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Positive Parenting with a Plan: FAMILY Rules

Dr. Matthew A. Johnson


Chapter 12

 The Successes of FAMILY Rules with

Parents and Professionals


Would you like me to let you in on a secret?  The reason why FAMILY Rules is working so well all around the USA, Canada, Europe, Africa, India, the Middle East, Central and South America, Australia, and Asia isn’t because I’m a brilliant guy.  Nope!  Actually, I’m just an average, laid back and funny guy who’s done something brilliant.  I’ve simply managed to take “common sense” and mix it in with “good old fashioned” parenting values.  I’ve added a dash of “order and structure” along with a bit of “discipline and friendship.”  I tossed in “a whole lot of love” and cemented it all together with a pinch of “reverent fear of authority”.  These ingredients for successful parenting have been used by parents throughout the world for as long as man has walked the Earth.  Not only that, but these ingredients for successful parenting are going to continue to work for parents for thousands of years to come.  Seriously, I’m not a brilliant guy.  Nope!  I’m just a simple-minded guy who saw something that needed fixing and stepped up to the plate to “getter-done!” It’s amazing how many lives can change for the better when chaos and dysfunction are eliminated through the implementation of a simple FAMILY Rules positive parenting plan in the home.

 I’ve been teaching FAMILY Rules to parents and professionals since 1986.  They demanded that I write this book.  Since the first printing of my book in 2001, I’ve constantly been deluged with e-mails and phone calls from thankful individuals who want to share with me how FAMILY Rules has helped to change their lives for the better.  There is no possible way that I can share all of their stories with you.  There are just way too many stories to tell.  However, I have selected a few stories (i.e., anecdotal information) as well as research information (i.e., data gathered through scientific means) to share with you.  I want to give you hope that FAMILY Rules will work with your children too.  You are not alone.  The good news is that you actually bought this book, you’re almost done reading it, and if you choose to implement it “correctly and consistently” in your home, you’ll experience the same success that you’re going to read about in this chapter.  Don’t just trust my word because, truthfully, I’m just a tad bit biased about the effectiveness of my parenting program.  Instead, listen to others and learn from their experiences too.  Rather than have me synthesize their stories and research information for you, I have chosen to let these parents and professionals tell you what they think you should know about FAMILY Rules in their own words via their own voice and pen.  Please enjoy.

 Children in California Love FAMILY Rules

 We have been doing FAMILY Rules for five years.  When our mom and dad are consistent with it, our home is calm, relaxed and not all tense. Without rules, our home is chaotic. Our list of rules, and daily and weekly chores charts tell us exactly what we need to do every day so that our parents don’t have to nag us.  It’s like a list that adults make, so they know what to do each day. It’s our reminder. Our charts help us keep things in order and it is a constant progression.  As soon as we get a responsibility down, it’s taken off the chart and new responsibilities are added.  It helps us see that we are maturing. I like when our family comes together and talks about things at our weekly family meeting. We can get input from each other and know what we need to work on, and how we are succeeding. Sometimes our family meetings are funny when our parents do role playing to show us right from wrong because they make it goofy.

 It’s nice that all the rules are written down so we know what they are and we don’t have to guess and learn by getting in trouble. We like how our parents get Good Habit Cards too. When they receive a Wild Card, we have them play a game with us, wrestle, or pick up our room. We have learned how to take care of the house by doing cards so that when we grow up and move out, we will be able to take care of ourselves; it won’t be scary.

 The Daily Tokens and RAK chips are our favorite thing because it is a reward for a good day’s work and for not breaking the rules. We are able to go with our parents and do fun things with the Daily Tokens and RAK chips that we earn. We like that we can control how many chips we earn in a week and it’s up to us. If we decide that we don’t want to follow the rules, then we don’t receive as many chips.  Finally, we like the Grace Cards because God forgives us for things that we do. It’s like life, there are consequences but God loves us and wants us to learn and do well. We learn with this program every day.  We love it!

 N.W. and K.W.


 I Would Never Be Like That

 I told Dr. Johnson that I would be glad to write a testimonial about FAMILY Rules, so here it is: When I found out I was pregnant with my first child, I swore that I would raise my children and react differently than my parents did with me. I can always remember when I was a child with my brother in the back seat of the car. It would start off with my brother breathing on me.  In response, I would poke him and then he would start to whine. Sometime during the duration of this conflict my mother, who was driving, would keep one hand on the wheel of the car and with the other hand reach back and flail it wherever, hoping to hit someone in the process. I especially noticed the veins on her neck popping out. I told myself, I would NEVER be like that.

 Thirty years later, I found myself doing the exact same thing. Despite reading numerous parenting books and taking a number of parenting seminars, I found myself with bulging veins and having to repeat everything I said ten times because my kids seemed to be hearing impaired. I felt unappreciated and whatever happened would snowball emotionally until I blew up and got very angry with my children. I also found that my husband had a different set of rules with punishment. It seemed that he would become unglued over little things that the kids did that were due to childhood stupidity but the big things, like willful disobedience, did not merit severe consequences.

 I honestly felt like I was a maid cleaning up after everyone’s messes.  No one seemed to respect the work I did in the house. Then there was the lack of respect of each child toward their siblings. I knew there had to be a way to teach children responsibility, both in the house and in terms of their behaviors. Then we went to a FAMILY Rules seminar. Boy, did our lives change!

 First of all, I am not going to tell you that it is easy. It takes commitment to the “correct and consistent” implementation of the program in the home – especially because the parents have to work as a team. However, I feel that I can say I am a fair and objective parent. Any “consequences” my children have been given has been at their own hands. I have been able to sit back, point to the house rules, and put the responsibility of their woes on them. My house has never been cleaner and I feel that my children, both boys and girls, are learning lifetime

skills that they will need when they live on their own (e.g., cooking, cleaning, washing dishes, etc.). They are learning to interact as well as not to react to their siblings. Our house has been so much more peaceful, my husband and I are more united, and our children have grown because of the implementation of FAMILY Rules in our home. The veins in my neck don’t bulge and I feel I am a much better parent than I was one year ago.

 The final point that I would like to make is that my children know that there are consequences for their chosen behavior.  They are assuming responsibility for their actions and not blaming anyone else. This, to me, is the basis of character.  FAMILY Rules has brought us closer together and is helping me to raise men and women – not boys and girls.



 Helping an Out of Control Nephew

 Security, structure, and peace have been introduced into my home with the Family Rules program. It didn’t start out that way.  A little history is called for here.

Once upon a time, just before leaving to go on a Christmas vacation, I received a call from my sister who has not talked to me for over three years. My sister said over the phone, “You want your nephew?!!  He’s yours!!  He is out of control and I’m going to send him to live with his father!”  My sister had reached the end of her rope.  Knowing that my nephew has never seen or known his father, I immediately agreed to take him.  Just after New Year’s Day, our family grew to five.  Prior to picking up my nephew, I set up an appointment with our family counselor.  She told me that Family Rules was close to what I was doing, but with all the bugs and kinks worked out.  I told my counselor, “I’m in!”  My husband and I also decided to tell my nephew that he would be included as one of our own children. We didn’t know if and when his mother would change her mind about him living with us.  So we decided that we were going to raise him as if he were staying here until he graduated from high school.  

Interesting enough, my other two boys have special needs.  The FAMILY Rules program has been so helpful because of the added structure and constant positive reinforcement that they need.  My nephew is learning to trusts us more and more. His guard is lowering and severe emotional wounds are being exposed. His emotional struggles are a formula for constant conflict and chaos.  My nephew stated that he needs Family Rules to help

him feel secure.  As the younger ones grow up, they see what their cousin is going through.  They see the rewards and consequences he receives because of his own choices.  My nephew is a living example to my younger children concerning how decisions can impact their lives.  We talk openly about decisions made by any member of the family and the power of choices.  Family Rules gives us the skeleton, and we give it the muscle of morals, beliefs, and lots of personality. FAMILY Rules helps my family to engage in the process of teamwork and it’s nice.  I would recommend this program for any family, especially those dealing with children who have special needs and severe emotional wounds.

C. L.


 Preventing a Train Wreck in the Home for a Single Mom

 I started seeking parenting resources when my children were toddlers.  I attended many parenting classes, counseling sessions, and family therapy.  It was mostly useful and beneficial, but nothing really seemed to ever help me and the kids turn the corner completely toward family wellness.  Nothing brought a lasting change to discipline, communication, and routine responsibilities. 

 By the time my children were adolescents things were out of control at home.  There were short periods of calm and then the storms.  My youngest daughter was the quiet one; being swallowed up by all the chaos and turmoil.  My middle child, my son, was an angry, angry child.  A day didn’t go by without him kicking things, punching things, breaking things, or hitting others and himself.  My oldest daughter could storm through the house as well, and began to threaten suicide.  The police were called to our home on a couple of occasions. 

 I really didn’t understand what was going so wrong.  For crying out loud, I’d had tons of therapy, and so had the children.  Things would improve from time to time, but never truly change; until one day, I walked into my psychologist’s office and she said to me, “Lori, somebody wrote the parenting book I’ve been meaning to write; only he wrote it better than I would have.”  She gave me the book, “Positive Parenting with a Plan (Grades K-12): FAMILY Rules.”  She told me to read it and get going on the plan. 

 I wasn’t completely sold on the plan. The psychologist was patient with me.  She continued to meet with me for a year while I danced around the edges, sort of working the plan, but not really.  Then one day she told me to get serious about FAMILY Rules or get out of her office.  She told me, “I’m no longer willing to stand by and watch the train wreck unfold.” 

