Posts tagged “choice theory parenting

What About Deliberate Disobedience?


When I shared this quote on Facebook, one person agreed that “Punishment should not be used because a child has a problem,” but then asked “What about knowing, deliberate disobedience?”

My short answer to the question – Should deliberate disobeyers be punished? – is No, deliberate disobeyers need a problem-solving response, instead of a punishment, as much or more than accidental disobeyers.


Liam and Pearl

My long answer goes on to explore the power in problem-solving and the damage that results from punishment. To that end, here are –

Five Things to Keep in Mind when
Working with the Deliberately Disobedient

1ne – Value the Relationship
Positive change is built on a positive relationship. There is just no way around this. Throughout this blog I keep coming back to this point because it is difficult to overstate it’s importance. The more frustrating or difficult the problem behavior becomes, the more a positive relationship is needed. In other words, if a kid is deliberately disobeying there is more at play here than that moment of defiance. A positive relationship fosters trust within the kid, as well as fostering compassion within the parent or teacher. Trust and compassion are good things when it comes to problem-solving.


Brothers (2014)

2wo – Strengthen the Will, Don’t Break It
It is uncomfortable and frustrating to the parent or teacher who is working with a child who seems to knowingly disobey, but give the kid credit for having some kind of inner strength to do things his way, even in the face of potential trouble. Hear me clearly, I am not defending disobedience or trying to downplay it as no big deal. Disobedience needs to be confronted and children need to learn how to fix what they have broken, but how we go about this makes all the difference. Too often our actions seem to focus on breaking the will of the child, dominating him or threatening him into obedience, rather than helping the child become the master of his own will and decision-making ability.

3hree – Unplug the Power Struggle
When a kid disobeys it can be viewed as a direct assault on adult supremacy. Viewing obedience vs. disobedience issues through this lens creates a power struggle that always leads to the adult and the child being adversaries with very different goals and a bad relationship to boot. On top of this, the focus is now on the power struggle, rather than on the behavior that needs to be addressed.


Look at the camera, Charlie.

4our – Models Matter
A simple, but powerful truth is that – We must BE what we want our children to BECOME. If we want our children and students to be good listeners and good communicators who are able to say what they want in a way that keeps them connected to others, then we need to show them what that looks like. If we want them to be reasonable and self-controlled, even when things don’t go their way, then we need to show them how that works. The goal is self-government. Problem-solving is meant to help kids monitor their own thinking and feelings and to learn to effectively govern their own behavior.

5ive – Developmental Smarts
Child behavior, including teenager behavior, has more to do with developmental maturity than it does with deliberate rebellion. Keeping developmental factors in mind can make all the difference.

For Instance

Developmentally Challenged
Parents of a three year old are frustrated at him for being fussy and crying, thus preventing them from spending time with other families as an afternoon get-together stretches into the evening. At one point they even grab him firmly and tell him he better straighten up or they will give him something to cry about.

Developmentally Smart
Parents of a three year old would love to stay and visit longer with friends, but they recognize that his naptime was affected earlier and that it has been a long day for him. No resentment. This three year old needs to get home and ready for bed.


It’s not Pismo, but it’s close.

Developmentally Challenged
Parents of a five year old chastise him in a frustrated tone when he gets his Lego train stuff out to play, since it makes the house feel messy. “Can’t we just have the house look nice for a while?” they ask.

Developmentally Smart
Parents of a five year old set aside a play area for Legos and whatever else he wants to do. They talk with him about putting things away before getting a lot of other stuff out to play with, but it is rarely in a frustrated or angry tone. “This is now his house, too,” they realize, “and we shouldn’t make a federal case out of him wanting to act his age.”

Developmentally Challenged
A middle school teacher is sick of his students talking so much during class and decides to threaten and punish those who don’t obey his ‘be quiet’ directive.

Developmentally Smart
A middle school teacher is frustrated that his students talk so much during class, but recognizes the adolescent drive in them to communicate with each other. Rather than try to stop this powerful force in them, he decides to harness their talking energy and increase their learning at the same time. To this end, his in-class assignments often have partners or small groups discussing topics and completing tasks together. They still get to talk, they understand the topic better, and he doesn’t have to become a punishment ogre.


True, even when we try to be developmentally-smart, children will still test their independence and boundaries we create. The question, though, isn’t on whether or not we should confront the behavior and expect better. The answer to that question is always YES. The question is more about How do we confront the behavior and help the child to want to do better in a way that doesn’t harm our relationship? The answer to that question lies in problem-solving, not punishing.


The process by which a child or student is confronted due to inappropriate or unacceptable behavior and is assisted toward making amends and creating a plan for better behavior in the future. At the core of problem-solving is the desire to help another person effectively self-evaluate.

Pain or discomfort that is applied to a child or student who misbehaves, especially a student who is believed to have deliberately disobeyed, in the belief that the pain will prevent future misbehavior.




