Parenting Tool #2 – The Talk

(This page is in the process of being edited, we thank you for your patience)

The Talk is a parenting tool to be used after a rule has already been or about to be broken. 

The Talk teaches children to be accountable for their behavior, apologize where needed and create a plan for better future behaviors. 

The Talk is done in a firm but pleasant way, so the child can leave the interaction feeling heard, affirmed, accountable and with a plan for better behavior next time. Thus, children learn life skills to handle future situations.

Like all other parenting tools, implementing The Talk works best when children are young. However, it can be newly implemented with teens as well, but teens or older children who are ingrained in bad habits may test your boundaries to see if you really mean what you are saying. However, if you stick to your commitment, the outcome can still be good, as they come to realize their best choice is to go through with The Talk.

The Talk can be accomplished with one child, two children, or even groups at a time. However, the more children involved, the longer it will take. Let’s start with a demonstration of how it would work with one child. 

Derik, who is 10, is playing with his younger brother, Sam. The rule has been established in advance, that a child must get permission from the owner of a possession (in this case a toy) before they can play with or borrow it. Derik wants to play with his Sam’s toy but his brother doesn’t give him permission. So, in a fit of anger Derik spills a tub of Sam’s Legos on the floor supposing that Sam will have to pick them up because they are his toys.  

Dad, fortunately, sees this happening. (We’ll talk later about what dad can do if he did not witness the event.) Dad knows Sam is innocent because it has been well established in the family rules that the owner of the toy has the right to decide who plays with it.

In this first scenario, Dad will be asking key questions to hold Derik accountable for what he has done. It will also demonstrate how The talk goes with no resistance from Derik.

Dad: (After seeing Derik dump his brother tub of Legos) “Derik, what did you do?

Derik: (Looks guilty, but relents) “I dumped Sam’s Legos all over the floor.”

Dad: (calm but firm disposition) “What were you thinking when you decided to do that?”

Derik: “I was mad at Sam.”

Dad: “You were mad at Sam because?”

Derik:  “Because he would not let me play with his toy.”

Dad: “What is our family rule about using something that belongs to someone else?” (This is a good example of why you need to have family rules that are agreed upon and posted in advance.)

Derik: “I have to ask the person who owns the toy if I can play with it.”

Dad: “That’s right. Did you ask him?”

Derik: “Yes”

Dad: “Did he give you permission to play with it?”

Derik: “No.”

Dad: “If you asked and he said no, what is the rule about that?.”

Derik: “I can only play with his toy if he says I can.”

Dad: “That’s right, (pleased look on his face for remembering the rule), but what did you do instead?

Derik: “I dumped out his Legos.”

Dad: “You dumped the Legos out because?”

Derik: “….because I wanted him to have to pick them all up.”

Dad: (complementary) “Thank you for being honest. So what are you going to do about all those Legos on the floor right now?”

Derik: “They’re not my legos!” (His intention was to punish Sam for not letting him play with the toy by dumping his Legos on the floor so Sam would have to pick them up.)

Dad: “But who threw them on the floor?”

Derik: (Realizing his plot had not worked) “Me.”

Dad: “So, if you threw them on the floor, who do you think needs to pick them up?”

Derik: “Me.”

Dad: “So, what are you going to do now?”

Derik: “Pick them up.”

Dad: (With a smile and proud look) “Good choice. When are you going to do that?”

Derik: “Right now.”

Dad: (Pleased look on his face) “Great answer Derick. But before you do, tell me what you would do differently if you could do the whole thing over again?” (Dad lets Derick come up with his own answers instead of telling him what to do.)

Derik: (Thinking) “I wouldn’t dump out the Legos”

Dad: “But what if you wanted to.”

Derik: “I would think about it and decide it wouldn’t be worth it because I’d have to pick them up if I dump them out.”

Dad: (Showing obvious approval of his son’s excellent answer.) “Good thinking!! Before you pick up the Legos, is there anything you need to say to your brother about dumping his Legos all over the floor?”

Derik: (to brother) “I’m sorry.”

Sam: “It’s okay.”

Dad: “Well, if you asked and he said no, what is the rule about that?”

Derik: “I’d be disappointed but I’d find something else to do.”

Dad does not raise his voice, scold, display angry emotions, punish, or take any other kind of abusive approach. He simply asks the questions that make Derik take a look at his behavior, make amends where necessary and make commitments for future behavior. Then he gives much praise for good choices.

From my experience, rarely does this much cooperation happen when you are first introducing The Talk to children. But my experience has been that the more it is done as I am instructing by the parents, children learn it is actually a positive experience and learn they can tell the truth about their behavior, take ownership of their mistakes, apologize and then be praised for it. As a result, the child is learning some very good life skills and The Talk may go just this smoothly every time.

But keep in mind, Derik’s dad left him NO CHOICE for Derik but to stay in the chair and think about what he has done and committed to what he is going to do better next time before he could get out of the chair. So this is very positive but also very firm on the part of the parent. The child does not leave the chair until s/he takes ownership of what was done, an apology to the offended, and a commitment of what is going to be different next time.

The Talk with Resistance

Let’s see how the same approach goes, only this time with some resistance from the child. Resistance makes it more lengthy, but still doable.

Sam says no to Derik about playing with his toy and in a fit of anger Derik dumps Sam’s Legos onto the floor. Dad witnessing the event, asks in a non-threatening tone of voice:

Dad: “Derik, what did you just do?

Derik: (Trying to evade responsibility) “I didn’t do anything. Sam is just a jerk.” (Name-calling is abusive and against the family rules.)

Dad: “I didn’t ask you about Sam, I asked you what you did.”

Derik: “I didn’t do anything!! I just hate Sam.”

Dad: “Do you need to set in a chair for a while until you can remember what you did?

