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How To Control The Uncontrollable Child: 30 Tips For Parents Who Are At Their Wits End

Parents struggle with the appropriate ways to deal with the misbehavior of a youngster. When all of the efforts have produced little results, what is the next step? Experts suggest that there are three areas that need to be examined before further action is taken. Ask yourself:

• How am I handling the misbehavior?
• What specific tools can I find to help me in this situation?
• Why is the youngster misbehaving?

Kids have their own temperaments, personalities and individual ways of reacting to authority. When rules and limits are placed upon kids they may test the rules to the limit to find out how far their independence can go. The expectations set for them by moms and dads may be too strict or too lenient and the kids may resort to misbehavior to gain the attention not gained when behavior is good or as normally expected.

Toddlers begin the journey to independence with the establishment of the word "no." Pre-schoolers and school-age kids seek limits by testing what authority will allow and what they can get away with. A certain amount of defiance is expected, and healthy, as kids establish their own independence. Each situation will differ in terms of circumstances, personalities and responsibilities. 

How Parents Can Make Discipline More Effective—

1. Decide if you need outside assistance. If prolonged or acutely severe behavior problems continue to exist after recommended intervention is attempted, then professional help is advised. Determine what services are available in your community through the school system, mental health centers, support groups, etc. Take advantage of services appropriate for your needs.

2. Distraction can be an effective tool in redirecting attention from something that they want to do (that is inappropriate) to something that is appropriate. For example, if a youngster wants to jump on the lounge, suggest going outside and jumping on the trampoline (to allow them to jump appropriately) or going for a walk to the park (fulfilling the desire to be physically active), or even something completely unrelated like making play dough (this can be less effective if the youngster wants to physically unwind). The closer your alternative is to what they are wanting, the more likely you are to succeed in changing their focus. The key is to make the distraction sound as enticing and exciting as possible, and you don't want to draw attention to the undesired activity (you are trying to make them forget about that!).

3. Education is a disciplinary technique. Use education as a direct consequence of misbehavior. Education is an opportunity to move your youngster to “thoughtful” from his normal stance as “thoughtless.” In many cases, a youngster's misbehavior is based in ignorance. Racial slurs, or physically risky behavior (e.g., smoking, driving too fast), can often be corrected easier and more effectively by a specifically educational response than by other forms of discipline (e.g., scolding, making rules). Education is not about lecturing, and since your youngster may not be open to hearing the truth from you, an educational consequence may be best imposed by another adult he respects.

4. Establish some home rules. All family members old enough to participate can be involved in establishing home rules and consequences for violation of the rules. Holding family meetings to establish and regularly review and "update" rules is effective and helps to keep all family members informed and involved. Be sure to share these rules with others providing care to your kids (relatives, care givers, etc.) so they will also know what the expectations are and actions they should take when kids misbehave.

5. Get the youngster's attention. Make eye contact with the youngster before a command is issued. Yelling from across the room will not be effective.

6. Hiring a substitute. A youngster may choose to "hire" someone to do his chore (e.g., by paying a wage of $1.00, or mutually agree to trade chores).

7. Patiently show the youngster the "right way" to behave or do a chore.

8. Perhaps the simplest and most effective way of changing a youngster's behavior is to let her know that you disapprove of it. State your objections clearly, and give reasons. “I don't like it when you hit your younger brother. It's cruel and thoughtless, and I want my kids to be kind and compassionate.” When your youngster hears your disappointment or disapproval, she may shape up. Disapproval works when it is stated clearly. Don't nag, rub it in, carry on, or hold disapproval as a grudge. Children can hear a complaint or disapproval once – more than once erases the message from their little brains and closes their ears. Your disapproval needs to be expressed with conviction and passion, but without fury.

9. Post a list of jobs that need to be done (e.g., washing the car, weeding the garden, etc.). Let the youngster choose a "work detail" as a way to "make up" for rule violations. This is especially effective for kids 6 years and older.

