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John Rosemond - Parenting Expert

John Rosemond is America's most widely-read parenting authority! He is a best-selling author, columnist, speaker, and family psychologist.

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John Rosemond's 'Ticket Method' for dealing with misbehavior

Q: 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 ‘net and discovered that the true age and health of a horse can be ascertained through a dental exam, essential knowledge when horses were the sole means of personal transportation. 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 originally crafted the ticket method over 25 years ago, in response to the observation that time-out 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 5 or 10 minutes. Another way of saying the same thing: Time-out works with kids who are already fairly well-behaved. A more powerful message is required for children whose misbehavior exceeds “occasionally” and “childish.”

Tickets can either supplement time-out (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 under 42 months (3 and one-half), 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 behavior(s) are posted on the refrigerator. The tickets are put in the magnetic clip, which is also affixed to the refrigerator.

Every time the child exhibits a target behavior, the parent on the scene takes the child over 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 time-out of 5 to 15 minutes can also be enforced. If time-out 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 they have all 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 gradually reduced so as to keep pressure on the child’s progress. Generally speaking, full rehab takes six to twelve 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.

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