When A Child is ‘Out of Control’

When a Child is Out of Control

Are you concerned that your child is “out of control” when they are: acting aggressively, talking over others, grabbing, have difficulty taking turns or simply doing things you have asked them not to? Many parents get frustrated by their child’s lack of self or impulse control, especially when their child knows the rules or the consequences of breaking them.

Often times it is just that children just don’t have the skills to manage strong impulses. Children begin to develop these skills between ages 2 and 5, but their impulses are not well managed because their “rational brain” that allows for planning, foresight and considering others is not fully developed. For most young children this age self-control is nonexistent, limited at best, and is a skill that will take years to master. Children’s ability to regulate for themselves will not become evident until they begin to approach the ripe old age of seven. 

A child’s temperament, or innate way of reacting to the world, can also make him or her more impulsive than others. Children who are easily distressed and become very agitated may need different treatment than children who are a little more “chill” in order to become capable of self-control. Research findings have shown that kids with higher levels of impulse control develop better academic skills over time, have bigger vocabularies and higher test scores in both math and literacy. Unfortunately on the other side of the spectrum, children with below average impulse control are more likely to suffer from anxiety & depression, become obese, smoke and dependent on alcohol or drugs. But self-control is not static, and like muscle strength can be developed over time.

So what can you do to help your child who is currently “out of control”?

  1.  Acknowledge, empathize, or validate.

Simply acknowledge that in many cases their lack of impulse control is developmentally appropriate and empathize or validate their feelings. When your child is upset- perhaps they were having a fun time at the park and don’t want to leave when you need them to – start by letting them know that you understand by simply saying something like, “Its so hard to leave the park” or “Oh man, it sounds like you really want to stay at the park!” It is important to connect and let your child know that you understand and accept their feelings first before you say or do anything else. 

2.  Use Emotion Coaching.

Use an “Emotion Coaching” or problem solving approach with your child when there is a big emotion or behavior. Research has shown that children with emotion coaching parents recover from stressful situations faster, have fewer negative emotions, and develop the skills needed to manage challenges on their own. In order to be an emotion coaching parent you must empathize, help your child to get clear about what they actually wanted or needed, acknowledge their feelings/needs while setting limits on behavior and guide them through a brainstorming and problem solving process. 

3.  Give your child a break.

Give your child a break! All humans have limited amounts of self-control. And we use up the energy we have for self-control throughout the day. If we continue to ask children to repeatedly perform tasks or follow our requests they will become less and less successful. If there is homework and housework that needs to get done be mindful that small breaks for play or relaxing will help your child re-charge to keep going. When breaks are part of the routine children will be more successful in accomplishing what you need them to. 

4. Play games.

Play games with your children that practice self- control. Games such as Simon Says, Red Light Green Light, or Follow the Leader require impulse control. Another option is to play Freeze. With Freeze, children dance to music and when the music stops they should hold their position until the music starts again. There is also research from Stanford University that shows that playing memory games can improve impulse control as well. 

5.  Do as you want them to do.

Model and practice self-control, self-calming and restraint! Your children aren’t going to do what you say; they are going to do what you do. One area that adults tend to have limited self-control is around the use of media or devices. One way to model self- control or restraint is to create and enforce limits on your own use of devices. There are apps that can do this for you or you can simply remove email or Facebook from your mobile to limit the impulse to check them unnecessarily. The goal is ultimately to check your devices intentionally and not impulsively. (This becomes especially important as your child grows older and has access to their own devices.) 

Being mindful of how you respond to anger, frustration and disappointment will also highly influence how your child responds to these strong emotions. Self-calming is an important skill that can easily be modeled by saying things like: “Oh man, I just dropped the dinner salad on the floor! How frustrating! I’m going to take a deep breath and then I will need to clean up this mess and start over.” Modeling self talk, expressing frustration verbally, and self soothing skills will all help your child to do the same when they have their own strong emotions or reactions. 

Increased self control will develop as your child continues to mature. But there are many things that we can do as parents and teachers to help them develop and nurture these skills and traits. We encourage you to first acknowledge what is and is not developmentally appropriate for your child and then pick one or two ideas from the list above to try out and see how things unfold in your home. 

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About the Author: Melissa Benaroya

Melissa Benaroya, LICSW, is a Seattle-based parent coach, speaker and author in the Seattle area (MelissaBenaroya.com). She created the Childproof Parenting online course and is the co-founder of GROW Parenting and Mommy Matters, and the co-author of The Childproof Parent. Melissa provides parents with the tools and support they need to raise healthy children and find more joy in parenting. Melissa offers parent coaching and classes and frequently speaks at area schools and businesses. Check out Melissa’s blog for more great tips on common parenting issues and Facebook for the latest news in parent education.

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During adolescence, our teens are more likely to pay attention to the positives of a situation over the negatives. This can be a great thing. The courage that comes from this will help them try new things, explore their independence, and learn the things they need to learn to be happy, healthy adults. But it can also land them in bucketloads of trouble. 

