Find out what rules are important to them

I was sitting in a detention classroom surrounded by ten males. In the first twenty minutes I learned that seven of the ten had been hit so hard by a father figure that they had suffered closed-head injuries. Rather than continue with the curriculum, I went around the room asking the youth, “How do you want me to treat you?”

The ball started rolling with each youth agreeing they wanted to be treated with “respect.” However, given their history, I wasn’t sure what respect meant to them. We spent the rest of the class time determining how we would treat each other when we were together.

Of the hundreds of times I’ve asked young people what respect means to them, the two top responses I’ve received are, “Treat me safe,” and “Treat me fair.”

When creating boundaries with young people, their input is essential. Without having their input, you won’t have their buy-in. Buy-in (or engagement) is always far more effective than one-sided rule setting.

When creating boundaries with young people, their input is essential. Without having their input, you won’t have their buy-in. Buy-in (or engagement) is always far more effective than one-sided rule setting.


A few weeks ago, I read an interesting article in my news feed from Fatherly Daily E-Mail, it was by columnist Lauren Steele and discussed how to discipline stubborn, “unpunishable” children.

Steele gives six wise guidelines, which I will pass on in this blog while suggesting you look at his column as well, the link is below.1

  1. Remember discipline is for passing on core values, not punishment

It is easy to lose focus on the purpose of discipline, it is not to punish a child, it is to help them grow into healthy, caring adults.

  1. Remember “you have no control over their personality, but you do have control over how they learn.”

It’s not that you can change a child’s core personality, but you can help the child use their innate strengths and blind spots for their long-term best interests. You’re going to work with explosive children and sullen children, rather than focusing on changing their character, focus on helping the child put those traits to their best advantage. For example, “I know you have a tendency to blow up at people when you are angry. How can you express your anger without demeaning others yet still get your point across?”

  1. Be clear on boundaries

Steele points to a quote from author, Sharon Silver, “When your child throws a tantrum or gets angry or shouts at your [sic] or acts aggressively, show them where the line is. Be the adult and take control of the action in the situation. Say, ‘I see you’re really angry. Is your anger a one or full ten on the scale? How can you make yourself feel better? Do you need to breathe or take walk? Do you want to talk about it?’ This approach empowers the child and allows them to feel heard.” The more a child feels heard the more they will be willing to listen.2

  1. Set clear Rules

Creating boundaries together is best done during a regular time for family gathering (in our Group Homes we have Cultural Nights every week where topics such as this can be discussed). Do not have these discussions before, during or after an intense episode. Steele suggests three key components for treating each other, very similar to what the young men in my detention class suggested; be safe, kind and respectful.

Once again, Steele quotes author Sharon Silver, “As an adult who has learned safety and kindness and respect, it’s your responsibility to walk into the eye of the storm and come out the other side with your child,” Silver says. “Reassure them.”

  1. Model the rules yourself

Of course, no amount of rule-setting or boundary development will matter if you—as the adult—don’t model the behavior to the young person.

  1. Keep the best outcome in your mind

In the heat of the moment, it’s often hard to lose focus on the young person’s development and instead get dragged into a power struggle over the behavior. Keep in mind, the issue is less about “the behavior” than the development of character. As Steele notes, “Hold in your mind what your job is here: To raise and teach a kid and encourage them to develop into good people who are capable of living a good life.”


1 How to Discipline Stubborn, ‘Unpunishable’ Children, Lauren Steele, Jan 17 2018, 4:41 PM,

2 Stop Reacting and Start Responding: 108 Ways to Discipline Consciously and Become the Parent You Want to Be, Sharon Silver, December 01, 2016, One Voice Publishing


    Have Something to Share?

    Submit a News Post

    • Many years ago when developing our outreach to Youth in Detention in the Archdiocese of Detroit, MI, we had solicited Jerry Goebel to help train our volunteers. Jerry had developed a program called LifeCoach. It was a...

      Ida Johns, Detention System Outreach
      Read More
    • A Compelling Life... is filled with gentle invitations to reflect on life in all its' richness, beauty, joy, and sorrow. As a Catholic parent, I have worked with Jerry and his Web resources personally and...

      Dr. Dobie Moser, Catholic Family Ministries
      Read More
    • I have had the privilege of both watching Jerry work with youth and being taught by Jerry to use his methods with others. There are so many things I appreciate about it. The first thing I noticed is...

      Adelle T., Social Worker
      Read More