- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 5, 2007

John, several other parents have told me about your “ticket” method for dealing with misbehavior, but I wonder if I can get it straight from “the horse’s mouth.”

A: Yes, you can. First, however, your reference to the mouth of a horse caused me to become curious as to the origin of this odd saying. So I consulted the omniscient oracle of the Internet and discovered that the true age and health of a horse, essential knowledge when horses were the sole means of personal transportation, can be ascertained through a dental exam.

If the buyer of a horse had reason to distrust the veracity of the seller’s claims, the truth could be determined from “the horse’s mouth.” Since then, the saying has come to mean going straight to the source for information.

I crafted the ticket method about 25 years ago in response to the observation that timeout worked only temporarily, if at all, with children who are what I call “high misbehavers,” a good number of whom will not cooperate with the instruction to sit in a chair for five or 10 minutes.

Another way of saying the same thing: Timeout works with children who already are fairly well-behaved. A more powerful message is required for children whose misbehavior exceeds “occasionally” and “childish.”

Tickets can supplement timeout (if the child will cooperate) or substitute for it. The requirements are a magnetic clip, three to five “tickets” cut from colored construction paper (they are easier to handle and more durable if laminated) and a list of no more than five problem behaviors, as in, “Refusing to do what I tell you to do,” “Ignoring me when I speak to you,” “Yelling at me when I do not give you what you want” and the like.

For pre-readers, simple drawings can substitute for word descriptions, but if parents are consistent with enforcement, this isn’t necessary.

The method is simple enough for most 36-month-olds to grasp, but with children younger than 42 months, I recommend starting with one “target” behavior and five tickets. When the initial misbehavior is under control, a second can be added to the program. The target behaviors are posted on the refrigerator. The tickets are put in the magnetic clip, which also is affixed to the refrigerator.

Every time the child exhibits a target behavior, the parent on the scene takes the child to the refrigerator and says, “[The behavior] is on your list, which means I’m taking a ticket.” The parent takes a ticket out of the clip and places it on top of the refrigerator.

If and only if the child will cooperate, a timeout of five to 15 minutes also can be enforced. If timeout is used, the chair should be in a relatively isolated place, and the period should be defined by a timer as opposed to the parent saying “You can get up now.”

Certain outrageous behaviors — hitting, for example — can result in the loss of more than one ticket at a time.

The child begins every day with a certain number of tickets. When all the tickets have been lost, the child spends the rest of the day in his room and goes to bed one hour early. The next day, the proverbial slate is wiped clean — all of the child’s tickets are restored, and the procedure begins anew. I generally recommend that the “play value” of the child’s room be significantly reduced during the child’s rehabilitation.

The success of the program depends on parents observing the “Referee’s Rule”: no threats, warnings or second chances. When the child misbehaves, it is essential that parents not say things like, “Do you want to lose a ticket?” or, “If you don’t do what I just told you to do, I’m going to take a ticket.” Also, lost tickets cannot be earned back with good behavior or acts of service.

As the child’s behavior improves, the number of tickets can be reduced gradually to keep pressure on the youngster to progress. Generally speaking, full rehab takes six to 12 weeks, after which the child will be perfectly behaved forever.

My editors have compelled me to admit that those last nine words constitute a gross exaggeration. They also took one of my tickets. I’ll do better; I promise.

Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents’ questions on his Web site (www.rosemond.com).

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