Warning-Chore Consequence Protocol

One of our most popular interventions is explained. How to shape a child's behavior quickly using a simple strategy you can start today. 

Full Transcript Below:

Stephanie: Ok, so today we’re going to talk about, what was it Sarah?

Sarah: The warning-chore consequence protocol

Stephanie: Yes, and that is the third thing on the parent report card, is that right? Something like that…

Sarah: Third or fourth yeah…

Stephanie: Okay, this is a really important, something to learn for everybody I think not just for parents that are coming in for parent coaching. I think everybody should know something about this if you’re a babysitter, if you’re a parent, because it’s a really quick and easy thing to learn and implement and it creates change really quickly. Would you agree?

Sarah: Yes, I would agree, we use this skill in order to, what we call, shape a child’s behavior. So what that means, when we’re shaping a behavior is that we’re not going to see an immediate change you know going from 0 to 60, you know a kid’s doing something they shouldn’t be doing and they automatically change. We’re basically looking at a habit we have to break and this is a skill that we can use in order to slowly work to break these habits.

Stephanie: Yeah, so essentially, the warning-chore consequence goes like this. A kid is doing something that you don’t approve of, don’t like, would like to change and so you give them a warning. You can do that by saying, “this is your warning”, or you could have, you know, your own way of doing it. But we usually would say, “You’re doing xyz, you’re doing blank, this is your warning. I need you to stop.” Or, “I need you to do it”, in some cases. So, I might say, Sarah you’re looking at me, I need you to stop, this is your warning. And, then if she does not stop, which she is not stopping doing right now.

Sarah: I’m straight gazing right now.

Stephanie: If she’s not stopping, then I’m going to say, okay that’s a consequence, and so that counts as one. And then she continues doing it and I’m going to say that’s two, then I’m going to say that’s three. And I’m going to keep going, we’re going to rack up our number until the behavior stops. Now, some parents will balk at this, and things that they say are what Sarah, I don’t even have to tell you, you know what they say.

Sarah: The things that parents say, well, a lot of times they will give multiple warnings, before they start actually counting the chores, or you know, they won’t even give a warning and they they’ll start counting chores. Is that what you’re getting at Stephanie?

Stephanie: Well give me an example of what you’re talking about and then we’ll go back to what I’m talking about.

Sarah: Okay, so a lot of times we’ll have parents you know, say the kid is screaming and the parent wants the kid to stop. The parents will say, you know Stephanie I really, I really need you to stop screaming, come on now I really need you to stop screaming.

Stephanie: Oh I got you, so then you’re saying that they’re getting like a pre-warning that’s not even official.

Sarah: Right, and then it’s just shows fear…

Stephanie: No it totally shows fear, and kids can see that, as I say all the time, as weakness and they know the rules, we orient them to the rules right? We tell them in the beginning like, this is the new set of rules, this is what’s going to happen. They know warning-chore consequence and you better believe they know the rules. So if you’re doing all this, come on now, then it’s that unofficial pre-warning, okay, I got you. Was there another thing, or was that it?

Sarah: Well you know, sometimes I do think that a warning needs to happen in order for the child to know what it is that the parent wants to change because sometimes it’s not quite so clear.

Stephanie: Oh yeah, like what do you mean? What do you mean I need to do my chores?

Sarah: Right, right but like I did I cleaned them.

Stephanie: Yeah, so then I’m saying I don’t like, you know how your parents used to say I don’t like your tone. And you were like, well you really knew, you really know. But if you want to get in technicalities then you would be like, I mean, I wasn’t using any sort of tone. So that would be an example where the kid might not quite understand, giving them the benefit of the doubt and they may not quite understand what it is you’re going for and they’ve done it for so long sometimes in the cases that we get, they’ve done it for so long that it’s hard for them to stop, they can’t just stop doing it, so we need to be able to give them that warning to keep them accountable but also to start increasing their awareness of what they’re doing and how frequently they’re doing it.

Sarah: Absolutely, I think a little more nuanced, situation I run into frequently is the child that likes to know, you know, what is the reason for something?

Stephanie: Yes, yes, why?

Sarah: And to them it’s more, maybe it is a genuine, I want to understand the purpose of this rule. But to a parent it comes off as being argumentative, or defiant.

Stephanie: Yes, yes and so what do you mean? And then you say okay, you’re asking why and that should, this is your warning. And then it’s like well, I don’t know why I can’t ask why. That counts, so that’s a one. And so what do we mean, that’s a one, that’s a two, that’s a three. Sarah, what do we mean?

Sarah: What we mean by that is the number of chores that the child is going to rack up, yes. So, say a child racks up five chores, in theory the parent will already have a handy list of very specific and measurable, and very clear chores that they can award their child to complete before they regain access to any privileges.

Stephanie: So how about this, how about, clean your room is a chore.

Sarah: See that one to me is a little bit ambiguous, because I’m sure my definition of clean is a bit different than my husband’s definition of clean. And if we’re going from a parent to a child, it can be even further from, you know, the happy medium that we’re looking for.

