This blog is my place to vent and share resources with other parents of children of trauma. I try to be open and honest about my feelings in order to help others know they are not alone. Therapeutic parenting of adopted teenagers with RAD and other severe mental illnesses and issues (plus "neurotypical" teens) , is not easy, and there are time when I say what I feel... at the moment. We're all human!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

How to discipline your difficult child -writing assignments

So you want to find logical consequences and for your child to learn not to do this behavior again. Writing assignments even help them academically, but who can think up this stuff?! What makes it a good assignment that they'll learn from?

Difficulty: Moderately Challenging

Things You’ll Need:
Patience, empathy and support
access to the internet
a good bookstore (I like Half-price books)
Patience and creativity

Tips & Warnings

Be creative and ask your friends or research on the internet. I love to pick up books at the bookstore or articles or stories on the internet. That way they are ready if I need them. Remember they can do an assignment more than once. Books can be much lower reading levels (I like Berenstein Bears).

Assignments don't have to be given the day they are put in the FAIR Club You can take your time and think about it. You can even e-mail/comment me for advice, articles, forms, or info on books!

Consequences should ALWAYS be given with a calm, loving, empathetic tone of voice and attitude. You want your child to learn from their mistakes.

Restitution is a concept you should introduce fairly early on. Be prepared to explain what it means!

I admit now that we've had the FAIR Club for almost 2 years I am much lazier about getting assignments to the kids right away and enforcing the earlier bedtime is hard for us because we eat so late. I also tend to have them do more book report type assignments then writing assignments. Because Kitty has such a severe reaction to the FAIR Club we don't use it very often with her.

Writing Assignments

There are a few big things you need to remember when creating a writing assignment.

1. Children learn best from natural consequences, but if you can't use those (especially if it might cause death or dismemberment!), logical consequences work well.

If a child steals something a natural consequence might be that they get caught by the police and put in jail. Most of the time this doesn't happen though.

A logical consequence might be making them return (or pay for) the item - in our house you have to pay back 2 times the worth of the item, and the child must offer restitution to all involved - the person the item was stolen from of course, but also the parents who had to take time to deal with the issue.

2. The purpose of a writing assignment is not to punish the child, but to help the child make better choices and learn from his/her mistakes.

3. Be sure that you keep in mind the child's age, abilities and learning style in mind. A 3 page research report citing 10 articles is probably not appropriate for an 8 year old or even a 17 year old with severe learning disabilities, but the assignment should take them more than 10 minutes to complete. Expect complete sentences, good spelling and good handwriting. Re-writing it can help drive the message home!

4. Repetition is great, but mix it up by trying different approaches. Don't use the same consequence every time or they might start weighing whether doing the crime is worth the time. I also step it up a notch if this is a repeat offense or the child has been particularly unmanageable lately.

5. Not every assignment goes like you'd expect it too. Sometimes it was easier than you thought - sometimes it might be impossible. I once gave my children a group assignment - the majority were unable to handle it and it didn't work at all. One of the children was assigned to write a short story and she copied the example almost word for word. Can you say plagiarism?

6. Be ready to sit with your child and help them stay calm and think it through to the next step. Sometimes you might end up modifying the assignment if you realize it's too difficult. Often you can help them to greater insight. For one learning disabled child I read the assignment and will occasionally let her dictate the writing part to me if she appears to be too frustrated to do it on her own.


The following are some examples of assignments I gave early on when we first started the FAIR Club:

Bear - was a 13/14 yr. old boy (now 15 and rarely in the FAIR Club), adopted from foster care. Diagnosed with RAD, PTSD, bipolar, cerebral dysrhythmia, ADD, and behind in school. This was when he was still aggressive and intimidating all the time - before he went to residential treatment.

Kitty - at the time of these examples, was 11/12 yr. old girl (now 13). Adopted from foster care. Diagnosed with RAD, Complex PTSD, bipolar, oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), ADHD, and learning disabilities.

Bob was 10/11 yr. old girl (now 12). "Spirited" and very bright, usually responsible, was oldest child until new siblings moved in 11/06. Excellent reader and very stubborn, usually gets harsher consequences because of her attitude and my higher expectations. She can really push my buttons!

Ponito was a 7 yr old boy (now 10). Acts up mostly when tired, hungry or overwhelmed, is also very bright and capable of working at much higher levels then the average kid his age.

Bob and Bear (no idea what they did):

1. What specifically did you do that led up to being grounded (at least 10 things).

2. What could/should you have done differently.

3. What would happen if we let you and everyone act this way. At least 2 pages.

Ponito (repeatedly not doing his homework)

1 page on why homework is important and what you learn from it.

