The father of the 9-year-old who infamously sneaked onto a flight from Minneapolis to Las Vegas last month broke down in tears during a press conference, distressed over his child's behavior problems and his own efforts to correct them.
That frustrated dad's tears drew national attention to a serious issue: overwhelmed parents at a loss over how to discipline their children who repeatedly act out.
"I'm a parent, I'm not perfect," said the father, who wore a hooded sweatshirt and a ball cap to shield his identity.
Sometime before his son's airline escapade, the father said, the boy had stolen a delivery van and was brought home by a police officer. The father asked the officer to come into his house to watch him discipline his son.
"I said, 'Please, sir, can you go up with me and watch me whip his butt?'" the father told reporters. "The officer said, 'If I see you hit your son, we're going to have to lock you up.'"
"What can I do?" the visibly shaken father asked. "If I whip my son, I get locked up. If I let him keep doing what he is doing, I get into trouble. Someone please, please help me."
In interviews with psychologists and social workers who work with parents and children on many issues including discipline, two things became clear: This dad is certainly not alone in feeling at a loss about what to do, and he has many more options at his disposal than he might realize.
Kids behaving badly need a "good talking to"
"A lot of times, parents ... go straight to the grounding or they go straight to the spanking and they bypass the most important step, which is communication, for God's sake," said Carl Pickhardt, a psychologist in Austin, Texas, and author of 15 parenting books, including "Surviving Your Child's Adolescence."
"You've got to sit down and you've got to have a good talking to with this kid to help, in this case, help them hear about why (sneaking on a plane) wasn't safe, why it was against the law and how other people were harmed, and then you take a look at the consequences."
Devra Renner, a clinical social worker for a large school district in Northern Virginia, said that even if a kid has done something outrageous like the 18-year-old who flipped off a judge or the 7-year-old who went on a joy ride, parents should wait for a "cooling off period" if no one's safety is at risk before talking with their kids about the bad behavior.
It could be waiting five minutes or five hours, depending on the circumstance, and if "emotions are running high," said Renner, co-author of the book "Mommy Guilt: Learn to Worry Less, Focus on What Matters Most and Raise Happier Kids."
"Try not to be in the power struggle moment, because I've always said there's no rationalizing with screaming heads," said the mother of two.
We tell our kids "Don't do this" or "Don't do that" after they've done something wrong, said Renner. "But 'don't' doesn't tell them where to go. It doesn't move you forward. It tells you stop. So tell them what you want them to do."
Communicate the consequences of their bad behavior, psychologists say.
"The best consequence is not deprivation, it's reparation," said Pickhardt, who writes a weekly column for "Psychology Today." "As a function of what you did that you should not do, you are going to have to do some things around the place to work this off."
For example, if an adolescent steals money from a younger sibling, the reparation could be doing extra housekeeping or yard work for the next couple of Saturday mornings, said Pickhardt.
"While they're working it off, they're thinking about why they're working it off," he said.
Pickhardt, whose other books include "The Everything Parent's Guide to Positive Discipline," also believes in having the child who behaved badly make amends. In the case of the adolescent who stole money from a sibling, that might mean listening to how hurt the sibling was, paying back what was stolen and spending quality time with the sibling to make up for the damage that has been done to the relationship.
Psychologist: "Out of control is not a problem, that's a reality"