Confronting a Child Who Has Lied

Kids sometimes lie. They do so for many reasons (to avoid punishment, because of embarrassment, because of an overactive imagination and so on), but no matter why they do it, parents must know what to do to help them stop doing it. The way a parent confronts a lying youngster can make the difference between whether that child lies less or more in the future.

If you know or suspect that your child has been lying, consider the following tips:

Consider Your Child’s Motivation for Lying
Is your child lying in order to protect someone else (“Sarah’s parents don’t want her spending time with her boyfriend so I agreed to pretend that she and I were going to Karen’s house to sleep over.”)? Is he or she lying in order to avoid an unpleasant task (“No I don’t have any homework tonight”)? Is the lie designed to avoid punishment (“No I didn’t break the vase.”) Perhaps the lie is meant to avoid embarrassment (“Yes I passed all my subjects”).

Think about the possible reason for the lie BEFORE you confront the child. This can help you be more effective in using Emotional Coaching – the naming and accepting of the child’s feelings. Emotional coaching makes the child feel understood and accepted instead of defensive. It helps the child WANT to hear what you have to say and WANT to cooperate with you. Emotional coaching reduces defiance and deception. An example of emotional coaching for a child who wants to protect her friend, might be the following, “You’re a very good friend to Sarah and of course you don’t want her to get into trouble with her parents. I know you are trying to help her.”

After providing this kind of acknowledgment of her motivations and feelings, you can then go on to give instruction and correction: “The problem is that Sarah’s parents love her probably even more than you do and they make certain rules for her because they want to protect her. This issue is really between Sarah and her parents and it’s not right for you to get involved. Most importantly, Sarah is asking you to lie for her, which isn’t what a good friend does. Good friends bring out the best in each other and don’t encourage each other to become worse people. Sarah is asking you to harm your relationship with US in order to help her continue to defy her parents. I don’t think that this is fair of her to ask you, but you have to decide that for yourself. The only thing that we want you to know is that if you lie to us in the future, you will certainly erode our trust in you and that will not be good for your relationship with us. Right now we give you lots of privileges and free reign because we trust you –  but that could all change if you continue to be dishonest.”

Notice that this approach appeals to the parent-child relationship and also appeals to logic. The “punishment” implicit here is damage to the relationship. This approach works particularly well with adolescents. It is possible to combine Emotional Coaching with discipline, however, as might be appropriate for a child who lies about his uncompleted homework. “I know you don’t enjoy doing homework and I fully sympathize with you. It’s a lot more fun to play games on the computer. However, when you lie about completing your homework you may be compromising your grades and I don’t want that to happen. Therefore, in the future when I find that you are lying about the amount of homework you have you will lose computer privileges for 48 hours.”

Avoid Anger
One of the most common reasons kids lie is to avoid parental wrath. Often kids grow up and become adults who lie to their spouses because they expect – based on childhood experiences with their parents – that making mistakes can get them into BIG trouble. Encourage truth-telling by keeping your confrontations quiet, respectful and low-key. Effective discipline (like the 2X-Rule described in detail in Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice) replaces the need for anger. You can use the 2X-Rule to give appropriate, moderate discipline when necessary. Consider the following example:

You discover that $100.00 is missing from your purse. You are certain your son took it because you see that he has a new gadget that he told you his friend bought for him as a gift and you know that this particular gadget costs around $80.00 – and you are pretty sure none of his friends would spend that kind of money on him. How do you get him to acknowledge what he did and make restitution? Not by getting mad! In fact, the madder you get, the more likely it is that your son will lie to you in the future in order to avoid your anger. Instead, you can follow these steps:

  • Speaking very quietly and slowly, refraining from drama or emotion, you confront him by saying something like, “I have good reason to believe that you took $100.00 out of my purse last week.”
  • If your son denies it, look him in the eye and very slowly repeat your statement with minor modifications: “It’s possible that I’m wrong – I didn’t have a camera rolling – but I’m fairly certain you took it. I put the money in the purse late Wednesday night, didn’t move the purse, and discovered it missing Thursday morning at sunrise, before anyone came into the house. Only God knows for sure what happened to it so I’ll just say this: If you did take that money, I’m going to assume it was a mistake and that  you will find a way to put it back in my purse some time over the next few  days and that  you’ll never do such a thing again. However, if you really didn’t take it, then I don’t want you to replace it. Just be honest with yourself and with me. I’ll assume that if you don’t replace it, you never took it to begin with and this is my mistake – for which I am apologizing in advance. However, if money ever goes missing from my purse again, the whole family will have to go for family counseling to discover what is going on in our house.

Do Not Trap a Child into Admitting the Truth
Suppose you just learned that your daughter lied to you about the location of a party she was attending. She knew that you didn’t want her to go to parties with certain kids and in fact, the party she wanted to go to was at one of those kid’s houses – so she gave you a different address. When a friend telephones for your daughter, she accidentally reveals the actual address of the party. Now you know for a fact that your daughter lied. When your daughter returns home, DO NOT play questioning games designed to trap her in her lie. For instance, let’s say she told you that the party was at Erica’s house. Do not do something like this: “How’s Erica? How’s her mom and dad? Were they at the party? Did you say hello to them for us?” and so on. Being sneaky with your kids just encourages them to be sneaky back to you!

Instead, be straight: “We know that the party was not at Erica’s house – it was at Ian’s place. You lied to us.” Continue with Emotional Coaching: “I guess you knew we wouldn’t be pleased and you felt you just had to go, so the only way to make it happen was to lie.” Continue with education and information: Do you think that we are trying to hurt you when we ask you not to go to parties with those kids? What do you think our motivation is? Do you think we are too protective?” Do not be hostile or sarcastic when asking these questions. You are simply trying to help your youngster think through what she has done. You want her to conclude that you love her and you are trying to help her. If she insists that you are well-intentioned but misguided (“You don’t know them Mom! Sure they drink too much, but they’re really nice and they don’t drive when they’re drunk so there’s really no problem!”), let her know that you cannot agree to allow her to do things you think are life-threatening, illegal or immoral. If she does these things, there will be negative consequences, but if she lies and does them, the consequences will be much greater. This method works only when the relationship between you and your child is a good one. If you are too strict, controlling or critical, your child will be more likely to defy you because there is very little to lose. If, on the other hand, you are loving, warm and positive, the child will not want to risk losing your affection and support and will be more likely to comply with your requests.

Avoid Excessive Punishment
Even when you have to discipline a child for lying, be careful to choose moderate negative consequences. Always warn the child before giving a punishment (“From now on, if I find that you have lied, such & such consequence will occur.”). Punishments that are too intense are more likely to backfire, causing the child to lie more in the future in order to avoid harsh punishments (see “Avoid Anger” above for a similar problem). For a selection of reasonable punishments, see Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice.