What will/ could happen to you if you don’t do your homework.

Kitty (meltdown that was building for quite a while, but triggered by not being allowed to wear the shoes she wanted and being unable to find socks).

What were you thinking and feeling that led you to get upset this morning (list 8 things – For example, I was feeling jealous that Bob got new shoes and I didn’t. I was frustrated that I couldn't find any shoes that I wanted to wear).

How did you know you were getting upset? How could we, your parents, have helped you calm down (other than letting you wear flip flops or shoes without socks). How could you have helped yourself calm down?

List 3 ways you handled this situation well (or better than you have in the past).

List 3 things that we, your parents, did that helped you deal with this situation. This should be at least 1 -2 pages.

Bob and Kitty (the girls were found playing with Bratz dolls that had been confiscated and put in my closet. One of them took them out, but neither admitted to it).

Bob and Kitty- Write down your version of what happened (do NOT work on this with your sister). Because you lied, did something you knew was wrong, and gave us attitude (and maybe stole from us) we no longer feel we can trust you.

List 5 things you can do to rebuild trust with us. How would you feel if we lied, stole, and gave YOU attitude? Why? Why do you think we don’t do this to you?

Write down at least 5 reasons you think we may not like Bratz dolls.

This should take at least 3 pages.

Kitty only- Explain why what you said are threats.

For Bob only–Why should I believe that your attitude is going to improve?

Bear (no idea what he did)

Read pages 1-97 in the book “How to Take the Grrr Out of Anger.” (It’s not that long and has lots of pictures!). Write down 8 things that you found interesting, thought were important, or meant something to you. On a piece of typing paper, redesign the pledge on page 98 to be specifically for you.

Read pages 99-105. Make a list of how we, your parents, can help you. You can point out things you would like us to continue to do or would like us to change or try.

Ponito (got upset about not getting his way and started kicking things. Refused to get in the car when we needed to go to the store)

What were you thinking and feeling that led you to get upset and refuse to get in the car (list 8 things – For example, I was feeling mad that my sisters were the ones to tell me I was in the FAIR Club. I was feeling sad that Cason wouldn’t be able to come over.)

List 10 things that you or I, your mom, could do to help you feel better (other than not making you be in the FAIR Club and have an assigned seat).

Read Jonah and the Giant Fish and answer the 3 questions at the back. Flip the book over and read Jason Learns to Obey and answer the 3 questions.

List 8 things that you have been upset/mad/sad about that you want to talk to Mom or Dad about. Set up a time to talk to Mom and/or Dad about them.

Bob (no idea what she did, but was a good excuse to get her to read this great book to Kitty)Politely arrange a time to sit down with your sister and read aloud pages 1-97 in the book “How to Take the Grrr Out of Anger.” (It’s not that long and has lots of pictures!). Write 10 things that you found interesting, thought was a good idea, or meant something to you (Your sister may help you). By yourself, redesign the pledge on page 98 to be specifically for you. Make it look nice enough to frame.

Read pages 99-105. Make a list of how we, your parents, can help you. You can point out things you would like us to continue to do or would like us to change or try.

List at least 10 things that you have been upset/ mad/ sad about that you want to talk to Mom and/or Dad about. Set up a time to talk to Mom and/or Dad about your lists

Kitty (leaving a big mess - repeatedly- and not noticing them)

Extra Chore: You will pick up your room EVERY night and make sure your dirty clothes for the day and bath towel are in a laundry basket. Any personal hygiene items must be thrown away (pull-ups especially). If you make a mess – clean it up!

Writing Assignment: _ Look up oblivious in the dictionary and write all the definitions down on a piece of paper. List 7 things people often have to ask you to do (for example, clean up a spill or put your dirty clothes in the laundry) and what you will do to help you remember to do these things.

Bear (Lying and breaching trust)

Extra Chore: You will find a different person every night to help in some way. Once your writing assignment is complete you need to use the last question to start trying to rebuild trust.

Writing Assignment: _ Read the articles about trust and lies. Answer all the questions that follow.

Bear (running away and not feeling part of the family)

Extra Chore: Find one chore that you can do that helps you feel more like part of the family. Take 5 minutes to tell one of your parents about one of your feelings –every day.

Writing Assignment: Read the article titled Seasons. Which season are you in right now. Write a paragraph for each season on what your life will be, or is, like. Unlike a tree, sometimes nature needs help to get you to the next season. Write a paragraph on what you think might help you to get to the next season.

