Dealing with an unruly child is never something we were looking forward to as parents, but it’s frequently something we need to learn. When that occasion arises, it’s easy to fall into the trap of taking your child’s behavior personally.
When your child is acting out at the grocery store, or says something rude to you in front of your friends, the first thing we feel is some measure of shame or embarrassment. We feel like the people around us will have a bad opinion of our parenting if we don’t do something about the child’s behavior.
The reality is that an unruly child is not attacking or disrespecting you, so much as trying to exert power. The child is entirely concerned with personal desires and goals, and it honestly has nothing to do with you – let alone anyone who might be watching.
The unruly child, in general, doesn’t feel much power to do things. Children can be told what to do and when to do it by more or less everyone, it seems – their parents, their teachers, their older siblings, sometimes any adult at all. This leaves them feeling powerless, and they have a strong need to have control over themselves.
When your child acts out, it is almost certainly not to embarrass you or make you look bad, and when you say something along those lines – you tell your child both that you don’t understand or appreciate what the child is really trying to do, and that this is in fact a way for the child to seize power.
Once you understand that the child doesn’t mean the behavior personally, and instead simply wants to have control, you can respond without feeling that your authority is being challenged.
The child does not want to take your authority away, but to have some personal authority. Opening up other areas for the unruly child to make choices (and have control) can be effective in filling this need.
If you’re at a loss for how to respond to these things without taking them personally, or what choices and responsibilities you can give your child, there are several books and programs available which can make the process easy to understand.
The overall goal of any parenting challenge is not to get the child to do what you want right this minute, but to help the child be a more effective member of adult society – and sometimes that takes a little more time and effort. In the end, like everything with your child, you’ll find that it was all well worth it.
To learn more about how to handle an unruly child, I highly recommend The Total Transformation Program, by James Lehman.
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