Derik: “I didn’t do anything. This is all Sam’s fault!”

(Derik is still claiming innocence and refused to set in the chair, but dad knows better because he saw what happened, so he gives him a choice.)

Dad: “Derik, you can choose to set in this chair and think about what happened or I can help you sit in the chair and think about what happened. Which would you prefer?” (Dad gives Derik the choice.)

Derik relents but is obviously still mad as he slumps into the chair.

If Derik had not put himself in the chair, dad would put him there, which means this approach can only be used if the child is still small enough for the parent to handle. If Derik is too big for dad to put in the chair and be able to physically keep him there, that is a different story, which will be addressed later. 

(Derik is in the chair but obviously not ready to cooperate. Dad remains patient, but firm.)

Dad:  “Let me know when you are ready to talk.” 

(Dad stays close by and allows Derik as much time as he needs to decide when he is ready to talk. It could be 1 minute, 30 minutes, an hour or more. Dad needs to be prepared to stay close by as long as it takes until Derik decides he is ready to talk so he can get out.)

Derik: (after a few minutes) “Okay, I’m ready to talk.”

Dad: (Smiling, kind but firm) “Okay, GREAT! (Looking into his eyes) Derik, what did you do?”

Derik: (Still resisting) “Sam won’t ever let me play with that toy!”

Dad: (Calm and rational) “I didn’t ask you what Sam did. I want to know what you did.”

(Derik returns to his slumped position and angry face. Any amount of time could go by, depending upon Derik. In cases where the child displays extreme resistance and refuses to set in the chair, the parent may have to set by the child or gently but firmly hold the child on the chair until s/he is ready to settle down and cooperate. But the rule is, he does not get out of the chair until the child has sufficiently completed The Talk. If s/he legitimately needs to use the bathroom, the parent follows the child there to make sure s/he doesn’t doddle.)

Rule for Parents: Make sure there is nothing entertaining for him/her to look at or do while in the chair so that his only choice is to be alone with his thoughts until he is ready to go through with The Talk. My experience has been that as the child discovers this is an affirming experience, the time gets shorter and the child becomes less resistant.

As time passes and Derik realizes he does not have any other way out of the chair than to admit to his father what he did, so he relents.

Derik: “Okay, I’m ready to talk.”

Dad: (Dad smiling and with a pleasant tone of voice, sets in front of him at eye level, looking directly into his eyes.) “Great! Derik, once again, what did you do?” (The Talk is NOT going to end and he is not going to get out of that chair until Derik answers that question honestly.)

Derik: (Relenting to the fact that he was not going to be able to manipulate dad) “I dumped the basket of Sam’s Legos all over the floor.”

(Notice what just happened. Dad would not allow Derik to divert him from the real issue and was willing to wait patiently until Derik could be honest about what he did. Finally, dad’s patience is paying off.)

Dad: “Derik, I appreciate your honesty son.” (No shaming, no yelling, no lectures, no punishment, and dad is actually complimenting Derik for being honest.) ”What was going on inside of you when you decided to dump Sam’s Legos all over the floor?

(Notice dad is not asking him why he did that. Children don’t always know why they do what they do. A better question is “what were you thinking” or “what was going on inside of you when…”)

Derik: “I was mad at him because he wouldn’t let me play with his toy and I wanted to hurt him so I dumped out all his Legos.”

Dad: (Smiling, pleasant, affirming) “I’m proud of you for being honest about that.”

(One big reason children lie is because they get punished for telling the truth. So, in this case, dad is actually complimenting him for being honest even if he’s telling him something he did wrong. This tells Derik it is safe to be honest with dad. Dad’s intentions are to give Derik the life tools to make the situation better next time, not to punish. On with the conversation…)

Dad: “Thank you for being honest Derik. I am really proud of you for that. So, when you dumped Sam’s Legos onto the floor because you were mad at him, what happened?

Derik: “I got in trouble.”

Dad:  “What happens when you get in trouble with me or mom?

Derik: “I have to have The Talk.”

Dad: “That’s right. You have to have The Talk. And if you refuse to have the talk, what happens?”

Derek: “I have to set in the chair until I’m ready.”

Dad: “That is exactly right.”

(To teach their child about empathy, this would be the place to interject an empathy question.)

Dad: “How do you think it made Sam feel when you threw his legos all over the floor?”

Derik: (Doesn’t want to answer the question, but if he’s done this before, he knows it means more time in the chair until he does, so he relents.) “It probably made him feel bad.”

Dad: “It probably did. If you could do the whole thing over again, what would you do different?” 

(This is one of the most important questions because it makes him go over in his mind a better scenario than the one he just did.)

Derik: (Humbly) “I wouldn’t do it.”

Dad: “You wouldn’t do what?”

Derik: “I wouldn’t dump his Legos onto the floor.”

Dad: (Positive, smiling, complementary) “That is a very good answer and I truly believe that next time something like this happens, you will make a better choice. What could you do instead?

(This may take some time because Derik has to dig inside of himself to try and come up with another solution. Dad needs to allow him whatever time he needs.)

Derik: “I could talk to you about it instead of dumping out his toys.”

Dad: (Very complimentary and smiling) “That’s a great idea Derik!  You could talk to me or mom about your problem. That be a very good solution. However, if you would have asked me about that toy, what do you think I would have told you? What is the rule about using each other’s toys?

Derik: “You would have told me that our family rule is that Sam would have to give me permission before I could use his toy.”

Dad: “Yes, that is exactly what I would have told you. But do you know why we have that rule?”

Derik: “No.”

Dad: “It’s so no one will use your toys the things without your permission, as well. Would you want someone to get your stuff and use it any time they want to?”

Derik: “No”

Dad”: “So then that rule protects your stuff too, doesn’t it?”

