Discipline Without Stress Newsletter – August 2001

Volume 1 Number 1 


    1.  Welcome
      TIME Magazine, August 6, 2001 cover article:
      “DO KIDS HAVE TOO MUCH POWER? Yes, say many parents. And now they’re moving to regain control.”
    2. Promoting Responsibility
    3. Increasing Effectiveness
    4. Improving Relationships
    5. Tips For Parents
    6. From The Book
       How Teachers and Parents Promote Responsibility & Learning
    7. Your Questions Answered
    8. Public Seminars
    9. What Others Are Saying About the Book:
    10. About this Newsletter


Dear Colleague:

Welcome to PROMOTING RESPONSIBILITY a monthly newsletter devoted to raising responsibility (for people of all ages), improving people’s effectiveness, and improving relationships.

A recent headlined story gives an indication as to the timeliness of this first issue. The cover of TIME Magazine, August 6, 2001, headlined the following: “DO KIDS HAVE TOO MUCH POWER? Yes, say many parents. And now they’re moving to regain control.” Major points of the article include overindulgence and the coddling of children in an attempt to insulate them from any discomfort.

The article notes that it is a little ironic “that our success and newfound prosperity — the very accomplishments and good fortune that we so desperately desire to share with our children — put them at risk.”

Using the body’s immune system as a metaphor, Harvard psychologist, Dan Kindlon, argues, “The body cannot learn to adapt to stress unless it experiences it. Indulged children are often less able to cope with stress because their parents have created an atmosphere where their whims are indulged, where they have always assumed … that they’re entitled and that life should be a bed of roses.” (This is addressed in the next article below.)

The article describes how young people manipulate parents (by their constant asking — and thereby controlling the situation). Parents try to meet the desires of their children (by continually responding — and thereby becoming stressed).

A primary theme in PROMOTING RESPONSIBILITY will be to show how to keep control and, at the same time, reduce stress. And we start with this strategy of questioning and answering .

Here is the principle: THE PERSON WHO ASKS THE QUESTION CONTROLS THE SITUATION. You know this from your own conversations. When the person with whom you are speaking asks a question, the conversation is directed toward answering it. THE QUESTION DIRECTS THE CONVERSATION.

Being aware of this is the first step in taking control. Rather than the child’s doing the asking and the parent’s doing the answering, the PARENT should be asking. But the questions should be reflective or self-evaluative. That is, the young person is prompted to think and reflect. A continuing theme of this newsletter will be focused on honing this skill.


David McMillian hosts an hour long weekly radio program entitled, “Strategies for Living.” When he recently interviewed me for his program, he mentioned Viktor Frankl. Dr. Frankl was a professor of both Neurology and Psychology at the University of Vienna andwas a prolific writer. Perhaps his most famous book, “Man’s Search for Meaning,” describes what he learned in surviving three Nazi death camps. This short book has a profound positive effect on anyone who reads it.

McMillian commented that Dr. Frankl suggested that what America needed was a “Statue of Responsibility” on the West Coast to balance the Statue of Liberty on the East Coast.

Society’s emphasis on rights has not been balanced with an equal emphasis on responsibility. Many parents, having a desire for their children’s happiness, believe that doing things for their children is a natural way to help accomplish this goal.

It should be noted, however, that people grow by effort. This does not mean to imply that young people should not receive help or assistance, but it should serve as a reminder that responsibility takes effort. In a very real sense, responsibility cannot be given; it can only be taken.

In short, what we sow (effort and responsibility) so shall we reap. In promoting responsibility, consider the age-old maxim: Do not do those things for young people that they can do for themselves.


 I grew up with a friend who, when told what to do by a parent, would find an excuse NOT to do it. Even if it was something he wanted to do, such as going outside to play. He would find an excuse to stay indoors just because he was TOLD.No one likes to be TOLD what to do. Think of a time when someone told you what to do or told you that you had to do something. Notice how it conjures up a negative emotion.

Depending upon the other person’s mental frame at the time, when we tell a person what to do — regardless of how admirable our intentions — the message is often PERCEIVED either as an attempt to control or as a criticism that what the person is doing is not good enough

Young people are in the process of asserting their independence, and they perceive TELLING as an attempt to control them. In this regard, young people are like adults — who also dislike being controlled.

Besides, teenagers know everything. Mark Twain articulated this when he said, “When I was fourteen my father was so ignorant, I could scarcely stand to have him around; but when I turned twenty-one, I was amazed at how much he has learned in seven years.”

Rather than TELLING, consider phrasing your idea as a QUESTION or stated in a curious mode. For example, if you disapprove of what your youngster wants to do, ask, “What would be the long-term effect of doing that?”

