Have you ever felt out of control? Last spring I tore a muscle in my arm just below the shoulder and basically lost the use of my arm. I couldn’t drive, do dishes, dry my hair, and I struggled to get dressed. I felt like I was getting a preview into my life at the age of 90. Being or feeling out of control feels terrible! Kids who are frequently out of control feel badly on a regular basis. And so do their parents! This article will provide some pointers on parenting a difficult child when they are out of control.
Megan, an out-of-control five-year-old, throws herself down on the ground in a raging tantrum. She cannot be reasoned with or contained by her mother and both feel helpless. Zachary, a six-year old boy, constantly touches others and invades others’ personal space. His parents wonder if he will ever be able to control himself. An eight-year-old named Jacob starts using swear words to shock others and finds it difficult to stop. Now he is developing a reputation as a trouble-maker. At ten, Rachel lies and brags constantly and it only seems to be getting more intense. She has alienated the other girls in her class. Twelve-year-old Garret cries whenever his team loses. He is starting to be targeted by a bully at school. Out of control children can become bullies.
Self-control is a skill that enables a child or teen to suppress undesirable, inappropriate behaviors and act in pro-social ways. It enables him or her to “decide” how to act and to choose a good course of action. If we think of a child’s brain like the engine of a car, self-control allows him to drive the car well, avoiding accidents and getting to a chosen destination. Children are not born with self-control. It is a learned skill.
How do children learn self-control? Many children learn self-control by watching other children and adults. In general, children are eager to please their parents, teachers and peers by behaving in acceptable ways. However, there are also children who, for a variety of reasons, do not learn very well by watching others. These are children who may have a neurological issue, be under stress, or have an underlying insecurity. They will learn more effectively through direct teaching along with the use of rewards and consequences.
What strategies work? First, select a target behavior for your children such as not interrupting or not hitting. Next, a strategy should be chosen. A strategy is away to inhibit impulsivity and take a different path. A strategy for a child who interrupts constantly is to help them recognize and wait for a break in conversation or to raise their hand. A child who hits when frustrated can be coached to walk away or to use words when frustrated. A child who swears can be given alternative (acceptable) words to use. The strategy must be taught both during a neutral time (lesson) and when the situation calls for it (application). A child who cries easily when disappointed can be coached to say, “Good Game” to his opponents and redirect himself toward getting a drink of water or talking to a teammate.
The key to success in helping your child gain self-control lies in rewarding and reinforcing your child consistently for progress made. As humans, we know that most change is difficult. Promptly giving your child your enthusiastic praise, privileges or small rewards are potent ways to reinforce your child’s progress. Examples of a small reward may include a small toy, 10 extra minutes of computer time, or a frozen yogurt. Recognizing and celebrating your child’s progress and success will help your child overcome his or her impulses and develop increasing self-control.