Calm/Assertive Parenting Procedure (CAPP): How to Train your Kid not to Destroy your Stuff

Reminder:

Calm/Assertive Procedures like this one give kids two choices and two choices only. Kids can either:

  1. Be cooperative

or

  1. Suffer the consequences of not being cooperative

Either way, we can be calm and empathetic because we do not allow this third option to exist:

  1. Do whatever you want, develop bad behaviors, and become a person people don’t want to be around

The possibility of allowing choice C is what makes us angry, excitable, and sometimes irate because we love our kids and we know where kids who get to use choice C often end up.

Calm/Assertive Parenting Procedures like this one take into account all possible ways that kids will try to get to choice C. We stop those channels to C and reroute back to either choice A or B. We do this all without ever trying to control that which we cannot control.

Here We Go…

We have all been there.

You have stuff.

You have a kid.

Inevitably, the kid will destroy some of your stuff.

Of course, you want to train him to not destroy your stuff. Why? Because you want him to be a person who doesn’t destroy things because it will cause major problems for him and other people, and you like your stuff and want to keep it!

Here’s how to create a kid who doesn’t destroy your stuff or anyone else’s.

What Not to Do

Don’t get angry or lecture.

Don’t warn him about what will happen if he does it even one more time.

What to Do: Setting the Limit

If you have engaged in any of the “What Not to Do” activities, apologize for them and let your kid know that you will no longer be doing those things. If you have never done any of these things, skip this.

Next, let your kid know that you trust that he will no longer destroy your things. Also let him know that if he does break your things, he will be paying for them. This includes things you have bought for him. Things that he bought, he is free to break at his leisure.

If he asks how much he will have to pay for breaking things, you can tell him that he may just have to find out.

What to Do: Intervention #1

Wait!!** If a kid is doing something that will destroy something truly valuable that you can’t afford to part with, OR serious or permanent injury could occur as a result of your kid’s nearly destructive choice, skip to Intervention #3.

Don’t lean too much on interventions. The consequence is where the real learning will take place, especially for kids who have made it a habit of breaking or ruining the things you have bought. However, these interventions can be helpful in gently guiding your kids towards a life free of destruction.

The first intervention involves asking a simple question to guide your kid towards a decision that will make it less likely that he will destroy something. This can be used if your kid has not yet destroyed something but is tempting fate by doing something that, with just a slip or false move, may destroy something. It can be used if a kid is drawing on paper with a marker without newspaper under it, or a small child who is experimenting with rubbing the side of a pencil against a finished coffee table, or even a 17-year-old speeding while driving your car with you in the passenger seat.

You can pick the one that logically applies:

“Where should you put that?”

“Where should that go?”

“Is this going to cause a problem?”

Notice that we don’t make demands, we ask questions. When we ask questions, we assume intelligence (because the use of the question assumes that the kid knows the answer) and when we move away from the kid as we ask the question, we assume cooperation (we know he will make a smart choice). Demands, on the other hand (“Put newspaper down immediately”, “Don’t touch that pencil to that coffee table! Don’t you know that it’s expensive!” or “Slow down!”) assume stupidity since you had to tell them to do something that they already know they should do.

What to Do: Intervention #2

This one takes some time, so you only have to do it once. A short question can be used after the first time you have a Risk/Reward Analysis Lesson. See below under this heading.

This involves you seeing a situation that could easily lead to an item being damaged or ruined and asking your kid to stop for a moment and consider the level of risk involved in continuing with current activities versus the reward gained. It does not apply to situations where your kid is knowingly and willfully destroying something.

For instance, if your kid is drinking fruit punch out of a martini glass at the table while wearing a white shirt, you could have your kid put down the glass and then teach them how to do a risk/reward analysis: is the reward (being able to drink fruit punch from a fancy glass) worth the risk (probably ruining a white shirt)?