 Long story short, I got serious about FAMILY Rules and fully implemented it at home.  Within a month or two, things had drastically improved in our home.  My kids were no longer throwing temper tantrums.  They were choosing their behaviors wisely.  I was parenting with a sound plan.  I couldn’t believe I had fought it for so long. 

 No other parenting program had ever worked for me as a mom.  Believe me, I have tried a lot of parenting programs!  I now consistently use the mechanics of FAMILY Rules.  I am also a member of the free parent list serve “Dr. J.” offers via his website.  It is a tremendous tool of support and for promoting lasting change.  

I am very grateful to “Dr. J.” and my own psychologist who had the guts to believe in me, and to believe in the philosophical underpinnings of the FAMILY Rules parenting system.  I wish you could have been there to see it all unfold.  It truly is beautiful and powerful.  We are a calm and rational family today.  Lastly, when “Dr. J.” says a family has to take all the medicine until it is all gone – I strongly believe he’s right.  I go back and re-read the book, different chapters at times, on various occasions, even after four years with the program because it brings me back to the philosophical base and the parenting mechanics that keep our family on the track to wellness.



 Blended Families Experiencing Bliss

 After marrying and blending our family in 2001, it became evident we were not exactly a happy family.  After fumbling around for a couple of years, trying everything available to us; counseling, support groups, friends, pastors, and parenting mentors, we were left on our own to continue in our CHAOS (i.e., Can’t Have Anyone Over Syndrome).   In 2003 our son’s youth pastor invited us to a seminar he was conducting at our church and that is where he told us about FAMILY Rules. We immediately saw hope in “Dr J’s” parenting system and rushed home to implement FAMILY Rules with our children.  We did not see instant success! Our kids went wild and would throw their cards on the ground and said they were not going to do them! They were acting out in a big way.  Their behaviors got crazy for a bit, but we knew we had to be CONSISTENT.  We stuck it out and the kids realized that we were not giving in.  Something had changed in our approach to parenting and their tactics weren’t working anymore. In the mean time we ordered the book so we could CORRECTLY adhere to the program and the new way of life for us.  Our kids learned in a short amount of time that they needed to work within the FAMILY Rules parenting system or life wasn’t going to be fun for them in our home.  In the end, our children chose to comply with our authority.   

 The FAMILY Rules parenting system was something that brought us to another level of togetherness within our home.  But there was something else missing.  My husband, the stepfather, was not spiritually mature (i.e., one of the reasons FAMILY Rules can fail in the home).  This was causing marital and parent/child relational issues in the home.  My husband dealt with this part of his life and asked his stepchildren (i.e., my kids) for forgiveness.  He never went back to his old ways.  He walked the talk.  My children instantly bonded with their stepfather and we went to yet another level together as a family.  Our kids are all over eighteen now, but FAMILY Rules still remains a part of our home.  Our children plan to use FAMILY Rules with our grandchildren someday.


Modesto, California

Everything is Cherry in Idaho

 I have been amazed by the positive changes I have seen in our students in large part due to “Positive Parenting with a Plan (Grades K-12): FAMILY Rules.”  For most boys and families, the outcomes have exceeded my already high expectations.  The staff at Cherry Gulch loved the seminar presentation on DVD.  FAMILY Rules is an outstanding system because it ensures that key principles of parenting are in place.  I have had a number of students ask if they could use FAMILY Rules with their kids in the future.  The boys do not enjoy having to pull “Good Habit Cards.”  However, there is no question that they want to avoid having to pull “Good Habit Cards” so they end up breaking their bad habits and learning some good habits instead.  The parents I work with have greatly appreciated having a plan of action for parenting.  FAMILY Rules has decreased their anxiety, increased their confidence as a parent, and ultimately turned a chaotic and conflictual home into a peaceful one while improving their children’s behavior and attitude.  The families that implement FAMILY RULES have a better relationship with their children.  Also, their children are better behaved and more likely to reach their potential.  So thank you Dr. J. for developing a great parenting program so I would not have to try and create one from scratch. 

 I wanted to share just one of the many positive testimonials we have received, since a positive comment about Cherry Gulch is also a positive comment about FAMILY Rules: “Dear Dr. Sapp, I am Michael’s grandfather, and his mother is our daughter.  I am grateful beyond measure for what you and the staff have done, not only with Mike but for our daughter.  We watched and tried to be supportive throughout these difficult years.  We saw and felt the terrible toll that has been paid.  We watched and hoped for an outcome like what has occurred to dare and the results exceed what we could imagine.  I have spent time with Mike since he was born and have enjoyed him enormously.  The work that was done… at Cherry Gulch produced results better than anything I have seen in 40 years as a child psychoanalyst and psychiatrist.  Despair has been replaced by joy.  Thank you.”

 Andrew D. Sapp, Ph.D.

Cherry Gulch Therapeutic Boarding School

Emmett, Idaho

  Awesome in Arizona

 I am the clinical director at Copper Canyon Academy (CCA), which is an all girl’s therapeutic boarding school for girls ages thirteen to seventeen.  We have been using FAMILY Rules as part of the parent workshops over the last two years.  Many of our parents, when I asked them what their plan was when they graduated CCA and got home, most of them told me I really don’t have one.

 Years ago we used to have the girls draft a home living agreement, which was fundamentally flawed from the beginning and not many, if any, used it effectively or at all.  Since using FAMILY Rules, it has empowered our parents, has given them a plan, and it has shown them how to implement the plan.  The families that use it “correctly and consistently” have given me great feedback on how it has changed their family life.  Of course there is resistance from the siblings and from the girls here at CCA, but if the families stick to the “Two C Words” (“correct and consistent”), we have had amazing results.  The reason the girl’s are successful in our program is that it is structured and consistent and that is what FAMILY Rules provides for our parents, is a model of structure and consistency in the home.  FAMILY Rules has reduced the control/power struggles once found in the familial relationships, the parents have learned how to set structure and boundaries and then let the choice be up to their children.

 Another aspect that is great is the “Random Acts of Kindness” (R.A.K. ) chips.  Our parents have literally been traumatized by their experience with their children prior to CCA.  Therefore, it is imperative that they acknowledge in their kids what is going right or working well, and not just focus on waiting for something to go wrong.   They need to stop seeing their children for who they were and start seeing them for who they have become.  The R.A.K. chips allow the parents to focus on what is going right in their daughters behavior, even in the midst of a mistake.  They can now recognize improvements by focusing on what is going right.  I have seen that single piece of FAMILY Rules alone improve the trust and relationships and lower the fear and anxiety in the family upon their return home after they leave CCA.  I have also seen it do wonders for the parents to get on the same page as they discuss what their family rules should be.  Because nothing goes on the list unless they both agree, it has helped so much to stop the “divide and conquer” problem we see so many times in families.  Other parents have told me that they love the flexibility of the program.  Obliviously, FAMILY Rules is ordered and structured, but they can tailor it to their values and needs of their family. 

 I fully believe that one of our main roles as parents is to teach.  If we teach correctly, we cannot do enough of it and FAMILY Rules parallels my belief that one of the mains roles of a parent is that of a teacher.  It does not dish out punishment, but asks the question, “What can they learn from their choice?”   This rings true with what I teach as a clinician and what CCA is trying to instill in the students and families here.  FAMILY Rules has been a great marriage with CCA from a philosophical standpoint and we will be using it for years to come. 

 Personally in my own family we have been using FAMILY Rules for two years and the results have been amazing for us.  It has been a great tool for teaching our kids who are ages: 10, 7, 5, and 2.  They are learning that they have a choice and with every choice comes a result.  This program makes it so easy to turn it back to them and have them own their choices.  FAMILY Rules has taken away the power struggle we used to have with our children.  Also, we love the part of the parenting program that focuses on what the children are doing that is good.  We have seen this program help our children learn there are more people in this world than just themselves.  As they receive R.A.K. chips for kindness shown to other people, they are learning that the world does not revolve around them.  My oldest has also learned delayed gratification using his Daily Tokens to budget for his rewards. 

 For example, my ten year old and seven year old saved for eight months to get a Wii game system.  They went without many other rewards in that time period to save for their game system.  It was great to see them work together to achieve a combined goal.  We also love the flexibility of FAMILY Rules as we can consistently adjust it to our growing family and the different needs we see with each of our kids. 

 Mike Gurr M.S., M.A., L.P.C.

Clinical Director

Copper Canyon Academy

Rimrock, AZ 

 Adolescents and Their Families are Restored

 We provide a supervised 24-hour in-patient residential treatment program, a partial hospitalization program, and an intensive out-patient program for adolescents ages 12-17 who have found themselves in crisis. The behavioral manifestations demonstrated can include, but are not limited to, drug abuse, eating problems, self-abusive behavior (cutting), academic problems, major depression, and violent behaviors. 

 Our mission is to facilitate healing in a holistic manner effecting mind, body, and spirit. It is understood that no lasting change can take place unless intervention is focused on an internal and external basis. Fundamental change must, therefore, affect what a person thinks, what a person does, and who a person believes in. Through psychological intervention, we seek to increase our client’s dignity and self-respect by encouraging them to understand that they have a purpose in life. And to educate each youth in crisis to the impact that they have on the outcomes in their lives based upon the choices they make.