Bob (Attitude and telling Kitty that she wishes Kitty weren’t here).

Writing Assignment: Read all 3 fairy tales from Forever Child series. Write and illustrate your own fairy tale with you as the main character.

Kitty (For breaking rules like eating after hours and waiting till too late to tell me important things)

Writing Assignment: Using eye contact and some form of physical touch (hand holding, knees touching…) talk to a parent about 6 important things each day. Write down each of these 6 things and the parent’s response. The important things must be different each day.

Bob (For screaming and complaining about having to help C clean her room and not getting any attention)

Writing Assignment: 11 things we can do to give Bobattention; 11 appropriate ways for Bob to let Mom and Dad know that she needs attention; 11 things Bob will do to make restitution (look up definition of restitution in the dictionary).

Group assignment:

Bob, Ponito and Kitty (Kitty for kicking the wall and threatening to jump out the window, calling parents names and having to be restrained). (Bob for negative attitude). (Ponito for kicking things when angry and bickering with sisters)

Extra Chore: Everyone may fill one Rubbermaid tub with toys. Everything else must be put in the garage to be given to charity. Please put unwanted American Dolls and their accessories in a separate bag. Once the playroom is empty, put all the toys you kept neatly away. If they are not put away they will be GONE.

Team Writing Assignment: RULES: Do a good job on this or each of you will have to write your own. Respect your siblings’ needs and abilities. It is NOT your job to tell your siblings what to do. Take a time out if you need it, but remember not to take advantage of the others.

1. List at least 3 reasons (each) that you were (or should have been) put in the FAIR Club on a piece of paper. This is a total of at least 9!

2. Write and illustrate a story using yourself and your siblings as main characters in which the characters work together to become better people. Do a good job or you will each have to write your own.

a. In the beginning show the characters doing things they are not supposed to be doing (use your behaviors!).

b. In the middle tell what the consequences of these actions are and how the characters come to understand that these were not good choices. (You may NOT use an authority figure like a Mommy or a principal who comes in to discipline them. They must figure this out in another way – maybe by seeing how they actions hurt someone else.).

c. At the end, tell how the characters give restitution to the people that they hurt – including themselves.

3. On a separate piece of paper write

a. What you learned from this assignment. (There should be at least one thing learned from each of you.)

b. How did you get along? Did you argue?

c. What was difficult about working together? Did you have trouble sharing, taking turns, did everyone participate, did someone work harder or less than the others? How did that make you feel?

d. How did you resolve your problems?

FYI this assignment did NOT work well and all ended up having to do something on
their own. (See following for new assignments)


Draw a picture for the story

Bob (For continuing negative attitude)

Writing Assignment : Read the Berenstein Bears Get in a Fight. Finish the team writing assignment on your own.

Ponito (For kicking things when angry)

Writing Assignment: Read the 2 books I Was So Mad and Handling Your Disagreements. Write a short paragraph about a time you got in a disagreement.

Read p. 118 of the Handling book. Which steps did you do or not do? For each step write what you did and whether or not it was the right thing to do. If it wasn’t, write how you should have handled it.

Make a list of 8 things you can do when you’re mad instead of hitting, kicking, crying or pouting.

Kitty (For being rude and telling Grandma she wouldn’t clean her room, leaving a big mess all over the house after being told to pick up her stuff, and for having a meltdown when told she needed to deal with the consequences of Grandma having picked up all her shoes).

Extra Chore: You will clean the refrigerator inside and out (don’t forget under the drawers). ( Also had to :Finish cleaning room and assigned another room in the house to keep clean and be responsible for on a weekly basis.)

Writing Assignment: Read the article about restitution. Leaving room to add to each answer, write 6 things you have done recently that you should make restitution for. For each of these things write who you need to make restitution to. Ask that person in what way you can provide restitution (You can offer suggestions from the list in the article). Write down what you have decided to do – do it!

Kitty (For eating breadsticks for breakfast after Dad told her not to eat pizza).

Writing Assignment: Read “How to Behave and Why” answer any questions. Then answer the following questions:

1. Why are you in the FAIR Club?

2. What did you learn from this book? (List at least 4 things)

3. Why do you think Dad told you not to eat pizza for Breakfast?

4. How should you have handled it?

5. Why was what you did not the right thing to do?

Ponito (For stealing some lozenges off my desk, lying about it, and hiding them in his lunch box with a LOT of cereal bars he was not supposed to have either).

