There's nothing like a conversation with a behaviour specialist to make a you second-guess how to discipline your children.

The way Ronald Morrish sees it, parents should be second-guessing.

The author of Secrets of Discipline and With All Due Respect says the parents of today need to give their heads a shake. Our discipline methods are turning our children into manipulative, defiant monsters. The trouble, he says, is that we have adopted a parenting culture of rewards and consequences.

"I think it's a world full of shortcuts. People don't want to supervise their children, they don't want to train their children," Morrish says during a recent phone interview from his home in Ontario's Niagara region.

"It always comes back to the basics of putting in the time."

He says today's popular discipline puts choice in the hands of children. Parents should be guiding their children to do the right thing, he argues, not punishing them for doing the wrong thing.

I like his message, though I may not agree with everything he says. It's a commonsense approach that speaks to me as a parent. I have had my share of difficult parenting moments that left me feeling infuriated and helpless. I struggle with different approaches to discipline. And I often rely on rewards and consequences. But they don't always work and I am willing to try something that will.

Judging from Morrish's packed schedule of speaking engagements across North America every year, many parents are craving a new approach.

"It might surprise you, but the first step is to change your view from thinking discipline is what you do when children do things wrong to what you do so children do things right."

He says many parents and educators approach discipline negatively, reacting when a child misbehaves instead of assuring that they behave properly.

One thing parents can do, he says, is to limit the child's choices to the ones that are appropriate.

He says "If" - "then" statements are tricky: "If you do that again, you're going to your room." That statement tells the child that they can continue the bad behaviour if they don't mind going to their room. It gives them a choice they shouldn't have. A better approach, he says, is to say: "We don't speak that way in our home, now start over."

The idea is to correct the child so he does it right, not give him consequences for doing it wrong.

Much of what Morrish talks about requires parents to change the language they use. I can't count how many times I have used "If"¦ then" statements with poor results. You really have to pay attention to what you say and how you say it. Morrish is a believer in using firm, authoritative language that leaves no room for debate, an approach some critics find harsh or even old-fashioned.

The father of two adults and two teenagers, Morrish, 59, wrote Secrets of Discipline 10 years ago because he thought society had moved away from practical parenting. One symptom, he says, are parents who pay their children to do chores. Children are supposed to help from their heart, not because there's money in it for them.

"That's one of the lowest levels of moral development of human beings, where the only reason you do something is because it's advantageous, not because it's right. And that's really pathetic."

Stop taking shortcuts and start doing the real work, he says. When children are misbehaving, don't just sit and yell at them and expect results.

"In this business you don't move your voice, you move your feet," he says. "You go where your children are and you lower your voice and become firm."

He is also a big proponent of routine. He says things like bedtime, homework and getting ready for school will either be a routine or an event.

"Bedtime as an event is half an hour to an hour. Bedtime as a routine is five to 10 minutes with no arguing."

Morrish acknowledges that parents and teachers face tough challenges and lots of questions. He jokes that he will never be out of work. He hears from many parents who are desperate for answers about how to raise their children. The challenges start early.

"You're a servant the first year and a half of a child's life," he says. "And when you shift to being a parent, you flip the child's world upside down from where we do what the child demands to where they have to learn to do what we demand. And they spend the next year and a half trying to put the world back the way it was."

When you listen to what Morrish says, you hear a mix of frustration and hope in his voice. He keeps travelling (something he hates) and working with teachers and parents (something he loves) because he sees the difference it makes. And he knows the last thing parents want are manipulative and defiant children.

"You can always count on parents to love their children and want great children."

Source: Telegraph-Journal, Canada