When There is a Chronic Pattern of Lying
If you find that your child is lying frequently rather than on rare occasions, your child has a problem that requires your attention. Again, anger and upset on your part will be counterproductive – destructive instead of helpful. Instead, express sadness that there is a serious problem. (“It seems that you don’t feel comfortable being honest with me. I can see we have a serious problem here that we have to address.”) Arrange for professional assistance in the form of family counselling. A therapist can help help discover the reasons for a child’s persistent dishonesty and develop an effective treatment plan.

Extreme Misbehavior – Conduct Disorder

Even before stepping into high school, John had already accumulated a laundry list of offenses. He had been involved in bullying, vandalism, fire setting, stealing, and fighting, among other aggressive or illegal activities. As if these antisocial behaviors weren’t enough, John also had other issues like abusing alcohol and prescription drugs, and threatening his parents with violence.  At 14, he was arrested for assault, and placed in a juvenile correction facility.

John has Conduct Disorder, a mental health condition believed to affect 3-10% of American children and adolescents. Conduct Disorder or CD is characterized by persistent patterns of antisocial behavior, behavior that violates the rights of others and breaks rules and laws. While most kids have natural tendencies towards episodes of lying, belligerence and aggression, children and teenagers with Conduct Disorder exhibit chronic and inflexible patterns of gross misbehavior and violence. Conduct Disorder is a serious disorder of behavior and not simply an overdose of the sort of ordinary mischief or misbehavior that all children get into. It is characterized by repetitive, consistent antisocial behavior that is not responsive to normal parenting interventions.

Conduct Disorder manifests in aggression to people and animals, destruction of property, deceitfulness or theft, and serious violations of rule such as running away, using dangerous weapons, skipping school and classes, ignoring curfews and so on. Symptoms cause severe impairment in the child’s personal, academic or social life. Conduct Disorder occurs more often among males than among females and usually coexists with other mental health conditions such as substance abuse, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or ADHD, learning disorders, and depression.

What it’s Like for Parents
Conduct Disorder poses one of the greatest sources of grief and stress among parents. Symptoms can start out looking relatively normal, involving “misbehavior” such as chronic arguments with parents, disobedience and even hyperactivity. But as time goes by the gravity of the symptoms tend to escalate, alongside with their frequency. Temper tantrums can become actual episodes of violence and assault; lying to parents can become stealing from friends and classmates; and lack of respect for privacy at home can become breaking and entering somebody else’s home. Conduct Disorders can lead to cases of rape and sexual abuse, even homicide. If left untreated, Conduct Disorders can evolve into the adult disorder known as Antisocial Personality Disorder.

Receiving calls from teachers, principals and even the local police station, are common occurrences for parents of conduct disordered children and teens. Usually, there are many fruitless attempts to discipline or moderate a child’s behavior. Even counseling is insufficient because the biological nature of the disorder necessitates medical treatment as well. Because kids and teens with Conduct Disorder  suffer from a lack of empathy and emotional responsiveness, parents rarely get through to their child on their own.

What can Parents Do?
The good news is that there is hope for treating Conduct Disorders, and many programs have been found effective in both managing symptoms and restoring functionality. However, treatment is usually slow and complex. Indeed, Conduct Disorder is one of the most difficult behavioral disorders to treat. Recovery generally requires time and a combination of many different treatment approaches including different types of therapy, education, behavioral interventions and medications.

What can Help?
Early intervention helps increase the likelihood of successful treatment, which is why parents should act promptly when they notice antisocial behavior in their children. CD often begins as ODD or Oppositional Defiant Disorder, a condition characterized by lack of respect for authority. Lack of empathy is also a risk factor, alongside a family history of antisocial and/or criminal behavior.

As part of a comprehensive treatment program, traditional counseling and therapy interventions can go a long way, particularly those that aims to teach positive social skills such as communication, empathy and conflict management. Emotional management techniques, such as anger management interventions can also help. Sensitivity training, especially those at residential camps where kids and teens can interact with peers (and sometimes animals like horses), have also been known to be effective.

Parents are also encouraged to join family therapy sessions and Parent Management Training or PMT. Family therapy can surface systemic factors that cause and reinforce antisocial behavior in children. Family therapy can also help parents establish more effective forms of guidance and discipline, and teach parents how to respond to disruptive and defiant behaviors.

Because of the biological factor in Conduct Disorders, getting pharmacological help is important as well. A psychiatrist can help plan the appropriate drug therapy for a child or teenager with Conduct Disorder. In addition, a psychiatrist can help manage the child’s overall program of therapy and specific interventions. Sometimes the best source of help for children with Conduct Disorder is a specialized children’s mental health treatment center where many different types of professionals offer services under one roof and the child’s program can be coordinated through one department. Ask your doctor for a referral to such a center for diagnosis and treatment of your child.

ADD/ADHD – Attention Deficit Disorder

You’ve always considered your son to be an active child; even as a toddler he was always on the go. He gets bored quickly if there isn’t structure or if he doesn’t like the activity (like homework!) and he prefers to do several things at once. He often interrupts people when they speak, but you’re confident that he can outgrow the behavior. However, his inability to sit still during dinnertime is increasingly annoying and of even more concern is the trouble he’s been getting into in school for calling out answers and leaving his seat without permission. You’re wondering – could he have ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder)?

Most children are first considered for formal assessment when their school performance is suffering. However, ADD/ADHD can occur in children of every intellectual level (from intellectually challenged all the way to intellectually gifted). The brighter the child, the longer it may take for teachers and parents to become concerned, since the child’s academic performance may not be as quickly or as severely affected by his disorder. Nonetheless, a child who has to work extra hard in order to counteract the effects of ADD/ADHD is usually feeling stressed, exhausted and irritable. These behavioral symptoms should be taken seriously – not just the child’s grades. In fact, no matter what the child’s grades are like, behavioral disturbances at home should also be taken seriously. Sometimes these are a result of parenting style, but sometimes they are caused by conditions inside the child. A proper assessment may lead to a diagnosis of ADD/ADHD or some other developmental condition or simply stress that the child has not been able to express to his parents. Parents should also seek assessment when their child seems to have trouble following instructions, remembering to do what he is told, taking turns, waiting patiently, organizing his schedule and belongings or sitting for age appropriate lengths of time. Don’t assume that a child doesn’t have ADD/ADHD just because he can spend hours sitting quietly in front of the T.V. or computer screen. The disorder only interferes with “boring” activities, not activities that stimulate the child. That is because ADD/ADHD is a brain condition that is essentially understimulated. In fact, medicinal treatment consists of stimulant drugs. Although normal people can tolerate boredom fairly well, those with ADD/ADHD have zero tolerance for boredom because their brains are stimulant hungry – boredom is actually painful for them. This is also why kids with ADD/ADHD tend to get into trouble when left in unstructured situations. They will create activity by getting into mischief. Highly structured programs help prevent this problem.

What is Attention Deficit Disorder?
Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or ADHD, are behavioral conditions characterized by an inability to maintain focus for a long time and/ or an inability to keep still. These difficulties in managing attention and activity are more than what is expected developmentally from kids of the same age. The symptoms tend to also persist across all situations, thus a child with ADD or ADHD tends to be inattentive or disruptive, not just at school but at home as well.