Derik: “Yes, I guess so.”

(Derik has just learned a valuable lesson that rules are made to protect people and their private things, which includes him. So, even if he doesn’t like the rule as it applies to his brother’s things, he doesn’t want his brother to invade his private things either. So there was a very good life lesson.)

Dad: “So if you want to play with one of Sam’s toys, but you can’t, there are some other things that you could try that would work just as well. What do you think some of those other things could have been?” (In other words, “What could you do differently next time?)

Derik: (Thinking, then visibly coming up with an idea.) I could ask Sam if he wants to trade with one of my toys.”

Dad: (Excited about Derik’s potential solution) “That’s a great idea! And that might have worked. However, because it is Sam’s toy, what would you have to have to do if he said “no”?

Derik: “I still could not play with his toy until he lets me.”

Dad: “Yes, that’s right. But, even if he wouldn’t let you play with it, what could you have done instead?”

Derik: “I could find another toy to play with until he gets tired of that one and lets me play with it.”

Dad: “Good thinking!! What do you think would have happened if you would have done that?

Derik: “I think I would not have had to set in the chair and have The Talk.”

(Derik just came up with his own solution. But he only did so because dad, with his open-ended questions, firmly but gently funneled him into the place where the best way to get out of the chair was to do so. There was no abuse on dad’s part, only side-stepping Derik’s manipulation tactics, and gently guiding his son to be accountable for his behavior and look for solutions.) 

Dad: “Derik, is there anything you need to tell Sam?”

Derik: “Sorry, Sam.” 

Dad: “What do you need to tell him about saying that you hate him and telling me it was all his fault and that you hate him?

Derik: “Sorry Sam. It wasn’t your fault and I don’t hate you.”

(I have done this a multitude of times and I have never seen a child resist saying they were sorry at this point.)

Sam: (From across the room) “It’s okay.”

Dad: “Great guys!” Derik, what are you going to do now?”

Derik: “I’m going to go and play with my toys.”

Dad: “What are you going to do with all those Legos on the floor before you play with your toys?”

Derik: “But why do I have to pick them up, they are Sam’s Legos?!”

Dad: “Who dumped them out?

Derik: (Realizing there was no way he could shift the responsibility of ownership to Sam.) “I did.”

Dad: “Then who needs to pick them up?”

Derik: (quietly) “Me.”

Dad: “Good answer. When are you going to do that?”

Derik: “Now.”

Dad: “Way to go. What’s going to happen if you do something else besides pick up the Legos?

Derik: “The Talk!”

Dad: “That’s right. So when are you going to pick up the Legos?”

Derik: “Right now.”

Dad: “Great!  And, how are you going to treat your brother next time if he says you can’t play with one of his is toys?”

Derik: “I’ll just wait until he’s ready to let me play with it or I’ll see if I can trade him for one of mine. Or, maybe I’ll just find something else to do.” 

Dad: “Good thinking son!! I have all the confidence in the world that you will do what you just told me you were going to do!”

Notice dad did not make picking up the Legos an order, “You go and  pick up the toys right now!” He said, “I believe you will,” which connotes that he is putting his trust in Derik to do exactly what he said he was going to do. If Derik does it, The Talk is over and was successful. Derik also gets many kudos upon completion. 

I’ve never seen a child NOT do what they said they would do. But if that were the case, this is how the parent could handle it.)

Derik goes back to play and is being nice to Sam, but does not pick up the Legos or only picks up part of them.

Dad: “Derik, what are you doing?”

Derik: “Playing.”

Dad: “I can see you are playing. What did you tell me you were going to do before you start playing?”

Derik: “Pick up the Legos.”

Dad: What did you do instead?”

Derik: “I started doing other things instead.”

Dad: “What are you going to do now?”

Derik: “Pick up the toys.”

Dad: “Good choice.”

Notice how quickly that happened. Dad didn’t need to put Derik in the chair, he just needed to hold him accountable. My experience has been that the kids conclude it is far easier to do what they’ve committed to do than to go through The Talk again.

If there is still stubborn resistance to picking up the Legos, it would be appropriate to add a few minutes to the time the child has to set in the chair before beginning The Talk. Be reasonable; five minutes more each time they are repeat offenders and don’t carry through with the commitment they have just made. But if there is still resistance, add another 5 minutes each time.

The parent always needs to check the child’s work for completion. Let’s say dad checks and part of the Legos are picked up but Derik has returned to playing.

Dad: “Derik, what are you doing?” (Notice everything always starts with this question.)

Derik: “Playing.”

Dad: “What did you tell me you were going to do when you got out of the chair?

Derik: “I told you I was going to pick up the Legos.”

Dad: “What did you do instead?”

Derik: “I did pick up the Legos.”

Dad: “How many of them did you pick up?”

Derik: “Some of them.”

Dad: “How many did you tell me you were going to pick up?”

Derik: “All of them.”

Dad: “So, what do you need to do now?”

Derik: “But there are so many of them.”

Dad: “Who dumped them out?

Derik: “I did.”

Dad: “That’s right. And, if you dumped them out, who’s responsible to pick them up?”

Derik: “Me.”

Dad: “That’s right. What’s going to happen if I have to remind you again?

Derik: “I will have to set in the chair again for longer until I’m ready to talk.” or “I might have to set in the chair longer until I’m ready to pick them up.”

Dad: “That’s right. So what are you going to do now?

Derik: “Pick them all up.”

At this point Derik has only two choices, he can sit in the chair until he is ready to have The Talk and then pick up the Legos, or he can complete the job now and play immediately after. If the parent is keeping a close watch, this scenario could be avoided.

