John,  “Clean this up.”

B = He shuts down.

C = You can:

  • P = Make him clean up when he snaps out of it OR
  • R = Yell at him to stop sulking and clean up NOW!

So let’s look at his motivation.  From a distance, it looks like he’s pulling the shutting-down business to get out of doing something he doesn’t want to do.  But if you look closer, there could be more to it.

At first glance, both of these scenarios look like a clear attempt to get out of the task.  But in Scenario #1, he could also be tuning out as a coping mechanism.  If he’s having difficulty with the work, doesn’t understand the question, or has no clue how to do it, he will shut down.  And you have to look close.  They may not understand things that you totally assume they know.  Just because they should understand doesn’t mean they do.

Whether in school or at home, decreased comprehension or an inability to process information can come out in behavior.  Kids may act silly and give you the wrong answer with a cutesy smirk, making you think they’re just playing around.  Or they may keep changing the subject to something irrelevant, trying to push your buttons.  When you get fed up, you may yell but will eventually give up.  Bingo!  They achieve their goal –  they get out of the task. Sometimes that means getting a ten minute scolding session from you, but hey, they’ll take it.

If comprehension of the homework is an issue, you’ve got a problem.  When everyone assumes the kid should know how to do the work, then HE thinks he should know, too.  In reality, he doesn’t have a clue – he just feels or thinks he’s stupid.  And who wants to bring attention to that?  It’s easier to make everyone mad, especially if he has no training or good examples on how to communicate effectively. He may have no inkling that simply telling someone, “I don’t understand this problem,” will work just fine.

The WHY behind behavior:

Looking at the ‘why‘ behind behavior gives you a clear indication of how to proceed with your punishment and stop reinforcing the unwanted behavior.  Yelling, scolding and arguing will always reinforce the negative behavior.  It simply doesn’t work.  So take a moment to think about why the child is acting out.

  • What is the motivation?
  • What do they want to gain?
  • Are they covering up the fact that they don’t understand?
  • Are they just used to getting their way?
  • Do they simply seek attention by being silly or acting out?

When you figure out the ‘WHY’ you take a huge step toward eliminating the behavior.

 How to USE the ABC method:

  • A = Antecedent: The event before the behavior (the trigger). Setup the situation for success and remember external factors such as hunger, fatigue, stress, etc.
  • B = Behavior: What exactly the kid does and why.
  • C = Consequence: What happens immediately after the behavior. Your reaction will (R) reinforce or (P) punish.

Stop reinforcing negative behavior.

Start reinforcing what you WANT to see.

Punish negative behavior (remember, P is not harsh!).

Tell and show your child exactly what you want to see and how you want them to act. Otherwise, they won’t know!

Avoid fuzzy words like “stop that” or “be good.”  Spell out what you want, keep it positive, and be specific!

Always analyze why a child is acting out. Look at motivation.


Discipline Basics (Structure & Communication)

Discipline Basics (Structure & Communication)
Discipline Basics (Structure & Communication)
Discipline Basics (Structure & Communication)

Let’s discuss some very basic foundations to get discipline going in the right direction.  If you don’t start out with good ingredients, your end result is going to be crappy.  Have you ever walked into a grocery store and wandered past the pies? They look like so-so generic pies – not incredibly motivating, so you say, “Eh. I’ll pass.” Yet you can walk into a fancy pie shop and feel like diving head first into that luscious apple-filled beauty.  “Whoa! That looks awesome!”  What’s the difference?  It’s still just pie, right? Well, yes, it is. But the grocery store pie is slapped together, bland, and boring.

The pastry shop pie is piled high, gorgeous, and assembled with care.  It’s successful – everyone wants to eat it.  Discipline is the same. You have to take care in your ingredients and how you put it together.

All children need:  

The Five Discipline Basics: Structure, Communication, Limits, Consistency & Guidance.