ADHD affects somewhere between 5 and 10% of schoolchildren, depending on measurements utilized. Symptoms of ADD or ADHD are never the same with any two people. People with attention deficit disorder may not be able to sit still, plan ahead, finish things, or pay attention to what’s going on around them. Symptoms for ADD may include: having difficulty remaining in one place, difficulty waiting one’s turn in groups, blurting out answers before the question is complete, poor organizational skills, losing things, shifting from one uncompleted task to another, talking excessively, not listening to what is being said, being easily distracted, entering situations without thinking, having difficulty following instructions, fidgeting with hands and feet, squirming while seated, interrupting people often and forgetting things that are necessary for a task or activity.

Kids with ADD/ADHD may also have additional symptoms such as problems with anger, poor social skills, poor fine or gross motor skills, anxiety, sleep disturbances and mood issues. Sometimes ADD/ADHD occurs alongside other disorders such as Tic Disorders, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, depression and social phobia. Attention Deficit Disorder has an early onset, and usually manifests itself before a child turns 7 years old.

Symptoms for attention deficit disorder are broken down into three groups: Type 1: Inattentive. This group of ADD sufferer have symptoms of attention deficit – i.e. being easily distracted, daydreaming, losing focus. Type 2:  Hyperactive/Impulsive. This group of people with ADHD show symptoms of overactivity (fidgeting, running or pacing where inappropriate, always “on the go”) and impulsivity (acting without thought, interrupting others, calling out). Type 3 is Mixed Inattentive and Hyperactive/Impulsive, where the person has a mixture of symptoms across both categories – that is, a mix of ADD and ADHD symptoms. Diagnosis is generally not made until the person concerned has eight or more of the above symptoms, and the symptoms have remained the same for at least six months.

Below is a summary of the common symptoms of ADD:

  • Short attention span, mind tends to wander
  • Frequent  forgetfulness
  • High rate of unfinished projects
  • Gets painfully bored when task isn’t interesting or when there is a lack of structure
  • Makes careless errors in schoolwork
  • Is easily distracted
  • Doesn’t follow through on chores or instructions, appears not to listen
  • Disorganized; loses and misplaces things frequently
  • Difficulty in concentrating on tasks, a high rate of unfinished projects
  • Excessive activeness or excessively high energy levels

Common symptoms of ADHD include:

  • Constantly being on-the-go
  • Frequent fidgeting and running about
  • Impulsive behavior like blurting out answers in class
  • Trouble waiting in-line or other slow-moving situations
  • Talks excessively and interrupts others

There are no laboratory tests that can measure ADHD; as a behavioral condition, psychologists and medical practitioners rely mainly on observation, interview and teacher reports to get a clear picture of the patient’s state. Diagnosis can be made by a paediatric specialist (a medical doctor who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of ADD/ADHD or by a psychologist whose speciality is assessment and diagnosis). Sometimes the family doctor can make a diagnosis as well. Teachers cannot diagnose ADD/ADHD although they may suspect its presence and they are also a vital source of information for those who provide the assessment. Teachers can often refer parents to those who can diagnose. Finally, friends and relatives CANNOT diagnose ADD/ADHD – specialized tests and measurements are required in order to make a diagnosis in addition to behavioural data collected from parents, teachers and others.

What Causes ADHD?
The exact origins of ADHD are still under debate, and many controversies surround the different theories being pushed forward by various research groups and experts. The most accepted explanation so far is that ADHD is a neurological condition related to both the lack of specific chemicals in the brain, and brain structural issues that inhibit attention and self-control. This biological basis is most favored, as ADHD appears to be a genetic condition that begins as early as infancy. However, many researchers also believe that diet, lifestyle and environmental conditions have a lot to do with the symptoms of ADHD. They argue that ADHD is a fairly recent phenomenon, and the condition was rarely reported 50 years ago. ADHD is also rare in poor and developing countries, suggesting that there is something in the way we approach life today that promotes symptoms of inattention and inactivity. In particular, some scientists blame the high sugar content of the modern diet, as well as the rampant used of preservatives and artificial ingredients for ADHD. Excessive use of  technology, such as the television, computer and gaming consoles have also been considered as culprits. Additionally, poisonous chemicals in the air, water and food products are also believed to cause neurological impairment.

How is ADHD Treated?
Once a diagnosis is obtained, parents have a variety of treatment options that they can consider. Both behavioral and biological interventions are usually recommended.

Psychostimulants such as Ritalin have been found to be effective in increasing an ADHD child’s attention span and improving performance at school. Some parents prefer to try alternative treatments such as homeopathy, herbal medicine and nutritional supplements. Some parents will try the natural approach for some months and, if results are not satisfactory, then try psychotropic medication.

Cognitive-Behavioral techniques are used to help manage inattention and impulse control. Children and adult ADHD sufferers can be taught specific techniques to help reduce symptoms and enhance functioning.

When making a decision as to which form of treatment to employ, consultation with the following people is recommended: a behavioural optometrist for a developmental vision evaluation, an allergist regarding possible allergic reactions, a child psychologist who can devise a behaviour modification program, a medical doctor who can assess the need for and prescribe medication and an occupational speech therapist with expertise regarding sensory processing problems. Other professionals to consider are special education tutors who can provide specialized supplementary education when necessary and naturopaths who are experienced in the alternative treatment of this syndrome. Although the treatment team seems large, it is also comprehensive, helping to create the most thorough and effective intervention for those children who have ADD/ADHD.

Bringing Out the Best in the ADD/ADHD Child
Raising a child with ADD/ADHD requires superb parenting skills. Being “Average-Joe-Parent” just won’t do with this population. For a set of easy-to-acquire top parenting skills, see Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice by Sarah Chana Radcliffe. While your doctor and other members of the professional team are addressing your child’s symptoms, you as a parent can keep the following points in mind:

  • The ADD/ADHD child is not purposely disobedient or unruly. He is dealing with inner compulsions and forces; he would like it if he could be easier going, more flexible, happier and relaxed, but he just can’t get there.  He needs your love, support, patience and understanding.
  • Keep expressions of anger to an absolute minimum with this population. They lack the ego-strength (self-confidence) to handle anger and often react with depression, withdrawal, aggressiveness, acting out and other forms of intense emotional turmoil and dysfunction. Learn how to discipline without using anger at all.
  • Your child might benefit from reading self-help books on ADD/ADHD – there are now many available, written for children and teenagers.
  • Consider experimenting with Bach Flower Therapy as a treatment for ADD/ADHD. Bach Therapy has no side-effects of any kind, yet can often effectively reduce many of the symptoms of ADD/ADHD such as impulsivity, immaturity, hostility, depression, anxiety, restlessness, lack of concentration/attention and more. (You can find more information on the Bach Flower Remedies online and throughout this site.) Your naturopath may also recommend other alternative and dietary interventions.
  • Consider enrolling your child in social skills or anger management programs providing sheltered group activities or individual activities that will build personal confidence and self-esteem such as karate lessons, drum lessons, art lessons, cooking classes etc. These needn’t be formal classes – if you can provide extracurricular activities yourself at home (like teaching your child to cook or sew) – that’s great! ADD/ADHD children often grow up to be adults with exceptional creativity and unique gifts. As long as their self-esteem remains intact and they develop ways of working around their deficits, they are capable of being highly successful professionally and personally.

