The Power of the Whammy

Wow, in the two discipline workshops I did this weekend at Hearts at Home, women clamored for my “Whammy List.” Apparently moms love new tools that will improve kids’ behavior. But here’s the trick—no guarantees come with the “Whammy List.” This is simply a part of your role in parenting. Your child has a part to choose how to alter behavior and God has a pawhammyrt to determine your child’s innate wiring as well as the circumstances where your child finds himself.

For those not at the conference, a whammy:

  • is a delayed consequence
  • that you have total control over
  • that causes some discomfort to the child’s world
  • is related to the misbehavior in SOME way (Try hard here to relate.)
  • is presented spontaneously to the child in a matter-of-fact way
  • WITH Empathy (Oh darn! This is a bummer.)
  • WITH Hope for improvement (You’ll get this, buddy. I’ll be watching.)


A Whammy is a replacement for threats and bribes. STOP all threats and bribes yesterday. They serve to weaken the parent-child relationship and they reduce your authority down to only the manipulator of the child’s behavior. BRIBE: “If you do ____________, then you’ll get _________” The child has ALL control to decide what to do. THREAT: “If you don’t stop __________then I’m going to _____________!!!!!” Again, the child has all the power, including getting us upset. Too much power for a little person.

A Whammy is given in an area of behavior that the child is focusing on. Don’t Whammy everything. If the child is focusing on obedience then tie it to that. Self Control? Disrespect? A Whammy brings consequences to help discourage the behavior by reminding the child that as parents we have quite a bit of power over their lives at any moment.

Don’t wield the power. Use it. Focus on real, long-term change. The Whammy is for permanent behavior change, not for good behavior in a moment. A Whammy reminds the child that the parent has quite a bit we can actually control so they may consider that during a moment where the parent can’t control the child.

Think about it and admit—we often can’t control our children. We can’t make our children stop crying. We can’t make them be respectful. Often we can’t make them obey. We can’t make them sleep. We can’t make them do chores. But we can manipulate circumstances so that the child is better able to figure out that good behavior is his best option.

Finally, the Whammy must be given with empathy and hope. The child needs to hear, “Oh, unfortunately we will have to ______________but I bet pretty soon you will figure out how to _________ (obey, be respectful, be calm, have self-control, get ready for school without a fuss…)” You’ll figure this out soon I bet.”

If I hear about parents turning whammies into punishments with anger and discouragement attached then I will have to stop giving you more. Yes, that was a threat. :-)

Here’s a list to get you started. Email me a problem and I’ll try to find a Whammy and post it on the next few “Whammy Wednesdays.”

*No sugar today! 7 minutes is enough to cry a day…after that the doctor said it may be too much sugar. Yesterday you cried for 14-minutes total so I think this is serious. If the sugar doesn’t help then we’ll have to add early bedtime since it may be not enough sleep.

*You sure were out of control a number of times today…let’s make sure you get more sleep tonight. Off to bed—(an hour early).

*No, you can’t go to Susie’s house today. You have been really disrespectful to me and Dad lately so I’m not ready to send you to someone else’s house until you get that back under control.

*I’m taking your brothers to the Children’s Museum today but I can’t count on you to obey yet, so I’m taking you to Mrs. Miller’s house and will pick you up after. I bet you’ll figure this out soon. You’re five now, so I bet it will be any time now.

*No Netflix for awhile. I feel like some of those shows have disrespectful kids on them and that is where you are picking up your disrespectful attitude lately. Let’s see if you can get it fixed and then we’ll try to add one show a week back.

*Why’s the cable off? Oh I had it disconnected for a little while. I’ve really been struggling with getting you guys to obey and be respectful and I wonder if it’s simply too much time vegging out to those shows with the disrespectful kids.

*Why’s my bedroom door off the hinges? Honey for months you have been slamming that door and then holing up in your room and being disconnected from us. We want to include you as part of our family. We love you. We’ll put it back on as a celebration of you maturing and connecting with us more.

*Why’s the password for the computer changed? Where’s the x-box? Oh honey, I think those things are not healthy for our family anymore. They were really sucking your time and I think they were starting to control you because you couldn’t even get off when I asked you to. Let’s take some time and see if you can function well without them and then we’ll add them back in.

*Where’s my ipod? After seeing those videos you were watching, I think it’s better to wait till you are a little more mature and can decide what things are good for you and which are inappropriate…

*No, you can’t have friends over until I can count on you not to harass your brother. I think it’s too challenging with other people around and you are trying to impress them. Maybe I’m wrong but let’s see if you can treat your brother kindly without friends around and then we’ll add them back in slowly.

Remember, a Whammy is a beautiful thing because you stay on your child’s side. A punishment says that I have to hurt you to get you to do something. A Whammy just shows the child that you are in charge of a lot at your house and you have a responsibility to train them up in the way they should go!




  1. Love this! Couple questions. At what age would you suggest kids are old enough to understand a delayed consequence like this? Also, I’d assume some sort of whining or fit throwing will commence after the whammy. I’m guessing the best step is to just walk away and not entertain discussion about it rather than to keep explaining…yes? One last one, a 3 yr old hitting. His brother, his parents, suggestions for a logical whammy that can connect to that? He doesn’t have friends over often enough for that to make a connection.

    • mariannemiller says:

      Three should be OK to figure out a whammy. YES, whining and fits will come but you have chosen something that you have control over so they have lost their power. He could “miss” some fun outings (even ones that you weren’t going to really have) because you have to keep the other kids at the museum, chick-full-A, zoo, toy store, library time…safe from boys that can’t figure out how to stop hitting.”Let’s see if you can go ______time without hitting anyone and then we’ll try going someplace fun and see if everyone will be safe.”