1. Structure is a schedule or a predictable routine. Structure gives kids security. As they age, flexibility is easier.

I always harp on toddlers having a super structured routine, but even as kids get older and hit school, they STILL need that routine.  When you do the same things every day, at the same time, they feel a sense of order and control. Think about the routine at school: same activities, same time, every day. The kids know what to expect, and they cooperate.

You cannot run your children all over creation with after-school activities and constant baseball or football games on weekends.  You cannot keep them up late one night and go to bed early the next.  It’s too much.  You must be consistent.  I know life gets in the way sometimes, but you have to try your best.  Keep it simple and keep it the same. School pick up, snack, homework or play, dinner at the same time every night, bed at eight.  Kids need their sleep!! They may tell you otherwise, but they’re full of it, and you know it.  So make them go to bed!

If you do not give your child a consistent routine, do not expect them to act well-behaved. Some kids are more agreeable than others, but for the love of Pete, do not drag them all over creation or get lazy with bedtime. I will have no sympathy when you get all confused and angry because they’re acting like tyrants.  RESPECT a routine.

2. Communication is mind blowing important!

Without communication, you’re hosed.  It’s very easy to get caught up in work or whatever else you’re doing and ignore the kids until they act up.  But here’s the thing:  you have to show them your interest, show them how to communicate effectively (that means no yelling) and show them that you care.  You may feel it, but you have to show it, too.  Stop what you’re doing, look them in the eye and listen. You expect them to do that when you’re talking, right?  Well, set the example.  If you’re too caught up in your own problems and let this go until they’re old enough to figure out that you don’t really give a darn, then you’re up a creek.  Just try and undo that.  Go ahead.  The most communication you’ll get is a slammed door in your face.

  • Communicate respectfully and effectively using age-appropriate words they can understand. “You may get on the computer after you’ve finished your homework and I’ve checked it for errors.  After you correct any errors, you can play your game for thirty minutes.”
  • Your child must have instruction on how to communicate needs, feeling, thoughts and anger with you – teach them!  “We do not whine when we’re having trouble with homework.  Instead, tell me, “I’m frustrated and could really use some help because I don’t understand this question.”
  • You must listen when they talk!  Hear what they’re saying.  “Let me make sure I understand.  You feel like every time you sit down to play a video game, I tell you to clean something up.  Is that right?”  From there you logically list out the last few times he’s played his video game and go through what he believes you nagged him to do each time. Write it all down if necessary. He may or may not have a point. If he does, make sure you concede.  Demonstrate how to apologize and work on a compromise.

Kids need a set time each day, with a specific time limit, when they can play games or watch TV uninterrupted.  This pulls in clear communication and structure to reduce arguments.  Write your expectations down and stick to it.  Get a chart together (see the chart index or visit for ideas and charts). The best route is to start using a chore chart.  For example, when daily chores and homework are finished and marked off by five o’clock, they can have 5:30-6:15 for TV or games.  Just make sure to set the expectation that chores and homework must be completed first and do NOT give in to pleas of, “I promise I’ll do it right after!”  No way, Charlie.  When you set the expectation and make the effort to write it all down and ensure communication, everyone is going to follow it!  That’s the whole point!  Believe me, over time, kids will appreciate your consistency – it makes them feel secure and happy.

Create Promote Positive Child Behavior

Real child behavior modification comes about when you combine the  5 Discipline Basics with the ABC Parenting Guide.   Imagine a world where your child’s behavior issues are a thing of the past.

Remember, you must:  

A’    set up the situation for success;  B’  specifically define the behavior; and   C’  pick your consequence of punishment  (P).    Avoid reinforcement   (R)   of unwanted behavior.

Assess what the behavior tells you about needs: why are they acting that way? What do they need? Do they need or want attention? Are they lacking guidance on how to act? Change your approach and reaction to effectively meet those needs.