 We also seek to educate their moms and dads by providing them with an “ordered and structured” approach to parenting so they will maintain at home, the progress their child has made while going through our treatment.  The approach we use is Dr. Matthew A. Johnson’s “Positive Parenting with a Plan (Grades K-12): FAMILY Rules.”  Over the years, we have found this parenting approach to be simple to teach, easy for our parents to learn and implement in their homes, and the effectiveness of the outcomes second to none.

 We believe it is a blessing to work with adolescents and their parents and I have a few experiences to share with you.  I was teaching a group of parents the FAMILY Rules process for setting up consequences and one of the parents stated, “So does this mean I have to do more work and set up assignments added on to what I already have to monitor in my home? Am I supposed to find time to do all of this in my busy schedule?  My response, “No, this means that you get to provide your child with lessons about consistency to help him for the rest of his life. This will help him in school with his teachers, when he goes to college with his professors, when he gets married with his wife, when a policeman pulls him over, and in every relationship he will have in the future.” She kind of mumbled, “Wow, I had no idea it was this important.  Do you have the book right here so I can buy it and start reading it now?”

I like the fact that FAMILY Rules provides parents with an approach to parenting other than “flying by the seat of their pants” or parenting with “mood and energy” level.  Recently, one of our moms, who had the Dr. Johnson’s book, had implemented the strategies in her home.  She shared with us that after there was considerable improvement in her adolescent son’s behaviors and attitudes, she was asked by her younger four-year old son, “Is there some kind of “Plan Book” you can use with daddy so you can stop yelling at him too?”  Isn’t it amazing that young children can see and understand the importance and benefit of having a “plan” up and running in the home?

Finally, what I really love about FAMILY Rules is how it helps to restore the individual, the family, and the relationships within.  One father informed me that his son’s behavior has improved so much since he started implementing the FAMILY Rules in their home.  He indicated that this book brought out the best in his son.  He said that prior to implementing the FAMILY Rules parenting plan, his son had become some other
person. He then said to me, “I want to thank you for giving me my son back”.  We strongly recommend the FAMILY Rules parenting plan to all parents who want their child and family back.

 Joilyn Lewis, Psy.D., LMFT

Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist

Abundant Life and Adolescent Growth, Inc.

Commerce, California

Race and Culture Don’t Matter

 My private practice, like others have rewarded me with a vast array of situations. I have used FAMILY Rules with parents and children that are together, and those that are divorced. It has helped the children. 

 It has also helped the parents to become better parents. My guess is that is the goal of most parents.  Unfortunately, there are reasons that “Dr. J.” has so simply stated in this book as to why FAMILY Rules might fail in the home. Even though the parents or parent may not be able to implement FAMILY Rules immediately, what I find is that they are still able to take moral ideas; philosophical underpinnings; and/or behavioral support techniques (i.e., consistency of consequences between parents, in all settings; immediacy and specificity of consequences, etc.) and implement at least some piece(s) into their home. So it really is a process of change and each family has its own unique start. Race and culture don’t matter with this parenting program.  The internal changes that parents need to come to in helping themselves and their child is the point at hand.  It is far better to do this constructive process rather than continue on the destructive practices they might be involved in. This book is a must read for all parents and professionals since it has something for everyone to learn.

 Simon Azavedo, MSW, LCSW, CCBT, DAPA

Bergen County, New Jersey

 No More Flying by the Seat of Their Pants

 I have been using the FAMILY Rules model for about a year. I am a child therapist and I see children from ages two to eighteen years-old related to some sort of trauma in their life – mostly sexual abuse. Even though we know all parents should be consistent, they usually are not.  However, the most important time for them to be consistent is when their child or the parent has been traumatized. I have been trained in many parenting programs and I choose to use FAMILY Rules consistently with the majority of the families who enter my office.  I love the FAMILY Rules program.  The parents I work with love it too because I am not teaching them anything that is unfamiliar and therefore it does not scare them away.

 I educate parents about FAMILY Rules who have children that are just about to get the boot out of the house.  Those parents that just needed to learn a parenting program to help put them on the right track. I would say I have used FAMILY Rules with about thirty-five families thus far.  What I LOVE about it is the QUICK turnaround in their home.  Almost all of my families that I work with had a new household in two weeks. The one family that did not turnaround was because mom chose not to follow the rules and did not make the child do the “Good Habit Cards.”  The child turned her in to me for not following the program correctly. 

 I have had many success stories.  The one that sticks out to me is when I had a sixteen year old young man with severe depression, sexually assaulted within the past few months, and the week before he saw me he was in a psychiatric hospital due to anger outbursts at his parents, not going to school, no friends and suicide notes.  His psychiatrist and his parents no longer knew what to do with him so they sent him to me.  I received the intake and thought, “Why is he not in a residential treatment facility?”  I always have hope for every child and family that I see, as most therapists do, so I agreed to see the family. 

 I met with the adolescent male two times.  Then I had the parents come in for a special meeting.  I had a gut feeling that this kid is not that bad so it must be someone else provoking him.  I found out that his mom was so controlling that the young man couldn’t breathe without her permission.  I offered to teach them FAMILY Rules and the parents decided to do it. The next session they brought in his daily chores list that was a page long.  It was detailed by half hour increments of what this young man will be doing during the entire day.  I taught his mother over the next few sessions about why she needs to lighten up a little bit on the chores and surprisingly, she did. 

 Two weeks later, the adolescent male was stable, going to school, working a part time job, and finally enjoying some time with his family without constantly yelling at them. Once again FAMILY Rules has saved some parents and children from chaos and conflict.  Being educated in the FAMILY Rules model not only prevents parents from flying by the seat of their pants, it also gives therapists a solid parenting program to teach to the parents we work with so we, as therapists, are not flying by the seat of our pants while we are providing therapy to families who need our help.

 Valerie Meyers, MS, LPC

Child Therapist

Bismarck, ND

 Kids Buy In To the FAMILY Program

 I have been working with families for over thirty years.  I took “Dr. J’s” FAMILY Rules seminar in 2004 for Continuing Education Units.  At present, I have over thirty families on this parenting program.  I have used many other behavioral modification programs over the past several decades without success.  The FAMILY Rules parenting program works because it is for the entire family – not just the children.  In my community, I provide three one hour workshops for the entire family over a period of four months.  I usually have four to five families at one time.  I insist that the children attend too.  There is a certain “buy-in” when the children know other kids are doing the program too.  I have a family with two boys who learned the program five years ago.  They have found the parenting program to be so useful that they volunteer to come to the last meeting of each group to discuss problems.  The boys tell the other children why they like the program. 

 Peggie Wiseman, L.C.S.W.

Licensed Clinical Social Worker

Truckee, California

 One of My Favorite Specialties in My Private Practice

 I am often referred families for parent consultation who are struggling with the issues discussed in Chapter Seven of this book.   Both parents and children can struggle with a clinical issue.  For instance, a child in the household may have an executive functioning weakness (cognitive inflexibility, ADD, language/auditory/sensory processing issues, or even depression/anxiety) that is still problematic despite medication and thorough, effective, ongoing treatment. A parent may have alcoholism, cancer, depression, or a major life event, such as job loss, that is affecting functioning. There are some cases where I postpone teaching FAMILY Rules until further treatment is accomplished. However, in most cases, I still see value in teaching FAMILY Rules, having the parent(s) read the book, and designing a program for their household. I explain that implementation may not be the goal right away, but it is critical to prepare for when the time comes when the clinical issues are treated enough such that implementation is appropriate. This teaches a unified front philosophy, healthy development, and healthy role-modeling. A way to get the buy-in is to convince the parent(s) that the clinical issues are temporary and will improve with treatment, so in the meantime, parents need to prepare themselves for appropriate parenting and a positive family plan for when the clinical issues are treated and ready for it.

 FAMILY Rules can also be a way to support and even provide treatment, when designed and managed by a therapist. Parents in this situation usually feel freshly empowered, rather than stuck in feelings of hopelessness. Most of the time, we are able to proceed with implementing FAMILY Rules.  For parents who are initially resistant to take on the whole FAMILY Rules commitment, I often have them start by listing the values they want their children to learn and have with them when they leave the nest (i.e. honesty, work ethic, health, self-respect, etc.). Often parents have these values swarming in their heads and they subtly affect parenting decisions and behavior. When they are asked to think about it and put it to paper, with clear definitions, they feel the warmth, love, and significance of getting their parenting out of their heads and committed in writing. Parents are often triggered into having feelings of anxiety or resistance when they think about things like authority, discipline, and the “meltdowns” that can occur with strict rules and consequences. Having parents focus on something meaningful, but benign, like values, makes FAMILY Rules more approachable for some parents. It also teaches the importance of parents communicating with each other and reaching agreements on paper. I am also able to convince parents that it is these values that drive their rules and the “Good Habit Cards.”  For instance, parents who value “taking responsibility” can say to their kids, “We have the rule about cleaning your room because we have a value about taking responsibility for our spaces and belongings.”  This helps parents feel empowered to stand by their rules. Parents tend to feel like they have accomplished something with this exercise and are usually eager for me to assign another exercise.  We wind up building their FAMILY Rules program in these steps, which feels more manageable to them.