Defiant Behavior (ODD)

“I’m not eating that!”

“I can leave class anytime I want to. You don’t own me.”

“No. Make me!”

Do you have a child who is consistently negativistic, argumentative and hostile? Does it seem that every little issue in your household turns into a major battle? If so, you are probably exhausted! Parenting has turned out to be a struggle rather than the pleasure you expected it to be. And you are probably also confused – why is your child acting this way? Is there something you have done wrong? Or is there something wrong with your child?

There are  many reasons why your child may be this way, ranging from normal temperamental issues and  periods of intense emotional stress all the way  to various mental health diagnoses. In this article we will examine one possible cause of consistent defiant behavior: ODD – Oppositional Defiant Disorder.

Why Do Kids Misbehave?
Misbehavior is normal for any child; part of the natural developmental process involves testing parental limits. In addition, stress can make kids irritable and less able to control their behavior or their mouths. Sick, overwhelmed, hungry or tired kids disobey, talk back, argue or even deliberately trample parents’ authority. Sometimes, simple lack of knowledge or inexperience is the culprit behind misbehavior.

However, when a child defies authority regularly and consistently – across all situations and independent of other factors like stress, fatigue and so on – it is possible that he or she is suffering from a condition called Oppositional Defiant Disorder or ODD.

What Is Oppositional Defiant Disorder?
Oppositional Defiant Disorder is a chronic, pervasive pattern of being uncooperative, defiant and hostile to authority figures like parents, teachers and most adults. ODD symptoms are far more intense than ordinary misbehavior, impairing a child’s ability to function well at home or school. Sibling relationships and friendships are also affected.

Children with ODD have frequent temper tantrums and other dramatic displays of displeasure, engage in excessive arguments with adults, constantly challenge or question rules, and deliberately attempt to annoy or upset other people. They’re also prone to blaming others and exhibiting vengeful behavior. Symptoms usually occur at both home and school. ODD most frequently  occurs along with other diagnoses such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), learning disabilities, mood disorders and anxiety disorders. ODD is estimated to affect 3 to 16% of the population of children and teens. It can manifest as early as a child’s toddler years.

What Causes ODD?
Experts point to a combination of factors including biological (e.g. an impairment on the area of the brain that manages impulse control and emotional management), social (e.g. harsh and punitive parenting techniques, stressful family transitions, difficulty relating with people) and cognitive (e.g. poor problem-solving skills, irrational thinking) issues. It is recommended  that interventions for a child diagnosed with ODD are also holistic, addressing the whole child.

What Can Parents Do?
If you suspect that your child may have ODD, consult a pediatric mental health professional for assessment, and if necessary, a treatment plan. Once a diagnosis has been made, there are strategies that parents can employ to help their child with oppositional behavior. Management of ODD may involve therapy, medication and behavior management programs to be carried out at home and school. Positive parenting styles have been found helpful as well in the treatment of children with ODD. In particular, taking the power struggle out of parenting can lessen the tendency for the child to fight authority. When parents don’t offer strong emotional reactions to provocation, kids lose interest in trying to provoke them. Parents of ODD children can take specialized parent education training.

Although many children with ODD will benefit significantly from medication, parents can also experiment with Bach Flower Remedies instead of or along with psychotropic medication. Behavioral and psychological interventions will still be required. The remedies Vine (for defiance and hostility), Chestnut Bud (for disregard for authority), Heather (for drama and the need for attention) and Cherry Plum (for loss of control) can be added together in one mixing bottle and offered 4 drops at a time, 4 times a day until the defiant behavior has significantly improved. You can find more information on Bach Flower Remedies online and throughout this site. Before starting your child on the remedies, note how many times a day he or she currently engages in tantrums and arguments. Record the child’s behavior for a month while the child is taking the remedies. If there is a positive effect, continue as is, but if no difference is noted, be sure to consult with your doctor and/or psychiatrist for proper assessment and medical treatment.

Child Won’t Go to Bed

There are some young children who can’t wait to get into bed at night – but they are few and far between! It is far more common for children of all ages to try to stay up later than their bedtime, whatever that bedtime might be. In fact, a lot of adults have the same problem! Everyone wants just a little more time to finish playing that game, reading that book, watching that movie or whatever. Maybe it’s not a bad thing – at least everyone who wants to avoid bedtime is excited about life and all that it has to offer!

However, there is one down side to all this wakefulness: daytime fatigue. Kids (and adults) who go to bed too late, often have trouble getting up in the morning and/or functioning well during the day. Physical health and emotional well-being also tend to suffer when there is long term sleep deprivation. As everyone knows, lack of sleep can cause irritability and impaired decision-making. All in all, a shortage of sleep cannot be recommended. Kids NEED to go to bed on time.

If your child isn’t cooperating with his or her set bedtime, consider the following tips:

Set a Realistic Bedtime According to the Unique Needs of the Child
Children – like adults – have varying needs for sleep. Some children and teens function best on 9 or 10 hours sleep, while others do very well on 7 or 8 hours. When a child can wake up on time in the morning with little struggle and function well during the day, maintaining appropriate focus, good health and a decent mood, then he or she is getting enough sleep. On the other hand, a child who can’t wake up in the morning, is always late due to sleeping in, is chronically ill, cranky and/or underfunctioning, and is simply not getting enough sleep. Specific health issues also impact on the amount of sleep needed. For instances, many kids with ADD/ADHD and other biological disorders seem to have more trouble settling down to sleep or staying asleep at night – they may do better with a later bedtime. Wake your child up at the same time every day – the time that is most appropriate for getting to school on time after getting dressed and eating breakfast. If your child does well, he or she is currently getting enough sleep. Therefore, continue with whatever bedtime you have established. If your child is struggling, create an earlier bedtime.

In setting an appropriate bedtime, try to find a time which is only a few minutes away from the child’s ability to fall asleep. For instance, if you set a 9 p.m. bedtime, your child should easily fall asleep somewhere between 15 and 30 minutes later. You may permit your child to read until he or she gets tired. You would establish “lights out” by 9:30. However, if you put your child to sleep at 9 and he or she remains awake tiil 10 or later (despite your “lights out at 9:30” policy), the bedtime is much too early. This is true only when you have been consistently waking the child at the same time every day (the ideal time for getting ready for school).

Be Consistent
Once you establish a reasonable bedtime, be sure to stick to it. Try not to change it except on very special occasions such as vacations or holidays.

