National Catholic Register

Culture of Life

If This, Then That

Family Matters

BY Dr. Ray Guarendi

March 2-8, 2008 Issue | Posted 2/26/08 at 3:35 PM

p>When it comes to discipline, my kids tune me out. Any ideas for making myself heard?

Talk — it sounds like discipline, it feels like discipline, it may at times work like discipline. But talk alone is a fraud. It’s the grand illusion of discipline. And kids know it. They realize it somewhere before their second birthday, or about the same time we parents are closing in on our 100,000th disciplinary word.

After only a few months, those who live near an airport become oblivious to the roaring jets passing overhead. Likewise, kids who live near roaring parents grow deaf to a stream of words passing overhead.

To talk less and be heard more — nearly every parent’s discipline dream — you can practice “If-Then” talk. Instead of repeating 16 variations of “Jay, quit putting oil in the bird bath,” try saying one time, “Jay, if you put oil in the birdbath, you will clean it and spend the rest of the day inside.”

If-Thens are flexible, too. They can promise privileges as well as consequences: “Gardiner, if the lawn is mowed before dinnertime, we may have time for ice cream afterwards.”

The If-Then is a logical proposition. It tells the kids what you’d like and what will happen if they choose to ignore you. If-Then-ing is a skill that gets better with practice.

If-Thens short-circuit the escalating spiral of harsh words and emotions that inevitably result when parents and kids become locked in verbal wrestling matches.

If you can’t think of thens as fast as your kids present you with ifs — a normal parent-child state of affairs — you have two options. One, don’t say anything until you’ve thought of a then. Or two, make a list of all-purpose thens to fall back on when you’re temporarily stumped: a half hour in one’s room, sitting at the table with head down, 15 minutes of chores.

The If-Then isn’t fancy. That’s one reason it’s an extremely effective disciplinary technique.

Dr. Ray Guarendi, author of

You’re A Better Parent Than You Think! and Back To The Family, is online at