This brings up a good point. The child does not have to set in the chair every time there is an encounter. He can have a choice, setting in the chair or correcting the problem right on the spot. If he makes the better choice, he can skip the chair.

Open-ended and Close-ended Questions

Take note of the sentences in bold. These are the core questions you will be asking in The Talk. Memorize them. You’ll notice there are other versions of the same kinds of questions, as well. 

What you are seeing is what counselors call open-ended questions. Open-ended questions commonly start with what and how like the following:

How are you doing?

How did that affect you?

How does that feel?

How would you like me to help you?

How did that happen?

What’s happening?

What is going on?

What could be the worst thing about giving up this problem? What would be the best?

What would you like to accomplish today?

What are you feeling right now?

What did you notice….?

What are the tears about?

What else…..?

What is going to happen now?

…then what happened?

…and what do you notice happening next?

If those tears could talk, what would they be saying to you right now?

But sometimes open-ended questions aren’t even questions. They are more like a request for information, or prompting a person to give you more information. Here are some examples:

“Tell me about that…”

“…because…..?”

“…and then……?”

“Go on……”

“Please explain that to me.”

“In what way is…..?” or, “In what ways are you….?”

“Is there anything else….?”

Closed ended-questions are the opposite. They usually seek only a one or two-word response, such as:

Question:” Is the sky blue?”   Answer: “Yes.”

Question: “Are you happy?”  Answer: “Yes.”

Question: “Was your father mad at you?” Answer: “No.”

The same questions above, stated as open-ended questions might go like this:

Question: “Tell me about the sky.” Answer: “It’s big and expansive. It changes with the movement of the sun. Sometimes it’s blue, but in the morning and evening it can be pink and orange.”

Question: “How are you feeling?” Answer: “I’m better today but yesterday I was really sick.”

Question: “What was your father’s reaction towards you?” or “Tell me about your father’s reaction.” Answer: “He ended up not to be mad but I still think he feels pretty bad about what happened. Maybe he’s just hurt.

Open-ended questions give the person a chance to expound on things. There is a time and place for closed-ended questions, but you will glean more from open-ended questions or requests for more information.

The Talk with two children involved

Let’s say Ann is 12 and Suzy is 9. Ann calls Suzy stupid and Suzy hits Ann in return. This turns into an all-out fight. Mom separates the girls to stop the fight. You might consider this the cool off phase.

Mom: “Ann, you set in this chair… (and some distance away) Suzy, you sit in this chair.  Each one of you let me know when you have settled down and are ready to talk.” 

The Talk does not begin until both parties are calm and ready. If one party is ready before the other, the calm party gets to go play until the other becomes ready. When the resistant one finally becomes willing, the other is called back to begin The Talk.

Here’s an example of how that might work:

Mom: “You girls set here until you are ready to talk. Each of you let me know when you’re ready.”

Suzy: “I’m ready.”

Mom: (Positive) “Great! How about you Ann?”

(It is visibly obvious that Ann is still defensive, but that is okay.  Mom just needs to be patient until she indicates that she is ready.)

Mom: “Suzy, you can go play until Ann is ready to talk. Ann, you let me know when you’re ready to talk.

Several things can happen at this point. Ann may immediately change her mind, her attitude change and become willing to proceed. Or, she may drag her feet and be resistant. If that is the case, she needs to stay in her place until she is ready. The process will just take longer.

Ann was the one who started the conflict and so her resistance may be her way of trying to hide her guilt. Though mom assumes this, without making accusations, she gives Ann all the time she needs, to become cooperative.

Eventually, Ann expressed that she is ready. “Okay, I’m ready to talk now.”

When both parties are ready, Suzy is called back in and The Talk begins.

Suzy comes back in and the girls are seated side by side.

Mom: “I’m going to talk to each of you, one at a time. While I’m doing that, I don’t want the other to say anything unless you are asked. Also, I only want you to tell me what you did. I do not want you to tell me what the other one did. Are you ready?” (Both girls nod in agreement.)

Mom: “Okay, let’s start with Ann. (Speaking to her at eye level) Ann, what did you do?” (There’s that same ole’ question again!)

Ann: “I called Suzy stupid.”

Mom: “Yes you did. What is our family rule about calling people bad names?”

Ann: “We don’t call people bad names.”

Mom: (With a look of approval) “Yes Ann, that is right. In this family, we do not call each other bad names. (Here is the moment to teach empathy) Why do you think we don’t allow people to call each other bad names in our family?”

Ann: “Because it makes that person feel bad.”

Mom: “That’s right because it might make that person feel bad. So, if you could do it all again, what would you do differently?”

Ann: (Thinking) I wouldn’t call her a bad name.

Mom: What would you do instead?”

Ann: “I could call her a nice name or just her own name.”

Mom: “That’s a really good solution Ann.” (Compliments her for a good reply.) 

Ann: “But sometimes the girls at school call me stupid.” (Ah Ha! We may have just gotten to the real root of the problem.)

Mom: “How does it make you feel when the girls at school call you stupid?

Ann: “Really sad.”

Mom: “How do you think it makes your little sister feel when you call her stupid?”

Ann: “Really sad, too.”

Mom: “I understand that sometimes children do call other children bad names and that is very wrong when they do, but what is the rule in our family?

Ann: “In our family, we don’t call each other bad names.”

Mom: “That’s right. And what happens if you do?”

Ann: “We have to have The Talk.”

Mom: “That’s right. What are you going to do when you feel like calling your sister a mean name again?”

Ann: “I might want to, but I won’t do it.

Mom: “Good choice! I trust that is exactly what you will do.” (Mom expresses faith in her daughter’s future choices.”

(If I were working with only one child, this is the point where I would ask, “Is there anything you need to tell your sister right now?” But since we are working with two, I will hold that until I am at the same point with the other child and then they can apologize to each other at the same time.)

