The ‘product’ portfolio of discipline

If you’re familiar with the challenge of disciplining children, the Boston Matrix approach to product portfolio analysis can be a surprisingly helpful model – if you change the traditional axis labels from:

  • Market growth rate to Level of transgression / patience required
  • Relative market share to Relative success rate

discipline portfolio

In this revised format, deciding which discipline method to opt for becomes instantly more logical. Hear me out:


The stars in the discipline portfolio are ‘consequences’; you chuck a box of lego across the room in a fit of rage, you tidy it away.  The stakes are high, but so is the success rate. However, this method often requires superhuman strength to see it through. Sadly, the impact of ‘consequences’ may eventually wear off and and your ‘Stars’ may become ‘Cash Cows’.

Cash cows

The good news is that cash cows, aka ‘distractions’ in this revised portfolio model, require relatively little patience i.e. investment, yet the results are still surprisingly high. However, distractions are usually only appropriate when responding to mildly annoying transgressions rather than the ones that make you question your child’s very essence.

Question marks

Time-outs are a great alternative to consequences for managing more serious transgressions, but require the same – if not more – effort and are often less successful. So while they are worth investing in on occasion, selective use is advised.


‘Ignoring’ is another low-effort technique to manage annoying behaviour, and is the ‘dog’ of discipline. In other words, it’s rarely successful in stopping said behaviour and thus is best avoided, but it may often be the only way to maintain your sanity!