Stephanie: Right, and then if we imagine that one kids room, versus another kids room, one kids room is a disaster, another kids room is really tidy, then if we say clean your room, that could be a four hour project.

Sarah: Right.

Stephanie: So, what we want to also want to do is make sure that those chores are easy go to chores that can be completed relatively quickly, and sometimes you can list short term, moderate or long term kind of chores. But what you don’t want to do is, if I’m trying to shape a child’s behavior on their tone, and I give them one consequence, you know they earn one consequence based on their tone, or asking why, that one chore doesn’t need to be, you know, weed the entire two acre plot of land, you know that you have. So it needs to be something, you have to be able to use your wise mind on it and for it to be reasonable. Now, going back to the original point that I was making, it’s that when I introduce this concept to parents, there are some arguments that they have against doing it. So, let’s say, well you’re going to tell them this is your warning and then you’re going to give them a chore, and they don’t stop doing what you’re asking them to stop doing, you give them another, and you give them another, and you give them another and some parents will say, they won’t stop. And they’ll end up with 300 chores. And, I’m going to be that parent Sarah, but they won’t stop.

Sarah: Well, this is when I usually tell the parents, well you have to be a little bit more tenacious and a little bit more stubborn than your child, and just be willing to go that extra mile. And, you know, we have done this for many years at Psyche, and I think our record is what, 38 chores.

Stephanie: Oh, no our record is over 100…

Sarah: Really?

Stephanie: Yes, yes we had one – I like the word tenacious – adolescent who racked up over 100, and finished all of those 100 chores.

Sarah: Wow, good for that kid.

Stephanie: Absolutely, and the way that we handled it, was combining some of these chores together. Because, if you look at a chore being, take out the trash in your room. Well, take out the trash in your room, strip your sheets, too. So, often it just ended up being, for this kid it was an entire weekend basically of just working, working this off. So, it’s totally more tolerable than it sounds on the front end.

Sarah: Absolutely, and I do believe too, that the first time is usually the most and so if the parents can sort of get through that initial difficult, you know time implementing this chore, to know that nine times out of ten, children’s behavior is not going to be quite as bad as the next time. And, it also shows your child that you really do hold firm in what you say you’re going to do.

Stephanie: That you mean, business.

Sarah: Right, so if you earn that 100 chores, by God you’re going to get them to do 100 chores.

Stephanie: Right, and the parallel that I make with parents is that you know the world outside is not going to give them leeway on what they have, you know, the debt that they rack up… If we look at these consequences as being similar to debt, financial debt, and they go and spend, you know, one, two, three, four. You know, they use dollars, then nobody is going to step in and say ou know what, you really have turned around and we’re just going to wipe all of this off. No they’re going to have to pay that back, and it may be uncomfortable – most likely will be – to pay that back, but in some shape, form or fashion, they’re going to have to get their account back to zero. And, there’s no obligation to get the account back to zero in a day, or even two days, or even a month for that matter. We were actually afraid for this kid that got over a 100, that it wasn’t going to be possible to get all of them done. And, which was fine, because if you rack up over a 100 chores, you know back in my day. I don’t know about you, but back in my day, you know, you would get grounded for the weekend, or you would be grounded for a month, you know, for bigger sorts of things so it’s similar to that. So that is prelude, to you know, well what if they won’t do the chores, Sarah.

Sarah: See that’s a problem we get into because there has to be motivation in order for the child to do their chore. So, if we find out that you know child A has all these chores and they’re not doing them, my next question is going to be, okay well how are they spending their time. “Well, you know they’re on their phone, they’re watching TV, they’re going to soccer practice”, that’s a problem right there. The reason the warning-chore consequence protocol works is because all privileges are striped until the debt is repaid.

Stephanie: Correct.

Sarah: So if I know I have a soccer game on Saturday, and I can’t go to said soccer game if I don’t get my chores done, I’m going to be a little more motivated to work to complete those so that I can go to my game.

Stephanie: But, Sarah, it’s not fair to punish everyone else on the soccer team.

Sarah: Yeah, you’re right it sucks. And that may be motivation in the future to not earn so many chores.

Stephanie: It’s surprising, where all of a sudden a kid that can seem completely unmotivated, really can kick it into gear when something like that is right around the corner. Like, oh my gosh. And, maybe it’s the social pressure of I’m going to have to tell my coach, I’m going to have my fellow players, that I’m not going to be able to be there because I didn’t get these things done that I earned. You know, that was my doing.

Sarah: Talk about embarrassing.

Stephanie: Absolutely, yeah that happens once, I promise you and it won’t happen again.

Sarah: Yeah.

Stephanie: You know, I don’t know that we’ve ever had that happen because I know there was a time where it came close, but this kid somehow, some way got those things done.

Sarah: Right, right.

Stephanie: And, the other thing that can undermine this is, you know, changing, the parents changing it or modifying it based on what they frame as very important to the kid. Like, a soccer game, but really it’s important to them, the parents. Well, you know, this is really important to them, or they need their music at night to sleep, or , so they’re padding it in some way. And, every time that a parent does something like that, it says to the kid, I don’t think you can handle it, I don’t think that you can actually accomplish something difficult. And so, even though we’re not explicitly saying something like that, it’s implied. When they take pressure off of the kid, and then this lets the kid also know that the parents are weak.

Sarah: Right, it sets a really terrible precedent.

Stephanie: It does, and then when you’re going to want them to do what you want them to do the next time, and you say you’re doing this, and this is your warning. In that kids mind, is the last time that you made their dreams happen, you know, that you allowed them to pursue and achieve their hopes and dreams despite of their problematic behavior so they know, you will change your mind. And you and I know both, we’ve been on the adolescent end and we’ve heard them say things like that.

Sarah: Yes. And you can’t argue with that, when you’re the adolescent therapist and they say well it doesn’t matter, my parents aren’t going to follow through well historically if that is true, then I say then milk it as long as you can. I mean hey, if you’re getting away with it, what are we going to do? I mean I’m not surely going to advocate for the parent and say well I’m going to talk to your parent to make sure that your consequences are followed through if I’m the kids therapist.

Stephanie: Right, I mean as long as the kid is not doing something that’s dangerous.

Sarah: Absolutely.

Stephanie: You just sound like an ableist over there.

Sarah: No, no, no absolutely.

Stephanie: Yeah, and when the parents are doing what they’re supposed to do, they tell the parent coach, they’ll say oh yeah, I’m going to do that, I’m going to do that. The adolescent therapist hears they’ll never do it. And then, low and behold the adolescent is right and that is so frustrating, to both the adolescent therapist and the parent coach because the kid then, feels more powerful than the parents, and as we may have mentioned in a previous podcast, that’s a very precarious situation for a kid to be in. They know they’re not ready to go out and deal with the world, and when they feel more powerful than a grown person, their parent that is supposed to be able to protect them, protect them from both the outside world and from themselves. And, they are more powerful than that person, it really messes with their minds, and their confidence level, and that’s when you see a lot of acting out. So, just to review, we call it the warning-chore consequence protocol because the first thing you do, is give a warning, you don’t, the first thing you do is not to give the pre-warning. The first thing you do is the whole purpose of the warning is that you give the warning. This is, and you define, this is what you’re doing, you’re being argumentative, this is your warning.

Sarah: I need you to stop.

Stephanie: I need you to stop, or I need you to walk in the other room, or I need you to soften your tone. You give a directive, you give something specific you want them to do. So this is the warning. And then they continue, and that’s the chore. So you got waring, chore, that’s chore one. And then, it could be chore two, chore three, chore four. But whatever those are, that’s the consequence. So, and then the other rule is they have to have all of their chores completed prior to using any of their extra-curriculars, their fun things, their privileges.

Sarah: And these include but are not limited to their phones, TV, social media, music…

Stephanie: Hanging out with friends…

Sarah: Sports practice, play practice, band, I mean, anything that is not school, food, shelter.

Stephanie: And, we’ll give a little caveat there, as long as they actually like it.

Sarah: Good point.

Stephanie: They can’t use that in order to get out of some of the things that if they don’t like, going to girl scouts or whatever. But you’re insisting that they go, so you would not say, “well you can’t go to girl scouts now because you haven’t gotten all your chores done”, it’s like wow yeah, great, I know what to do in the future, you know. You want to use wise mind, we go back to, you definitely want to use wise mind when it comes to this. And, when in doubt, when you’re not sure what to do, what do you do?

Sarah: You call your parent coach.

Stephanie: Yes, you call your parent coach, and so I’ve had some really great parents that the kid is racking up you know forty-something chores and they call and say, “Hey, is this something that we need to keep doing?” That’s a great question, and so then we can strategize together. Are there situations where I’m going to be doing the chore one, chore two, chore three, chore four, and then stop and change my mind? I would say 99.9% of the time no, but there is that 0.1% of the time where that kid may then start engaging in life threatening behavior and that’s you know like, cutting themselves or grabbing a bottle of pills and threatening to take it. In which case, you’re going to need to step in with another intervention, so this is not an intervention solely standalone that, that’s all that you use. You can certainly combine it with other interventions, and at that point you absolutely need to be talking to your parent coach. And, this is, we’re not going to go into in this podcast, on what to do when a kid is highly suicidal and threatening things like that, suffice to say that if that happens, something new needs to happen.

Sarah: Right, and the sooner that the behavior has occurred or is occurring and you cal your parent coach the better. I know one of our clinicians just last week said put me on speaker phone, and then she actually did the warning-chore consequence thing over speaker to model it for mom.

Stephanie: That’s awesome, love it.

Sarah: Until they stopped. Yeah, there’s no substitute for in the moment learning and coaching.