Doing this once puts responsibility for his actions on your kid, and it respects his intelligence level. Again, this is NOT designed to make your kid not destroy things. It is just used to gently guide your kid toward positive behavior while communicating respect and care.

Optimally, this conversation can happen before any risky behaviors occur. Regardless, after this conversation, you can simply think about saying the following when witnessing precarious situations (situations through which expensive, truly valuable things cannot be destroyed and no one’s safety is in danger):

“Consider doing a risk/reward analysis, please!”

What to Do: Intervention #3

When our expensive stuff and kids are at risk, we need to protect them, and the first two interventions are not appropriate.

There are two different ways to intervene:

  • Calmly say, “Oh, dear” like an old-fashioned doorbell: two notes: “high, low” like “ding, dong”. Then take whatever physical object your kid is using to destroy your stuff.

Or

  • Simply ask them to stop immediately. If #1 doesn’t work in two seconds, go to #2. For an immediate emergency when we need to react as quickly as possible, of course, go straight to #2.

What to Do: The Consequence

If your kid has been destroying things around the house and you have not used consequences, delivered calmly and with empathy, it is very unlikely that these interventions will stop the behavior. They will work once you have used a consequence (possibly a few times), but not until then. Feel free to use them (it’s good to practice), but they probably won’t stop the behavior. After this simple consequence is used, interventions will become significantly more effective. After a short period of time, you should rarely, if ever, get to consequences for ruining things.

In order to create this consequence, it helps if your kid has money. At three, kids should start to get money each week. To see how to do this, click here.

First, a word on the definition of “destroyed”: Destroyed means that some thing or object is no longer up to your standards. If you see it as ruined, it’s ruined.

Once something is destroyed (according to your definition),  your kid owes you the value of that thing. Not some cute, “give mommy a dollar for the 4K TV screen,” but the real, entire, current value of whatever they destroyed.

Money should be owed immediately if the kid has the money. If they do not, a payment plan can be arranged. If there is no earthly way a kid could ever pay something back, you can pay them for extra chores outside of the scope of what they already do. Somewhere between the federal minimum wage (currently $7.25) and ten dollars an hour works well.

If the kid has no money, you can introduce them to how a pawn shop works, selling their things to repay you for what was ruined. Any combination of these methods can be used.

The bottom line is that when we get upset or lecture and warn about ruining our stuff, we send the implicit message that your kid destroying things is someone else’s problem (yours).

Holding kids accountable by having them pay for their mistakes shows them that they are responsible for their actions–instead of just telling them that they are while showing them that they’re not.

Notes

  • For kids younger than 3 who do not have money, you can still put them to work for pay. For these very young kids, a much higher hourly rate ($25 per hour) might allow them to pay off destroyed items in a way that is more developmentally appropriate.
  • Keep in mind that you should be charging your kids the real, current value of a possession, not the price you paid for it. Most things that you own lose more than half of their value after they are taken from the store. A two-year old 4K TV that you bought for $2,000 is probably only worth $600 now. You can look up estimated current values of almost anything by doing a Google search. For example, gadgetvalue.com can show you the value of most tech items. For cars that are wrecked by teenagers, Kelley Bluebook remains a great resource and is available online: kbb.com.
  • To read about what you can do when a kid refuses to do work to solve a problem, click here.
  • Many people ask whether a kid should be held responsible for destroying something completely on accident. This depends on your own value structure. If you feel that adults should be held responsible for accidentally destroying something, you should hold your kid to the same standard. After all, in the real word, if an adult accidentally destroys something, they are still responsible for paying for it. Holding your kid responsible for negligent destruction of property prepares them for the real world.
  • The only time that you should not hold kids responsible for destruction of property is when the destruction is caused by our own negligence. For example, if I am allowing my toddler to walk freely among paint cans that I have open while I am painting the wall of my home, and the toddler accidentally knocks over a can of paint, that is the fault of the grown-up. A toddler’s gross motor skills dictate that they fall a lot and they may not be able to help knocking over paint cans.