Reduce Stimulation
Parents can help their kids go to bed by helping them to wind down for the night. Reduce the excitement available around the house about one hour before your child’s desired bedtime. This means implement rules like “computer is off one hour before bedtime” and “no movies or T.V. in the hour before bedtime” and “no snacks larger than a single non-caffeinated beverage an hour before bedtime.” Your goal is to help the child’s nervous system settle down. You might permit the reading of books or the doing of puzzles in the hour because these activities are both interesting and fatiguing. They involve mental work and therefore exhaust the mind after awhile.

Help Your Child Get Ready for Sleep
For children under 10, expect to spend 45min to an hour helping your child settle down to sleep using a daily sleep routine. This routine normally includes a bedtime snack, bath, teeth brushing, getting into pj’s, and story time or talking time. Depending on the age of your child, you may follow all this with a good night kiss and allow the child to read on his or her own for awhile longer (until “lights out”), or you may actually dim the lights and lie down quietly with the child for another 10 or 20 minutes until the child has drifted off to sleep, or you may sit in the child’s room with lights off until the child falls asleep.

Address Your Child’s Fears
Some children are afraid to sleep in their own rooms alone. Help your child to feel safe and comfortable by leaving night lights on, providing intercom, and/or comfort toys. The Bach Flower Remedies Aspen (for fear of the dark, monsters and ghosts) and Mimulus (for fear of robbers or being separated from parents) can be helpful. These can be purchased from any health food store. Two drops of each in a small amount of liquid (water, milk, juice, etc) given 4 times a day, can help erradicate night time fears. (See more on Bach Flowers in the Bach Flower article on this site.)

Use the CLeaR Method to Reinforce Cooperation
When your child is cooperative with any step of the bedtime routine, acknowledge this. “I see you got your pajamas on already!” or “You came right away when I called!” This is the “C” step of the CLeaR Method (“comment”). Use an appropriate label (the “L” step of the CLeaR Method). “That was so Speedy!”  “You’re such a good Listener!”  For settling into bed at the end of the routine, consider using a reward (the “R” step of the CLeaR Method). “Since you went to sleep so nicely, you can have your special cereal/muffins/T.V. program or whatever in the morning.” Learn how to use the CLeaR Method step by step in “Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice” by Sarah Chana Radcliffe.)

Create a Reward Chart for Younger Kids
If bedtime problems have been chronic or severe, more intense corrective measures can be taken. One such measure is the use of reward charts. Sit down with your child and design a reward-based program of encouragement. Design something that has an escalating system of points and rewards. For instance, if your child currently NEVER cooperates with bedtime, suggest that each struggle-free night earn a special small treat in the next day’s lunch or a special small privilege to occur after school the next day. As the child becomes more compliant, put him or her on a point system, having the child earn 2 points (one for each struggle-free night) and a larger prize (for instance – a $2.00 chocolate treat or gift at the dollar store). When the child can easily earn 2 points in a row, raise the bar: have 3 points be necessary for a prize – but again, the prize is better than the previous ones (for instance, a $3.00 treat or gift at the dollar store). Then have the child earn 5 points for an even better payoff (i.e $5.00 worth of goodies) and then 5 in a row (i.e. a special one-on-one outing with Mom or Dad), 7 points (a trip to the toy store to buy some small item) and finally – for the final GRAND PRIZE – 7 struggle-free nights in a row (which earns a fantastic gift or privilege that the child has long pined for).

Similarly, uncooperative pre-teens and teens can be positively encouraged to get into bed on time. Again, set up the “payoffs” with the youngsters themselves. Say something like the following, “I really don’t want to ask you to get to bed more than once in a night. I’d be willing to work with you to help you get out of the habit of delaying your bedtime. For instance, perhaps there’s some privilege or material object that could be an incentive. I know you’ve had your eye on that new (app, purse, digital whatever). I’d be happy to give you five (two, or whatever) dollars  for every night that you just go peacefully and promptly off to bed. In two weeks (or a month…) you’d be able to buy yourself that (whatever) from that money alone! Incentives do not have to be material objects. Work with your child to see what the child would find motivating. Using incentives is a jumpstart for changing the bedtime habits of your youngster – it is not meant to be a permanent way of life! Once the child is in the habit of going to bed on time and cooperatively, it’s just a whole lot easier for him or her to continue doing it.

Use Discipline if Necessary
If all the “nice” techniques haven’t led to improvement in bedtime cooperation, now is the time to use formal discipline. Display a “no-nonsense” attitude regarding the bedtime. After the child’s bedtime has arrived, follow the rule that the child may no longer call for you or leave his or her room (unless there is a true emergency). If the child calls out or leaves the bed, use the 2X-Rule. Tell the child, “you must stay in your room quietly once your bedtime has arrived.” When the child calls out or leaves the room, repeat the rule and add the warning of a negative consequence. This can be any consequence, but a good one for bedtime problems is “from now on, when you call out or leave your room, you will have to stand against the wall for (the number of minutes of the child’s age, minus 2). Then you’ll go back to bed. Each time you call out, you’ll have to stand against the wall again, but for 1 minute longer than before.” (If the child is 7 years old or older, the increases can be 2 minutes more each time). Normally, this cures the child’s bedtime issues within a couple of days. If the child refuses to stand against the wall, review the instructions for applying the 2X-Rule in the discipline section on this site (and in Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice, by Sarah Chana Radcliffe ).

If you have picked a different consequence (i.e. “no cookies in your lunch tomorrow”), you will have to handle it differently. To begin with, consequences that occur “tomorrow” require waiting. Once the child has left the room and received the consequence, there is nothing more that you can do TONIGHT. The child may now wander around the house all night. This is because you only get to pick ONE consequence. If the one you picked is happening tomorrow, then you have to wait until tomorrow and then apply the consequence (and make sure that you DO apply it!). Use the same consequence at least 3 times before deciding whether or not it is effective. If after the third use, the child is still calling out or getting out of bed, you know that the consequence is not effective. Choose a different one and start again. See “Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice” by Sarah Chana Radcliffe for detailed instructions on how to create and employ negative consequences.

Refrain from Showing Anger or Irritation
Bedtime should be a pleasant time for a child. Try your hardest not to raise your voice in order to scare your child into bed at night. If, after trying all approaches, your child is still refusing to go to bed, consult a parenting consultant or psychologist for assistance. There can be complicating factors you are not aware of and/or more strategies to try.

Child Doesn’t Listen

“My child doesn’t listen.”

This is a common complaint of parents everywhere. If your child seems to have a serious listening problem (he doesn’t answer when his name is called and he doesn’t even move when you ask him to do something and his non-listening occurs almost always) do get his ears checked! If his ears are in working order, he may have an auditory processing deficit (words are heard fine but don’t go in the brain properly) or he may have ADD, attention deficit disorder , or in severe cases of refusing to listen he may have oppositional defiance disorder (ODD). In most cases, however, poor listening occurs because the child doesn’t feel like doing what his parents asked him to do!