 I often get the kids to buy-in to the program by using school as an example (i.e., most of the kids I work with do not have significant school problems and generally comply well with school system). I explain that they walk around school and do stuff in class without really thinking of the rules and consequences.  They usually do the right thing and stay out of trouble.  I explain that this is because they learned the school system, the clear rules, predictable consequences, and expected behavior.  Therefore, the kids run themselves on automatic pilot pretty well.  I explain that once they learn the FAMILY Rules program for their household, and get past the initial discomfort, they will walk around the house and do stuff at home without really thinking of the rules and consequences.  They will usually do the right thing, stay out of trouble, and run themselves on automatic pilot.  I explain that school is designed that way to keep chaos low so kids can focus on the lessons they need to learn and so they can have fun. I explain that home is supposed to run the same way for the same reasons and that’s where I come in. I explain that the purpose is also to make it easier on them when they get into society, so they run themselves well on automatic pilot and enjoy the rest of their lives.

 The biggest obstacle I have found is getting the parents to take their “Good Habit Cards” for breaking rules. They often “forget” or feel they don’t have to do the “Good Habit Cards” because they already did so many “chores” during the day to make up for breaking a rule.  I explain the philosophy to the parents.  I remind them that by dismissing their own “Good Habit Cards”, they are teaching their kids to squirm out of or protest doing their own “Good Habit Cards.”   In the end, the parents are missing opportunities to role model “being accountable” and handling consequences with grace. Often they understand and agree with the philosophy, but they still slack on the “Good Habit Cards.”  So, one thing I started to do was have them accrue and do “Good Habit Cards” in my office (with their advanced permission).  For instance, with one family, I smugly suggested that for every “Good Habit Card” they skipped doing during the week, they leave 5 minutes early from my session but still pay me for the whole session. In these tough financial times, no one likes to pay for my time when they are not in session.  This helped as a motivator with this particular family.  They’d rather do the 15-30 minutes of washing mirrors vs. pay me for session time that they had to miss. With another family, I asked kids to email me and “cc” the parents when they felt that the parents were not complying with doing their “Good Habit Cards.”  The parents felt embarrassed when I would reply, “Well, sorry mom, cancel fun plans until you get them done.”  This maintained the kids buy-in and increased the parents’ compliance with doing their own “Good Habit Cards.”  Obviously, this would not work with every family and it requires particular informed consent from parents to serve in this role.  But it’s this creativity in the therapist that can help make FAMILY Rules successful for parents and children.

 Another way to get families to buy-in and comply with doing their “Good Habit Cards” is to use the “digital craze.”  I ask kids and parents to take pictures with their cell phones or digital camera of infractions (i.e., when a child leaves their empty soda can in their room; When it’s 5:15pm and the cat litter is still messy; When it’s 11:00am on Saturday and someone’s room is still a mess).  I encourage them to take a picture of the infraction with a clock nearby to verify timing. Teens especially like catching their parents this way.  However, I have also seen some particularly “lawyer-like” ten or eleven year-olds complying quickly when mom says, “You claim this room is clean and you therefore should not get “Good Habit Cards” but I disagree.  Because this is a fair and just system, I will take a picture and email it to Dr. Hartman as evidence for her to help us decide.”  The child has often said, “Okay!  Give me fifteen more minutes to tidy up, then let’s decide.”  There’s something about this level of digital accountability that can motivate people to comply.

 Recently, I had to recommend implementing the “Pop-Fly” and “Strike” part of FAMILY Rules (i.e., The “Y” part of the FAMILY acronym).  It became evident that an adolescent male client was not responding to FAMILY Rules. I met with the parents weekly and the family as a whole biweekly for several months.  Over time, I could tell that something was fishy.  I began to suspect that this teen was using marijuana regularly when he came to my office with his parents for our FAMILY Rules meeting.  He smelled like incense.  Another time, he came to my office but he barely spoke.  This was different than usual.  He appeared stoned.  I suggested the parents get him drug tested. When the test results came back positive for marijuana, I referred the family to a substance use specialist.  However, we maintained a commitment to FAMILY Rules to maintain structure and to measure his improvement in substance treatment.  I had a release and often spoke with the drug counselor. 

 Additional rules were set-up involving regular urine-testing and compliance with outpatient substance treatment meetings. He continued to use marijuana and boycott FAMILY Rules.  It became clear that he needed a more intensive level of treatment and care.  At one point, he said, “I want to do the right thing, but I can’t.”  I recommended a residential drug treatment program followed by a therapeutic boarding school.  I referred them to an educational consultant who assisted them in finding the right match and within several weeks, his parents coordinated an escort to help transport him to treatment.  The parents kept in touch with me and reported over time that he was doing significantly better.  Also, they reported feeling good about the order of their decision-making process in eventually choosing to send him there (i.e. Using FAMILY Rules helped them feel they did all they reasonably could for their son before having to send him away for help).  Teaching FAMILY Rules to parents is one of my favorite specialties in my private practice. 

 Julie Hartman, PhD

Licensed Psychologist

Corte Madera, California


FAMILY Rules Goes Global

 I have been using FAMILY Rules for a few years now at our House of Hope-Fort Bend in Texas.  One of the mom’s that went through the program is now a coach and she is an excellent teacher of the FAMILY Rules parenting program.  She will be my coordinator while I am gone and she will have the team to share the load.  Recently, we moved to Abu Dhabi because of my husband’s employment.  We have taken FAMILY Rules with us in order to help “Dr J” take over the world one family at a time.

While we were living in Texas, we had one Vietnamese couple go through our parenting program.  The dad had already sent the son off to an academy, but felt he and his wife needed help before the son came back.  They went through our four-week program.  Not only did they change their style of parenting, but we helped to heal their marriage.

We had a divorced couple come to our FAMILY Rules parenting program because their eighteen year old son was dragging them through the mud.  This kid was a real class act and knew how to manipulate his parents.  The dad was even suicidal when they all came to us.  I told the dad that his son was eighteen, and according to Texas law, he was on his own now.  The dad was not responsible any longer to clean up his son’s messes.  Talk about enablers!  They took our four week FAMILY Rules class and dad was no longer suicidal.  The dad made up rules for his home and told his son, “It’s my way or the highway.” Although the parents were divorced, they worked together and made up a plan so they could tag team this kid.  It was totally amazing.  They nipped their scheming son in the bud!

Finally, just before we moved to Abu Dhabi, a Hispanic lady called our office.  She said, “We don’t have any problems so far but I’m concerned that my twelve-year old son, my oldest boy, may get into problems in a couple more years.”  She found us on the internet.  She wanted to nip any potential problem in the bud so she called us for parenting support.  We require both parents to attend.  In Texas, we sometimes experience the cultural issue with the Mexican machismo.  Some Hispanic men tend to leave most of the discipline to the women.  They just want to be the good guy.  One reason why I love FAMILY Rules is because it makes this issue disappear.  Regardless of culture, the parents must team up together to parent their children.  
While we are away in Abu Dhabi, we will have the team continue with their work in Texas.  Leon and I will be a satellite team in Abu Dhabi.  How’s that for taking F.A.M.I.L.Y. Rules global? 

 Janeen Smith

Licensed Minister

Certified Marriage and Family Therapist

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

 Children Want Order and Structure

 I am the director for the community support division of our agency.  I do carry a case or two from time to time.  I think this important to keep my saw sharp.  I am currently working with two other families along side of other community support workers.  At our agency, therapists are required to watch Dr. Johnson’s seminar on DVD that I purchased via his website.  They are working on implementing the Family Rules plan with the parents and children they serve in our community.  Aside from the very compelling vignettes “Dr. J.” shares in his seminars, I have a few testimonies of my own to share with the readers of this book. 

 One of the better examples is about a single mom and her two teenage boys.  The mom is a recovering heroin addict.  She has been clean for a few years and is in the process of completing her degree in criminal justice.  She has a sixteen year old son, who at the time of working with the family, had just completed a two year commitment with the juvenile justice system for untold crimes.  The identified client was a thirteen year old boy who had been expelled from school for drug use on school grounds, assault, and a list of other offenses. 

 During my first visit to the home to conduct my assessment, the mom explained to me that her boys did what they wanted, when they wanted.  They did not follow her rules.  The oldest was on probation and house arrest.  He was not supposed to use any controlled substances.  However, mom disclosed that he was using and that his probation officer was not enforcing that part of the probation as long as the sixteen year old stayed close to home.  Later on, I was informed that he actually would take off at night and return early in the morning.  The identified thirteen-year old client was following in his brothers footsteps.  After all, who else did he have to be a role model for him?  Ever since his older brother had gotten out the detention center, he started using marijuana with him.  Both boys were extremely disrespectful of their mother and had no problem using profanity when referring to her in person.  Mom on the other hand, while making strides to make a better life through her program and school, had not changed in some areas such as parenting.  Her method of parenting and enforcing the rules came down to her yelling and screaming at her two sons.  I had the privilege on more than one opportunity to witness this most ineffective method of parenting.

Upon completing the assessment, I was able to identify many needs which were addressed in therapy, some advocacy, and probably the most important piece in the home was the parenting piece.  I asked the mom on my second visit if she would be interested in a parenting plan that would make her life easier.  Her response to me, as is often the case, “I have tried all those parenting plans.”  I asked her why she was not following one at the present time.  Her response to me was, “Oh, you know, they don’t work.”  I listened to her tell me how none of those plans really work.  When she was done I asked her, “If I could show you a plan that was different and really worked, would you be interested?”  Her response was, “Yeah, if it really works.”  I began to explain the basics and she stated, “That is a lot of work.”  I pointed out, just like “Dr. J.” does in his seminars, that she was already spending the excessive amount of time and energy via flying by the seat of her pants.  I pointed out that what I was suggesting was channeling her energy in a more ordered and structured manner.  After more conversation she agreed to try the plan.  

