The Principle: Managing the disruptive behaviors of young children takes some understanding and skill. Because children draw a direct correlation between being good and being loved, unconditional love is not assumed. Cognitive development does not yet allow for analytical thought, therefore this concrete assumption that love is no longer available causes the emergence of fear.
From the Editor: We have received a number of inquiries from parents, asking advice about how to manage the disruptive behaviors of their young children. Below is a typical email and a suggested remedy for the chaos and strife that can sometimes overtake a busy family.
“My son has temper tantrums, is aggressive … and defiant … and has become so unruly at home and in public that I cannot take him to the store without him causing a scene. How can I make him behave? I am at my wit’s end!”
After further discussion and the elimination of certain factors such as childhood illness, a recent divorce, a change in living arrangements, or other variable, it was decided that the issues below seem to be the major factors contributing to the child’s distress. They are posted here in the hope that other families experiencing similar circumstances may receive assistance from this publication.
First of all, it is important to understand that your son does not want to be the “wild child” you describe. He does not want to have temper tantrums, be aggressive toward other children, or be defiant with you. He is longing to be fear-free, for security, and structure because he cannot control his own behavior.
To restore his sense of self-respect and need for order, you may want to incorporate the following bold steps into your parenting principles.
Be calm: You are a good parent. The fact that you are seeking answers demonstrates that you are concerned about your son’s well-being. You love your child. Forgive yourself for not being the perfect parent because there is no such person (See The Principle of the Perfect Parent). Pray. God loves you. Find your own peace. Then begin …
Give him routine: Circle your wagons; it is time to close in – to make your little family the center of your son’s universe. Make his world small. Cancel commitments. Postpone social events. Why? Because at the moment, your son is most likely overwhelmed by external stimuli, on sensory overload, and longing to feel safe.
So, end all unnecessary outings. Do not take your child on any errands.
- Do not eat out.
- Do not hire a babysitter.
- He is crying out for stability and routine. Establish both. There is security in routine and children feel secure and safe when they know what is coming next.
- Your son does not want a play date. He does not want more opportunities for conflict when he cannot control his own emotions when he is alone.
- Give him simplicity.
- Make the house quiet.
- Read him books amid snuggles and closeness.
- Draw pictures with him.
Remember that this is a time of healing. Restoration is a process, and for a few weeks, as you put your life aside in order to help your son find his, most family members and friends will understand that it is an investment in his future and yours. Remember that these initial steps are both necessary and temporary – family life will return to a more flexible schedule later on.
Give him kindness: If you have been spanking your child, stop immediately. A child who is spanked builds up resentment and hatred toward himself and toward the parent. Think about this: if you were hit by your spouse when you said or did something inappropriate, you would want to separate yourself from that person. In the same way, a child emotionally separates himself from the adult who is inflicting pain and discomfort. Instead of spanking, remember that “a kind word turns away wrath.” Fill your son with kind words. When he is angry, calmly talk to him. Help him give a voice to his emotion. Help him talk about what he is feeling, rather than acting it out. He will appreciate being led into this alternate and healthy form of expression.
Give him consistency: Remembering that your child is on emotional overload, there is little in his life that he can depend on. Certainly, he cannot depend upon his own internal controls. So he depends upon your external ones – the limits you set for him. However, when he misbehaves, you may be responding with punishment. Then after a time, your compassion overrides your initial decision and you may lessen the consequence. Not only is this confusing and frustrating to the child, but there is nothing to learn from this exercise.
All behavior carries natural consequences, so you may want to abandon the “punishment mentality” and teach your son about the consequences of his behavior.
- If he gently pets the puppy, the puppy will learn to trust him.
- If he shows his younger sister how to share, they can both enjoy all of the toys.
- If he talks about his feelings, he will not need to keep the anger inside until it eventually finds escape in a rage of fury.
Also remember that accumulated anger about one issue may explode into a tantrum about something totally unrelated. A fight over a toy may really be the release of emotion about something that happened days earlier.
Give him communication: As you begin these few weeks of recovery, helping your son establish emotional and social health, talk with him about everything. Remembering that his world is overwhelming and out of control, talk with him about the why and the how of life. Talk with him about how you love him no matter what he does. Unconditional love is not assumed. Children draw a direct correlation between being good and being loved. Help him to understand that you love him the same on his good days and on his not-so-good days. Reassure him often that you will take care of him and love him no matter what. Close that door to fear.
Give him physical peace: Lastly, we must consider nutritional factors which may be contributing to your son’s emotional roller coaster. For a few weeks, eliminate all artificial coloring in his diet. Many children are so sensitive to yellow #5, red, and blue dyes that they become agitated without ever knowing why. This minor adjustment – when practiced without exception – can yield peaceful results. And if peace is what you seek, read the labels on everything your child eats. Go to https://feingold.org/ and read some of the research and free resources available. Simple modifications in your child’s diet may bring the dramatic changes you seek.
Finally, be patient: Your son’s behavior did not become a problem overnight – it evolved over time. Allow him time to heal and be restored.
Children draw a direct correlation between being good and being loved.
Unconditional love is not assumed.
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