10. Rearrange space. Try creative solutions. If clothes and toys are left lying about, have baskets and lower hooks for easier cleanup. If school notes and homework are misplaced, assign a special table or counter for materials. If chores are forgotten, post a chart with who does what when.

11. Redirect behavior. Substitute a positive behavior for one that's a problem (e.g., drawing on walls, have paper available; throwing sand, use a ball for throwing; trouble taking turns, add another toy or have them help an adult (to satisfy this need for power).

12. Remain in authority. Stick to your guns. Don't get talked out of your feelings or your reasons for issuing the command and don't let the youngster wear you down.

13. Say what you mean and mean what you say. Many times we speak before we think and make demands that we can't follow through with (e.g., "If you cut your toes off with the lawn mower, don't come running to me." … "If you don't clean up the dishes, you won't have dinner for a month"). Don't say something that you can't follow through with. Think about the consequence of certain behaviors before expressing them. Also consider if and how you will be able to administer the consequence. Follow through your command with immediate consequences or rewards for the youngster's behavior.

14. Send a warning. Your child starts acting out, and the first thing you do is warn her: “Cut it out or I'll take that paint brush away,” or “I'm counting to 10. One, two, three...”. In many cases, bingo! End of misbehavior! Warnings are not the same as threats. Threats are threatening; warnings simply put the youngster on alert that the behavior needs to stop, now, or there will be consequences. The best warnings clearly state the limit and the related consequence. Warnings only work if your youngster believes that you'll follow through. Be careful not to cry wolf. Be prepared for your youngster to call your bluff. The moms and dads who are the most successful with warnings are the ones who aren't afraid to follow through on each and every warning. Be consistent – it provides security for your youngster, and ensures that you'll be listened to.

15. Set expectations. Don't ask the youngster to follow a command. Remind the youngster that you expect him or her to behave in certain ways. Explain what behavior is acceptable and what is not acceptable and what the consequences will be.

16. Strive for consistency. Confronting the behavior, when it occurs, giving the reason it is not acceptable, and following through with the consequence on a consistent basis is the most effective way to change the misbehavior. If we are not consistent, in disciplining a youngster, the youngster will believe it is all right to act this way sometimes, and continue the misbehavior on occasion.

17. Take away privileges. Match the removal of the privilege to the action taken as closely as possible (e.g., fighting over TV results in loss of TV time). Take away the privilege for a short period. If it lasts too long, resentment builds, the youngster forgets the infraction and the lesson is lost.

18. Take care of your mental health. Go out and have fun. If you don’t take care of you, you will not be able to take care of your youngster.

19. Take it one step at a time. Even when you have tried everything, having the right attitude will increase the youngster's self-esteem and offer the limits in a loving way. Chances are that if the behavior worsens, the modification is working. You are tightening the reins and they feel threatened. It will get better with consistent application.

20. Tie what you want to what they need (e.g., when you pick up your toys, then you can watch TV; when you come home from school on time, then you can have a friend over).

21. Use a firm voice. Give commands in a firm controlled voice and with an authoritative manner. Don't make it a game for the youngster to guess if you mean it or not.

22. Use a Point System. Give points for good behavior and take away points for bad behavior. In some households, accumulated "points" are traded in for rewards. In others, privileges are based on behavior, and dropping below a certain point level may cause a loss of privileges. Be careful that the youngster doesn't start to do things only for the points rather than because it's a nice thing to do.

23. Use a Reward System. Intended as a supplement for other methods of discipline, the reward system relies on you going out of your way to praise positive behavior (e.g., thank your youngster for helping with something, comment on how nice and quiet your youngster has been for the last half hour, etc.). It's very easy to overlook when your youngster is being good, but it is generally all the times he or she is not being bad.

24. Use logical consequences. Let the consequence make the point (e.g., misuse a toy, lose use of the toy for a period of time; write on the wall with crayons, wash it off; miss a curfew, lose same amount of time from the next outing).

