Green & Red Choices

One of the most difficult aspects of parenting, is figuring out what motivates your child to make favorable vs. unfavorable choices. For years we struggled with disciplinary strategies, because nothing we’ve tried seemed to work. What worked well for other kids (on the spectrum or not), did not appear to phase Apollo at all.

It was not until Apollo started Preschool & I signed up for a parenting class, that I even considered to incorporate Apollo’s love of all things colors, shapes and numbers into our disciplinary strategies at home. Today, we use GREEN for favorable choices, and RED for unfavorable choices, and IT WORKS!

Green & Red vs. Good & Bad Choices

Each has their own parenting style, and I respect that 100%, but I personally do not like calling my child’s CHOICES good, naughty, or bad. I do not want those words to be misinterpreted and for Apollo (or Athena for that matter) to believe that they are a bad kid based on a particular choice made.

You are what you believe yourself to be

Paulo Coelho

When kids are told or when they feel that they are naughty/bad kids, then I believe that their actions will reflect how they view themselves.

Praising the GREEN choices:

Throughout the day, when Apollo transitions well, and makes GREEN choices we praise the heck out of him. And I’m not talking about a simple ‘atta-boy’ pat on the back either. I am talking about physically kneeling down on the ground in front of him and making the said GREEN choice(s) a BIG DEAL – because to us it IS a big deal. I know that some may think this strategy is uncomfortable and silly, and that’s okay. I will be the first to admit that praising so many choices was uncomfortable for me at first also.

Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it


I am a skeptic by nature, so it wasn’t until I saw how praising the GREEN choices was positively affecting Apollo, our relationship and our everyday life, that I was truly on board 100%. I will note that the hardest part about praising is making sure that the praise you give the child is specific:

  • “Great use of your words to request help with dressing, Apollo made a GREEN choice”
  • “Great use of your words to tell Mom you are hungry and need food, Apollo made a GREEN choice”
  • “Great job transitioning from the truck to the house, Apollo made a GREEN choice”
  • “Great job cleaning up the Play-doh the first time Mom asked, Apollo made a GREEN choice”
  • “Great job sharing your cars with Athena, Apollo made a GREEN choice”

*with every praising moment, there is excitement in our voices and lots of clapping*

Praise, praise, praise! Keep in mind, that for children who are attention seekers, any praise (positive or negative) may be stimulating to them, so the more you praise them for the positive behaviors, the more likely they are to make GREEN choices to get that praise.

RED chair for RED choices:

Red chair for Red Choices – Time out is next to our front door.

Even with all these strategies in place, I am not an immune parent to time-outs. Unfortunately, I have not found out the secret to a time-out or a discipline-free life.

At home, we have a plastic RED chair that is only used for when our children make RED choices. We parents personally do not want our children associating their bedroom as negative space for RED choice time-outs, so to make it easy (and less confusing for the children) we use a RED chair next to our front door. Of all the strategies we’ve used in the past, the RED chair for RED choices has worked the best. And what’s even better is this strategy has worked well with BOTH of our children. Apollo and Athena dislike sitting in the red chair so much, that both tend to correct unfavorable behaviors with a single time-out warning.

In our home, we don’t use the RED chair for every little negative behavior, either. For the most part we associate the RED chair for more serious behaviors: violent/aggressive behaviors (hitting, kicking, head butting, throwing things, biting, scratching, etc.). Non-serious behaviors typically just need redirection, and/or a time-out warning, which has worked well for us.

Pick your battles:

How many times over the course of your life have you heard someone tell you to pick your battles? Well, if you are anything like me, you might have heard it A LOT more than you care to admit. Picking your battles when it comes to time-outs can be difficult, especially if you are an OCD adult, and have a strong-willed child or children.

Time-outs with extremely strong-willed children used to be nothing short of a power struggle in our house. Without exaggeration, there were times when I had to place Apollo back into the time out chair 40+ times before he remained in the chair – yes, I counted each time. Each time I had to place him back into time-out, I was intentionally having a conversation with him on the way back to the chair as if doing so would make him listen to be better. At the time, what I failed to realize, was that by engaging in conversation, during a disciplinary process, I was actually making the process more difficult – I was stimulating Apollo, and therefore unintentionally motivating him to act out even more. He was pushing my buttons, and I was unknowingly letting him. He was getting a negative reaction out of me, and I was unknowingly feeding into that. What was especially concerning to me was the fact that Athena was watching her brother’s actions and was starting to test the boundaries in the same way he was.

What I learned:

I now know that Apollo is a sensory seeker AND an attention seeker. By identifying what motivates my child, has been invaluable to me. Through this journey I have realized that attention seekers will take whatever attention they can get – positive or negative. Who would have thought that negative attention would be motivating for a child? I sure didn’t. And while this revelation hit me hard, it also taught me how important praising the GREEN choices really is. If the biggest reactions a child gets are from GREEN choices, then I believe the child’s motivation will be to make GREEN choices. If the biggest reactions they get are from RED choices (i.e. scolding, discipline, etc.) then I believe the child will be motivated to act out until he/she gets said reaction out of you.

What time-outs look like now:

Apollo did not want to sit for time-out and asked to stand. He remained in that position the entire time.

Now, that I learned the tools discussed above and have applied them, time-outs are no longer a power struggle. I was the parent that would stress out over ‘proper time-out protocol’ (i.e. if Apollo moved the chair, if he did not sit in the chair correctly, etc.). Now – if Apollo does not want to sit during time-out? Cool. As long as he does not leave the time-out area, and is safe, he can stand up, lay on the floor next to the chair, I do not care. Once he’s been in time-out for 3 minutes or has a calm body for at least 2 minutes (1 minute per year of age), he gets another chance to make GREEN choices.

I am happy to say that since increasing the praise for GREEN choices, we seem to need the red chair less and less. We went from more time-outs than we could count in a day, to maybe 3 time-outs on a BAD day and no time-outs on a GOOD day.

Public time-outs:

Sometimes you need a time-out during a public outing. to calm your body down.

I’ve had a lot of parents ask how we discipline in public, with judgmental eyes watching our every move. My answer? Consistency, consistency, consistency… and did I mention consistency? To maintain consistency, we do time-outs in public the same way we do it at home, with the exception of substituting the red chair (at home) for a corner (in public). I am not afraid to stop right where we are and put my kids in immediate time-out for RED choices. Do I get dirty looks from bystanders? Yes. Do bystanders comment on our public time-outs? Yes. Do I care about their judgement? No, because their opinion of me is none of my business. What I do care about is that my children are safe, and they know that there are consequences for RED choices whether we are at home, or in public; it works for us.

Thank you for joining me!

*For those that are interested: The Incredible Years ™ parenting class can be found here OR or you can find the book here. This is NOT a paid ad, I just believe in the class and their strategies enough to publicly share it, because it changed our lives.*

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