Conditional Sequence Of Responses
A conditional sequence approach is one of the few attempts to combine cognitive developmental and parent-training recommendations for disciplinary responses (Larzelere 2001). First, a sound foundation should be established with parental nurturance and proactive strategies. A parent's goal should then be to establish reasoning as an effective discipline response by itself during the preschool years. Negative consequences should be used primarily to enforce verbal corrections and rationales as effective discipline responses, beginning at least by two years of age.
For example, a possible sequence of discipline responses to a preschooler's misbehavior might consist of the following steps: (1) getting the child's attention; (2) issuing a verbal directive; (3) presenting an age-appropriate rationale; (4) one warning of a time-out; (5) using a time-out; (6) one warning of a backup for the time-out; and (7) using the backup (e.g., two-swat spank or brief room isolation; Roberts and Powers 1990). For targeted or severe misbehaviors, the sequence would be followed until compliance or a mutually acceptable negotiation. Less severe misbehaviors (e.g., irritations) might be ignored rather than over-using this sequence of disciplinary tactics. Research has shown that the later steps in this sequence improve the effectiveness of the earlier steps by themselves in later discipline encounters (Larzelere et al. 1998; Roberts and Powers 1990). Once the earlier steps become effective, the later steps are rarely needed.
There are several considerations relevant to the effectiveness of this sequence of disciplinary responses. First, the sequence needs to be used flexibly, adapting it to the situation and the child. Second, parents should avoid overusing negative consequences, because they can become less effective the more frequently they are used. Parents who reserve negative consequences for more important misbehaviors tend to get better results than those who overuse them for minor misbehaviors. Third, children sometimes need to be allowed to negotiate what they do in an appropriate way. For example, a child might ask politely to take five minutes to complete an activity before getting ready for bed. Fourth, parents need to be sober and in control of their emotions. Unpredictable, explosive disciplinary responses are consistently associated with detrimental child outcomes (Chamberlain and Patterson 1995; Straus and Mouradian 1998). Finally, if spanking is used (e.g., as a backup for time-outs with two- to six-yearolds), it should never leave marks other than temporary redness. Its use is empirically supported primarily as a backup for milder disciplinary tactics such as time-out with two- to six-year-old children by loving parents in control of their emotions (Larzelere 2000).