Writing Assignment: Read the Book “Don’t tell Whoppers on Friday.” Answer the following questions:

1. Why are you in the FAIR Club?

2. What did you learn from this book? (List at least 6 things)

3. Why do Mom and Dad not want you to take cereal bars and medicine strips? (List 6 reasons)

4. This is not the first time you’ve stolen or lied. What are you going to do to stop yourself from doing this again?

5. Mom took your candy and toy bag from you. How is this like what you did? How did it make you feel? Should Mom give your bag back? Why or why not?

6. Why is it important not to lie or steal?7. What are you going to do for restitution? (Ask the people you hurt or inconvenienced).

Bob (for lying about not feeding the dogs every night for 2-8 weeks so she could play Bratz with Kitty)

Extra chores: Feed the dogs both times (morning and night) or make sure someone else does. Earn extra money by doing extra chores and not receiving an allowance to help pay vet bills.

(Was supervised very well when feeding dogs. Also lost all Bratz dolls which she could not begin to earn back for one month, and then could be earned back at $5/doll.)

Writing assignment: Write one page on lying. Read and complete the Thinking Errors worksheet.

Kitty (for disobedience, not doing chores, making big messes, and constantly saying “I forgot” when she breaks a rule).

Extra chore: Help clean the kitchen counters.
Writing Assignment: Read the new version of the family rules. “I forgot” is not a good excuse. List 5 rules you have broken in the last week (complete sentences). For each one write how you plan to make restitution.

Bear (for taking a 45 minute shower instead of 15 and it and yelling when told was going in FAIR Club – Also for not talking about what was really bothering him)
Extra Chore: Take at least 5 minutes to tell one of your parents about one of your feelings –every day.
Writing Assignment: Read Part I (to page 28) of the 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens. Write down your answers to the questions on p. 28. Talk about your answers with either or both parents.

Bear (for having a girl in the bathroom with him with the door shut and lying about it).
Extra Chore: Sweep, mop and scrub clean the kitchen, dining room, utility room, and pantry floors. Put all things you find away neatly and where they belong – this is now a part of your regular chores.
Writing Assignment:
1. Read Part II (to page 72) of the 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens. Write down your answers to the questions. If it’s something for you to think about or do in the future, write at least 3 sentences about how you think this will go. Talk about your answers with either or both parents.
2. Make a list of your friends and girls you are currently interested in dating, include (girl in the bathroom). Write at least 5 pros and cons about each friendship. Are these the kind of people you want to hang around and have an influence on your life?
3. You seriously damaged your relationship with Dad. Write at least one page about how your choices damaged this relationship and what you can do to fix it. Talk about this with Dad.

Bear (for e-mailing from school and giving our address to a person he just “met” on the internet)
1. Watch
2. Read the articles about Teen internet safety. Read the three e-mails copied off of YOUR e-mail. List at least 5 safety rules that were broken. Read and sign the Family Safety Contract.
3. Read Habit # 3 (p.73-103) from the 7 habits of Highly Effective Teens. Answer the questions on page 104 (NOT the ones in the middle – you’ve already answered those).

Kitty (for “borrowing” my hair brush and not returning it for several weeks – despite many reminders. Has been “forgetting” things a lot lately. She had a major meltdown when told she was in the FAIR club).
Journal entry about her meltdown and where and how she feels about it.

Bear (for stealing videos out of my room.)
1. Read Habit #4 (p.104-128) from the 7 habits of Highly Effective Teens. On a full size piece of paper, draw your Comfort Zone and Courage Zone (see page 117). Fill it in with things you need courage to do (things you’re afraid of, things that are difficult, adventures… ) and things that make up your Comfort zone (things you enjoy doing, things that make you feel safe, things you do to relax).
2. Answer the questions on page 128
3. You have seriously damaged our trust. Write at least one/half page about how your choices did this damage and what you can do to fix it. Add this to your journal of stuff to talk about in therapy.

Kitty (For cooking food without supervision, wasting food, leaving a mess, eating food being saved for another meal for breakfast, refusing to stay with me in the grocery store, for refusing to comply with adult directions)
Bear ( For taking a special treat and eating most of it, and leaving it in his room, were also having trouble with him speaking in an intimidating way to siblings).
FAIR Exam – Kitty also did the Vengeance section. Bear also did the How Others See You section.