Mom: (turning her attention to Suzy) “Now Suzy, it is your turn. What did you do?

Suzy: “I hit Ann, but I only did because she called me a bad name at first.”

Mom: “I didn’t ask you what Mary did, I asked you to tell me what you did.”

Suzy: “I hit Mary.”

Mom: “What is our family rule about hitting or doing anything that hurts another person’s body?”

Suzy: “We don’t do it.”

Mom: “That’s right. Congratulations on remembering our rule. But, what did you do.”

Suzy: “I hit her anyway because she called me….”

Mom: “(interrupted by mom) I only want to hear what you did.”

Suzy: “I hit her.”

Mom: “What happens when we break family rules?

Suzy: “I have to have The Talk.”

Mom: “That’s right. So, if you could do the whole thing over again, what would you do differently?”

Suzy: “I wouldn’t hit her.”

Mom: (enthusiastically) “Good choice! What would you do instead?”

Suzy: (Thinking) “I don’t know.”

Mom: (Making a suggestion) “You could always come and get me, couldn’t you?”

Suzy: “Yes. I would come and get you.”

Mom: “What do you think would have happened if you would have gotten me instead of hitting your sister?”

Suzy: “You’d have The Talk with Mary, but I wouldn’t have to.”

Mom: “That’s right, because you see (here’s the lesson), two wrongs don’t make a right. Ann was wrong for calling you a hurtful name, but you were also wrong when you hit her. So what do you think you could do next time when someone does something wrong to you instead of doing something wrong or hurtful back?”

Suzy: “I could go get you or a teacher or an adult to help me.”

Mom “Good thinking. (Turning to Ann) That might also be something you could keep in mind, Ann, when the kids at school say something hurtful to you, instead of coming home and doing the same thing to your sister what could you do instead?” 

Ann: “I should have come home and talked to you about it.”

Mom: “That would have been a good choice. I’m sure you’ll think about doing that the next time. (So this is the stage we bring in the apologies.) So Ann, is there anything you need to tell Suzy.”

Ann: “I’m sorry.”

Mom: “Suzy, is there anything you need to tell Ann?”

Suzy: “I’m sorry.”

Mom: “And what are you going to do the next time you have an opportunity to do something hurtful to the other?”

Suzy and Mary: (In unison) “I’m not going to do it.”

Mom: “… what will you do instead?”

Suzy and Ann: (speaking over each other) “Get along”  “Be nice”  “Not hit” “Not call bad names.” “Get help from an adult if we need it.”

Mom: “I really believe that is exactly what you girls will do. What are you going to do now?

Suzy and Ann: “Go play.”

Mom: “And how are you going to treat each other while you play?.”

Suzy and Ann: “Good.” “Nice.”

If you can get a child to be accountable for what they have done, and get them to run a scenario through their mind of what they would do differently the next time, there is a very good chance that they will make better choices in the future. From my own experiences, I found that true most of the time.

Some people might feel the need to memorize an exact order to ask the questions, but that won’t work because each scenario can take different twists and turns. Just get an idea of how to ask the basic how and what open-ended questions, requests for more information and close-ended questions, and you’ll soon get comfortable with your own way of doing it. However, the more you do this, the more the child(ren) will see that it is an affirming process, rather than a shaming one, and they usually become more willing to go through it as time goes by, and it gets shorter as there is less resistance. 

I have NEVER seen this two-child approach not work. That doesn’t mean it couldn’t. However, depending on your skills and the problems your kids are ladened with, it may not be so successful.

I once was aware of a mother where the father of the child encouraged him to disrespect and defy the mother. The child was even rewarded for doing do. In this case, The Talk becomes much more difficult and may not work.

One of the most severe and devastating abuses a parent can lay on a child is to encourage and reward the child for disrespecting and defying the other parent. It is a sure way to destroy your children.

Also, I have never done this process with autistic children or children with other kinds of unusual challenges. But you can try it and see if it will work in those kinds of circumstances.

Can The Talk be quick?

The Talk from beginning to end may end up as quick as:

Mom: “Jon, what are you doing?”

Jon: “Playing with Jacob’s toy.”

Mom: “What is the rule?”

Jon: “I have to ask him first.”

Mom: “What are you going to do now?”

Jon: “Ask him.”

Mom: “Good choice.”

Mom may only need to say, “What are you doing?” for the child to rethink whatever he is doing and stop the behavior because s/he knows exactly what is coming next if they don’t; The Talk!

Some may think this is too easy—that the kids have not been punished enough to want to change. In some cases that may be true, so you’ll do best to handle this on an individual basis. However, in most cases I have tried, it has worked beautifully.

Doing The Talk with more than two children

I have never tried The Talk with more than two children, but I suppose you could. You’d just have to wait until all parties involved are ready and willing to have The Talk and then go through the same line of questioning with all of them.

What about the child who says they’re going to do something different but continue in the same behavior? 

For repeat offenders, you may need to add time to how long they set in the chair before you begin The Talk. Let’s say you successfully complete this process with two children but one immediately does the offensive behavior it again. This is how you could handle it once the child is in the chair and ready to talk again:

Dad: “A while ago we had the talk and you told me that if you feel like taking your brother’s toy without his permission, you would not do it. What just happened?

Tom: (Head down in shame) “I did it again.” 

Dad: “Thank you for being honest. (Always praise for honesty.) So if you told me you wouldn’t do that again, but you did it again anyway, what do you think would be a good way to help you remember to make a better decision next time?”

Tom: “To be grounded for a week.”

This is an extreme consequence but typical of what a child might come up with. So dad needs to guide Tom into finding a consequence that is more rational but would still give him time to think about how he would make a better choice next time.