25. Use natural consequences. The basic concept behind this method is to let nature run its course when appropriate (e.g., If your youngster leaves his toy outside it may get lost or ruined … If your youngster leaves his umbrella at school, he will get wet the next time it rains … If your youngster forgets her lunch, she goes hungry until she gets home).

26. Use positive discipline, which is a technique that sees misbehavior as an opportunity for teaching new behaviors (e.g., after your youngster has learned her toy is ruined, you could show her how to organize her things). Also, set positive examples in the way you, the parent, act, and eliminate negative language. So instead of saying, "don't do that", provide some direction by saying, "Why don't you do this instead."

27. Use separation and replacement. Children squabbling over an object? Take it away. If you separate a youngster from an object, make sure you replace the activity with something productive. Putting the Nintendo on a high shelf without giving the children something else to do will only leave them: (a) bored and ready to cause more trouble, and (b) empty-handed-they'll have to fight each other. Only separate a youngster from an object when the object is related to the misbehavior.

28. Use time-outs. Time-outs separate a youngster from a situation in order to “break” the action and reset it on a new track. Time-outs take the youngster out of an environment that is reinforcing the negative behavior. For school age children, time-outs shouldn't always be timed, they should allow the youngster enough time to change his mood on his own. A time-out is over once the mood has been changed or the youngster has calmed down and regained self-control. Let the youngster determine when a time-out is over (she needs to learn to determine her own moods and rhythms). Don't threaten time-outs, and don't think of them as punishments (“Hit me again and I'll put you in a time-out!”). They're meant to be used as an immediate, brief cooling-off period. Time-outs are designed to remove a youngster from an environment where she is getting gratification for her negative actions. When she returns, don't let her resume her activity. Let her know that her actions were unacceptable. Move her into a more positive situation, and give her positive reinforcement. Time-outs are most effective when a youngster needs help changing a mood. Moms and dads can take time-outs, too.

29. When something goes wrong, one of the best responses of all is usually to sit down and talk about it. Often, open communication is all that is needed to change behavior, or to make sure that a certain misbehavior doesn't happen again. You can talk with your youngster alone during special time or during family meetings. Use your discussions to point out natural consequences that might occur from the misbehavior. Children sometimes need help seeing the chain of events, and understanding why they happen.

30. When you're faced with mild, irritating misbehavior, sometimes the best response is to ignore it. Ignoring is a very active behavior; it doesn't mean just letting it slide and neglecting your youngster. Ignoring a behavior requires: (a) developing a poker face-a relaxed body, and straight, unimpressed face-and refuse to get riled by the annoying behavior; (b)making an active decision to ignore it; (c) paying attention silently while you are actively ignoring it. What kind of behavior can you ignore? Certainly, never anything dangerous or hurtful to the youngster, anybody else, or any object. Good types of behavior to ignore would include: nail biting, nose picking, tuneless humming, minor swearing, foot jiggling, gross jokes, and annoying laughs. Children often try out annoying behavior patterns, and the more attention that is paid, the worse the patterns get. Ignoring is gentle, and it works. It's based on the premise that, for your youngster, negative attention (pushing your buttons) will give him more satisfaction than will getting no attention.

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Anonymous said...

Hi...I have 4 teen aged kids...2 are difficult and 2 are typical teens. My oldest who is 18..just finished her first year of college. She failed out and we have her home for the summer. She is depressed and just started meds. She suffers from low self esteem. She refuses to get a job and sleeps all day. She has an abusive boyfriend that has hit her and has left bruises on her face. She demands that we drive her to see him but we refuse to do this. She calls us all sorts of names, she puts holes in walls and makes our home life very hostile and sometimes unbearable. We want to kick her out of the house but we are afraid to do this because of her fragile mental state. She is being seen by a counselor. Everyone advises us...don't prevent her from seeing him but I am not going to support this "unhealthy"relationship.
My 2 main questions are: am I doing the wrong thing by preventing the boyfriend to be part of her life and do we kick her out of the house? My other 3 children and my husband and I are taking a real emotional beating from her and we are at our wits end.

Anonymous said...

