I have an out-of-control 11-year-old who refuses to do what we ask and always seems to do the opposite of what we tell him. He frequently argues, screams, yells and throws fits. How can we help him get his behavior under control?
It’s never too late to help a child change his behavior and gain control of his emotions. Expressing thoughts, feelings and ideas in a calm, controlled manner is an important social skill that all children need help learning. The key to helping an out-of-control child learn self control is providing clear and concise expectations and consistently enforcing those expectations every day. Sometimes, kids are dealing with a wide range of emotions and the only way they know how to express themselves is verbally, through yelling and screaming.
Children need to be raised with expectations, rules and consequences. It is natural for kids to test limits, which is why it is important to teach them right from wrong. It is never too late to set boundaries with children of any age. Here are four simple steps for establishing positive boundaries in your home:
- Come up with three to five basic household rules everyone (including parents) must abide by. These rules should be written down and everyone should sign the paper to indicate they understand and agree with them.
- Create a list of privileges that can be used as both positive and negative consequences (time outs or loss of privileges as negative consequences; a later bedtime or a special treat for positive consequences).
- Refuse to reason with your child when he is out of control. Don’t argue, stay calm and simply tell him he needs to go to the room that you have designated as his “calm down” place. Save the explanation of why his behavior is inappropriate for a later time, when he is calm and able to listen to you.
- Praise, praise, praise! Compliment your child when you catch him doing something good. Say things like "Good job!" or "I knew you could do it!" Praise guides kids to self-reliance and independence.
Remember, it will take time and a lot of patience before you see a change in your child's behavior, but your investment will be well worth it for everyone.
After graduating from high school, my 18-year-old son suddenly seems depressed, antisocial and angry. He won't accept suggestions about things to do, including working to keep him busy. He refuses to talk to a counselor or professional about his issues. What should I do before sending him off to a college out of state? Is he ready for college?
As our children get older, they want to be treated more like adults. At the same time, they often don’t seem to be able to make decisions any better than when they were 10. Given your son's age and the fact that you support his going to college, you should use the time you have left together to get him the help he needs.
Please do NOT allow him to go off to college unless he is stronger emotionally. Even young people who are confident, outgoing and real leaders of their peers struggle to handle the pressures of college life. There are academic pressures far beyond anything he has experienced so far, and the social pressure is far beyond perhaps anything even you as an adult have experienced. Let him know that if he doesn't get help, you will be unwilling to support his college in the fall. As his parent, your number one responsibility still is to ensure his safety. In this case, it is his emotional safety that you are concerned about. If he claims to be "fine" and says he will be all right, let him know that you will need a professional opinion to verify that.
My 12-year-old son recently started seventh grade and is struggling to follow his teachers’ rules at school. He loses his temper regularly, says he hates himself and shouts back at his teachers. He may have ADHD and I know he’s hurting, but I don’t know how to help. Can you recommend a therapist or counselor for me?
It’s tough to be a parent, and when your children are not happy and healthy, it’s even harder. Anger is a normal feeling and we all have it. What we do with it and how we express it can either be helpful or harmful to ourselves and others. A counselor can determine if your son is a threat to himself, uncover the root of his anger and give him some calm-down techniques. Call the Boys Town National Hotline at 1-800-448-3000 so that we can refer you to a counselor in your area. Once your son starts counseling and is learning some anger control techniques, practice them at home with your son. Practice can involve having your son review his techniques, identify scenarios that set him off and talk through how he could handle them. At the end of each day, check with him to see if he had opportunities during the day to use his new skills.
Your son is hurting emotionally and is clearly not happy with himself and his inability to control his emotions. Thank you for recognizing that now is the time to get him help.
Lately, my 6-year-old daughter has been physically violent. She is hitting, scratching and kicking me when I give her an instruction that she does not like. She actually punched me in the chest when I took a book away from her because it was bedtime. I was so shocked that I just left her in her room crying, but not until I lost my cool and raised my voice.
When she calmed down, I spoke with her about her behavior. She apologized and seemed genuinely confused about why she acted that way. She wants to stop, and I want to help her. It seems that I am the only recipient of her physical lashing out.
Anger is a normal emotion that we all have. Your daughter is now at the age when she must learn some calming techniques to help her manage her anger in a more appropriate manner.
In a neutral time when she is not upset and there are not any negative behaviors occurring, talk to her about anger. Tell her that we all feel it and that we can recognize the feeling by what happens to our bodies when we are mad.
Sometimes our voice gets louder or we clench our teeth or fists. Some people even hit or throw things. These are not good choices because people can get hurt. But there are things we can do to manage our anger that are safe and OK.
Ask her to come up with a few options when she feels herself getting angry. She could hug her favorite blanket or stuffed toy until the anger goes away. She could say, “Mommy, I am mad,” and you could suggest a calming technique for her.
She could also “blow out her birthday candles.” To do this, she holds up as many fingers as she is old. Then, one by one she can blow out her “candles,” folding each finger down as she blows it out. She could also count to 20.