Bob (for stealing my romance novels and reading them, for stealing her sister’s CDs, for watching TV shows and movies that she knows are not approved).
Extra Chore: After doing your writing assignment, dust ALL bookshelves in the house and straighten the books, videos and toys. Remove anything you know should not be approved.
Writing Assignment: Read ALL of the research on media -music, videos, games, books, TV. Write an article as if for the (Private School) Newsletter, about why it is important for parents to make sure kids are reading and listening to positive, appropriate media. Make sure you include how all media effects kids and why. On a separate page, write one page about how you think what you’ve been watching, listening, reading and doing, is effecting you. Is it helping you grow up to be RRHAFTBA or a better person? Why do you think Mom and Dad want you to go to (Private School) and care what media you listen to?

Kitty (For telling Grandma NO about cleaning her room, for yelling at Ponito when he didn’t want her to play Playstation, and then calling Mom at work and cussing at her when Mom said she needed to listen to Grandma).
Extra Chore: Help clean Mom’s work building (it's a small building -2 half baths, a couple of sinks, some dusting and vacuuming).
Writing Assignment: Read the book, “Handling your Disagreement,” and reread Bob's article. Write a one page paper about why you acted the way you did with Mom, Grandma and Ponito. How did you feel inside while you were arguing? How you should have handled it differently? Write a letter of apology to Grandma, Mom and Ponito. Should you write one to anyone else?

Ponito (for going to a friend's house without telling anyone. While in the FAIR Club - for threatening to kill himself, cussing and fighting with Mom in a store so badly that he had to be restrained!).
Extra Chore: Because you had a potty mouth, you will scoop poop in the backyard and bury it in a hole in the spot where you want the dogs to poop. Use plastic bags on your hands to keep them clean.
Writing Assignment: Read the book How to Take the Grrr out of Anger. (It’s not that long and has lots of pictures!). Write why you think you acted the way you did. Then write 3 things you could have done to help tame your anger. Redesign the pledge on page 98 to be specifically for you. Make it look nice enough to frame. List at least 10 things that you have been upset/ mad/ sad about that you want to talk to Mom and/or Dad about. Set up a time to talk to Mom and/or Dad about your lists.

Bob for being defiant, delaying and refusing to leave for a shopping trip and acting up during the trip – repeatedly, all weekend.
Extra Chore: You will organize the garage. Stack things neatly. Put unwanted things in separate area. Put away everything else where it goes. You may ask for help. Put your thanks in writing as well.
Writing Assignment: Read the book 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens. Answer ALL the questions in a spiral notebook. If the question is a doing thing instead of an answer thing, write HOW you will do it. You are a role model to your siblings, keep that in mind when writing apologies and when offering restitution. How can you make it right?!

Some of these assignments worked better than others. Sometimes the
assignment wasn't so great, but it was a good conversation starter. I
was/am frequently amazed that the children actually complied - possibly
because of the delay in the consequences. I wasn't standing there yelling at them in the heat of the moment when they were in "fight, flight or freeze" mode - when nothing I said was going to get through to them or get them to do what I wanted. It also gave me a chance to calm down and think of a creative logical consequence instead of just yelling, spanking, grounding or timeouts. Sometimes it was a good creative outlet for me!

I have also found that the need for the FAIR Club has really tapered off, and it has become more of a warning to behave then a required discipline method.


SanitySrchr said...

I'm looking for great examples of Family Safety Contracts. Can you help with where to find examples? You can email me if you like. sanitysrchr(at)gmail(dot)com

jessica said...

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Ashlie Centilli said...

Hello I am wondering where i can find th earticle mentioned above about lying and breeching trust in bear's examople. It says to have them read the article and answer the questions above. Can you please send me the link to the article you are reffering to as well as some ideas beyond just answering the questions after the article to write a paper on to make them learn from and think about what they are doing to me as their step parent who loves them unconditionally and often times get into fights with their father to stand up for them but they continue to lie to me and hurt me badly and I just want a POSSITIVE punishment they can learn from instead of just a typical grounding which is hard for me to follow through with typically. Thank you so much in advance. I hope this blog is still read and answered regularly as i am seing the last post was made in 2010. Sincerely, a concerned mother of a 13 and 12 year old.

marythemom said...

Hi Ashlie - Yes, this blog is still read and answered regularly! My most recent post was only a couple of weeks ago. If you look on the right sidebar you will see that while the FAIR Club has not been used at our house for awhile (my children are now 15, 18, 19 and 21), I still post advice and resources.

The articles you seek and more information about dealing with lying and stealing are posted here:

Feel free to let me know if you need additional assistance and I'll see if I can help and/ or find resources for you.