Parent Responses to Out-of-Control Kids

Parent Responses to Out-of-Control Kids

There is no way a parent can control any child, even less, one who is “out of control.”

See my Volcano Theory for more detail. In short, it states that all behavior in all people at all times is motivated by a) thoughts, or b) feelings (emotions), or both. Only the child can control his behavior, just as only you can control yours. So don’t try to control, or “take charge of,” your out-of-control child’s behavior. It’ll cause more anger and resentment, and just make things worse.

As the parent, you must work at being the child’s ally, not her persecutor or drill sargent or boss. You can be her ally by understanding what thoughts and feelings motivate her behavior, and then by negotiating agreements with her, and then by holding her accountable for her agreements. Believe it or not, you can do this with two-year-olds. In fact, the younger the child is (as long as he can communicate verbally), the better is the time to start this.

Punishments will not work. Don’t yell, threaten, punish, etc. because these Old School methods are invitations to trouble, and will only make things worse. New School methods are the only way to help a child (of any age) gain control of her behavior and resolve to improve it. She must see you, her parent, as her ally (not friend or buddy) who is willing to help her solve her problems — including the problems she has with you.

Start by using one or more of the following. The first three are listening techniques, and listening is the single most powerful thing you can do as a parent.

1. LISTEN TO THE CHILD’S REASONS BY ASKING QUESTIONS (5-QUESTION TECHNIQUE) whenever it seems appropriate. In this process you are trying to LEARN what motivates his behavior. You are asking him to give an accounting (be accountable) for his thinking and feelings. Be aware of how you come across: be someone genuinely interested in understanding, not someone interested in trapping him.

2. REFLECTING BACK WHAT SHE SAYS (ACTIVE LISTENING): if she says something you don’t like, understand, or agree with. By parroting and paraphrasing what she says, you let her know you hear her. It doesn’t mean you agree. By interpreting feelings, you are teaching a vocabulary for putting words on emotions.

3. ACKNOWLEDGE as much as you possibly can of what she is saying or doing (“I understand how you can think/feel that way.” “Okay.” “I see.” “I didn’t know that.”) You don’t have to agree with it, but you have to acknowledge that it is the way she thinks and feels, and that those thoughts and feelings motivate and determine everything she does and says.

4. USE I-MESSAGES to explain your position, your expectations, your values. Why you are backing off, how you feel when he acts or talks disrespectfully, how you are concerned about his safety and being responsible, etc. Be careful not to criticize or attack or lay a guilt-trip on him. A genuine I-message is about YOU, not HIM. Your concern is your own, NOT HIS.

5. REFUSE TO TAKE IT PERSONALLY. Be ducky (water off your back). Tell yourself things like:

a. “I’m not going to take this personally.”
b. “He is saying a lot more about himself than about me.”
c. “She’s talking out of her own ignorance and inexperience.”
d. “He wants to be independent and thinks this is how to do it.”
e. “Swear words are immature, irresponsible shorthand for more complex thoughts.”

6. REFUSE TO STOOP TO THEIR LEVEL BY DOING WHAT THEY’RE DOING. Hold yourself up to them as a mirror (model) for what you want to see them doing.

7. RESOLVE TO NOT BE A “SMOTHER-MOTHER” (or father). She does not eed you that way any more. Recognize her developmental need for independence.

8. EXPERIMENT WITH BACKING OFF. This is NOT backing down. You are giving him elbow room to make responsible decisions. You are making conscious choices to be LESS ACTIVELY INVOLVED with him. Examples: don’t be so concerned if he ate dinner or got enough sleep; don’t fume when he doesn’t do his homework. Take cues about how and how much to back off from what he complains about. Let him determine how much closeness he wants with you.

9. NOTICE THE EFFECTS OF BACKING OFF…whether your experimental backing off sparks negative or positive responses, such as complaints OR APPRECIATION, abuses OR GOOD USES of freedom, demonstrations of irresponsibility OR RESPONSIBILITY, etc.

10. TREAT HER AS YOU WOULD A FRIEND. You wouldn’t take all that disrespect from a friend, would you? So don’t take it from your child. Declare your limits. Withdraw (remove yourself physically) from her presence when verbal abuse starts. “We can talk about this later.”

11. NEGOTIATE A MUTUAL AGREEMENT ON THE ISSUE. The best you can get is her cooperation. If she wants to try something new, listen to her idea. Acknowledge it. Give as much as you can. It will help her self-esteem and help her learn problem-solving. Use I-messages to state what you want. Build in positive and negative consequences.

12. WITHDRAW SOME KIND OF PRIVILEGE firmly, decisively, with few words. If an explanation is ASKED FOR, give it ONCE–without negotiation. It is YOUR response. Stand by it. This is an Old School parenting technique, and probably the weakest of all the suggestion on this page. The New School approaches work much better with out-of-control kids.


3 Steps to Parent-Child Harmony is my book  that describes in detail the differences between the Old School Parenting model and the New School Parenting model.  Please see these links if you are interested in more information or wish to purchase.

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