It may seem like a monumental task to implement all of this, but really, what are you doing anyway?  Aren’t you already spending most of your time dealing with your child’s behavior?  Make the most of the time you already spend.  Put it toward the Five Basics of structure, communication, limits, consistency, and guidance. Making your child secure and happy means you’ll have more time in the future.  You won’t be spending every other minute in warfare!

Sure, it will be daunting at first because they are used to certain reactions from you.  When you go and change the way you do things, it will throw them for a loop.  They’ll probably kick it up a few notches to make sure you know they mean business.  Fine.  Hold your ground, stay calm, and don’t give in.

Let’s say, for instance, you take your eight-year-old kid to the school book fair.  (Keep in mind, the unstated expectation is that you are going to purchase the books, which makes a big difference in this example.)  The child throws a fit because he wants the Turtle Ranger book written for a five-year-old, and you refuse to spend (way too much) money on a book he is clearly too old for.  So ABC it.  You know the only reason he wants it is for the nifty lock and key it has – which you know he’ll forget all about in two days.  So your choices are:

P   =   don’t get the book, ignore the behavior, and leave.

R   =   talk about the behavior, get into a discussion about why he can’t act like that and tell him he can get the book if he pays for it (using his own earned money) the minute you walk home.

(P)  will punish, because the little stinker will figure out that you can’t pout, cry and stomp your foot to get what you want.  If the goal is to spend his own money to get what he wants, fine.  Just set that expectation beforehand.  Do not give in with this compromise after his behavior turns sour.  That will reinforce the poor behavior because he gets what he wants in the end.

(R)  will reinforce, because even if the kid straightens up, the initial fit is what spurred you to cave in the first place. So what if he gets a lecture?  He got the book.  Mission accomplished.

No shocker, this example is totally true, and my own personal bad.  Headline reads: “Discipline Chic Mom Gets Run Over by Six-Year-Old at Book Fair!”  Yep.  I was an absolute push over.  As soon as my six-year-old started in with the water works, my first reaction was an embarrassed, silent, “Oh-my-gawd-this-is-SO-not-going-to-work-and-I-just-know-someone’s-looking-at-me-I’m-on-the-PTO-board-for-heaven’s-sake-so-she-can’t-do-this-to-me-in-front-of-these-women!”  I quickly followed the mental monologue with a verbal, “Don’t you dare start that behavior.  No ma’am.  That is not how we get what we want.”  I then promptly started negotiating, “Listen, I refuse to use my own money for that book, but if you want it, you have to give me your stash of quarters just as soon as you get home.” Take that! Showed her!

Okay, so no Parent of the Year awards for me. However, in my defense, since I write books on discipline and immediately felt the swooping rush of Catholic guilt, I swore to do better and change my ways.  As luck would have it, another incident popped up only a week later and I held my ground.  My daughter found a necklace she wanted and I never once swayed.  Nope.  No siree.  “My dear, after the fit you threw at the book fair, I am not inclined to get you that necklace.  And furthermore, you spent your last dime on that book you wanted so badly, so now you’re out of money.  You made a choice and now you have to live with it.”  The tears I expected never came, and she nodded her head with a resigned, “Okay.”

You know, I adore my kids. We all do. Sometimes it stinks to be consistent, give limits and provide those parental guidance lessons on the choices they make and the natural consequences. But if we don’t do it, they won’t learn how the world works.

And listen, it isn’t all unpleasant.  Here’s an ABC Guide that consistently reinforces GOOD behavior – which is what we want:

A = You ask Danny to take his dishes to the sink after dinner.

B = Danny politely takes the plate and brings it to the sink.

C = You reinforce and say, “Thanks so much, honey.  High Five!”


So to increase cooperation:

  • Get a routine
  • Teach your child how to communicate effectively
  • Provide guidance and limits


The 5 Discipline Basics to promote positive behavior:

  • Structure
  • Communication
  • Limits
  • Consistency
  • Guidance


Remember to:

Punish (P) bad behavior. (Again, P is NOT harsh).

Reinforce (R) good behavior only!