The Highway Patrol Approach to ADHD Discipline
The Highway Patrol Approach uses the discipline and correction methods of the adult
world with children. The Highway Patrol Approach is strictly business, not emotional or
reactive, and corrects behavior through punishment (the fine) and bringing attention to
the incorrect behavior. This approach is ideal for children with ADHD.
If you are speeding on the highway and are pulled over by the Highway
Patrol, after viewing your license and registration, the conversation goes something like
Highway Patrol: "Mr. Jones you were clocked going 65 in a 55 mile per
hour zone." -- He has just told you the incorrect behavior.
Highway Patrol: "The fine for speeding in this state is $85.00.
Please sign this ticket." -- The officer has informed you of the
punishment for that offense.
Highway Patrol: "Have a nice day." -- The officer
remains polite and businesslike. He does not ask why you were speeding. He does not try to
make you understand the reason for speeding laws in that state. He does not insult you
with "How can you be so stupid!" or "Where did you get this junker of an
The Highway Patrol Approach thus involves three steps:
Step 1: Identify the offense or incorrect
Step 2: Inform the offender of the
Step 3: Remain polite and business-like.
When used with children, the Highway Patrol Approach is effective in
reducing anger, hostility, and incorrect behavior. The fine for speeding won't bankrupt
anyone, will sting the pocketbook, but is not unbearable - nor is it easy to ignore.
This approach has been found the most effective in maintaining adult behavior.
When we use this same approach with children, it decreases the anxiety and
anger often associated with parental discipline in both the children and the parents. By
identifying the incorrect behavior, providing an appropriate fine or punishment, and
maintaining a calm, business-like interaction, we decrease the misbehavior while
continuing our good relationship with the child.
An example: Parent: "Jimmy, you shoved your
brother and you know we don't allow shoving and hitting in this family. I want you to go
to your room for 15 minutes. When your time is up you can join the rest of us and watch
television. We'll see you in 15 minutes."
Variations in the Highway Patrol Approach That Create Misbehavior
The Highway Patrol Approach, like parental discipline, could be altered in a way that
accidentally creates increased bad behavior. Some variations in parental behavior:
The punishment/fine must always focus on correction - not excessive punishment.
If you are audited by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), their opening line
goes something like "This is not a punishment. This audit is simply to insure
If a new law passes in your state that makes the fine for speeding
$10,000.00 - the majority of adults would lie, try to evade arrest, or do anything in
their power to avoid getting that ticket for speeding. Nobody tries to avoid an
$85.00 fine unless they have an outstanding warrant for another crime. With
children, excessive punishment ("You're grounded for six months!!") almost
forces children to lie and cover-up mistakes and offenses. If the punishment is
short-and-sweet, designed only to "insure compliance" with the
rules/regulations, the child feels no need to lie.
Another law is passed in your state that allows the arresting officer to create his/her
own fine - anything from giving you a $5,000.00 ticket, to beating or shooting you on the
spot. If arrested, unpredictable fines prompt the offender to manipulate - trying to
get the lowest fine possible. When parental discipline is unpredictable, ignoring offenses
sometimes while excessive punishment at other times, a very manipulative child is created.
Unpredictable fines produce behaviors such as "sweet talking",
crying spells, lying, attempts to influence ("I've got a relative that's in law
enforcement!"), and even threats ("My next door neighbor is an attorney!").
Consistency in fines avoids manipulation in both law enforcement and parental
If you are stopped for speeding and fined $85.00, then receive notice in the mail that
your fine was canceled, you are more likely to continue speeding. If children are
punished - then "bailed out" by the parents - they are likely to continue the
incorrect behavior as they never suffer the consequences of their behavior.
Children that are frequently rescued from the logical consequences of
their misbehavior gain the feeling that rules don't apply to them. As time passes, their
misbehavior often increases in severity to the point that a rescue isn't possible. The
offender is then shocked that they will actually be punished. This situation is often
found in teenagers who are frequently given probation or no punishment for offenses as a
minor (under 18 years of age), then are shocked when sentenced to six months incarceration
for an offense after turning 18 years of age.
You are fined for speeding while driving to work on Monday. For the next four days,
that same Highway Patrol officer stops your car to remind you that you are a speeder,
lecturing you with each stop. You develop resentment and bitterness, feeling you are being
harassed after already paying for the original offense. This also happens when we continue
to remind our children of their mistakes, a situation which creates resentment.
Almost all children and adults can accept their mistakes and punishment - if the
punishment is appropriate for the crime/offense. However, imagine your reaction if
you are stopped for speeding and during the process of giving you a ticket for speeding
the Highway Patrolman offers comments such as "You're pretty stupid to be going this
fast in this worthless automobile. You're probably the worst driver I've seen in months.
Your parents obviously didn't raise you right! At this rate, you'll not have a
license in six months. Did you get your license out of a gumball machine?"
In this situation, insults are more harmful than the actual punishment.
When disciplining children, parents are often angry or upset, creating the temptation to
"jab" at the child with insults. A child may learn from his or her mistake and
accept an appropriate punishment, but insults continue to hurt long after the punishment
Insulting a child creates psychological damage that decreases their
self-esteem. Imagine working at a business where your supervisor tells you how ignorant
you are each time you make a mistake. You would lose your motivation to work, forget any
plans for advancement or success, and develop resentment toward the supervisor and
business. Children in trouble often offer comments like "My Dad thinks I'm stupid
anyway. My Mom says I can't do anything right!" The idea is to correct - not insult.
The Angry Officer
Imagine your reaction when pulled over for speeding, you look in the rear view mirror,
and the officer is cursing, angry in appearance, and walking toward your automobile as
though he's going to rip the door off your vehicle. Your anxiety level increases and when
he asks questions your voice is mumbling, hesitant, and shaky. You are terrified that his
anger may come in your direction and for that reason, you "clam up", fearful of
making any type of response.
When disciplining children, it's important that we provide our discipline,
structure, and interaction without anger and hostility. Being terrified of a parent is not
a form of respect - it's a form of intimidation in which violence is respected, not the
individual/parent. Discipline provided by an angry parent, often ranging in form from
yelling and screaming to physical threats, sends a strong message to children that verbal
and/or physical violence and aggression is acceptable - as long as there's a reason and
Parents who use the yell-and-scream method produce children who yell and
scream. As time passes, everyone in the home yells and screams so much that the home is
totally out of control by the time the children are teenagers. Those teenagers then mature
to yell and scream at their sweethearts, spouses, and eventually their children.
Our best bet, don't discipline your children when you're angry or upset.
Remember, it's business - not personal. In all interpersonal interactions, from
disciplining children to a professional boxing match, the winner is the individual who
maintains control - not the most aggressive or angry.
Both children and adults learn from mistakes. Corrective action should increase
compliance with the established laws and rules of behavior - not harshly punish or
intimidate the offender. As in the adult legal system, punishments are designed to fit the
crime and discipline is conducted in a business manner. As children misbehave and make
mistakes, our job as parents is to guide them in the correct direction.
Guiding just about anything is done with a series of small corrections,
not intense shoves or overcorrections.