Dad: “I think that’s a little extreme, Tom? Maybe you could come up with an amount of time you could remain setting in this chair right now, that would be enough time to think about what you did, and what you could do differently next time. How much time do you think that would take?”

Tom: “Maybe 10 minutes.”

Make the time arrangement age-appropriate, like maybe 1 minute per year. But if you let the child help come up with the amount of time, the chances improve that s/he will be less resistant.

Dad: “I think that’s reasonable. So you’ll need to set here for 10 minutes in this chair and think about what you did and what you are going to do differently next time. If you talk to anyone or do anything else while you’re in the chair, your time will start over. So what are you going to do right now?”

Tom: “I’m going to set in the chair and not talk to anyone for 10 min.”

Dad: “Good choice! (Much praise for making a good decision.) What are you going to be thinking about while you’re in time-out for 10 minutes?”

Derik: “What I’ll do differently next time.”

Dad: “Great choice!! I’ll tell you when the 10 min is over.”

If Tom talks to someone during the ten minutes, the following happens:

Dad: “Tom, what did you just do?”

Tom: “I talked while I was in the chair.”

Dad: “What happens if you talk during your 10 minutes in the chair?”

Tom: “My time starts over.”

Dad: “That’s right. I’ll start the time over. What are you going to do differently this time?”

Tom: “Not talk until my 10 min is over.”

Dad: “Good choice! Your time begins now.”

If all goes well, and the time is over, finish up the talk.

Dad: “Your time is up. Tom, if you feel like using your bother’s toy without his permission again, what are you going to do instead?”

Tom: “Not do it?”

Dad: “If you should forget and do it again like you just did, how much more time do you think we should add to your 10 minutes so that you can remember to make a different choice next time?”

Tom: “Maybe an hour.”

Once again, that is way extreme, so dad guides him into a more reasonable conclusion:

Dad: “I think that’s way too long. What do you think might be a better amount to time to add to your 10 minutes that will help you remember to make a better choice next time?”

Tom: “One minute.”

Dad: “That’s better than an hour but it’s kind of short. Maybe a little bit longer.”

Tom: “Maybe 5 minutes longer?”

Dad: “Do you think an extra 5 minutes, which is a total of 15 minutes, would be enough time to help you make a better choice the next time? 

Tom: “Yes.”

Dad: “Okay, we’ll go with an extra 5 minutes. So what are you going to do now?

Tom: “I’m not going to talk for 15 minutes so we can have The Talk.”

Dad: “Good choice!”

Each time a violation is made, like Tom getting out of his chair or playing with a sibling during his 15 minutes in the chair, extra time is added and the time starts over.

If this child is not capable of setting for that long without violating the rule, such as a child with ADHD, the parent/adult may want to set with the child through the duration of the time to oversee that no rules are violated during the time in the chair.

What if the parent does not see what happens?

This obviously makes things more complicated. However, the kids are usually telling on each other long before you ever begin The Talk, so you can usually get the general idea about what happened before you start. But once they set down to have The Talk, remind them that they can only talk about what they did, not what the other person did. 

My experience has been that if you can take the information they give you ahead of time and go with that, there is usually enough truth expressed to give you a good idea of what really happened. This is the tricky part of any discipline, so good luck with that.

How to handle the talk with a teenager or older child who is too big to sit in the chair?

The principles are the same with an older child. If you can get your teens to set and have The Talk with you, great!! Enjoy that. But if one or more is resistant, (which usually happens if this is introduced later in their life), then you will have to use the Leverage approach to get their cooperation. Wait until there is something the teen really wants from you that only you can provide and hold it out as Leverage until they are ready to have The Talk with you. Here’s an example:

Teen: “I need some money to get a present for my friend’s birthday.”

Parent: “I’ll be happy to give you the money just as soon as we can have our talk.”

The downside is that you may have to wait for an extended period of time before your teen has come up with something you can Leverage with. In the meantime, keep what you want from your teen in the back of your mind, be patient and wait for the opportunity to use it.

Sooner or later that teenager is going to need something that only you can provide and you will be ready to present your Leverage when s/he does. So the principle is the same, it just may take longer to execute. 

Some parents want to rush into an argument and throw their parental authority around to get quick cooperation. However, if you’ve ever had a power struggle with a teenager, you’ve probably learned by now that your chances of winning are slim to none. You may win the battle, but they have very effective ways of winning the war. It works much better to hold out until there’s something they really want from you, and then use it as Leverage (which is parenting tool #1) to get them to have The Talk.

Once the teen is ready, The Talk is handled exactly the same as described before, but you can’t use staying in the chair until you’re ready to talk as motivation to cooperate. You just have to wait until there is something they want bad enough, that they’re willing to take a few minutes to talk to you, be accountable and make commitments for improved future behavior, before you will give it to them or do it for them.

However, if you start this with the children when they are young, by the time they become teens they are usually already cooperative because they know that what you do for them is dependent on what they do first. I can’t make any promises to you, but the children I have used The Talk with on a consistent basis, eventually got so self-governing, I rarely ever had to have The Talk when they grew into teens. On rare occasions, I had to say something, it was usually only a reminder of, “What are you doing?” and the problem ended.

Rules for Parents

Rule: At least one parent must remain on the scene until the whole process has been resolved.

Rule: Always compliment the child for telling the truth and for cooperating with the process

Rule: Express faith in their ability to make better choices next time.

Rule: Ideally, problems should be dealt with immediately after the event happens. If not possible, do it as soon as you can thereafter.

Rule: If a child can answer all the questions correctly and made the proper commitments and apologies at the time, the child does not have to set in the chair at all. Sometimes all the parent has to do is say, “Bobby, what are you doing?” and the child will immediately change his/her behavior on the spot. If that is the case, great! You’re done!