We sat down and made the plan of implementation.  I told her first off, that the yelling and screaming had to stop.  She agreed.  The next thing I directed her to do was not to tell her two sons that she was implementing anything new in their home.  This visit had already taken up a considerable amount of time so we set our next appointment for a few days later.  I gave her homework which was to come up with a list of rules and some “Good Habit Cards.”  I gave her a list of supplies she would need. 

At our next appointment we reviewed the rules which she had nicely typed up.  This was helpful for when she might add, delete, or amend any of them at a later date.  She had come up with a nice stack of “Good Habit Cards” too.  We reviewed her homework and in one or two cases, there were a few that we talked about that seemed to both of us to be a bit punitive.  She obtained her Daily Tokens and RAK chips.  After about a week we had everything in place.  While this was happening, I had made a referral for therapy and had gotten the therapist on board with what we were doing. 

The next appointment was the “Great Reveal.”  She was going to tell her two boys about the rules of the home.  Did I mention that her sons were using marijuana and possibly other illicit drugs too?  Also, the older boy is a self professed gang member and the younger boy is affiliated – not initiated.  I showed up for the appointment and the mom told the boys to have a seat at the kitchen table.  The younger one reluctantly sat down while huffing and puffing, and rolling his eyes.  The older boy made some gestures and said, “F_ _ k that!  I am not sitting down.”  Up to this point in time, this young man and I had not had a lot of interaction.  I reached over and pulled a chair out and told him, “Have a seat.”  He looked me straight in the eyes.  At this point, I didn’t dare look away.  I wanted him to know that I was not asking.  After a moment, which seemed like an eternity, he made another gesture with his hands and arms and reluctantly sat down.  At this point I was not sure how this whole thing was going to go down. 

 The mom began to explain that the present situation was not good and that there needed to be some change.  She spoke about her past and the negative affects it has had on the family.  She stated things were going to change.  Previously, when mom would yell and scream, she would yell at the top of her voice, “This is my house!  You WILL do as I say or get out!”  On this day, instead, she calmly sat at the table and said, “This is my house.  You WILL do as I say and as I do or you will get out.  Is that clear?”  What was different was that she did not yell and scream as she said it.  I think she was as surprised as I was with the response of her two boys.  They sat there and said nothing and gave her their full attention.

She began to tell them how the Family Rules program was going to work.  Both of the boys gave her some lip service, but she reminded them these rules were not optional.  She explained that the same rules applied to her, except for where age or the law made the difference.  I said very little during this whole time.  Mom had become a student of Family Rules and understood it pretty well.  I left there that day and mom, along with her two boys, seemed to be in good spirits as evidenced by their demeanor and their interaction between one another.  The older boy actually shook my hand before I left.  I called mom the next day to check in and see how things were going, she reported that things were going well.  She stated a few “Good Habit Cards” had been pulled.  None the less, they were on task and things were peaceful around her home.  I had the services in place which were identified to address the needs. 

 Over the next few weeks, I checked in with mom, and monitored the services I had made referrals for their family.  When I visited the home, I noticed a completely different energy.  It was peaceful.  The tension I had previously experienced was not there.  Both boys were respectful toward mom and just seemed like different boys altogether.  It had the appearance of the same home, but felt completely different.  I called a month later to see how things were going.  The mom confessed to me that things got a little sideways because she was not following the Family Rules plan.  What she noticed was that as soon as she quit, so did her boys. 

 This made her realize the power and safety that Family Rules provides for the parent and children.  I followed up with mom a few times since and she reported that the plan continues to work well in their home.  She has had some issues, but the Family Rules plan has stayed in place.  Nothing ever changes except for a rule and maybe a “Good Habit Card” is thought of and added to the deck.  I have to be honest, I was not sure how this hardened sixteen year old gang member was going to respond.  It made me a total believer in FAMILY Rules when I saw him follow the rules and become a productive member of the family.  

I worked with another family where the only parent in the home was the dad.  They lived on a two acre lot.  Weeds grew exceptionally well on this lot.  One of the “Good Habit Cards” that dad put in the deck was to cut weeds down on the lot.  This was not so bad except dad had to be reminded that the task had to last for no longer than thirty minutes.  His response was, “There is no way my kid can chop all those weeds down in thirty minutes.”  Dad did not get it.  Later dad put a “Good Habit Card” in the deck that removed meals from the kids if they broke a rule.  I found this out through the school counselor.  This is unacceptable.  A parent should never deprive a child of food at any time.  The school called and made a report to child protective services because the child had disclosed this to them.  It was reported to us directly that dad was physically abusing his children.  Our agency made a report to child protective services.  Dad stated that he felt violated by us.  Excuse me!  He was beating his kids and he felt violated by us?  He declined services from our agency.  I later found out that he moved his kids to another school.  We can change our surroundings but the problems only follow.  In this case, dad was the main problem.  He did not get it.  The kids were in therapy addressing their issues and I believe they were making progress.  Dad did not get it. 

I would have to say, out of all the families I serve, regardless of where a family falls within the socioeconomic strata, the number one missing element is “order and structure” in the home.  Children are asking for order and structure in one way or another.  I think the problem is that parents do not know how to provide it.  I have never seen this parenting program not work with a family as long as they follow the plan to the letter of how it is laid out and not change a thing.  One has to be aware of the underlying personal issues and see to it that they are addressed.  As longs as the parents implement the program “correctly and consistently,” it really does work. 

My wife and I have also been treatment foster parents for seven years.  As a part of maintaining our license, we are required to attend twenty-hours of training annually.  I have been to a variety of parenting trainings.  They intrigue me, believe it or not.  I paid for the seminar “Dr. J.” put on when it came to our town because I wanted to check it out.  I have to say, I think FAMILY Rules is by far the best parenting program out there.  It is the most practical and the most hands on.  I am able to sit down with a family and help them put it in place step by step.  It is simple and that is the nice thing about it.  As long as you follow it just as it was intended, not much if anything can go wrong.  Finally, I can also say, that in every case – without exception – where FAMILY Rules did not work, it had everything to do with the parents’ refusal to participate fully as the role models this wonderful system expects them to be as parents. 


FAMILY Rules is great.  I’m as excited to share it now as I was two-years ago when I was first introduced to it.  It really works!!! 

Bill Reinicke

Director of Hogares, Inc.

Albuquerque, New Mexico


Tickled in Texas

 I went to “Dr J’s” workshop in Austin, Texas a couple of years ago, and was so excited to introduce his parenting program to the families I see in my practice.  His parenting method has worked with people when

nothing else has!  It is simple, precise, clear, concrete, and easy to implement.  Here are just a couple of examples of families who have used this parenting model with success.

 Susie was the youngest of three children and the only girl.  At fourteen, her grades were poor; she did not work around the house, and she was sarcastic.  At times, she even was abusive to her mother.  Susie’s mom was rather passive, and let her get away with this behavior, as her own mom had done with her sister when she was growing up. Susie’s dad traveled a lot, but when he was around, she behaved better.   When her dad would try to set limits, her mom would not be able to follow through when he was traveling.   Susie’s mom had read a couple of different parenting books, and even attended a short workshop, but gave up quickly in the face of Susie’s rather formidable resistance to anything new.  

 As I worked with the couple to join together on a parenting plan they could both embrace, they found FAMILY Rules to be a really workable solution.  They especially liked the first half of the book, saying it “opened their eyes” to mistakes their own parents had made with them when they were growing up.  This book helped them understand how they might sabotage their own progress as parents.  Susie’s parents followed the steps precisely, and within two weeks of introducing the plan to their daughter, they could already tell a difference.  Her behavior, especially her attitude and demeanor, improved immediately.  Yes, Susie tried to sabotage her parents’ new parenting plan.  She tested them to see if they meant business; however, they held firm and she learned that her parents were in charge – not her.  Life became easier for Susie when she chose to follow the fair and consistent rules.  Today, at sixteen, she is an “A” student and is looking forward to going to college.

 I would like to share one more story.  Dana was a single parent with two boys, eight and ten years old.  She was chronically stressed, and found herself yelling at her kids far too much.  On her good days, she could be loving and nurturing, but found that her hardest times were when her boys came back from their father’s house.  At dad’s house, there were no rules, no bedtimes, and they could do what they wanted when they wanted.  When her two boys came back home, they would continue their rather chaotic, unruly behavior.   Dana was afraid that if she was firm with the rules in her home, her boys would prefer to live with their father.  This was a threat that the boy’s dad had used many times to intimidate her. 

 As I introduced her to FAMILY Rules, I reassured her that the kids were crying out for order and structure.  It would help them to settle down and feel safe in their home.  Over time, she began to trust that setting rules and limits, delivered calmly and clearly, along with the nurturing relationship she already had established with her boys, was in everyone’s best interest.  After we introduced the rules to the kids in a family session, both children complained and questioned the process.  However, it was easy to see that they were actually intrigued.   Within a month, Dana noticed that her two boys were settling down much quicker after returning from their father’s house.  She also noticed that she wasn’t yelling at them anymore.  Two months later, during a family therapy session, the kids asked me to invite their dad in to teach him the FAMILY Rules parenting system too!

 Truthfully, I could go on and on.  Suffice it to say that I am committed to teaching every parent who comes in my office a better way to do things.  The FAMILY Rules system is the best parenting program I have seen to turn things around quickly.  I’m grateful that I can use a parenting program that helps families, not only in being more responsible citizens, but especially to be more loving and supportive toward one another.

