Disciplining an Uncooperative Child

How can I get my child to obey and do as he's told? Our young son is defiant and talks back. He won't do his homework and refuses to clean his room. When we try to discuss these issues with him in a calm, mature way, we usually end up getting angry and yelling at him. What are we doing wrong?

Many parents try to use words and reasons to convince their kids to behave. They think of children as miniature adults who can respond to rational argument in a logical way. The problem with this method is that it usually doesn’t work. It also usually leads to failure and frustration. That’s because words and reasons don’t shape a child’s behavior. Consequences shape a child’s behavior.

A consequence is something that happens as a result of a particular behavior. Consequences can be both positive and negative. You can use positive consequences to increase a positive behavior and negative consequences to decrease a negative behavior.

By way of example, let’s consider your son’s problem with homework. When he comes home in the afternoon, you might say to him, “I need you to finish your homework by 5:00 p.m. If you finish by 5:00, I’ll let you have an extra half hour of TV time tonight.” TV time is a simple positive consequence that doesn’t cost a parent anything.

What if he doesn’t follow through? What if 7:00 p.m. rolls around and he hasn’t even looked at his homework? That’s the time to apply negative consequences. In this case, a negative consequence might be that your son doesn’t get any TV time that night. (Remember to spell this out clearly in advance.)

Consequences usually don’t work unless they’re immediate. Kids have brief attention spans and short memories. They need all the help they can get connecting the dots. This means that consequences can’t wait until tomorrow. They need to take effect right now. You can increase their immediacy by using tokens or a point system. Award points or tokens for good behavior and take them away for bad behavior.

Consequences also need to be consistent. You have to follow through even when you’re tired and don’t feel like it. You also need to be willing to do so every time your authority is challenged. Otherwise, your child will quickly learn that you don’t mean what you say.

Finally, a consequence should be powerful. If it doesn’t mean anything to your child, it won’t have any effect. If your son isn’t particularly interested in an extra half-hour of TV time, you’ll have to come up with something else that really hits him where he lives. It could be skateboarding privileges, or maybe the chance to spend weekend fishing with dad. It should be obvious that the motivating power of specific consequences will change as a child grows older. For instance, a seven-year-old girl may take a keen interest in a new doll, but when she reaches the pre-teen years her thoughts may begin to run in a different direction.

You can learn more about the effective implementation of consequences by reading Dr. James Dobson’s book The New Dare to Discipline. This resource is available through the ministry of Focus on the Family. If you feel the need to consult with a qualified family therapist, call us. Our Counseling department would be happy to provide you with a list a referrals for your area.


If a title is currently unavailable through Focus on the Family, we encourage you to use another retailer.

The Well-Behaved Child: Discipline That Really Works

Focus on the Family Complete Guide to Baby & Child Care

Busy Mom’s Guide to Parenting Young Children

The Christian Mama’s Guide to Parenting a Toddler

You Can’t Make Me (But I Can Be Persuaded)

Have a New Kid by Friday

The New Dare to Discipline

The New Strong-Willed Child Workbook

Boundaries With Kids: When to Say Yes, How to Say No, to Take Control of Your Life

Other books on Discipline

John Rosemond: Parenting with Love and Leadership


Effective Biblical Discipline

Toddler Misbehavior



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