Ask the Experts

A-Tisket, A-Tasket, A Conflict Resolution Basket

If you’re asking your child to understand blind obedience, then you might run into behavior issues. Learn why setting aside 20 minutes of “special time” and dividing conflicts into baskets are key tools in proper discipline.

Divide conflicts into baskets to reach a resolution
Divide conflicts into baskets to reach a resolution

We ought to approach the problem of children’s disobedience and disruptive behavior with the same imagination, intellect, and patience that we use to close a business deal, find a cure for cancer, or land on Mars. We shouldn’t subject our children to our least creative, least intelligent, and least controlled methods for solving problems.

Do You Have 20 Minutes?

Caught up in a pattern of struggle with a young child, a parent will often ask me for advice on how to get her child to do what she wants him to. I usually offer the following suggestion: “Set aside 20 minutes of special time once a week, time when you and your child do exactly what he or she wants to, as long as it is safe and legal. During that time, don’t take phone calls, speak to neighbors, run errands, or take bathroom breaks. Just spend the time with your child. Let him know that it is going to happen every week from now on at the same time. Then keep your promise.”

I have seen remarkable results from parents who follow through with this. It bolsters a sense of belonging. I am an advocate of preventive maintenance. The best way to prevent the struggles from spinning out of control is to enhance connectedness.

Conflict Resolution

However, prevention is not enough. You need a method to deal with conflicts when they occur. I developed such a method with my wife. We have encouraged our children to negotiate, since negotiating is a major life skill. I tell my kids, “If you can talk me into letting you stay up all night, good for you. That skill will serve you well when you grow up.” So far they haven’t talked me into it, but they have learned valuable skills.

There are moments when negotiation won’t fly. When it is time to go to bed, we can’t conduct a negotiation to extend bedtime. There are times when no negotiation is allowed and when what Sue or I say goes. If what we say doesn’t go, there will be a consequence, such as a loss of TV time the next day.

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Ross Greene, Ph.D., author of The Explosive Child, took the method that Sue and I had intuitively developed, refined it, tested it, and refined it some more. Instead of helping parents get better at making their children obey, Greene’s method helps parents and children get better at solving problems together. Most parents would rather teach skills of negotiation and problem-solving over the “skill” of blind obedience.

Greene suggests that parents divide points of conflict into three baskets.

  • In basket A, you put those moments when you must demand obedience: Your child is running out into the street and you call him to come back. There is no room for negotiation.
  • In basket B, you put those moments when you are willing to negotiate and explore possible options.
  • In basket C, you put those moments when you don’t really care what happens, so you let the conflict drop.

With imagination, intelligence, and patience, parents (and teachers, coaches, and others) can learn how to move most decisions and conflicts into basket B.

If your family is struggling with discipline, try the approaches I have offered above. If they don’t help, see a good therapist. It is difficult for families to help themselves without a professional who can act as a coach and referee.

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From the book Delivered from Distraction, by EDWARD M. HALLOWELL, M.D., and JOHN J. RATEY, M.D. Copyright 2005 by Edward M. Hallowell, M.D., and John J. Ratey, M.D. Reprinted by arrangement with Ballantine Books, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved.