Out of control children want the boundaries and consistency parents can give. With these three steps you can help your wild child.
A mom in her 30s sat in my office crying. “My six-year-old is so out of control. I don’t know what’s wrong with him. I must be the worst mom ever!” She took a deep breath, bent over in her chair, threw her hands over her face, and sobbed, “My kid is a nightmare.”
This conversation isn’t new or shocking to me anymore. And despite the plethora of parenting books available, too many moms and dads are still confused about parenting and frustrated with their children.
Parenting is tough.
Here’s what is often the single biggest struggle for parents: consistency.
Sure, monitoring your child’s media input (that often subconsciously promotes misbehavior) matters. Certainly, being aware of the influence of your child’s friends is important. Of course, providing a safe and loving environment in the home is crucial to every child’s emotional and spiritual health.
Inconsistency, however, leads to insecurity. And an insecure child always reacts in some form of insurrection (i.e., rebellion/out of control).
For example, let’s say one day you discipline Sally for her lack of respect, but the next day you don’t address the disrespect because you’re too tired to deal with her. However, two days later you go ballistic when she smarts-off to you, and you harshly correct her. Unfortunately, your inconsistency confuses her.
Maybe you’ve told Johnny not to hit his little sister, but you’re too distracted to deal with it today or it’s inconvenient to do so. However, when he punches her tomorrow, you get mad and let loose on your son. Can you see how your erratic and unpredictable actions complicate things?
Inconsistency on your part creates an insecure environment for your out of control kid. Will mommy care today or not? Will daddy react to my actions this time or not? And when you do react, they rebel because the revolt is a child’s subconscious way of saying, Which mommy or daddy am I dealing with today? What can I get away with now?
Of course, a child doesn’t reason this all out in his mind. Even a smart kid doesn’t have the emotional IQ to understand what’s going on in her head. Nonetheless, all humans wander into trouble when we aren’t sure where the boundaries are in a relationship. Think about it, when you’re driving and not sure of the speed limit, do you naturally drive slower, or do you push the probable limits and go faster?
Control the Boundaries
Consistency on your part as the parent provides the needed guardrails for your out of control kid to operate with relational and emotional security. Because this is so important, allow me to repeat myself.
Besides providing a healthy and loving environment in the home, a wise parent must provide clear and consistent boundaries.
All children have their wild moments. They will press, push, and provoke you to see how far they can go and how much they can get away with. Welcome to human nature (yours and mine too, by the way). And whether your child is two or twelve, he will often test you.
What you do in that moment of wildness matters immensely. Rather than react or over-react, it’s best to calmly respond. “Johnny, hitting your sister is never okay and will always result in mommy’s correction.” Then, you set down the game controller, remote control, or whatever you’re doing, and you say what you mean, mean what you say, and do what you said in a calm manner.
As the adult and parent in the relationship, you must commit to the hard work of being as consistent as possible.
If you are married, commit to working together with your spouse to practice the gift of consistency—and it is a gift to your out of control kid. Kindly and lovingly hold each other accountable. Don’t correct each other in front of your children, but be humble enough to admit that you need help. You are partners with a huge, vested interest in raising godly children. Like Solomon once wrote, “Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor.”
Single Parenting Your Out-of-Control Kid
If you are a single parent, you have my sincere admiration and respect. I know there are times when it’s doubly hard for you, but you are not alone. Through the empowering of the Holy Spirit, the impossible becomes the Himpossible.
And you can still partner with other parents and ask them to speak into your life when they see you operating inconsistently. God has a community of faith for you that will help if you let them support you.
About now you might be thinking, Okay, I get it. I need to be more consistent. But is there a way to keep this simple for me and my kid? What do I need to be consistent about? When do I need to consistently correct?
Yes, there is a simple way. Admittedly, it is easy to remember, but not necessarily effortless to implement.
The 3-D Path to Consistent and Successful Parenting
When you have clearly and consistently (there’s that word again) communicated to your child what is and isn’t okay, and he directly defies you, you must wisely discipline.
Don’t react. Don’t rage, but do respond. When Johnny hits Sally and Johnny absolutely knows hitting isn’t allowed, he must experience a consequence for his disobedience. Every time.
When Sally looks you in the face and lies, she is being deceitful and breaking trust. In our family, my kids knew we had a zero‐tolerance policy for not telling the truth. This issue is a tough one for everyone. We humans think that lying will set us free from potential consequences when, in fact, the exact opposite is true.
Teach your kids the value of speaking the truth and consistently discipline them when they cross the line into falsehood. Also, be sure to reward and praise them when they are honest. Learn to applaud what you approve and praise their good behavior.
I am uncertain why, but this one is a bit of a challenge for many parents.
We’ve been told by our culture not to squash Johnny’s feelings, to let him express himself openly. So when he’s yelling at you and saying, “I hate you! I hate you!” you’re afraid that expecting a respectful attitude is controlling and domineering. It’s not.
One of our primary responsibilities as a parent is to train our out of control kids to learn how to control their emotions. When your child uses a tone, a look, or a word that conveys disrespect, deal with it by helping him learn how to properly express himself. On a quick side-note, be sure you demonstrate respect for authority. More, is really caught than taught, especially here.
My wife and I raised four children. Like their parents, they were never perfect. However, our relative consistency created an environment of peace more often than not. We truly liked our kids, and they would say the same about us.
“Do not provoke or irritate or exasperate your children [with demands that are trivial or unreasonable or humiliating or abusive; nor by favoritism or indifference; treat them tenderly with lovingkindness], so they will not lose heart and become discouraged or unmotivated [with their spirits broken]. Colossians 3:21.
Inconsistency and unclear boundaries embitter children. When they don’t know what to expect, they feel out of control, and you can expect lots of unnecessary challenges. Granted, consistency may cost you in the short run because it’s not easy and not always convenient, but the rewards are worth it.
© 2022 Kurt Bubna. Used by permission. All rights reserved