When Disciplining, Be Like a Dispassionate Cop

When police officers ticket citizens for routine traffic violations, they do so dispassionately.  They don’t raise their voices or threaten the driver.  They merely ask for the person’s driver’s license and registration, specify the violation, write a ticket and ask for a signature.  Then they issue a polite departing message and drive away.

People who receive a ticket almost always immediately begin to drive like they just got out of driving school.  They signal to leave the shoulder, they place their hands at ten and two on the steering wheel and they drive down the highway slower than the posted speed limit.  They continue to drive in this fashion for days and even weeks afterwards.  In other words, their driving behavior substantially improves merely as the result of receiving one ticket delivered by a dispassionate person.

This is a good model to use when disciplining your teenager.  A dispassionate delivery of consequences is all that is necessary.   Getting angry, raising your voice and taking a threatening stance not only is unnecessary, but actually jeopardizes the success of the interaction, the discipline and your relationship with your teen.  You merely need to specify the violation, what the penalty will be (“the ticket”) and the time frame for the penalty.

It is possible your teenager will become angry about being punished, which is fine unless he or she crosses the line (e.g., become aggressive). When children are disciplined, they are supposed to be upset.  Discipline is an upsetting process.  If they cross the line, it merely means a bigger penalty is probably in order, not that parents need to respond in kind.

The message to bear in mind here is that the dispassionate delivery of a consequence can produce powerful behavior changes in all persons – even teenagers.  The emotional delivery of consequences, on the other hand, can turn a simple teaching interaction into a major confrontation and family fight.  When disciplining your child, I recommend modeling your behavior after that of a dispassionate police officer.

For more information on this topic, look in Raising Children without Losing Your Voice or Your Mind.

Read all articles in this series.