Getting a Grip on Out-of-Control Behaviors: A Parent’s Guide to Maintaining Winning Influence Over Children
All too often, children are operating outside the realm of parental control; they are doing and saying what they please despite the best efforts of their parents. This is a common complaint shared by many families seeking the help of a mental health professional. Parents with unruly children often feel overwhelmed and ineffective. Simply put, they are out of things to try, and need practical answers to some tough parenting questions. If this is you, let me offer you a few helpful suggestions.
First, it is important to recognize that while every family is unique, there are practical principles from evidence-based psychotherapies to help guide you on your quest to quiet your child's resistance. One such principle suggests that for families to function optimally, parents must establish and maintain a suitable amount of behavioral structure for children. Practically speaking, this means parents must design and introduce a set of family rules that clearly communicates to children how they are expected to behave both in and outside of direct parental supervision. Another principle further suggests that parents create a system of behavioral reinforcement, a practical means of shaping a child's responses to family rules through the systematic application of meaningful rewards and consequences. Parents who exercise these principles are destined to become the "master architects" of the family realm.
The first step to becoming the master architect of your family is to identify the type of behavioral structure presently in place for your child. The following questions will help you do this; they can also help you identify the strengths and weaknesses of your own unique way of shaping your child's attitude and behavior. Answer the following questions alone if you are a single parent, or together with your parenting partner:
- Are there specific family rules in place for my child to follow?
- Have I communicated the family rules to my child in a way that makes sense to him based on his age and particular stage of development?
- If asked, would my child be able to define the family rules and expectations I want her to follow in a clear and accurate manner?
- Do the family rules and expectations currently in place fit the present needs of the family, or are they ineffective and outdated?
- Is there a system of meaningful rewards and consequences in place to increase the likelihood that my child will adhere to the family rules?
- Am I appropriately reinforcing the family rules on a regular basis?
If the answers you provided suggest that, the type of behavioral structure you have in place now requires some attention, not to worry. Most behavioral structures do. Like the family system itself, behavior modification systems for children are dynamic; you can re-evaluate and adjust them at anytime to meet the changing developmental and behavioral needs of children. Here are some guidelines I recommend you follow as you consider the possibility of enhancing your child's behavioral structure to fit his or her specific needs:
Guideline #1: Write family rules to fit the developmental needs of children.
In childhood there are several developmental tasks geared toward teaching children the specific skills they will need to successfully manage the demands of life at every stage of growth. For example, the infant who learns to trust others and the world will likely succeed at establishing and maintaining meaningful friendships with peers during school age. While it would not be appropriate for a parent to assign an infant a family rule at this beginning stage of life, a reasonable expectation for parents with infants would involve spending adequate amounts of time with the infant, providing love and nurturing. Doing so will help the infant develop a strong sense of safety and security that he or she will need to build trust with others; this is the first developmental task of childhood.
Similarly, parents with older children are encouraged to begin to view their child's challenging behaviors as an outward expression of their underlying developmental need: in this case, the unconscious drive of the child to learn the skills of self-control. It is, therefore, important that you begin to think of the behavioral structure you are creating now as the strong foundation your child will need to support their successful progression through the developmental stages of childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood. Understanding this concept is crucial. Research studies indicate that the guidelines for acceptable behavior parents give children are instrumental in teaching them the skills they will need to accomplish important developmental tasks later in life.1
That said, I suggest you begin drafting your family's rules by prioritizing your child's non-compliant behaviors by severity and potential risk of harm. Behaviors such as physical aggression, verbal threats, touching others, and inappropriate sexual behavior should be first on the list for intervention. For example, if your child hits others, you would want to demonstrate to them the seriousness of this act by establishing a "no-hitting" rule that corresponds with an immediate behavioral consequence. You would simultaneously want to reward your child for taking any actions that demonstrate the use of self-control. Gradually, your focus will shift from attending to your child's negative behaviors to his willingness to comply with family rules and other behavioral expectations. In technical terms, this process of parental intervention is called behavioral shaping, and the focus of my next guideline.
- Kindergarten Sight Words List
- Signs Your Child Might Have Asperger's Syndrome
- Coats and Car Seats: A Lethal Combination?
- Child Development Theories
- GED Math Practice Test 1
- Graduation Inspiration: Top 10 Graduation Quotes
- The Homework Debate
- 10 Fun Activities for Children with Autism
- First Grade Sight Words List
- Social Cognitive Theory