Over the years of working as a therapist around Douglasville and Atlanta, I have had many parents sit across from me asking how they can change their child. Either their kid is acting out with behavioral issues at school, at home, or a combination of both. Often their kid is angry or yelling and not following through with the parent’s requests. The parent is at their wits end. Other times their teenagers are trying out drugs, skipping school, and failing their classes. They tell me that if only their kid would listen, and if only their kid would do what they tell them to do everything would be better. I frequently just listen and let them know that I hear them. It is very hard to have your child do what they want when you know better and would like to steer them in the right direction. After all, every parent simply wants what’s best for their child.
Once they have given me the information that I need, I present them with the bad news: “I hear you saying that your kid is not listening and is getting in more trouble each day. Let me ask you this: what actions are you taking to change this situation?” Many times, the parents stop and look at me like I grew a second head. They think for a minute and try to come up with things that they have done but it is obvious that they don’t understand why I’m asking them about their actions instead of focusing the session in what we can do to change their child.
The situation is simple. We cannot change our children (or anyone for that matter, but that’s for another blog). Our kids are their own people, with their own thoughts, their own emotions, and their own way of looking at the world. They are still very immature in their thinking, and their brain (especially the decision-making center) is not fully developed, so they are more likely to make decisions that can hurt them in the long run.
So, if we can’t change our children, then is all lost? Absolutely not!
Here are 5 important things you can do when dealing with a child who is having behavioral problems:
1) Create an action plan
Get together with the people closest to your child (be it another parent, a grandparent, or an older sibling) and come up with a plan of action. You will follow this plan each time your child engages in a behavior you do not want. For example: everyone will agree that if the child is throwing a tantrum you will ignore it. I know ignoring is hard to do but is the only way to stop giving attention to the undesired behaviors.
2) Don’t make idle threats
When we are upset we tend to make threats that are big because we are in an emotional state ourselves, and then we take them back because we know they’re not easy to follow through. So, this only reinforces to your child that there will be no consequences for their actions.
3) Take a time-out
Parents are not perfect. We are human beings full of our own emotions and our own experiences. Do not react out in anger. When a heated situation starts, and you are noticing yourself becoming upset, remove yourself from the situation. If it is not possible to remove yourself physically then remove yourself mentally. Repeating a mantra over and over is helpful “I am calm, I am the grown up, and I am calm.” Do this until you either feel calmer or can take a physical break.
4) Be consistent
Consistency is key. Whatever plan you made before the tantrums began you must follow through with them. Every time. Even when it is hard. Being inconsistent only teaches your child to just try harder to get what they want, and then you have bigger tantrums to deal with.
5) Be positive
Be positive with your child and with yourself. Your child may harbor some feelings of inadequacy. For example, their mindset might be: “They just think I’m a bad kid so why even try”. So, it is very important for you to notice the positive or even neutral things that your child does. What we focus on gets bigger, so focus on even the tiniest of positive details and make those the big things. Make sure that you pay attention to your child when they are behaving, and give them positive feedback and praise. Kids like attention and will continue behaviors, be it positive or negative, that gets attention from adults.
I admire parents and their sacrifices. Being a parent is truly the hardest job in the world. I am not saying your child acting out is your fault, but how you act and react is a major influencer in how your child decides to act. I am here to help you make the changes you need to influence your child for the better, and, in time, help guide them on a better path.
If you live in Douglasville, Villa Rica, Mableton, or Lithia Springs and are having questions or concerns with your child of any age, contact me for a free consultation about you and your unique situation.