 Pamela J. Monday, Ph.D.

Licensed Professional Counselor

Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist

Austin, Texas

 Adopted Children Love the FAMILY Rules Program

 I am a social worker who has an international hosting program for orphans from Eastern Europe. Through our program, we bring between one-hundred to one-hundred fifty children each year to stay with host families around the USA.  Afterwards, many of the families go ahead and adopt those children who they came to love during the four to five weeks of the programs. We have decided to implement FAMILY Rules as a concept for the hosting families to use while the children are here. With this up and running in their homes, it will help alleviate misunderstandings due to languages as to expectations of the children and of the host parents! We are so excited to be using this plan!

Also, we implemented FAMILY Rules in my home after I attended “Dr J’s” seminar in Chattanooga, Tennessee.  It took a few months for my husband to watch the seminar on DVD and read the book.  He reads maybe two books a year, and they usually revolve around some Christian athlete. After he watched the DVD, we went to Latvia for the adoption of our eighth child, who is fourteen.  While there, we stayed in an apartment at the orphanage for the required one week.  Of course, there was nothing much we could do. So, he read the book and told me we were going to do this program!  We created a list of rules, Good Habit Cards, and everything that is required.  I had my laptop there, so I typed as he and I talked.

 Our new daughter happens to speak a good bit of English and was very interested in our plan too.  She actively helped with the program and proudly told all her friends about rewards for tokens and so forth. Three weeks after we returned home, everyone is on the same page.  The transition with a new child was very easy and whenever someone breaks the rules, everyone is equal.  This is especially important for a new child entering the family, who may feel that existing children have some advantage. Not to mention, we fired the twice a month housekeeper since there was nothing for her to do last Friday.

On a couple other notes, we have entertained an assistant director from one of the orphanages that we work with in St Petersburg, Russia.  She has been intrigued with our FAMILY Rules program.  She told me that she will go back to the orphanage and use FAMILY Rules there too.  She can’t wait for the book to be translated into Russian.

Our nanny took a few of the kids to an animal preserve last Friday for a daytrip during spring break. She is a very responsible young woman from Connecticut. She has read the book as well, and helped me beg my husband into watching the seminar on DVD.  Well, she got caught for speeding and received a ticket.  This was her first ticket ever.  She has been doing fifty “Good Habit Cards” for the past two days for breaking a state law. The kids have developed so much respect for her now as they watch her do her cards that she doesn’t normally do.  It’s been totally awesome.

Le Ann Dakake,

Director of Hosting Programs
New Horizons for Children, Inc.

Acworth, Georgia


 Happy and Healthy HMO Clients

 When given the opportunity, I had to write to express my sincere appreciation for the invaluable FAMILY Rules parenting program.  I work as an out-patient therapist both in private practice and within a large Health Maintenance Organization (HMO).  I met “Dr J” in 2006 at a continuing education workshop in San Diego, California.  I already had a professional reputation as an effective therapist with a specialty in child and adolescent psychotherapy.  My doctoral thesis was on the value of family recreation between parents and their middle school age children (6th, 7th and 8th grade).  At the time that I took “Dr J’s” seminar, I was already leading a group for parents and their middle school age children within the HMO setting.  I would teach the families some valuable skills, like communication skills building, assertiveness training, and a discipline model where parents were taught how to assign consequences to whatever the child or adolescent did wrong.  It made perfect sense to me; however, only the psychologically sophisticated parents were able to catch on to this cumbersome method.  In retrospect, the absence of clearly written rules made this process too hard for most families.

During the FAMILY Rules workshop, I was impressed by this simple, yet air-tight parenting program.  By that I mean that there is virtually no wiggle room for therapists or parents to modify the program.  “Dr J” covered everything a family needs in order to move out of chaos and into peaceful order and structure.  Needless to say, I stopped teaching families the consequence assigning method of discipline and started teaching FAMILY Rules.  

For the past three years, this is how I have used the “Positive Parenting with a Plan” program within the HMO setting.  While all therapists are assigned adult and adolescent cases, most therapists dislike working with this population.  All too often, their sessions dissolve into power struggles.  So I put the word out to the other therapists within the HMO: “Send me your difficult cases.”  I welcomed parents and their middle-school aged children (6th, 7th, and 8th grade) to attend an orientation.  At the orientation, I introduced the FAMILY Rules parenting program.  To participate in group, the families have to agree to attend seven sessions on a weekly basis, and if at all possible, I want all of the adults in the home to attend all seven sessions.  I have them fill out a questionnaire about their approach to setting limits with their children and ask them to list some of the things they argue about.  I am fortunate to have a co-therapist who works with me.  We make time in every group, where I meet alone with the parents and my co-therapist meets alone with the kids.  We come back together at the end of each session for a review, wrap up, and homework assignments for the parents.

In my private practice, I introduce the families that I work with to this program.  This parenting program has worked miracles with some very difficult families that I have worked with.  I receive referrals from four clinics and find the experience of working with these families to be joyful and rewarding.  I recommend the “Positive Parenting with a Plan (Grades K-12): FAMILY Rules” program without reservation.

 Frank Patti, Psy.D.

Marriage and Family Therapist

Santa Ana, California

 Great for Teaching Graduate Students

 In our counseling programs here at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, we focus some on counseling theory in our classes, but also we like to teach our students skills that will empower them to help families learn how to resolve their problems.  It is a thrill when the students go out to the clinical practice settings, and we receive reports about how well trained they are. “Positive Parenting with a Plan (Grades K-12): Family Rules” is one of the tools we teach them to prepare them to work with parents and children. It is one of the most practical, and least complicated (which means more likely to be used) programs I have seen to prepare parents to use behavioral techniques. Dr. Johnson’s material is easy to understand and full of illustrations and examples to make it easy to apply to everyday life. The “Good Habit Cards” are a wonderful change for most families after months, sometimes years, of attempting to remove toys from children or privileges for teens.  Their old approach wasn’t working because they can’t take away “all” the toys.  Also, they would often over-react in the length of the restrictions.  FAMILY Rules eliminates these futile and unproductive attempts and provides more positive and effective disciplinary interventions.

Not only is Dr. Johnson’s Family Rules program fairly easy to teach parents to use, as well as successful when parents implement it “correctly and consistently”, but it is also easy for the graduate students to learn how to use it. The free power point training slides Dr. Johnson has made available via his website are clear and entertaining!  Our students always enjoy the training, and feel like they can walk away ready to use the material immediately.  I would encourage all undergraduate and graduate programs that are seeking to prepare students to use behavioral training or token economy methods to teach this material to their counselors-in-training!  

Dr. Kathy Steele, PhD, LPC, LMFT
Assistant Professor Psychology and Counseling Department
New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary

Works Wonders with Juvenile Offenders

 We have been using the “Positive Parenting with a Plan (Grades K-12): FAMILY Rules” program since 2003 and it has been very effective.  We use the program with Level 5 & 6 adolescents which represent the highest level of acuity in our Juvenile Justice System.  We work with adolescents and their families from the

Departments of Juvenile Justice and Family and Children Services, as well as direct referrals from the Juvenile Courts.  We work in twenty-two metropolitan Atlanta counties and use the program with both English and Spanish speaking families.

 We have found FAMILY Rules to be the most effective parenting program for behavior management with adolescents who have a history of oppositional and defiant behaviors.  Our research data shows that we have less than a 20% re-offending rate with those whom we have used the program, as opposed to those who didn’t complete or were not involved in the program.  Re-offending is defined as returned to court involvement, re-

arrests and probation violations by this agency.  All of our field clinicians are trained in the use of the FAMILY Rules parenting program at orientation.  We are Nationally Recognized by the National Center for Mental Health and Juvenile Justice as a Best Practice organization.

 David F. Anthony, Psy.D., ACS

Clinical Director of Family Intervention Specialists, Inc.

Atlanta, Georgia

Measuring Success Several Families at a Time

 I have been using Dr. Matthew A. Johnson’s “Positive Parenting with a Plan (Grades K-12) FAMILY Rules” program for several years.  It is the most effective and valuable parenting plan I have ever taught.  While serving as a Director and as a Child & Family Therapist for a non-profit agency, I put together several parenting groups teaching this method.  Sometimes the group consisted of only five parents while other groups had as many as twelve parents. 

 The makeup of families was quite varied: foreign born, military, low income, high income, parents with mental health issues, and families of children with disabilities, such as Asperger’s Syndrome.  These groups were run by the generosity of grant providers.  Because of their generosity, I felt it important to have a method of showing whether or not the groups they were funding actually helped parents to improve their parenting skills.

 I developed a Pre-Test/Post-Test questionnaire (Appendix K).  There are fifteen questions.  During the first session of the group, the parents would complete the Pre-Test via the following options for their answers:  1-Fully Disagree, 2-Somewhat Disagree, 3-Agree, 4-Somewhat Agree, 5-Fully Agree.  The survey asked questions such as: (1)  I feel I know all I need to know about disciplining;  or (5)  I discipline my child without losing my temper; and (15) I am consistent in my discipline method.   During the last session, the parents completed the Post-Test with the same fifteen questions and the same options for their answers (1-5 above).  These questions are the same as in the Pre-test but are phrased like, “I have learned. . .”  Fifty-five parents were surveyed.  Of the fifty-five parents, 78% fully agreed that they had poor parenting skills and their children acted out more than other children; 4% Somewhat Agreed; and 18% Agreed.  Of the fifty-five parents surveyed with the Post-test, 96% agreed that their child’s behaviors and their ability to discipline in a more positive manner improved significantly; 3% somewhat agreed; and 1% Agreed. 

