Tying Punishment To Personality; a “FamilySmith” Blog Post
If you are a parent, you have had to discipline your kids. If you are a parent like me, that hasn’t always been the easiest thing to do.
If you’ve been following our FamilySmith series this week, you know that I am “a Yellow”. That makes disciplining anyone, let alone my kids, a real struggle for me.
Yellow’s are the fun guys, the life of the party. We like it when people like us. Which made it a constant struggle for me whenever my wife would use me as a threat to keep my kids in line. The phrase “wait until your father gets home” just didn’t work for me.
So her and I took some of the behaviour modification work that we at CultureSmith do with our client’s problem employees and adapted them into a tool that BOTH of us can use whenever one of our kids loses their way a bit.
The foundation for this tool is based on what we call The Pain/Gain Ratio. We as humans are all motivated by both Desire for Gain and Fear of Loss (Pain). However, Fear of Loss is up to 10 times more motivating.
If something is 10 times more effective at doing something, it stands to reason that you would want to use it. The problem is, when that thing that is 10 times more effective involves you scaring the hell out of your kids, that’s obviously a fine line that you are going to want to navigate incredibly well.
To begin, you need to know your kid’s behavioural colour. Anyone who wants to learn how to do this just needs to e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll walk you through it. Once you have that in place though, this becomes an effective tool.
In our case my wife and I have 5 kids; a 13 year old boy who is Yellow and four daughters aged 12, 10, 9 and 6 whose Colours are Red, Yellow, Green and Yellow respectively.
Now when my wife and I were designing this we wanted it to accomplish two things; first we wanted it to actually encourage the change in behaviour in our kids that we were after and second we needed it to be something that her and I could actually stick to.
Let’s address effectiveness first.
When any of us receive a slap on the wrist, it triggers us. All of our fear, anger, insecurities, etc. bubble to the surface in that moment and depending upon both our Colour and our level of emotional intelligence, we react emotionally.
Emotions are great because they are potent. We FEEL in that moment which shakes us out of our malaise and let’s us know something is wrong.
However, learning what is wrong and how to avoid it in the future takes cognition, actual thinking and reasoning. When we are emotional, we are robbed of that. In order for discipline to lead to actual behaviour modification, we agreed that both needed to be in play.
So, to trigger the emotion we want, we always tie the punishment to our kid’s Colour. The Yellow’s need their Experience disrupted (the more boring of a task you make them do, the more like punishment it feels like for them) our Green daughter needs to be around People so not allowing her to do that by sending her to her room actually works with her, and our resident Red needs to lose Time. Making it so that she must donate her time to something that she would not do on her own gets her attention fast.
Now, once we punish them and have sufficiently triggered their Colour (and waded through all the claims that we are the worst people in the world for doing so), we begin the cognition portion to get them to a place where even though they don’t like it, they can start to reason with and hopefully understand the punishment.
To accomplish this we’ve adopted three practices; 1) give them multiple punishments at once, 2) make sure the punishments last over a period of time long enough that they need to “think” about them and 3) give the kids a chance to “buy back”.
Here’s a recent example with my son.
A few weeks back he neglected to do something he was supposed to do. He had been reminded several times to do this task and essentially wilfully chose not to do it, and his inaction impacted others.
A major culprit in this was his overwhelming desire to play Xbox instead of doing what he was asked to do. As a result, the Xbox became part of the punishment.
Here is what we did. We took away his Xbox for a month, triggering his Fear of Loss relative to his Experience. We also put him on dishwasher duty for an entire month, something he finds to be the most boring thing in the world, triggering Fear of Loss relative to Boredom. Finally, we also took away his shiny new iPhone, which apparently is a major status symbol for a 13 year old, effectively triggering him one last time in his loss of Credibility.
He was a really big fan of ours that day.
Immediately after “handing down our sentence” we had a conversation with him about who it is we wanted him to be moving forward, why it was we wanted that and why he should want it too, tangible steps he could take to show us he “got it” and what he would get if he came through.
Now what he would get is the ability to “buy back” some of the punishments. Each week over the course of the month, we’d measure his behaviour. If it improved along the lines we discussed, he could end one of his punishments. Here’s the thing though, he would need to choose which one goes away and which he’d be living with for another week. Again we are trying to get him to think and reason about the entire situation, and given that the life of a 13 years old is prone to distraction, we wanted to build in multiple opportunities for that thought to happen.
At a minimum he was going to have one of the three punishments last the whole month, but he would now have two potential situations where he would need to barter with himself about how to make his situation better. All of this makes it real for him.
I’m not saying he instantly changed course, nor am I saying he didn’t fight us on this. However, he did meet the guidelines, did earn the chance to buy back two punishments (Xbox first, Dishwasher second for those wondering) and most importantly it created a very safe framework for the entire family to discuss the punishment and the action that lead to it. There was no judgement here, it was very much cause and effect.
Which brings me to the three rules my wife and placed upon OURSELVES before committing to using this system of discipline:
1: Punish the poor behaviour, never the child
I will never call any of my kids bad. I will point out that they’ve done something they shouldn’t have, but I’m not interested in breaking them down as a person.
2: Never use guilt as motivating factor
Guilt only works to make the person using it as a tool feel better in the moment. I’m looking to try and teach my kids something, not scratch my own itch.
3: Be each others’ spotter to help make sure we stick to the punishment for the long haul.
From the moment we roll out a punishment until the time that punishment has ended, our lives will change. A lot. I have a business, we have 5 kids, and we still like to try and date each other every once in awhile. Distractions happen and it is not fair to our kids to allow those distractions and stresses allow either of us to prematurely end the punishments.
If any of this has resonated with you and you are going to attempt to do something even remotely similar I offer one last caution. Anytime someone does something you don’t like, even your kid, your initial subconscious reflex is “how does this impact me?” I encourage you to fight through that. Put your kid first. Think, “what did they not know that lead them to do something that requires discipline” over “perfect, here’s one more crisis to deal with”.
If you do this, I think you’ll find what we found, that adding structure to your discipline makes it feel less harsh and more like the development tool it’s meant to be.
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