Be creative. If one method does not work, try another. Write them down and post them on the refrigerator. Have her star the ones that work the best. She can refer to this list when she is angry.
Practice them and praise her when she practices. Also, reinforce her with praise when she effectively utilizes one of the calming techniques.
When situations become tense, remember to FIRST manage yourself and your emotions. THEN manage the environment to make sure everyone is safe. FINALLY, manage the situation or the behavior by teaching a more socially acceptable alternative. One of the most powerful tools is modeling. When your daughter sees how you handle yourself when you are angry, she will likewise do the same.
My 15-year-old granddaughter was in a severe auto accident and sustained a traumatic brain injury. She recovered physically; she looks the same but does not act the same. After finishing rehab, she was able to go back to school, but she now does not want to go back. She missed much of her course work and is now a very angry young woman. Is there online schooling available? I cannot afford to pay tuition. What can I do for my granddaughter?
Often, among the most difficult aspects of recovering from a trauma like your granddaughter has experienced is the mental and emotional pain. It is very possible that she is struggling with becoming “normal” again, which goes beyond the physical. She may look fine on the outside, but inside all kinds of emotional and mental pain may be churning.
To regain a sense of normalcy, she will need to manage these thoughts and feelings. This is not easy to do. It is important to note that the people around her are not in a position to say that she has attained normalcy after her experience; she is the one who must feel like her life is back to normal. This is a challenge, but with the support of those around her she will be able to work through these issues and lead a happier life than she is living at present.
In addition to her physical therapy, did your granddaughter receive counseling to work through that anger, fear and other feelings that the accident generated? Has anyone in her family gone through counseling to be more informed on how to help her? Does she have support at school?
She could be dealing with a form of post-traumatic stress disorder, which would best be treated by a mental health professional. A counselor could help her work through these concerns.
Your concern about her schooling is a serious one. If you have not done so already, talk to her school’s counseling department to see if it has alternative programs that help students continue their education under certain circumstances. If so, see if your granddaughter would be a candidate. Online programs vary. If you provide Boys Town with your location information, we could help you search for services in your area. Call our hotline at 800-448-3000.
My 17-year-old son is an angry young man who experiences dramatic mood swings. He has become so angry in the past that he has punched and kicked holes in a wall. He calls me names, is disobedient and flips me off on a daily basis. He refuses to participate in family holiday gatherings – including his own birthday – and he is earning either failing or very low grades in school.
We recently moved in with my sister. She lives 10 miles away from his close group of friends, whom he still sees about three times a week. His father has drug and anger problems and is not present in our son’s life. There is much sorrow and instability in my ex-husband’s life, including the murder of his daughter from a different marriage. When I was attending school full-time, his father and older siblings cared for him.
I have called the police twice. They have taken my son to mental health facilities, where he acts calmly and says he will accept counseling. Both times he reverted back to his angry ways once he was home. I have also taken him to counseling, but he refuses to go back and will not have the necessary blood work done for the doctor to prescribe medication.
You will need to establish guidelines for behavior and enforce consequences when these guidelines are not met. It is not OK for him to show you disrespect and disobey rules. When he does these things, take away a privilege and make him earn back the privilege by proving that he can be respectful and follow the rules. Since his friends are important to him, you can take away his time spent with them.
It sounds like your son has been through quite a bit and has unresolved feelings about the upheaval in his life. His initial willingness to open up with counselors indicates that he wants help even though he reverts back to his unhealthy behavior once he is home.
Given the situation, consider in-home family services. An in-home specialist actually comes to your house and works with your family as a whole, while paying individual attention to family members as well. He might be more willing to talk to and open up if someone comes to him. He would not be able to opt out.
Boys Town can help you find services of this nature in your area. Just give us a call. You can also always talk to one of our counselors at 800-448-3000.
My son is in kindergarten. When he gets frustrated, he acts out in a physical manner. He is repeating preschool behaviors in grade school, such as running from the teacher and hitting. The principal called today to say she had to restrain him in the hall to calm him down. We have tried timeouts, natural consequences like cleaning up the mess he has made and taking away privileges. They only seem to work for the short term. He is smart and excited about school. I don’t want his behavior to continue.
Set up a meeting with his teacher, school counselor and principal to establish a specific plan for him in the classroom. It will help his teacher and your son because you can talk to them about the problems he has had in the past and what has worked.
Ask his teacher what her discipline plan for the classroom is. Set expectations for your son by talking about what behaviors are expected in the classroom. Practice them with him, even role-playing with you as the teacher. Give him an instruction the teacher would, like “Please stop coloring and bring your papers to me.” Show him how to stop what he is doing, look up at the teacher’s eyes and answer with “Yes, Mrs. Smith.” Then he can walk directly to her desk with the crayons.
Praise him for being a good listener. Discipline is really just teaching. Better results occur when the teacher is consistent.
Remember that the first few weeks of school are rough. It is difficult to get into a schedule after the freedom of summer. Enlist the help of an older sibling or neighborhood friend to talk to your son about listening to the teacher. Ask your teacher to recommend good playmates from his class. Then use these as incentives for listening. He can earn a play date with a new school friend if he comes home with a good report one day this week.
Also reinforce at home the consequences given at school. Your son needs to know that his parents and teacher are working together and will communicate when unacceptable behaviors occur. Since he tried to hit the teacher at school, he may not watch his favorite after-school cartoon or some similar consequence.
I am a stay-at-home mom with an out-of-control 3-year-old boy. He is destructive. He throws toys, breaks things, screams, hits and torments the dog. When I try to discipline him, he yells, hits me and strikes himself on his head. I have tried timeouts and talking to him at his level. He just pulls away and screams at me. I am worried about his ability to learn because he cannot remain seated even to color.
The “terrible 3's” are just as common as the “terrible 2’s.” It is our job as parents to teach our children the responsibilities, life skills and acceptable social behaviors that go along with being independent. One way to do this is by being a good role model. When things don’t go our way, do we throw a dish towel or yell at our spouse? Your child is like a sponge taking in all the sights, sounds and behaviors around him.
When do these behaviors occur? Is it when he is frustrated? Or is it when you give him a simple instruction? Many temper tantrums come from not being able to complete a task because those fine motor skills are simply not developed enough yet. Make sure your son’s toys and games are age-appropriate.
A child has many opportunities to learn through play. Three-year-olds are interested in playing with children their own age. This might be helpful. Children can be role models for each other. They have parents at their side who can monitor and teach regarding a misbehavior.
For instance, if your son grabs a toy from a friend and yells, “Mine!” show him an alternative reaction. Tell him, “No, Thomas picked it up first. He is going to play with it for five minutes and then you can have a turn.” If you need to separate them, then do so. If your son throws himself down screaming, then move him to a different area.
The calmer you are and more consistent you are in teaching and modeling appropriate behaviors, the more likely his tantrums will lessen in frequency and intensity.
Boys Town Press has two good books: “Hands Are Not for Hitting” and “Help! There's a Toddler in the House.” These are good resources. Be sure to have some “me” time for you. And remember that your son is learning daily. As he gets older, his attention span will increase.
Many preschools have programs for kids as young as age 2. Think about putting him in class for just one day a week so he can have even more learning opportunities.
My 9-year-old can be the sweetest child one minute and then a raging devil the next. How do I help him control his temper and moods? I don’t want to resort to medication, but I will if I must. His older siblings do not act like this. I want to resolve this before he gets any older.
Helping your son learn to control his temper and/or regulate his moods might take some outside help in the form of medication or counseling. Consult with your pediatrician to start. Explain what has been going on. Your doctor might recommend a psychiatric evaluation to determine if your son would benefit from counseling or medications.
You can encourage your son to express his feelings when he is home. Make it a regular part of the day, such as during breakfast or at bedtime. This will help him be more aware of his emotions. Help him use “I” statements, such as “I feel __________________ because of or when _________________.” Then you can help him work through his feelings by talking about things he can do to cope with those feelings.
Our 13-year-old son is very angry and won’t talk to anyone in the house. He feels he is picked on by his father, grandmother and older sister. I try to talk to him and resolve the issues, but I feel like nothing I do is good enough.
My husband and mother-in-law disagree with the way I discipline. They think I let my children walk all over me. I don’t know how to help my son, and I am at my wits’ end.
When a child demonstrates anger, the goal is to identify why he is angry. Sometimes this is nearly impossible. Anger, however, is a normal emotion we all have. The problem with anger is in how we express it. It can either be helpful or harmful to ourselves or those around us.
Teach him some calming techniques. If, when he gets angry, he screams or becomes physical, you need to teach him to recognize when he starts to get angry. Maybe his breathing becomes rapid, he clenches his hands into fists or his tone gets louder. When this happens, show him ways he can calm down before he gets too worked up. You are stopping his anger before it becomes extreme.
One tool is to have him say, “I’m mad.” This is the cue that he is to then remove himself to his room or some other quiet place where he can calm down. During that time, no one should talk to him. Sometimes counting, humming a tune or praying works. Whatever the tool, teach it to him when he is not angry and have him practice it every day.
It will also help to talk to your husband about the situation. Disciplining is more effective when both parents are in agreement. Say something like, “I know we have differences in opinion, but we need to get on the same page with our son. In order to do that, we need to discuss the guidelines and punishments we choose to reinforce.”
Discuss rules, viewpoints and guidelines with which you both feel comfortable. Compromises will need to be made on both ends. If you don’t think this can be accomplished through conversation, family or even individual counseling for your son might be helpful. It would give you the opportunity – as a family – to work through some of these issues and conflicts. A counselor will act as a mediator for any problems that arise. That way, your opinion is not overlooked, and neither is your husband’s.
Individual counseling is also an option. Chances are your son is bottling up all sorts of emotions if he is not talking to anyone in your home. This can produce much stress, which is manifesting itself in anger. He needs someone to talk to. Sometimes it is easier for children to reach out to an adult who is not their parent. If that is the case with your son, having a therapist gives him the opportunity to talk to and gain support from someone he feels comfortable venting to.