How To Parent Like An FBI Agent

I don’t make this stuff up. One of the sidebar titles in the recent edition of Time magazine (January 25, 2016) read How to Parent Like an FBI Agent. “Some spycraft techniques also work for parenting,” says a former FBI special agent in his new book, The Like Switch: An Ex-FBI Agent’s Guide to Influencing, Attracting, and Winning People Over.


The sidebar listed four main techniques –

Create the illusion of control
FBI agents de-escalate drama by letting subjects call some shots.
Offer kids a list of options, all of which you already like.

Use the scarcity principle
FBI profiling shows that people like things they can’t get much of.
Parents should factor that in when banning an activity or a friend.

Ask indirect questions
Kids (and perps) hate being interrogated.
Instead, try queries like “My friend’s son was drinking. What should his parents do?”

Hang in there
The more time you spend with a person, the more influence you have on each other.
Yes, even on teenagers.


Parenting might be the most challenging of all human endeavors, and remarkably we don’t have to receive any training or pass any performance assessments to become one. As a result, parents are usually pretty desperate for tips and ideas on how to parent better, even when the advice is from law enforcement agencies. (Maybe especially when the tips are from law enforcement.) So what are we to make of these four FBI recommendations? What follows are thoughts through the lens of choice theory.

Create the illusion of control
Choice theory is about truly empowering others. Parents and teachers must share power in age-appropriate ways that leads children to ultimately become able self-managers. There are no illusion strategies in choice theory, no tricky ways to exert control, even as you are acting otherwise. Kids seem to possess excellent “manipulation detectors” and will sooner-rather-than-later sense when they are being coerced into certain behaviors.

“Creating the illusion of control” underscores one of the challenges for teachers. It is no easy thing to shift from wanting to control kids to wanting to coach them into controlling themselves. Choice theory offers understanding and a skill set to help with this shift, but old habits do not die easily.

Oh, my goodness! What can I say? When we talked about this in the Soul Shaper class I didn’t really think it applied to me. I recognized how external control I had been up to that point and I was fully convinced of the value of choice theory and the need for me to make a change – both at home and in the classroom. But thinking this way within the confines of the Soul Shaper classroom and applying it a couple of months later in my own classroom are two different things. I just didn’t appreciate how steeped I was in my need to control! During the Soul Shaper class, Jim Roy would talk about teachers taking the internal control ideas of choice theory and then using them in externally controlling ways in their classroom. We all laughed at the irony of that possibility, never thinking for a second that we were capable of that. Now I know different. I am capable of it, in fact, very capable of it. I started seeing the ways in which I shared the least amount of control possible. In other words, I gave out just enough for the kids to maybe think I was giving them a choice, when I was keeping all of the real keys to power. One thing I have learned during this process is that choice theory really gets to the heart of who I am and what makes me tick.   Sophie T.

Choice theory is not about illusion; it is about authenticity and honesty. It isn’t about fake power; it is about really empowering others.

Use the scarcity principle
Instead of saying “use the scarcity principle,” a choice theory parent or teacher would say “be aware of the scarcity principle.” I agree that withholding something or taking something away from a person tends to increase the desire for that very thing. This is one of the drawbacks of traditional punishment strategies that are based on the removal of privileges, and if that doesn’t work “we’ll just remove more privileges.” Trying to control a person through punishment almost always backfires. Choice theory reminds us, whenever possible, to replace things that have been taken away with viable alternatives. Without new things or alternatives to take the old behavior’s place, it is much more difficult to introduce and maintain the new replacement behavior.

When my kid basically left home at 19 I was shocked. I thought things were pretty good between us. What I didn’t realize was how accommodating he was as a child. I was controlling and even angry, but for years he did what I told him to do. When he got old enough to do what he wanted to do, he kind of flipped me off and left. It killed me, but I couldn’t really blame him. It was my way or the highway and he took the highway.   Carl M.

Ask indirect questions
Questions are good, especially artful questions that help a child or student to self-evaluate and then form a new behavior plan. As I have said before, it is better to get something out of someone’s mouth than it is to put it into their ear. The key lies in the spirit of our questioning. Are our questions more accusation than inquiry; more interrogation than problem-solving? Are we listening to correct and censure or are we listening to understand? Indirect questions are by nature less confrontational and seem to invite discussion rather than argument.

Hang in there
When I saw the phrase “hang in there” I was reminded of the Reality Therapy principle of Never Give Up. This principle, though, has more to do with than simply spending time together, as the FBI approach seems to indicate. Our ability to influence is more about the quality of our connection with our child or student than about the amount of time we spend together. When asked how long “never give up” means, Glasser wrote that “each of us must define ‘never’ for ourselves, but a good basic rule of thumb is to hang in there longer than the student thinks you will.” I don’t know if this is the best explanation for never give up. For me, it means just what it says. As long as another person is willing to keep trying, to consider a new plan, I think I would want to keep trying, too.


The words kids and perps appearing in the same sentence should alert us to a possible conflict, although a good sentence might be – The better we treat kids, the fewer perps there will be.


Before the Seminar Even Began

“How do you think I can make my wife do what I want her to do?” He said it louder than he needed to, but he wanted to get the attention of the man on the other side of the registration table.