    • I would also try to make sure the consequence is not SUPER delayed. In my opinion, I would try to mention it or bring it up very shortly after the infraction, especially with younger children who may totally not remember doing the thing at all. I would rather err on the side of my child remembering what it was they did and understanding the Whammy rather than feeling like I just randomly take things away from them.

      • mariannemiller says:

        The whammy is most effective for those repeated misbehaviors in the same area. It’s a reoccurring problem so if they don’t remember the problem that day they know it from another day!!

  2. This is great! I was wondering what would be a good whammy for when they are misbehaving at school and not listening to the teacher. Telling the teacher to “make me” do the work. I’m having difficulty with him wanting to go to school and do the work. He just wants to be home with mommy because he “misses me” when he’s gone at school for 6 hrs a day.

    • mariannemiller says:

      So sweet that he wants to be home with you. That is a blessing for sure. I love when the teacher can find her own whammies (hopefully in an encouraging way like, “I can’t make you do your work, you’ll have to figure that out on your own and I know that you will. Help me understand why you’re not doing your work when it’s time. Is it too tricky? Are you missing mom? Seems better to get it done now than at home though so you can play there. Would doing it during your lunch help?…”) I can’t help thinking of the movie A Beautiful Life where the dad makes the Holocaust out to be a game so his boy won’t be scared. I’d be working to make school like that. “Celebrate” with ice cream Friday on weeks where he works hard at school more than the week before. Celebrate improvement. Tell him you know it’s hard for him but you know he can figure it out. Ice cream is not a bribe because you are not going to offer it as the motivation for the change. The motivation is that school will be more fun and go faster if he follows directions etc. The ice cream is your way of celebrating hard work!

  3. A 3 year old repeatedly not listening and following directions. Thank you!!

    • mariannemiller says:

      Sounds like your 3-year-old is learning to obey. It’s a process. I like to think of ages 2-5 as obedience training. Say what u mean, follow through and encourage them in their journey of obeying. ” wow, your obeying is getting much faster. I can tell you’re growing up!”

      • Thank you! He has a baby sister that is nursing so it’s often hard for me to follow through and I think he knows it. So you do not think the delayed consequence is appropriate for him?

        • mariannemiller says:

          I’d maybe try not to set him up to fail by not asking him to do something if you can’t get up to see that he does it. You don’t want him to get practice DISobeying because you are distracted with a baby. Practice obeying when you can follow through. Make an obeying game when you can have him practice following directions. Have him pretend that he doesn’t want to do the task and he thinks, “Oh well, the quicker I start, the quicker I get done!” Then a random Whammy when it works well into your day.

  4. Our son (age 12) was so addicted to TV that he was not getting homework done. So 5 months ago, we took away all TV, including TV shows online, on school nights. This has worked pretty well and he had his homework well under control. Recently, he has been caught watching TV shows on YouTube when he is suppose to be doing his homework. The first offense, we took away computer privileges on the weekend. The second offense, we took it away for a whole week and now we are up to his 3rd offense which actually happened at school . The problem is, he has two advance classes that require a lot of research as well as video displays for his projects and all school work for those classes have to be turned in via e-mail to the teacher. So taking away the computer will cause his grades to be effected and he could lose his place in those classes. We can’t block YouTube because that is one of the tools used in the classes for references and research. I’ve spoken to the teacher and asked if there was any other way the assignments could be done without the computer or use of YouTube and there is not. Even if we did block it, he would just find another website to watch TV shows. We thought we were doing the right thing by showing our son that if you abuse a privilege by breaking rules, you lose the privilege, but he can’t seem to control himself. How can we relate the punishment to the behavior if he has to have the computer and access to YouTube?

    • mariannemiller says:

      I have a couple thoughts. You are trapped trying to figure out how to punish him enough that he “learns” his lesson which is TV watching consumes his time and he can’t manage his responsibilities.But rather than a TV problem you have uncovered an obedience problem as well. He knows he’s not supposed to watch it but he is anyway. This is also an honesty issue. With love and encouragement, I would come along side him and tell him that this is bigger than a TV problem because he has broken trust and also disobeyed. This will not be good for him as he matures. I would talk to him sincerely about why it’s so hard to not watch TV. Is it controlling him? Is he bored without it? Does he not like consequences? How much TV does he think he can handle and still have his responsibilities done and a REAL life outside the glowing box? I’d tell him that you can’t stop him from getting on stuff at school, that will be his conscience to deal with. You want what’s best for him which is a FULL life not controlled by TV/videos. So at your house where you have total control of the cable/computer password etc. you are stopping movies for _____________time…not as a punishment but for a chance to refocus on connecting, outdoors, hobbies, reading, exercise, homework etc. If he sneaks, that’s his issue to deal with. You are not going to be his conscience police but if he is not trustworthy, there are consequences to breaking trust…not being left home alone, not going places without an adult etc. Tell him you believe in him and there will be a day when you can start bringing TV back as a blessing not a curse. Maybe offer up family movie night once a week to connect and watch TV together. Stay on his side but set firm boundaries in those areas you can control without a fight.

  5. Marianne,
    I just wanted to say a brief thank you for your talk this morning with our Mommy Meet Up group.

    You gave voice to a lot of things that have been going on in our household over the last couple of months (my 2 year old has been refusing to drink and my 4 year old has been pushing into my discipline and so I have been threatening and yelling and feeling powerless…..!!!) You gave me a lot of tools to regain the control in my home in a more positive way. Thank you!! Your words were a gift to me today!


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