It’s Your Fault
Sorry to have to tell you this, but if your child has a listening problem – and particularly if your child has a listening problem with YOU but not with his teachers or other parent – then  it’s probably your fault. This means that you are inadvertently teaching your child not to listen to you. Don’t worry – this is more common than you might imagine and it’s curable! If you want your child to listen – YOU have to stop talking. Let’s look at an example that illustrates the point:

Suppose Mother tells her 10 year old daughter to go to bed. The daughter says, “I’m just finishing this game – I’ll go in a minute.” Ten minutes pass and the child is still at the computer. Mother says again, “I want you to go to bed now.” The child says, “O.K. I’ve just got to get my pencil I left downstairs.” While downstairs, the youngster decides she’s hungry and so makes herself a little snack. Mother shouts down, “Where are you?” The daughter says, “I’m just having a glass of milk. I’ll be up in a minute.” Mother gets busy with something else but notices 10 minutes later that her daughter is still not upstairs. “HOW MANY TIMES DO I HAVE TO TELL YOU TO GET UP HERE AND GO TO BED?!”she bellows in exasperation. “Coming,” her daughter responds in her lackadaisical way. And the scene continues on and on like this while Mother tries to get this kid to brush her teeth, put her pajamas on and get into bed. Mother complains that her daughter “just doesn’t listen.”

Getting kids to bed seems to be a major challenge for most parents. Many parents complain that their kids don’t listen when they try to get them settled for the night or turn off the computer. But if parents are willing to ask and ask and ask and ask, then their kids learn that not even the parents are listening! The parents don’t take themselves seriously, so why should the kids take them seriously? An important rule for parents is to never ask anything more than two times. This is called the 2X-Rule (see “Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice” for detailed description of the 2X-Rule). Instead of asking over and over again until you are exasperated, ask anything only two times. On the second request, give your child a choice: either do what I’m asking you to do, or there will be an unpleasant consequence of your non-compliance.

In practicality, the conversation on Mom or Dad’s part might sound like this:

Parent: Please get ready for bed now.

Parent: I asked you to get ready for bed. If you aren’t ready for bed when I get back here in 5 minutes, then such & such will happen.

(“Such & such” can be any mildly unpleasant consequence such as “you will not have a bedtime story” or “you won’t be allowed to go on the computer tomorrow evening.” Come up with a list of negative consequences or use the list and guidelines in Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice. Choose a consequence that is unpleasant enough for your child that he or she will not one to experience it more than a couple of times. No negative consequence should last longer than 24 hours and even a few minutes can be effective, depending on the child. Do not use harsh punishments as these can harm the child and lead to an increase in bad behavior .)

Parent (coming back 5 minutes later and finding child still not ready for bed): I’m sorry, but you’re not in bed, so now “such & such” will happen.  

Angry parents scare children and can even traumatize them. Anger can destroy the parent-child relationship, sometimes even permanently. On the other hand, the effective use of discipline (especially using the 2X-Rule) prevents anger. Good discipline helps children behave while it keeps them emotionally safe and healthy.

Helping Kids Listen
Parents complain that kids don’t listen when kids don’t do what they’ve just been asked to do. Parents can help kids listen by using discipline when they don’t listen. Here are some behaviors that respond very well to effective discipline:

  • Getting kids into bed
  • Getting children to come to the table for dinner
  • Getting children to try a small bite of a new food
  • Getting teenagers to remember to put gas in the car
  • Getting teenagers to remember to call home
  • Getting children to stop whining
  • Getting children to stop hitting adults
  • Getting children to stop biting
  • Getting children to stop fighting with siblings
  • Getting children to stop arguing
  • Getting children to clean up their toys
  • Getting children to clean up their mess
  • Getting children to come when you call them
  • Getting children to get ready for school in the morning
  • Getting kids out of bed in the morning

Virtually any inappropriate behavior can be modified using discipline when discipline is used appropriately (in the right proportion and in the right way). Help your kids listen by listening to yourself when you speak! Never ask a child more than twice. Take your own words seriously. When you are speaking calmly, in a normal, pleasant tone of voice, you can be perfectly serious. You don’t ever need to be screaming in order to get your message across! In fact, screaming is hard on you and highly destructive to your kids. When kids don’t listen, don’t speak louder. Instead, use more clout. Speak softly but use discipline: quietly let your child know what unpleasant consequence will occur if he or she does not cooperate with your softly spoken request! Then be sure to carry through. In most cases, these strategies will help your children to listen better.

Consider Professional Assessment
If your child does not respond to any of your interventions, consider consulting a mental health practitioner for further direction.

Arguments and Arguing

Everyone has an opinion: the toddler thinks she should stay up late while Mom thinks she should be in bed early. The 10 year-old thinks ketchup belongs on every food while the parents think not. One spouse thinks dishes can dry in the drainer while the other thinks they belong in the cupboard. Sometimes, we just don’t agree.

What happens when people disagree with each other? In some households, disagreements bring people to the verge of hysteria (and sometimes beyond). There can be shouting, pushing, throwing and other aggressive or even violent displays of opinion. In some homes, there is endless argument and debate, a verbal repartee that wears everyone down. In some homes, disagreements melt silently into the atmosphere; they are barely detectable, politely expressed as a difference of opinion. What’s it like in your home?

Arguments Hurt
Respectful disagreements are a necessary part of family life. However, arguments are not. Arguments cause stress, exhaustion and bad feelings. If they are frequent, they harm relationships. It is essential that people who live together learn to communicate without arguing. A peaceful home is not one in which everyone agrees about everything all the time; it is one in which people can make their point, be heard, be flexible, give-in, compromise, move-on and work together. It is one in which everyone’s needs are considered and respected.

Teaching Kids Not to Argue
Parents can help their children learn to handle differences peacefully. They do this in two ways – by modelling and teaching appropriate behavior.

Parents who argue with each other or with others teach their children to argue. These kids are likely to grow up to argue with their spouses and their own children. It will not be possible to teach your kids to handle conflict respectfully if you don’t do it yourself.

If you are providing a good model of respectful conflict resolution, you still have to TEACH the children how to handle their own negotiations in a respectful way. The combination of the parental model and parental instruction gives the child the best opportunity to acquire this skill. However, the child’s nature is also an important factor. Some people are born to argue! Their temperament is rigid and controlling. Other people are flexible and easy-going from birth. Whatever the inborn difference in their children, parents who provide the proper model and education are doing all that is in their power to help their kids enjoy peaceful and loving relationships. The desire to argue occurs frequently when a parent must deny a child or teen something that is requested. The answer “no” often leads directly to arguments. Let’s look at the “I Don’t Argue Rule” to see how parents can help children learn to accept this inevitable part of life without argument (you can learn about this rule in more detail in Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice by Sarah Chana Radcliffe.)

The “I Don’t Argue Rule”
The “I Don’t Argue Rule”  helps prevent escalation of conflict by ending combative conversations quickly. The entire conflict lasts only two rounds. For instance, a child wants to put ketchup on everything but the parent doesn’t want him to. The child enters “round 1” saying, “Can I put ketchup on my peas?” The parent enters “round 1” saying, “no” and offering one brief reason. For example, the parent might say, “No. It’s not healthy for you to put ketchup on all your food.” This reason is not meant to be a solid all-encompassing defense. The reason is a courtesy, to help the child understand that the parent is not simply a stubborn, mean dictator. When the parent usually answers “yes” the occasional, well-considered “no” must learn to be tolerated and respected by a child, not debated. (The child should have ample room to expand his mind in active debate at the dinner table over thought-provoking discussions about life, politics, religion and any other subject of interest: his creativity and intelligence will not be stifled by the “I Don’t Argue Rule”). In order to teach the “I Don’t Argue Rule,” parents must be reasonable people who are flexible and compassionate. They must be “yes” people, rather than “no” people. Unfortunately, “no” parents actually create the conditions under which children MUST argue in order to survive.

The child then starts “round 2” with a variation on the theme (i.e whining, repeating the request louder, giving logical arguments or whatever). For instance, the child says, “PLEASE!! I WANT KETCHUP! PLEASE?” The parent pauses to think carefully on “round 2” then either changes his or her mind OR repeats the original reply. If the parent repeats the original reply, he or she adds the words, “and that’s the end of the conversation.”  For instance, the parent now says, “I’ve thought about it and I don’t want you to have ketchup on your peas – and that’s the end of the conversation.”  The child does “round 3, 4, 5 etc.” alone, whining, begging, protesting, threatening or whatever without any response from the parent. In fact, the parent does not continue the discussion in any form, but rather gets involved in some other activity. When this approach is used consistently, children soon learn that they might as well stop talking after “round 2” because nothing they say will make a difference. They therefore stop arguing completely.

While using the “I Don’t Argue” Rule, parents ignore the unpleasant tactics of their kids. The rule is meant to teach children only one point: do not go on and on and on. Debate can be fun at the right time (i.e. on the debating team!) but is stressful when it occurs in the course of normal family communication. By teaching children this important point, parents give them a skill that will help them maintain pleasant relationships throughout their lives. When parents focus on giving and accepting only respectful communication, they help their children guard their tongues and their happiness. Differences of opinion exist; fighting and arguing doesn’t have to.

Help Your Child Deal with Criticism

Where would the world be without constructive feedback? While criticism may sting, it is necessary to help us grow and improve. If we’re not willing to be criticized, we can go on for a long time thinking we’re doing well, when we’re actually moving in the wrong direction. In short, painful as it may sometimes be, criticism is good for us and our children.

It is important that parents teach their kids how deal with criticism in a healthy and positive way. While all parents want to protect their child’s ego and self-esteem, the reality is that no one can ever really avoid appraisal. When a child wants to join the football team, he’ll have to face the coach’s assessment. When he wants to be a performer, he’ll have to deal with the auditions and the performance reviews. And of course, any child who wants to survive school for twenty or more years is going to need to know how to comfortably handle negative feedback from teachers and peers. On the home front criticism is rampant, coming at a child from all sides (Mom, Dad & siblings). The over-sensitive child will suffer excessively and may become an adult whose over-reaction at work, in marriage and in parenting brings painful consequences.

So how can you help your child deal with criticism? Consider the following tips:

Establish a Culture of Assertive Communication in Your Home
Training a child how to handle negative feedback should begin at home. Make a habit of offering each other constructive criticism — feedback  that is well-intentioned and geared towards building a person up instead of putting him down. When a child handles other people’s opinions on a regular basis, he or she will be more open to criticism from other people. Don’t be afraid to give the child helpful guidance. It’s O.K. to say things like, “Thank you for setting the table Honey. I’d really appreciate it if you could make sure to put the napkins by each plate next time.” Offering negative feedback respectfully helps children learn that criticism is safe and not harmful. When parents criticize harshly, however, children become “allergic” to negative feedback of any kind. This is why we see adults who cannot tolerate any criticism at all from their spouse. They have been scarred by too much and/or too harsh criticism during childhood. Keep criticism in its place within the 80-20 Rule (see Ch. 3, Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice by Sarah Chana Radcliffe).

One Person’s Point of View Doesn’t Make a Fact
Let your child know that while everyone is entitled to their own opinion, not all opinions should be taken as being valid and true. Each criticism should be taken as a mere suggestion; you can accept it or refuse it. When kids know that they are not obliged to internalize everything that other people say, they will not be beaten down by unsolicited and undeserved negative feedback. Indeed, clarify that they can always respond assertively to an unfair criticism — a critique need not define their person. It is equally important to help children identify abusive forms of communication. When children hear harsh criticism that they recognize as abusive (too loud, too insulting, too long and so on), they can recognize that the fault is with the communicator (the one who is doing the criticizing) rather than with themselves. In this way, they are spared from absorbing the negative judgments of the speaker and internalizing self-hatred and low self-worth.

Help Them Process the Criticism That They Receive
Distilling the good and the areas of improvement in a criticism takes skill — you need to teach it to your child as it is unlikely to develop on its own. So instead of merely agreeing or disagreeing to a critique, help your child learn to analyze: is there merit to this critique? And if so, what were the things that I did right? What are the things that I should not do again? Criticism can be a motivating factor if you and your child know what to do with it.

Showcase People Who Have Successfully Bounced Back from Criticism
Negative feedback may feel like the end of the world. But the reality is, many people have successfully bounced back from the many negative things that people say about them. The key is to analyzing the feedback without taking things personal. If you can separate the message from the feeling the message elicits in you, you can make the most of a criticism. Your local librarian can help you find age-appropriate novesls and biographies for your kids to read that will demonstrate how others have handled criticism. Learning that most great writers, inventors and accomplished business people had to deal with plenty of rejection and negative feedback before they finally hit success, can provide an inspirational model.

Using Negative Consequences Effectively

Every Saturday is your child’s schedule to wash the dishes. But like many kids, he hates the chore. So every Saturday, there’s a slimy pile-up in the sink just begging to be cleaned. You decide to issue consequences for ignoring responsibility. The rule goes: until all the dirty dishes from lunch are washed, the whole family will have to forgo dinner (after all, there won’t be any clean plates!). You thought that if everyone had to go hungry, the pressure would motivate your youngster to do his job.

Unfortunately for you, this child is not so easily intimidated. Not only does he NOT wash the dishes, but he actually goes to the cupboard to pull out a clean one and makes himself his own dinner!

What happened?

In theory, the consequence to the misbehavior was perfect. You didn’t nag, yell or criticize.The consequence made it clear that you are instilling the rule in order for the whole family to be able to eat together on time. And the consequence was even logically related to the behavior you want to correct. It should have worked!

Perhaps there are other things missing from the equation, which is why your child doesn’t accept the consequence. Consider the following possibilities:

You Have Failed to Establish Authority
Parental authority plays a huge role in getting kids to accept consequences. If you’re inconsistent in setting rules and consequences, there’s a good chance that your child will not take you seriously. You may, for example, have let him off the hook before despite his misbehavior. Having done so would have convinced him that he doesn’t have to worry about actually receiving a punishment – in his eyes you are “all talk and no action.” Or you are strict on him, but lax on siblings. To ensure that setting consequences work, make sure that you are serious about consequences and will implement them.

Your Child is Misbehaving — Again
Here’s a thought: what if your child’s refusal to accept the consequence is also misbehavior? Remember, misbehavior has goals, and your child may be refusing to do the dishes and refusing to accept your consequences for the same reason. Find out what the reason is; perhaps your child is seeking negative attention, or going for revenge. Have you been too angry or too punitive lately? That tends to backfire, leading to more misbehavior. What is going on in your relationship with him? What are the stresses in the household? Is he experiencing stress at school or in relationships? When you address the need behind misbehavior, you’ll see less misbheavior. Moreover, your rules and consequences will work more effectively.

The Consequence Doesn’t Really Affect Him
For consequences to work, they must affect your child in a significant way. While they’re not supposed to bring pain,they must at least provide an inconvenience, or serve as a roadblock for something that the child wants. In the case above, the consequence was likely ineffective because the child knew there were other clean dishes to eat from! Choose consequences carefully, making sure that they are real deterrents. Consequences do not need to be “logical” in order to be effective – they need to be “the right priced ticket.” That is, they need to motivate the child to comply. You can remove possessions and privileges (for up to 24 hours for a child and up to 48 hours for a teen). Or, you can assign extra work (this only works once your child has learned to accept punishments). Study up on your discipline strategies and talk with other parents about effective negative consequences they have discovered.

Your Child Doesn’t See the Purpose of the Consequences
Consequences are there to teach the child the logical link between misbehavior and an unwanted event. Hence, some discussion must come alongside the implementation of the consequence. Perhaps your child just doesn’t appreciate why the punishment is needed. If you can explain the rationale of using a negative consequence, then he or she may be more likely to accept it. Indeed, any respectful communication about the misbehavior can help. In this case, explain to the child that everyone in a family has to help out. Explain how it makes you feel when you’re the only one doing everything. Explain how unfair it would be if everyone except this particular child had various household responsibilities. Explaining the issues with the child’s behavior, can help the child realize that he should cooperate and also help him realize that a deterrant for failure to cooperate makes sense because it is meant  to help him succeed in cooperating.

When Your Child is Wild

Some children have LOTS of energy! If they don’t literally hang from the chandeliers, they certainly do so figuratively – running around, shrieking, and maybe even being a little destructive in their impulsivity. While they may be happy, their parents are not. Parents of Wild Ones are always trying to figure out ways to calm their youngsters down.

If your child is wild, consider the following tips:

Excessive Energy is All Relative
Toddlers and pre-schoolers tend to have lots and lots of energy. Their wild behavior is actually normal for their age group. Since they are not yet totally socialized – that is, they don’t know the rules of proper behavior – they often follow their impulses. They’ll open cupboard doors, throw things around, experiment with whatever they find – not because they’re naughty, but simply because they are normal, inquisitive, small kids. However, this same kind of behavior in an older child may actually indicate the presence of a developmental disorder. For instance, ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) can cause wild behavior in both children and teens. Asperger’s Syndrome, autism, bi-polar depression and other syndromes can also lead to wild behavior. Of course, mildly wild behavior can just be a personality issue; a child may just be very active and a little impulsive without having any biological condition of concern. This latter kind of wild behavior should respond well to the interventions below. However, if it doesn’t, then speak to your pediatrician. A proper assessment may be helpful.

Avoid Negative Labels
Don’t call your wild child a wild child! Labels like “wild,” “destructive,” “immature,” and so on, have a way of sticking in the child’s brain. The more a parent calls a child “wild,” the wilder that child will tend to be. Labels affect self-concept and self-concept leads to behavior. Therefore, even when correcting a wild child, use words like “calm,” “restrained,” “slow,” “careful” and “self-control.” For instance, a parent can tell a child who is running madly and loudly around the house, “Jason, you need to go slowly, carefully and quietly right now. Please calm down. Use your self-control.”

Minimize Attention to Wild Behavior
Don’t get wild yourself! Speak quietly and slowly to a wild child – lower your voice. Your intensity can accidentally reinforce wild behavior by giving it too much attention, whereas your restrained and calm demeanor can rub off (a little, anyways) on your youngster.

Use Emotional Coaching
Let your child know that you understand his feelings. He wants to run around and enjoy himself. Show him that you understand that by articulating his feelings (i.e. “I know you want to run around now.”). Avoid using the word “but” after you speak his feelings (i.e. “I know you want to run around now but it’s making a lot of noise.”). Using the word “but” is akin to saying “I know you want to do this, but I don’t care!” Put a “period” after your acknowledgment and start a completely new sentence if you want to give your youngster instructions. It might sound like this: “I know you are having fun running around. You need to settle down now and play more quietly.”

Use the CLeaR method
Reinforce positive behavior with the CLeaR method. When your child plays normally and is not wild, make a comment to show you noticed his behavior. Then give him a positive label (and perhaps a reward) to reinforce such behavior in the future. A sample dialogue would be, “You’re walking slowly and carefully.” (Comment), “That’s very mature of you!” (Label), “You can play outside for a bit longer today because I see you are working on your calm behavior!” (Reward). 

Use Discipline (2X-Rule)
In the 2X Rule, the child is told to continue a behavior (in this case, being too wild.) Then if the child continues this behavior, he is warned that there will be a consequence issued the next time he ignores the warning. For instance, you might say, “You need to play quietly and calmly. If you continue to run around, you will have to sit in a chair beside me for a few minutes until you have calmed down.” When faced with a consequence, children are more likely to think about what they are doing before they do it. You can find more information on the 2X Rule in Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice by Sarah Chana Radcliffe.

Use Bach Flower Remedies
Bach Flower Therapy is a harmless water-based naturopathic treatment that can improve behavior. For a wild child, you can use the flower remedy Impatiens (for kids who race around). Chestnut Bud is the remedy for kids who act this way over and over again with no sign of improvement (and also for those who engage in dangerous and destructive activities). For children with too much energy, try the remedy Vervain. You can mix several remedies together in one treatment bottle. To do so, fill a one-ounce Bach Mixing Bottle with water (a mixing bottle is an empty bottle with a glass dropper, sold in health food stores along with Bach Flower Remedies). Next, add two drops of each remedy that you want to use. Finally, add one teaspoon of brandy (to prevent the development of bacteria). The bottle is now ready to use. Give your child 4 drops of the mixture in any liquid (juice, water, milk, tea, etc.) four times a day (morning, mid-day, afternoon and evening). Remedies can be taken with or without food. Continue this treatment until the behavior improves. Start treatment again, if the behavior degrades. Eventually, the behavior should improve permanently.

Wait
Many “wild” children outgrow this behavior as they grow up. Even children with ADHD whose hyperactivity is wired into their brains tend to become fidgety, rather than racey, as they mature. However, many wild kids are not suffering from hyperactivity, but rather immaturity. Their condition simply improves as they mature. However, if your child is ten years-old or older and still very wild, consider consulting a mental health practitioner for assessment and treatment ideas. It is possible that social skills training may be helpful.