“I don’t know. How do you get her to do what you want her to do?” The man behind the table replied.

“No, I’m asking, how can I make my wife, and my kids for that matter, do what I want them to do? That is what this seminar is about, isn’t it?”


The man behind the table looked at the questioner for a moment, studied him actually, and finally replied, “Well, the seminar is about having a better marriage . . .”

“Exactly,” the questioner interrupted. “That’s why I’m here. I want a better marriage.”

“How did you find out about the seminar?” the table man asked.

“A friend told me about it, said I should check it out. I had been complaining to him about my wife and kids and he said this seminar might help. So here I am.”

“That’s interesting,” the table man replied.

“How so? What’s interesting?”

“Well, the seminar is about having a better marriage and a better home; it’s really about having better relationships, in general.” No interruptions this time, so the man behind the table continued. “This seminar is about freedom and power and joy . . .”


“I like the sound of power,” the questioner again interrupted. “That’s why I’m here, like I said.”

“Power can be a very good thing . . .”

“Exactly,” the questioner affirmed.

“ . . . although this power, the power we’re learning about this evening, is about the power we have within us to not be controlled by our negative thoughts and feelings . . .”

“Excuse me,” the questioner questioned.

“It’s about being free to be who we really want to be, rather than being controlled by circumstances.”

“So what are you saying? You’re not going to show me some tricks to make my wife do what I want her to do?” The questioner’s concern was evident.

“The trick lies in being the best version of yourself, while supporting your wife as she becomes the best version of herself.” Their eyes locked, the man behind the table could see the questioner thinking this through.

Eyes still locked, “Can I get my money back?” The questioner thought he had heard enough.


The countenance of the man behind the table changed and his tone changed as well, “Look, sir, I’ve had enough! No, you may not have your money back. Now get yourself into the meeting room and find a seat on the front row!” With anger and disgust he moved toward the questioner and handed him a packet of materials. “Go on, get moving!”

The questioner was taken back, for just a moment on his heels and retreating, yet he quickly recovered, his face becoming set in his own anger and defiance. The two of them now were only feet apart, both obviously frustrated and angry, the packet being held out by one of them, the other refusing to reach out and receive it. Their eyes again locked, the silence between them spoke volumes.

The table man let the moment continue, the anger palpable, the silence screaming, and then suddenly he changed. His face relaxed and a slight smile appeared. “I want you to remember this moment,” he said calmly to the questioner. “I want you to remember how you feel right now.”

The questioner was trying to process what was happening to him. His mind and body, which quickly had gone into an angry, defensive mode, now slowly began to relax. Yet he wasn’t sure he wanted to relax, wasn’t sure it was safe to relax. “What are you talking about?” he replied with a touch of disgust in his voice.

“I just tried to make you do what I wanted you to do. How did that work . . . do you think?

The questioner thought about this, a light ever so slowly dawning somewhere in his mind.

“Deep inside you, in the depths of your soul, you want to be close, really close, to your wife, and you want your kids to want you and to want what you can offer them. You just experienced how a person thinks and feels when force and power are used on them.” The man behind the table quit talking as he saw the questioner’s eyes become filled with liquid sadness.



“You’re right,” the questioner responded as he wiped his eyes. “I do want to be close to my wife. She is a special person. And I do want to be close to my children. I love them so much.” Again, his eyes filled.

“Look, we don’t need to go through the whole seminar before it even starts. But I’ll just share a few of the key ideas we’ll be learning about. One of the things you will learn is that the only person you can control is you. That idea alone has pretty incredible implications. We’ll learn about habits that bring us closer to the ones we love and on the other hand, habits that hurt our relationships with others. And another thing we will learn, and this will be of special interest to you, is that as long as we are connected we have influence. That’s why our connection to our children is so important.”

The questioner was listening now, bringing it all in.

“A few moments ago,” the table man continued, “when I tried to make you do something, the connection between us was definitely hurt, on the verge of being broken.”

The questioner nodded in agreement.

“I wanted you to attend the seminar, but you wanted the exact opposite.”

“I was outta here,” the questioner agreed. “I was getting angrier by the second.”

“So that’s the point. The seminar is about how ineffective it is to try and make people do what we want them to do. It hurts our relationship in the process and we usually don’t get what we really want.” The table man thought for a moment. “The fact is that if you want your money back, and not attend the seminar, well, you can make that choice. You have that option. But I just want you to know how much I want you to be a part of it. I think you will benefit, however it strikes me that the rest of us would benefit from your being here as well.”

The questioner now smiled just a bit himself and reached out and took the packet of materials. “It looks like there is still front row seats available,” he said as he looked toward the almost empty meeting room.


Glasser’s biography, Champion of Choice, can be a great holiday gift. Amazon is a quick way to get copies. Let me know if you want a signed copy of the book.

The book that connects the dots of William Glasser's ideas and his career.

The book that connects the dots of William Glasser’s ideas and his career.

%d bloggers like this: