Disciplining young children with “3 Tickets”


Does your young child repeatedly get back out of bed, leave their room, refuse to go to sleep? Does your young child refuse to share with a sibling, constantly bicker or squabble with a sibling? Even hit? Do they refuse to eat the healthy food you prepare for them? Do they refuse to help clean up in a timely manner? Do you find yourself repeatedly giving the same request, or getting into power struggles with a very small person? You are not alone.

images-6I once came from the parenting philosophy “Let children unfold in their own glory, as they are naturally harmonious and cooperative young beings.” Over time, I realized kids actually need tons of, well, parenting.  With the amount of influence TV and other children/families have on our kids, our soft touch and gentle coaxing may not be enough. Most kids need lots of explicit information about our values and expectations and then they need a system of clear consequences for not cooperating.

imagesHere’s one of my favorite ideas from parenting expert John Rosemond called “The Ticket Method”:

Here’s a brief summary of the ticket method: List no more than three specific misbehaviors on an index card (e.g. throwing tantrums, refusing to obey first-time instructions, being mean to the dog). Those are the misbehaviors you are targeting for elimination. Post that list on the refrigerator. Stand your child in front of the list and go over the new system, with clarity and good cheer, explaining what happens if they “lose” all of their tickets.

Next, using a magnetic clip, clip a certain number of ticket-shaped pieces of colored construction paper to the refrigerator, above the target behavior list. The child begins every day with, say, five tickets. Every time he/she acts out one of their target behaviors, the parent vocalizes that out loud and walks dramatically to the refrigerator and removes a ticket.  Kids hate that.

Remember: the first four tickets are “free.” They are the child’s “margin of error” for any given day. When the child loses their fifth (last) ticket, they spend the remainder of the day in their room (first reduce the room’s entertainment value) and go to bed an hour early. As the child’s behavior improves, losing fewer and fewer tickets per day, reduce the margin of error gradually, but to no less than two. Or, keep the same number of tickets but add more target behaviors.

Another favorite application of the Ticket Method: When kids are bickering in the backseat of the car. Pull over, hand them each 3 tickets and tell them: “You may not argue or raise your voices for the rest of the car ride. The child who still has a ticket when we arrive at the destination, gets to go to bed at the regular time tonight. The child who has no tickets left will go to bed right after dinner.”

Tip:  Things get worse before they begin to get better. When things get worse, parents often conclude that the strategy isn’t working and the system, whatever it is, promptly collapses. As a result, the child learns how to get her parents’ goat, and the next time they try a systematic approach to the behavior problems, the child tests even more strenuously. And around and around we go. Stick with it.

Tip: Choose a small amount of specific misbehaviors, and only take tickets for those target behaviors. Or things will spin out of control fast.

images-7Tip: Be super clear with yourself and partner about exact consequences before setting this system in motion with your child. Example: no play date, or no playing outside after school, or going to bed early (my personal favorite), no screen time, etc.  Nothing messes things up worse, than parents who triangulate and fight about this stuff in front of  kids. Avoid that.

I know its hard to believe that kids thrive on this kind of clarity, this kind of authority, and this kind of discipline system. But honestly, its 10 times better than yelling, nagging, complaining, losing your cool, living in chaos, screeching and crying in front of them, or taking a lot of breaks from them because they “stress you out.” Create clarity in your home. Create a system with consequences. Then you can really “chill out.”

Ideas? Questions? Feedback? I’m eager to hear.


3 thoughts on “Disciplining young children with “3 Tickets”

  1. I like the non-violent strategy to this. I would like to mention that any time you make a change in your parenting things will (usually) always get worse for a short time. I would liken it to driving an eighteen-wheeler at 65 mph down the highway and suddenly trying to change direction to make a turn. The eighteen-wheeler has a measure of momentum which makes it very difficult to control and turn. As children get the hang of it, they would accept the discipline. with that said, I am not sure how well that would work though with only one consequence and that be going to bed early. What would you do if the child had homework and needed to stay up? Because sleeping is a natural body function I never considered using the bed (sleep) as a discipline measure in the same way I would not use going to the bathroom or eating.

    1. Thanks for your comments–fellow parent! I like the 18-wheeler metaphor! Did you get to read the whole post? Several other options for consequences and a Tip that things can get worse, before they get better! This blog is aimed at kids under 10, mostly, and even younger–before HW becomes the Beast-to-be-managed. More on Homework soon!

      1. Yes, I loved the post. I come with 20+ years experience in a Parents Anonymous group. One reason many parents failed was because when children’s behavior temporarily got worse, parents would give up or give in. I love other parenting ideas. This week on tantrums I wrote on using a “box” to stop a tantrum. (I am very pro-nonviolence.)

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