 One family who came to the group consisted of a husband in the military.  His wife was born and raised in Japan.  They had a kindergartner and a two-year old.  This couple initially came into therapy due to the wife’s anger outbursts.  She was raised by a very abusive father, while living in Japan.  He continued to emotionally abuse her after the recent death of her mother.  She was finding herself treating her son in the same manner as her father had and was still treating her.  She was adamant that she did not want to perpetuate the same pattern with her own children.  The couple agreed to come to the next FAMILY Rules group while we continued working individually on other issues.  Fortunately the husband was not abusive and he was very supportive of his wife.  Occasionally, there were some cultural differences that had to be taken into account.  Although she spoke English well, translation was sometimes a challenge.  Her husband spoke Japanese and was able to help her understand when needed.

 This couple was able to quickly implement the FAMILY Rules plan in their home and stuck with it.  For the mother, the parenting program took away her angry emotions connected to her previous parenting style and assumptions (i.e., “My son is acting up just to make me angry!”).  Concerning her son, he thrived with the positive parenting plan and readily took his “Good Habit Cards” when need be.  He would even go take a “Good Habit Card” when he did something wrong before his parents had a chance to tell him to take one.  Eventually, their son was getting a card about once a month, if that.  In addition, the father was able to stop being the mediator between the mother and son.  Their two-year old daughter was learning by watching her kindergartner brother.  Even at age two, mom and dad used the positive parenting plan with their daughter, without the “Good Habit Cards.”  Those were introduced later as needed when she reached kindergarten age.  This family had had a six-month, one-year, and eighteen month follow-up.  They are still using the FAMILY Rules plan successfully and the mom’s parenting style continues to be positive.

 As I continue to work with families in private practice, I teach this method one-on-one.  Parents love the simplicity and effectiveness of FAMILY Rules and learn quickly to become consistent.

 Candis K. Sollars, MSW, LCSW

Astoria, Oregon


No Horsing Around in a Kentucky Treatment Facility


The Efficacy of using “Positive Parenting with a Plan: FAMILY Rules”
In a Crisis Stabilization Unit at a Residential Treatment Facility
Written in 2006 by Denise Greenhalgh, Former Supervisor and Employee
at the Christian Care Communities at Woodlawn in the State of Kentucky

The Research Question: If the “Positive Parenting with a Plan (Grades K-12): FAMILY Rules” parenting program works well with families in various home settings across the USA, can it also work in therapeutic treatment settings with improving  the attitudes, behaviors, and compliance of “At-Risk” children? 

Background Information:

The Sanders Crisis Unit accepts children who are in a behavioral, emotional, and/or family crisis.  The “At-Risk” child needs an immediate placement and does not meet the criteria for hospitalization.  The Sanders Crisis Unit has seen a significant shift in the severity and diagnoses of the “at-risk” children referred for placement over the past few years, which in turn has created a need to change in the therapeutic milieu. 

  The Sanders Crisis Unit program is structured to be a seven to ten day placement for stabilization of the child’s mood and behavior, or longer if treatment or placement goals are not met and further crisis stabilization is needed.  The therapeutic milieu is designed to help the child or adolescent return to the parent or guardian, or to a less restrictive treatment environment.  The behavior modification program used in the milieu is adapted from the “Positive Parenting with a Plan (Grades K-12): F.A.M.I.L.Y. Rules” parenting program, authored by        Dr. Matthew A. Johnson (2001).  This allows the therapeutic staff to work with the parent and foster parents to implement the original program in the “At-Risk” child’s home environment while the child is stabilizing under the same basic behavioral modification program.  Therefore, providing continuity for an “At-Risk” child who will eventually return home.

 Traditionally, treatment milieus have used incentive systems similar to those in many homes or school based behavioral modification programs.  These incentive systems are usually based on points and levels.  During my many years of working in residential treatment settings, I’ve found several shortfalls in these programs.  One such flaw in many programs is how to keep “At-Risk” children from getting into a “no win” situation for the day once they have had problems.  Let’s just say that a child had a rough night of sleep, woke up in a bad mood, and ended up breaking rules in the morning.   In many incentive or point systems, the child may now have no incentive to work on improving their behavior the rest of the day.  Further, let’s say that this “At-Risk” child does end up pulling it together some time in the afternoon, but when their points are reviewed for the day, potentially ending up drawing them back into problems once they find out that they didn’t get there points for that day.  The “Positive Parenting with a Plan(Grades K-12): FAMILY Rules” program addresses this by allowing the child to correct their behavior with Good Habit Cards, and then get on with their day.  The Random Acts of Kindness Chips (RAK Chips) further keeps the child from falling into this trap by encouraging them to work above and beyond their Good Habit Cards to make their day successful. 

 Other problems occur when residential treatment-staff develop the mindset that their job is to “control” or “fix” the behaviors of the “At-Risk” children.  This inevitably leads to power struggles and frustrates the residential staff who cannot “make” the children behave.  With the “Positive Parenting with a Plan (Grades K-12): FAMILY Rules” program, the residential treatment staff continually put the responsibility back on the children for their behaviors.   The residential-staff become more like facilitators rather than enforcers.  Through directing the kids to take responsibility for their behavior, the staff see behavior problems as opportunities to work with them – not control them. The focus of redirection becomes choices of the child and how their choices result in either positive or negative consequences. If the focus is on the child’s choices, there is no more power struggle.  Instead of the residential treatment-staff coming at problems, attitudes, and behaviors with highly confrontational re-directions, staff can refer back to the rules and the number of Good Habit Cards the child will receive if they break that particular rule.   Since the “Good Habit Cards” are predetermined and random, there is little room for staff to overreact or become punitive.  In the Sanders Crisis Unit, “Wild Cards” were also developed and shuffled into the deck to further address and alleviate the potential for staff to overreaction. 

 The Sanders Crisis Unit faces several other challenges for implementing a therapeutic treatment milieu that may not be found in other residential facilities.  One challenge we faced in implementing a behavioral modification system was finding one that would meet the behavioral and developmental needs of the age range of 6 to 18.  Let’s face it; time outs have no behavioral modification benefits for a sixteen-year old.  Further, most seven-year olds cannot process their behavior in a three page written essay.  The “Positive Parenting with a Plan (Grades K-12): FAMILY Rules” parenting program addresses this by allowing for multiple sets of “Good Habit Cards” that focus on the age, therapeutic, and developmental needs of the kids (i.e., It’s a flexible, adaptable, adjustable system that can be tailored to meet the unique needs of every home environment and/or therapeutic treatment environment).  The set of “Good Habit Cards” are not necessarily assigned by age groups, but are instead assigned by colors (we used yellow, orange and green “3 x 5 cards”) so that the child could be given “Good Habit Cards” at a lower level of difficulty if they struggle with emotional or cognitive deficits.  The colors do not draw attention to the level of cards that are assigned.  While it is important for the child to correct their behavior, it is also important for them to be able to successfully complete their “Good Habit Cards.”  Please see Sample Chart on the next page:

Sample Chart of Colored Good Habit Cards used by the Sanders Crisis Unit:

Cards allowed to still receive a Day Bead





Level 1




Level 2




Level 3





Another challenge that the Sanders Crisis Unit faced in implementing the “Positive Parenting with a Plan (Grades K-12): FAMILY Rules” parenting program was the nature of the acute crisis that the “At-Risk” child and or family was currently involved in.  To expect a child in a crisis to follow every rule from the time of admission would be to potentially set them up for additional failures.  This was addressed by using levels to phase in higher behavioral standards by ability and age, once again basing this on the card color of the child. 

 The goal is that as the child’s behavior stabilizes, they receive fewer “Good Habit Cards.” As they progress on the levels, they are experiencing success with the “Positive Parenting with a Plan(Grades K-12): FAMILY Rules” program, avoiding feeling the “I can’t do this” mindset from settling in.  They actually learn that they can succeed.

 This success was realized by one twelve-year-old foster child with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS).  The foster parents had tried practically every possible parenting system available in the USA over a 4-year period.  The foster parents and the outpatient therapist could not find a parenting program that would work for their foster child.  Trying to implement the last parenting program resulted in the need to place him in the crisis unit.   At first, he struggled with completing the “Good Habit Cards,” and continued to engage in tantrums if he received cards for breaking rules.  He continued to struggle with this until the day before his discharge.  The foster parents had tried so many variations of parenting programs that they were uninterested in learning the “Positive Parenting with a Plan (Grades K-12): FAMILY Rules” parenting program.  However, about three days after discharge from the Sanders Crisis Unit, the foster parents contacted the unit to ask about this new parenting system.  Apparently this 12 year old foster child told the foster parents that he thought that the “Good Habit Cards” could help him and that he wanted to try them in his foster home.  Seriously, how many other behavioral modification systems are requested to be put in place by the kids?

 A Summary of the One Year Research Study:  

The Sanders Crisis Unit used a Pre-Test/Post-Test model to assess the degree of change in the symptoms the child is experiencing from intake through discharge.  The Symptom Checklist/Behavior Assessment (ScuBA ) were used in this process to self-report of symptoms.  A self-report behavior assessment was used for the child or adolescent to report their current symptoms.  If a child or adolescent’s discharge plan included placement in another agency program, an interagency referral was completed if the referral source has not already initiated that referral.

