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A.T.I.P. You Should Never Forget

“I don’t know what to do about (this or that or the other) behavior……I guess I need  A.T.I.P.!” 

Text Box:  We saw the great importance of having a “process” with our above discussion of “Yes-When deals.”  There is another important “process” for you to have in your behavior management “toolbox” that I call “A.T.I.P.”. 

When your child’s behavior grows challenging, it is quite common for parents to become overwhelmed emotionally (e.g., with feelings of anger, frustration, guilt, anxiety, sadness) and therefore intellectually confused (whereby overwhelming emotion clouds a parent’s ability to make sound management decisions).  It can be a vicious cycle. 

One way for you to avoid becoming overwhelmed and confused is to have a “process” in place.  Now is the time to take “A. T.I.P.” and remember this simple truth:

There are only 4 categories of options for disciplining: (1) Avoid, (2) Teach, (3) Ignore, and (4) Punish. 





First, try to avoid the situation that may elicit the negative behavior (but do so without “giving in” and without significantly altering your lifestyle, so that you maintain appropriate control).

Temporarily separate the kids if they seem to be fighting a lot 

  • “Play with ____ instead”
  • Offer “Yes-When deals”
  • Restrict Junior’s options until he corrects what he has done wrong
  • Explain why the negative behavior is wrong/forbidden.
  • Model the appropriate/ target behavior
  • Use Positive Reinforcement (in the form of praise, charts, etc.)
  • Grant Grace (see “Amazing Grace” below)

If choosing to ignore, be prepared to fully ignore the negative behavior.  Remember, by definition, “ignoring” is an all-or-none proposition.

  • Time-out
  • Removal of privileges
  • A stern verbal admonition
  • Physically remove your child from a given situation
  • Give “The Look”
  • Physically contain your child (briefly, humanely) for his own protection if he demonstrates dangerous behavior.

Of course, you may again feel confused, since no particular category is best in all situations.  For example, you might IGNORE your child’s screaming, TEACH your child after paint spills, and PUNISH your child’s running into the street, while another parent may instead choose to IGNORE when their child’s spills paint, TEACH when their child runs into the street, and PUNISH when their child screams.  To debate specifics in this format is futile, because there are far too many real-world situations that arise, and these situations vary greatly in their demands and requirements.  Also, there is great variability in the preferences and personality styles of reasonable parents. 

I have been working with children and families since 1991, and I am proud to say that I have never told any parent what to do.  I simply help parents consider ranges of reasonable options through the four categories of Avoiding, Teaching, Ignoring, and/or Punishing.  I give my opinion when it is solicited, but I then quickly point out that there are many ways to get to any one particular behavioral goal. 

I placed the letters of “A.T.I.P” in that order not only because it spells a meaningful phrase and is therefore easy to remember, but also because “Avoid, Teach, Ignore, and/or Punish” is a good, common-sense order.  If you can Avoid a given behavioral problem, that’s great (Benjamin Franklin said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”).  It’s good to “Avoid” a problem through common-sense precautions (e.g., you avoid a tantrum by putting a child in bed at a reasonable time), but you should not “Avoid” problems at the cost of sacrificing your own place as an “in charge” parent.  For example, if you want to enjoy a cookie in your own home, do you become a “hostage,” choose to spell out the word “c-o-o-k-i-e,” and avoid eating the cookie in front of your kids, or do you choose to speak and act freely as a humane but “in charge” parent?

The second option in “A.T.I.P.” is “Teaching.”  It is kind to teach your kids, and teaching your children is one of your most important jobs.  Teaching can occur in many ways.  Probably the most common (and often least effective) is telling/lecturing your children.  You may also choose to teach with “Yes-When deals” (discussed above).  Behavior Charts (e.g., sticker charts, chore charts) are also commonly used.  Finally, the most subtle (and probably most influential) way we teach our children is through the modeling of our own behavior.  Watch yourself, because your kids are watching you!

The third option in “A.T.I.P.” is “Ignoring.”  Of course, certain behaviors are not “ignorable” for obvious reasons (e.g., if your child runs into the street).  But many minor behavioral infractions that we sometimes try to micro-manage may be better addressed via ignoring.  Ignoring can sound cold.  In fact, some parenting books call ignoring “planned ignoring” so it doesn’t sound so offensive.  Semantics aside, ignoring can be quite humane for a few reasons.  First, ignoring negative behavior is better than becoming aggressive with a child (yelling, threatening, hitting).  Second, when you ignore your child’s negative behavior, you model self-control and emotional strength.  And third, when you ignore, you limit the possibility of inadvertently reinforcing your child’s negative behavior with your attention.  

The fourth option (and last resort) in “A.T.I.P.” is “Punishing.”  Perhaps the best way to understand punishment is to consider it within the context of the broader goal of “discipline.”  Read on: