My Kids are Out of Control: 8 Steps to Changing Your Kids' Behavior

Start fresh and make a plan

There is just no way to go back in time and undo the parenting choices you have made in the past. Clear the slate and start where you are. Look at your individual situation and think about which disciplinary strategies have worked and which haven’t. Is your child trying to get your attention or is there something else going on? In any case, now is the time to sit down and look at what is working and what is not.

Make the rules clear

Parents often have expectations of their children. For example, they might say, “I want you to be good while we are Aunt Mary’s today.” But what does good mean? This is where it is important to be extremely clear about the rules. You could say, “While we are at Mary’s today here is what I expect. Do not touch anything that is not yours. Do not scream, whine, or ask to go home.” This way they clearly know what you mean by the word “good.” At home, the rules could be, “Your bedroom needs to be cleaned, and your homework needs to be done before you can play video games.” The point is the rules need to be specific and understandable.

Remind them of the rules

If you are just establishing routines and guidelines for your home, it may take your children a while to get used the new rules. Some of this may be forgetfulness, but if your child is out of control, odds are good that he has gotten used to you making rules and not following through. Keep reminding him of the rules until they are established and he knows what is expected from him.

Follow your own rules

Children are keenly aware of double standards. Of course, there are some things adults can do that children just can’t do, but if you expect your children to use clean language, it’s important that you show them that you are able to do the same. After all, how can you expect them to do something, you can’t do.

Consistency is key

Rules and plans are great, but without follow through, nothing will change. It may take some time to break old habits, but remember the more consistent you are with the rules and the consequences for breaking them, the better the outcome will be. If you fall off the wagon, and let something slide, don’t feel like you’ve failed. Just start over and try again to be consistent.

Practice "in public" behavior at home

One thing children know, is that when they are out in public it’s easier to get away with bad behavior. Sometimes we don’t handle situations the way we should just because we want to get through the situation without being embarrassed. One way to help with this is to practice good behavior at home. For example, if you eat dinner as a family regularly and expect your children to use good manners at your family meals, more than likely they will do better when they go to a public restaurant to eat.

Don't react when you're angry

When you’re angry it’s not the time to enforce the rules. Take some time to collect yourself and calm down, and then decide the consequences. If you are calm and thinking clearly, you can talk to your child and provide consequences in a matter-of-fact manner, rather than screaming at him, which will most likely be tuned out anyway.

Use positive reinforcement

Make sure you praise your children for things they do well. If you’ve asked them to make their bed every morning and they do so, for example, compliment them on this. Children need a lot of attention. They not only need to know when they are doing badly, but also when they are doing well. Encourage them to do better by praising them whenever they do a good job or follow the rules.