Rule: While setting in the chair, if they do anything else (like reading a book or play on their phone) but set and think, the time increases in an age-appropriate way. Remember, this is not punishment, it is just producing consequences for behaviors so the child can learn valuable lessons and become motivated to be accountable.

Rule: The parent remains calm and pleasant all the time, but also firm. 

Rule: Parents get eye-level with the child/teen and talks as a supportive advocate, never a punisher who is exerting power over the minor child.

Rule: This is not intended to be a power struggle (one of you is going to win and the other lose). If done correctly, all involved come out winners.

Rule: State things in the positive, rather than in a not negative way. Example: “I’m sure you will make a better choice next time.” vs. “ I’m sure you won’t break the family rule next time.” 

Rule: Treat a child as if s/he already is the person you want him/her to be. Example: “I’m sure you’ll make a better choice next time because you make so many good decisions.”

Rule: Notice when the children actually make better decisions on another occasion. Point it out and make a big deal out of it.

Rule: Use words that paint a positive picture in the mind of the child of the desired outcome.

Rule: Be careful about asking a child, “Why did you do that?” The child usually doesn’t know why. But “What were you thinking when you did that?” or “What was going on inside of you when….” is a little easier to answer.

Rule: Use age-appropriate language when talking to children.

Rule: Stay positive and upbeat the whole time.

In my own experience, I have found that when this technique is applied effectively, the conflicts and problems get less and the child(ren) become more cooperative.

Suggestions of questions to ask:

What did you do? (This is the most commonly asked question asked.)

“What were you thinking when you decided to do that?” or “What was going on with you when you decided to do that?”

“How do you think your sister felt when you said or did that?” (Teaching empathy)

“What happens when you ____?” (Getting them to think about the consequences of their choices.)

“What are you going to do differently next time?” (Making a plan for future behavior is the biggest chance you have of them doing it.)

“If that happens again, what do you think should happen as a result?” (They get to be a participant in the consequences for making a poor decision.)

“How much extra time do you think you will need to think about what you are going to do differently?”

“Is there anything you need to say to your sister right now?” (Closed-ended question)

“If you could do the whole thing again, what would you do differently?”

“What are you going to do now?”

Repeat back what the child just said or did before asking a question: Example: “You told me you picked up all your clothes, but what are you going to do about those socks I see over there in the corner?” or “I can see that you got your room almost cleaned and that’s terrific, but what about that mess on the desk?”

Be careful about asking a child, “Why did you do that?” The child usually doesn’t know why. But “What were you thinking when you did that?” or “What was going on when you decided to do that,” is a little easier for a child to answer.

When this method doesn’t work:

Factors that may keep The Talk from working effectively

…a child is not able to understand language or communicate well: the child is too young or mentally challenged.

…you do not have the legal right or jurisdiction to discipline a child(ren).

….if one parent is undermining the authority of the other parent or giving the child permission to disobey or disrespect the other parent. This is pure evil and destroys children who are caught in such a toxic dynamic. If one parent is trying to teach their child accountability and the other parent is undermining the authority of the other (such as in some divorce cases), it becomes confusing to the child. Though the intent of the toxic parent is to hurt the other parent, it is the child who will pay the biggest price.

….if the parent has NO inner strength, cannot set boundaries and gives in to manipulation and pressure from the child.

…if the parent is more concerned about the love and affection they want to get from their child(ren) that what is in the best benefit of the child.

…if the parent gets angry and punishes instead of carrying through with The Talk as suggested.

…a parent cannot or will not take the time necessary to carry this through.

…the parent is more concerned about his/her own experience than what his/her children are learning from the experience.

…If the parent is busy, preoccupied or indifferent and won’t spend the necessary time to make this happen.

…if the parent is doing bad/irresponsible things but expects the child to make good decisions.

…and more.

Taking a child into a store

The child’s privilege of going to the store is dependent on his/her behavior while there. This starts with making sure the child knows what the rules are ahead of time and then checking with the child what the rules are and if they are willing to abide by them. They also need to let you know ahead of time what the consequences will be for breaking them, before going into the store. Example: 

Child: “Mom, can I go to the store with you?”

Before the venture begins is the point where the child is most enthusiastic and will usually easily commit to the rules with great enthusiasm.

Mom: “If I decide to let you come with me, what are the rules about going into the store with mom?”

(If the rules have not been established ahead of time this would be a good time to establish them.

Child: “The rules are that while we’re in the store I don’t beg for you to buy me stuff, that I stay close to you and that I get along with my brother while we’re there.”

Mom: “Great memory. So, if we’re in the store and you see just the perfect toy that you really want, what are you going to do?”

Child: “I can tell you I like it and that I want it, but I can’t keep begging.”

Mom: “That’s right. So what are  you going to do?”

Child: “Not beg.”

Mom: “Great choice. What are you going to do if you feel like leaving the cart and looking at something without mom’s permission?”

Child: “Stay with you anyway, even if I want to go somewhere else.”

Mom: “Good choice. What would happen if you chose to not remember the rules?”

Child: “I wouldn’t get to go to the store with you the next time.” or “I would have to go out to the car and have The Talk.” (The child’s answer would depend on what you have made the rule to be.

Mom: “That’s right. So, what are you going to do?”

Child: “ Stay close to you in the store and not beg; but I can tell you if I like something.”

Mom: “That’s right. Let’s go!!”

Usually, the children can come up with the rules without much help, because they know what is expected of them. And most children will stick to the rules if they review and commit to them before entering. Once you’re in the store it’s too late.

One consequence of breaking the store rule would be leaving the cart in the store and going to the car to have The Talk. The child would not be able to return until the s/he has made all the proper commitments. Another consequence would be not going to the store the next time. Or, the first offense would be The Talk in the car and a second offense is missing the trip entirely. Or, you may come up with an entirely different consequence that works for you. You’ll have to decide those things based on the circumstances.