In the situation with my friend, the parent could have had more success by asking, “What’s the weather like outside? I’m thinking of going out later.” After checking the weather, my friend most probably then would have asked to go outside and play — exactly what the parent desired.


Very few people enjoy being challenged. When we hear an opinion different from our own, a natural tendency is to be defensive. The reason is that we interpret our positions as being criticized or, at least, not being recognized.

A simple way to turn this situation into an advantage is to ask yourself, “What can I learn from this person’s opinion?” The attitude of inquisitiveness enhances learning and diminishes chances of any negative, reactive feelings.

In addition, asking the following question may give insight into the other person’s thinking: “How did you come to that conclusion?”

Learning the thinking and/or thought processes of the other person often clarifies — in addition to diffusing the urge of a negative reaction.


A one-page “Tips for Parents” from the First International Conference on Character Education is available.



– How Teachers and Parents Promote Responsibility & Learning

Life is a conversation. Interestingly, the most influential person we talk with all day is ourself, and what we tell ourself has a direct bearing on our behavior, our performance, and our influence on others. In fact a good case can be made that our thoughts create our reality.

Many psychologists have argued that, by thinking negatively, we cause ourselves mental and physical stress. Stress is related to perceiving the world as manageable or unmanageable. By practicing three principles, we can reduce stress because these principles enhance the management of our world. Additional benefits accrue because the principles also improve relationships and increases our effectiveness in influencing others to change their behaviors.


The first of the three principles is positivity. We know that we learn and do better when we feel good, not bad. Rather than communicating in positive terms, we often communicate in negative terms by using consequences. Although consequences can be positive or negative, they are usually interpreted as punishments, which are negative and coercive.

A more effective approach than consequences is the use of contingencies. Rather than reactive and negative, contingencies are proactive and positive and, in addition, they keep responsibility with the person with whom we want to foster it.

Notice the difference between how the following two are heard: “As soon as you finish your work, you can go.” (CONTINGENCY, stated in the POSITIVE) vs. “If your work is not done, youÕre not going.” (This is the same message, but negatively stated)

Communicating positively — not only with others but with ourself — reduces stress, improves relationships, and is more effective than negativity in influencing in others.

The first step to cultivate this habit is to become aware of the number of times you state something negatively that can be stated positively.

The principles of CHOICE and REFLECTION will be discussed in future newsletters.



I work with parents in helping their children to keep their agreements. At school, I help the children to understand that if they say they will do something, it is their responsibility to keep their end of the bargain. If they do not, I tell them that I am disappointed in them and that I expect that they will keep their word when they give their word. Parents, however, do not go along with this. They look for punishments and consequences when promises (agreements) are not kept.


The way for a youngster to take ownership is to work with him/her by DEVELOPING A PROCEDURE. After the agreement (plan) is made, set up a procedure to implement the plan. Start by asking, “What will you do to carry out your plan?” When the YOUNGSTER explains in detail, a mindset is being established — not only for a commitment to do it but also a visioning process of HOW to do it. Remember that the youngster may have good intentions to implement the plan and may even want to do it but needs specifics to assist in the plan’s implementation — hence the need to establish procedures.

Also, instead of sending a negative message indicating that you are disappointed, send a positive one. KEEP THESE TWO QUESTIONS HANDY: “What would an extraordinary person do? If you were that person what would you do?”

The practice to follow is to ask effective questions — one where the person is prompted to reflect. Such questions evoke acknowledgement and ownership — two critical components of taking responsibility.

Question continued:

My dilemma is this, then: when a parent wants to know about what a consequence or punishment will be for not keeping an agreement, what do I say?


Explain that punishment is based on the idea that a person needs to be hurt in order to learn. This is fallacious thinking. When punishment is imposed,the person being punished feels like a victim. Victims take no responsibility for their behavior. In addition, imposed punishments evoke negative feelings on the part of the punished towards the punisher.

Explain that a more effective approach is to ELICIT a consequence from the youngster by asking, “What should we do about this?” If the response is not satisfactory to you, then ask, “What else?” “What else?” until what the youngster says is acceptable.

Using this approach, the child is taking responsibility for the consequence. This ownership negates victimhood thinking. NOTE: If the consequence elicited is too severe, modify it before agreeing to it.

In sum, explain that eliciting a consequence is far more effective than imposing one.


FOR K-12 Educators, Youth Workers, and Parents

Promote Responsibility and Learning

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   How Teachers and Parents Promote Responsibility & Learning”

“Highly recommended for all teachers (no matter what grade level) as well as parents (regardless of the age of the child).” –Library Journal

Carried by:

National Association of Elementary School Principals
National Association of Secondary School Principals
National School Boards Association
Phi Delta Kappa International