What Do You Do?

Parenting Skills

A 40-minute activity with role-play situations that can help fathers identify constructive and age-appropriate ways to deal with their children’s behavior. Features a handout for fathers called Age Makes a Difference that presents four basic guidelines for fathers to keep in mind as they discipline their children. It also provides age-specific hints for parents and includes “a word about spanking.”From The Responsible Fatherhood Curriculum: A Curriculum Developed for the Parents' Fair Share Demonstration


To give the fathers the opportunity to identify constructive and age-appropriate ways to deal with their children’s behavior.


  • Game Situations Handout
  • Role-Play Situations Handout
  • Age Makes a Difference Handout
  • Newsprint
  • Markers
  • Index cards (optional)

Time: 40 minutes.

Planning Note:

Depending on the size and character of your group, choose either the game version or the role-playing version of “What Do You Do?” (both procedures are described below). Write on newsprint and post later the major points about discipline during the five stages of development, using the handout “Age Makes a Difference.” If the group will do role plays, copy the "Role-Play Situations" Handout, putting each situation either on a separate sheet of newsprint or an index card for use with each small group.


  1. Whether you choose procedure 1 or procedure 2 below, begin this activity by asking the fathers, “Why do you think children misbehave?” (Likely answers include: because they want attention; because they are angry and want revenge; because they’re bored; because they want power and control over the situation; because they don’t know or don’t accept the rules; because parents are inconsistent, so children test the limits; because children are feeling inadequate and want to express their frustration.)
  2. Explain to the group that children’s misbehavior is usually an effort to communicate something, and so it is helpful to try to figure out what lies behind the behavior.
  3. Give the example of a father whose four-year-old daughter is visiting for the weekend: On Saturday afternoon, Dad’s girlfriend comes to visit; the little girl becomes cranky, pulling on Dad and causing problems. Ask the group, “What might lie behind the child’s behavior?” (She’s jealous and wants Dad’s attention.) Ask them to suggest ways that this father can satisfy his daughter’s need for attention without allowing her to control his every move.
  4. Review the four basic guidelines about discipline from the handout “Age Makes a Difference”:  
    • Age matters. It’s important to know what children can and cannot learn during each stage of their growth and development. Parents need to make sure that the discipline they use fits their child’s age and development.
    • The power of love. To do a good job of teaching your children desirable behavior, you need to develop a positive emotional relationship with them. Parents need to demonstrate their love for their children through kind words and physical affection. Children can be taught that you love them, even if you don’t always love their behavior.
    • Mean it. Parents need to be firm with their discipline so that their children know they mean what they say and will back it up.
    • Praise, praise, praise. Recognize and make positive comments whenever your children behave well (even if it is something small). Parents often fall into the trap of commenting on their children’s behavior only when it is unacceptable.
  5. Continue by using your newsprint chart to review the discipline hints during the six stages of development (from the handout “Age Makes a Difference”). Then tell the men that they are going to have fun as they examine some day-to-day experiences and situations with children. Explain the procedure for the activity, depending on whether the group will play a game or do role-plays (see below).

Procedure 1: Game Version of “Alternatives to Hitting.”

  1. Divide the fathers into three groups: two groups of equal size (Teams A and B) and one smaller group (the judges).
  2. Give Teams A and B newsprint and markers. Explain that you will read a situation (from the Leader Resource “Game Situations”) and that the teams will have two minutes to write down as many responses as they can think of.
  3. Explain to the judges that they will listen to each team’s responses to the situation and will decide which responses are more appropriate; judges should be prepared to defend their decisions. (The judges can be changed periodically, and you may need to assist them in making their decisions.)
  4. State the rules of the game:
    • Hitting cannot be a response to the situation; the teams must find alternatives to violence.
    • When the time is up, participants can finish their thoughts, but cannot add any responses.
    • Judges will give five points to the team whose responses are more likely to handle the discipline problem effectively while also teaching the child self-control.
    • Remind the teams that their responses should be appropriate for the child’s age level.

Play the game for about 20 minutes, leaving time to ask the Discussion Questions.

Procedure 2: Role-Play Version of “Alternatives to Hitting.”

  1. Have the fathers count off into groups of three.
  2. Explain that each group will be given a written situation (from the handout “Role-Play Situations”) in which a father has to correct his child’s behavior. Then each group will act out the situation for a few minutes.
  3. Remind the fathers that they cannot use hitting as a means of correcting behavior; they must find alternatives to violence.
  4. Distribute the role-play situations (or, if the groups prefer, they can use real situations from their own lives). Allow the groups approximately five minutes to prepare and rehearse, and then start the first role play.
  5. After each role-play, ask the players what it was like to act out that situation, and then get feedback from the whole group.
  6. After all groups have acted out their situations, move on to the Discussion Questions.

Discussion Questions

  • What are the main differences between how you discipline a child who is two or three years old and one who is four or older?
  • What new ideas did you get today about how to handle your children’s behavior?
  • Have any situations come up with your own children in which you expected too much, given the child’s age? What happened? In what way did you expect too much?
  • What are your opinions about spanking as a form of discipline? (Some parents believe that in some situations spanking is acceptable or necessary; others do not believe that spanking is effective or good, but they sometimes do it when they are frustrated. It is important that you be nonjudgmental about the men’s opinions. Emphasize the ideas about spanking that are in the handout “Age Makes a Difference.”
  • How do other people (such as your parents, your children’s mother, your children’s grandmother, or your girlfriend) influence your ability to manage your children’s behavior?
  • How important is it for children that both their parents respond to their behavior in the same ways? What can you do to get your children’s mother to cooperate with you in your efforts to discipline your children effectively?
  • How do you think that the ways you respond to your children’s behavior will affect their feelings about themselves? How do your methods of disciplining them affect how they feel about you?
  • How will your methods of discipline affect your children as they get older?
  • Do fathers respond differently to their children’s behavior than mothers do? If so, what is different?
  • For those of you who have part-time custody of your children, what parts of disciplining your children are easy for you? What’s hard?

Questions About Game Version of “Alternatives to Hitting”

  • In which of the situations described was the behavior of the child normal for that age? (Situations 1, 4, 6, 7, 8)
  • Were the group’s responses for the infants and toddlers in situations 1 through 8 consistent with what children of these ages can handle? Why or why not?
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