When Children are Out of Control, Only Four Things Need to Change
When parents complain that their young children are out of control, there are usually some very predictable things going on.
For instance, Camille, the mother of two boys, ages three and five, was a parent who said that her children were so bad they were making her crazy.
“They start fighting with each other as soon as they get up in the morning,” Camille said. “But things get worse as the day goes on. The boys throw food at mealtimes, demand different things to eat than what I’ve prepared, break their boys, refuse to help when it’s time to put their toys away, and they never go to bed on time.”
Camille added that by the time they do go to sleep at night, she is very angry with them, she feels like a bad mother, and she wonders what she is doing wrong.
Like other mothers and fathers who say their kids are out of control, Camille explains that she’s tried “everything.”
“I’ve tried being nice to them and tried using rewards,” she said. “I tried time-out and I even spanked them. But nothing works for more than a couple of days and then they are back to being disobedient, naughty children.”
There are several predictable elements in Camille’s situation which I see in other families with poorly behaved children. The common aspects are these:
1. Children who have taken advantage of a parent who has tried to be loving and kind.
2. Parents who have failed to be consistent in applying discipline.
3. Parenting approaches in which rules and limits are not firmly enforced.
4. A lack of structure and routine.
When parents recognize these elements and take measures to change them, they can gain control of their children and create a more normal home life. But to gain the control and begin to change their children’s behavior, they have to make sure they change the four elements given above.
The first step is to look at how the children have taken advantage of you. Often, I see that parents who have lost control have tried to be “nice and loving,” but instead become doormats for their children. Some of these parents seem to equate being loving with being passive and allowing the children to make too many decisions. To correct this, there must be a change in attitude and approach.
In this first step, you have to give yourself an attitude re-adjustment. By recognizing that your passivity and attempts to be nice have gotten you in this situation, you can reverse this by adopting more of a “get tough” attitude and demeanor. It doesn’t mean you are not loving, but it does mean you are tired of being pushed around and you are going to be less “nice” and take on more of a no-nonsense approach.
A good place to start is to write and print out a list of basic rules. Once you have done that, read them to the children and tell them that they must follow these rules or there will be consequences.
The second step is to expect that one (or all) of your children will test you almost immediately. If you anticipate this, you can be ready. You must be ready to crack down on the first violator of a rule. This must be done quickly and firmly. The consequence may not matter, as long as it is not harsh or cruel. It could be time-out or a removal of a privileges or desired activities. And you are to carry this out with calmness and an attitude that tells your children that you are now in control – of them and yourself. The message should be clear: You are no longer Mr. or Mrs. Nice Guy. You are taking back control of the house.
The next step is to monitor their behavior and provide immediate consequences for all violations. That’s where the consistency comes in. You do not let things slide. There will be consequences for every rule violation.
Finally, don’t worry about your kids thinking that you are mean. If they have to think that at first, that’s to your advantage. When they obey the rules and do what you expect of them, then you can provide fun activities, hugs, and verbal praise. In the meantime, you are no longer going to give them the usual opportunities to take advantage of you.