Here’s the thing. Our teens don’t want to do the wrong thing and they don’t want to go behind our backs, but they also don’t want to be controlled by us, or have any sense that we might be stifling their way towards independence. The cold truth of it all is that if they want something badly enough, and if they feel as though we are intruding or that we are making arbitrary decisions just because we can, or that we don’t get how important something is to them, they have the will, the smarts and the means to do it with or without or approval. 

So what do we do? Of course we don’t want to say ‘yes’ to everything, so our job becomes one of influence over control. To keep them as safe as we can, rather than saying ‘no’ (which they might ignore anyway) we want to engage their prefrontal cortex (thinking brain) so they can be more considered in their decision making. 

Our teens are very capable of making good decisions, but because the rational, logical, thinking prefrontal cortex won’t be fully online until their 20s (closer to 30 in boys), we need to wake it up and bring it to the decision party whenever we can. 

Do this by first softening the landing:
‘I can see how important this is for you. You really want to be with your friends. I absolutely get that.’
Then, gently bring that thinking brain to the table:
‘It sounds as though there’s so much to love in this for you. I don’t want to get in your way but I need to know you’ve thought about the risks and planned for them. What are some things that could go wrong?’
Then, we really make the prefrontal cortex kick up a gear by engaging its problem solving capacities:
‘What’s the plan if that happens.’
Remember, during adolescence we switch from managers to consultants. Assume a leadership presence, but in a way that is warm, loving, and collaborative.♥️
Big feelings and big behaviour are a call for us to come closer. They won’t always feel like that, but they are. Not ‘closer’ in an intrusive ‘I need you to stop this’ way, but closer in a ‘I’ve got you, I can handle all of you’ kind of way - no judgement, no need for you to be different - I’m just going to make space for this feeling to find its way through. 

Our kids and teens are no different to us. When we have feelings that fill us to overloaded, the last thing we need is someone telling us that it’s not the way to behave, or to calm down, or that we’re unbearable when we’re like this. Nup. What we need, and what they need, is a safe place to find our out breath, to let the energy connected to that feeling move through us and out of us so we can rest. 
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But how? First, don’t take big feelings personally. They aren’t a reflection on you, your parenting, or your child. Big feelings have wisdom contained in them about what’s needed more, or less, or what feels intolerable right now. Sometimes it might be as basic as a sleep or food. Maybe more power, influence, independence, or connection with you. Maybe there’s too much stress and it’s hitting their ceiling and ricocheting off their edges. Like all wisdom, it doesn’t always find a gentle way through. That’s okay, that will come. Our kids can’t learn to manage big feelings, or respect the wisdom embodied in those big feelings if they don’t have experience with big feelings. 
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We also need to make sure we are responding to them in the moment, not a fear or an inherited ‘should’ of our own. These are the messages we swallowed whole at some point - ‘happy kids should never get sad or angry’, ‘kids should always behave,’ ‘I should be able to protect my kids from feeling bad,’ ‘big feelings are bad feelings’, ‘bad behaviour means bad kids, which means bad parents.’ All these shoulds are feisty show ponies that assume more ‘rightness’ than they deserve. They are usually historic, and when we really examine them, they’re also irrelevant.
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Finally, try not to let the symptoms of big feelings disrupt the connection. Then, when calm comes, we will have the influence we need for the conversations that matter.
"Be patient. We don’t know what we want to do or who we want to be. That feels really bad sometimes. Just keep reminding us that it’s okay that we don’t have it all figured out yet, and maybe remind yourself sometimes too."
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 #parentingteens #neurodevelopment #positiveparenting #parenting #neuronurtured #braindevelopment #adolescence  #neurodevelopment #parentingteens
Would you be more likely to take advice from someone who listened to you first, or someone who insisted they knew best and worked hard to convince you? Our teens are just like us. If we want them to consider our advice and be open to our influence, making sure they feel heard is so important. Being right doesn't count for much at all if we aren't being heard.
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Hear what they think, what they want, why they think they're right, and why it’s important to them. Sometimes we'll want to change our mind, and sometimes we'll want to stand firm. When they feel fully heard, it’s more likely that they’ll be able to trust that our decisions or advice are given fully informed and with all of their needs considered. And we all need that.
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 #positiveparenting #parenting #parenthood #neuronurtured #childdevelopment #adolescence 
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"We’re pretty sure that when you say no to something it’s because you don’t understand why it’s so important to us. Of course you’ll need to say 'no' sometimes, and if you do, let us know that you understand the importance of whatever it is we’re asking for. It will make your ‘no’ much easier to accept. We need to know that you get it. Listen to what we have to say and ask questions to understand, not to prove us wrong. We’re not trying to control you or manipulate you. Some things might not seem important to you but if we’re asking, they’re really important to us.❤️" 
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#neurodevelopment #neuronurtured #childdevelopment #parenting #positiveparenting #mindfulparenting

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