If two adults are going to the store with the child, the consequence could be that one goes to the car and has The Talk while the other one finishes the shopping. If all goes well and the proper commitments are made, the child may gain the privilege of going back into the store.

My experience has been, that if going over the rules and getting a commitment ahead of time, eliminates having to take the child to the car in the middle of the shopping experience. But if that is not the case, be prepared to leave the store temporarily.

If there is a group of children going, each one needs to make the personal commitment of their projected behavior while in the store and state the consequence for breaking it, before going in. The problem with taking more than one child is what to do if one child misbehaves and the others do not?

If there is only one adult, maybe the problem child has to set in the car and think about what s/he has done, while the well-behaved child(ren) stay outside and wait with the parent until the problem is resolved. Ideally, if you have more than one child going to the store, you would want to have two adults present. That way, one adult could stay in the car and finish the shopping, while the other takes the problem child to the car for The Talk.

After you have done this a few times and carried out the consequences every time, children will get the drift. Then you can make a very brief discussion before going into any store so the kids remember you mean business: “Okay kids, what are the rules about going into the store with mom/dad?”

Kids in unison: “We don’t beg for anything.” “We stay with you.” “We don’t fight.” etc….

Parent: “What’s going to happen if you forget?”

Kids: (They will repeat back to you whatever you have decided on for the consequences.)

What if it is too hot outside to take the child to the car for The Talk? Then find a place that is private and safe to take the child. You will have to figure out those details depending on the place and circumstances. But above, make sure the child is safe and protected while holding them accountable.

What if none of this works? Depending on the time availability the parent has, the parent could take the child home, leave the child with another adult or a  babysitter and go back to the store and finish shopping. Or, simply finish up the shopping as quickly as possible and the natural consequence for that child is that the next time there is a shopping outing the problem child remains behind. If there is protesting, remind the child that s/he has chosen not to go on the current trip because of his/her choices on the last one. However, express your undying faith in the child that s/he will make better choices on the next shopping trip.

After the child has missed a shopping trip, the next time around, the parent can ask the same series of questions before allowing the child to go into the store. Example:

Parent: “What happened the last time went to the store? “If I let you go with me this time, what are you going to do differently this time?” “What will happen if you choose to make a poor choice again?”

Review the rules and what will happen if those rules are violated, and then express much faith in the child’s ability to make better choices this time. This all happens ahead of time.

It is imperative that the parent carry through with the consequences of breaking the rule or the parent will lose all credibility with the child. The child will be teaching the child that s/he really doesn’t have to listen to or go by your rules.

What if the child is doing well for a while and then starts begging? Example of an answer:

Mom: “Jon, what are you doing?”

Jon: “Begging.”

Mom: “What’s the rule about begging?”

Jon: “We don’t beg for stuff while we’re in the store.”

Mom: “What happens if you forget that rule?”

Jon: “I have to go to the car and have The Talk, or maybe I can’t come the next time.”

Mom: “Good memory! So, what are you going to do now?”

Jon: “Not beg.”

My experience has been, that once the rule has been established and the child realizes s/he can no longer manipulate the parent(s), the child will usually comply. If the parent has just established this rule and the child is used to getting what s/he wants by misbehaving, the parent can expect resistance for a while. It is imperative to be consistent and carry through with your consequences a few times so the child sees s/he can no longer manipulate the parent.

What if it is alright for the child to get a treat at the store? Then that precedence needs to be established before entering, along with the amount the child is allowed to spend. Following is an example:

Child: “When we are in the store can I get a treat?”

Dad: “Yes, you can spend up to $5.00. However, your treat will be the last thing we get before we check out, so you can look around the store as we go and decide what you want to get. What will happen if you beg for more than your $5.00 treat?

Child: “I might not get the treat.

Dad: “That’s right. So, what are you going to do?”

Child: “Not beg, and when it’s time to check out, I can pick out a treat that is around $5.00.” 

Dad: “That’s right! I’m sure that’s exactly what you will do.”

Time

The parent needs time to carry this process through. If both parents are so busy that the children are left with strangers or left alone, they will miss the benefit of this marvelous way to teach their children. But if at least one parent is available and can take the time to carry this through, the children have a very good chance of learning accountability.

If parents can allow time for the process to happen, future cooperation may improve greatly. Another thing I’ve witnessed is that towards the end of this process, the child is usually very happy to come up with good solutions because s/he gets out of the chair sooner and gets much praise from the parent(s) for saying and doing the right thing.

Even better is that children grow up to be self-regulating individuals because they know exactly what will happen depending on the choices they make.

Conclusion

The talk is one of the best tools I ever put into my arsenal of parenting. If you can get the child to own what s/he did, take responsibility for fixing it, apologize where needed and then paint a picture in his/her mind of how the event could happen in a better way the next time, you have just tapped into the best chance you have of your child learning from a mistake so s/he can make better decisions, while all the time keeping good self-esteem intact.

Let me reiterate: If Leverage or The Talk is used the wrong way, like any other parenting tools, they can become abusive. So please understand the rules, ask questions below for clarification, and do Leverage and The Talk with only the best interest of your child(ren in mind.

Children are not in our lives to meet the needs of the parents. Parents are there to meet the need of their children and teach them the life lessons they need to become functional adults and citizens. These two tools can be helpful, but there are other parenting tools and methods that are available, as well. I share these with you because they worked for me. I am not a child or a family therapist. I am just a mother who loved her kids and wanted to find a way to parent them that did not hurt them. So I share these with you with the hope you will never keep seeking out ways to become better parents.

Best wishes to you all. Helen Peterson Bair MAPC

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