My son is not a teenager but he acts like one. He is 20 yrs old and refuses to get out of bed and work. He is in constant arguments with us where he curses us out. The only time he does chores is when you make him. He thinks he rules the house, his dad and myself. We only started having these kind of problems with him 3 years ago. He has severe ADHD but was doing ok without the meds untill a new girlfriend told him he should be on meds. He went to the Dr and got meds and took them for a month and then quit. He tried college and flunked out the first year. He tried the Marine Corps but was told an ADHD DX and showing symptoms disqualified him. Everything he tries and fails he blames on us. We threw him out once almost a year ago. He moved in with his sister and her husband. They threw him out after 3 months and told him he could never come live with them again. He did have a drug use habit. I do not think he is using now but he is drinking. My husband has started travelling with his company 5 months ago. I started joining my husband 4 months ago to get away from our son. When we returned home last time we discovered our son had found the key to our locked gun cabinet where we had to start storing our alchohol and he drank everything. There were 3 gallons of Rum and Whiskey in the cabinet. When confronted he cursed us out. We took away car keys, cell phone and computer. Again he cursed us out. I don't know what is happening with him or how to fix it. Currently I just want him out of our house. I have told im to go and he sas "If only I could". He has no place to go and wont leave. I suppose I could have the police remove him but I did not want to help him get a criminal record. He sees a therapist for his ADHD but lies to him frequently. I just don't know anymore. How do I get him out? Drop him off at a Homeless Shelter?

Courtney said...

I have an11,8, and almost 7 year old and my oldest and me have a very open relationship and for the most part get along good but this last year she has really turned into this uncontrollable careless person and im at my wits end. Nothing works I am very strict and maybe a little too hard on my kids sometimes because I am a single mother and I feel like I have to be this way or they will not be responsible when they grow up . I feel like I cant take anymore and I dont know what to do.

Unknown said...

To the people who have kids over eighteen and they disrespect you and your rules. This issue just does not start all of a sudden. It has been happening for years probably since early childhood. They have been treating you with disrespect and they got away with it. Now the problem only seems bigger because they are adults. They know whenever they fail they have a place to go without consequences which the real world places on them. Flunk out of college or the military you get kicked out. You go to a public establishment and if you don't follow the rules you are asked to leave or get escorted out. The only way they will learn is if you stick to your guns. Kick them out until they learn to respect you and themselves.

Mrs G said...

Hello, I had the same exact thing happened....and I'm not trying to scare you but you may want to look into drugs. My oldest did the same thing. We got her into mental health, they even 51/50'd her in hospital. However for some reason they didn't drug test. I found out after several months that she was using meth and her boyfriend was giving it to her. She would act out, dropped from HS and was being abused by her bf whom would get high with her and she would keep wanting to go back. My advice is to not take her but don't prevent her. She will eventually take off anyways. Give her all the positive talk you can and make sure you still have your self open to talk to her. See if mental health will drug test ger off gaurd (meth leaves system in 3 days, so if planned she might quit a couple days to pass test. If its not drugs, it will still benefit being positive. I asked God to direct me... my daughter is back in school, doesn't talk to bf and has a Job. My prayers for you family, I know it's hard. God bless.

Oksana said...

Hello. I am at my whits end with my 8 year old. She is a disaster. My husband and I are at the point where we cant handle her anymore and ahe is about to get kicked out of her school. We are lookog for places we can send her for the summer that is focused on helping kids behave. I am looking for any advice.

Anonymous said...

For the first anonymous comment with 4 kids… what a seriously hard situation. All of us on this group are dealing with very similar issues. It just breaks my heart. I think you are doing the right thing by not driving your daughter to her abusive boyfriend. You can’t stop her if she goes on her a own accord. I always repeat the mantra that I will support my son in whatever is positive in his life (education, looking for work etc) but will not support the negative (drug dealing, taking drugs etc). Keep repeating that you love her and hate to see her getting hurt. Be on your guard that drugs maybe in play. Keep in mind your other children will be watching you closely on how you deal with your daughter.

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