 “At-Risk” children were placed in the Sanders Crisis Unit for many behavioral and emotional problems.  The diagnoses that these children had were grouped into four categories:

  • Behavioral and Relational Problems (Oppositional-Defiant and Conduct Disorder, ADHD) – 60%
  • Mood Disorders (Depression and Bipolar Disorder) – 14%
  • Anxiety Disorders  and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder – 18%
  • Abuse or Neglect – 1%
  • Other Disorders – 7% 

The statistics continued to show an increase in the number of children reporting at least one form of abuse or neglect.  This percentage increased to 88%, which is well above the percentage for the general population in the USA.  This research study included 148 of the 168 children who were placed in the Sanders Crisis Unit.  The number of children who reported witnessing or being involved in domestic violence in the past year continued to be at a high rate (41%). The significance of these statistics directed the Sanders Crisis Unit toward the continuing process of adjusting the treatment milieu to meet the changing needs of children in our care.

The Sanders Center Behavior Assessment (SCuBA) is a symptom checklist given to each “At-Risk” child upon their intake session to provide the treatment team with an indicator of the issues that the child may be experiencing.  The symptoms are grouped into ten categories, which include: Coping Skills, Social Skills, Self-

Esteem, Education, Depression, Anxiety, Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, Control of Circumstances, ADHD, and Oppositional – Defiance.

 The SCuBA was also completed at discharge, and the two results were compared to measure the effectiveness of the Sanders Crisis Unit treatment program. If the “At-Risk” children’s scores decreased, then child was reporting fewer symptoms, which indicated that they had made improvement during their treatment in the Sanders Crisis Unit.  The overall results of the SCuBA scores demonstrated positive results for children placed in the Sanders Crisis Unit.  

The Outcome Results of the One Year Research Study:

       The percentage of “At-Risk” children who showed improvement in at least one or more of the SCuBA scales was 97%

       Although the “Positive Parenting with a Plan: FAMILY Rules” parenting program helped to improve the attitudes, behaviors, and compliance among most of the children in the Sanders Crisis Unit (i.e., 97%), the SCuBA scales which indicated the greatest percentages of improvement include decreased Depression, improved Coping Skills, and improved Self-Esteem.

  The Conclusion of Research Study at the CCC at Woodlawn:

It appears that the “Positive Parenting with a Plan (Grades K-12): FAMILY Rules” program is just as successful in the therapeutic treatment setting at the Sanders Crisis Unit as it is in the various homes across the USA.  The parenting program helped the staff to behave as “facilitators” rather than “enforcers” by redirecting the “At-Risk” children to deal with the consequences of their own choices.  The parenting program was easily tailored to the unique needs of the children in the unit.  Acting out children still had an opportunity to pull themselves out of their “nose-dive” and still end up having a good day.  Finally, although it helps “At-Risk” children with all sorts of issues (i.e., An impressive overall improvement of 97%), it especially helped children who were struggling with depression, coping skills, and low self-esteem.  It is my hope that other therapeutic treatment facilities will conduct research in the future utilizing the “Positive Parenting with a Plan (Grades K-12): FAMILY Rules” parenting program.  NOTE: Sunrise Children’s Services acquired CCC in November of 2007.


“Where’s the Beef?”

 Wow!  You made it through the plethora of anecdotal stories and research data.  I’m very proud of you!  Now, I’m going to share with you why I included this new and necessary lengthy chapter in my revised book.  Prior to 2001, I had been using FAMILY Rules in various treatment settings that I worked in as well as with my private practice clients.  Everyone I taught it to, and I do mean everyone, loved the FAMILY Rules parenting program.  Occasionally, I would get speaking engagements here and there at schools, churches, and universities and they all loved the FAMILY Rules parenting program too.  After fifteen years of prodding, I finally gave in to the

pressures from parents and professionals to write this book.  After the first printing in 2001, a door immediately opened up for me to speak for Cross Country Education around the USA and Canada. 

 Shortly thereafter, my speaking schedule grew by leaps and bounds.  Occasionally, while on the road speaking, I became frustrated by a small percentage of professionals attending my seminars who wanted to know if I had any research to back up the effectiveness of my parenting program.  They were like the real old lady in the Wendy’s TV commercials back in the 1980’s (i.e., She would scream loudly at the camera, “Where’s the beef?!!”).  In the minds of some of these professionals, they were not going to accept the fact that FAMILY Rules helps parents and children unless I had the research data to back up what I was teaching.

 In response to their skepticism, I decided to begin my seminars by holding up a chair in the air while addressing the crowds.  I would ask all of the professionals in the room, “How many of you read numerous research studies in the past month, reviewed the graphs and charts, and conducted statistical analysis studies before you chose to sit in your chair at my seminar this morning?  Hmmmm?  Please raise your hands.”  My audience would just sit there in silence looking at me like I was asking a very stupid question.  I responded to their blank stares by saying, “That’s right!  None of you reviewed any research studies before you chose to sit in your chair this morning.  Do you want to know why?  I’ll tell you why.  It’s because you have decades and decades of experiences sitting in all types of chairs in many different environments and your common sense told you that chairs work.  That’s why you didn’t review any research studies before sitting in your chairs this morning.  You didn’t need any research studies to arrive at the factually accurate common sense conclusion, based on anecdotal information alone, that chairs really do work.”

 I would go on to say, “How many decades, like the very old lady in the Wendy’s TV commercials, did the tobacco industry shout out, ‘Where’s the research?!!’ as they denied the common sense anecdotal fact that tobacco was creating addictions and killing thousands upon thousands of people worldwide every year?  Just ask the spouses and children of dying loved ones lying in the hospital beds.  They’ll tell you that their common sense doesn’t lie.  If you smoke cigarettes for decades, they’re going to give you lung cancer and you will die a premature death.  We didn’t need any research studies to know that this was the truth.  The truth is the truth regardless of whether or not you have any research studies to back it up.”

 Then I would share with the professionals in my audience, “My graduate statistics professor at George Fox University, Dr. Neal McBride, taught us that good research proves to be true that which everyone already knew to be true.  In other words, good research confirms common sense.  Do you want to know why?  Well because good research springs forth from anecdotal information.  People see others dying in hospital beds after smoking for several decades.  Their common sense tells them that smoking is killing them.  Someone does a research study.  The research data proves to be true what everyone’s common sense was already telling them is true: Smoking causes lung cancer.  Duh!!!  We didn’t need any research to know that and you don’t need any research to know that what I’m about to teach you is the truth.  When you walk out those doors at the end of my seminar, you will know that I speak the truth.  You will know in your heart of hearts that my FAMILY Rules parenting program, if implemented correctly and consistently, will help change the lives of the families you are working with.”

 Thank goodness I was right.  It would have been pretty embarrassing if I was wrong.  However, I assure you that I’m not going to dedicate my entire professional career to promoting something that doesn’t work.  I’m not going to travel all over the world speaking to parents and professionals if it doesn’t make dramatic changes in the families who are using my parenting program.  I’m very pragmatic and I don’t like wasting my time or the time of others.

 Fortunately, since the first printing of my book in 2001, I’ve received a never-ending onslaught of e-mails and phone calls from parents and professionals who are using FAMILY Rules with success.  Much like the stories you have already read in this chapter.  It works for everyone in spite of their ethnic, political, religious, financial, or geographical differences.  By the way, successful parenting has absolutely nothing to do with these diverse variables.  It has everything to do with the proper mechanics of parenting regardless of our diverse backgrounds. 

 The great news is that recently, I’ve been receiving information from others who have conducted their own research while using FAMILY Rules with their client populations.  To be honest, I just don’t have the time and resources to invest in doing the research.  I already know the chair works.  My common sense doesn’t lie to me.  I need to spend my time teaching others and let them do the research.  I’ll most certainly provide consultation if they would like my assistance as they conduct their research studies. 

 Guess what?  The research data is starting to come in and is proving to be true that which everyone already knew to be true.  If you take good old fashion parenting values and put them in a “new and improved” package, minus corporal punishment, it works!  My thanks to all the parents and professionals who are spreading the good news and conducting the research to help others understand that parents and children can live happy and peaceful lives in their homes.  Seriously, I really appreciate your assistance in helping me take over the world one family at a time.  Muhahahahaha!!!  I mean that in a good way of course. 

 In closing, I want you to pretty please consider doing the following two things for me: (1) I want you to get my parenting program up and running in a “correct and consistent” manner in your home.  I want you to feel the bliss of peace and harmony at home.  It may take a little time and effort to make it through the transitional phase but there’s a big pot of gold waiting for you at the end of the rainbow.  Hang in there and “getter done”; and (2) I want you to run up and down the streets of your neighborhood totally butt-naked and scream out to all of your neighbors: “If you’re not using FAMILY Rules in your home, then you’re a Silly Billy!!!”  I’m just kidding.  Please don’t run up and down the streets of your neighborhood totally butt-naked.  That could be really scary for a lot of innocent bystanders.  Also, that just might get you thrown in jail and I don’t want to have to pay your bail.  My point is that I would really appreciate it, pretty please, if you would tell your neighbors, coworkers, parents at school, fellow worshippers, and extended family members to get their hands on my book, too.  Please help me spread the love.  I wish you and your family all of the best of God’s blessings.  Please don’t forget, “Every home needs a FAMILY.”  Live long and prosper.  Peace out.

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