Out-of-Control Kids and Morning Struggles

By Catherine Pearlman

May 21, 2016 4 min read

Dear Family Coach: My kids are completely out of control. They are 11 and 5, and they talk back, don't do what they are told and eat what they want to eat. If I threaten to take stuff away, they throw tantrums and screaming fits. I live in a condo, and I can't have this happening every morning when people are living upstairs and next door to me. Behavior charts don't work and rewards don't work. Please help me! — Outnumbered Mom

Dear Outnumbered: You kids are running the show. They know it and deep down you do, too. Sure, it isn't a good idea to let your kids scream when you have nearby neighbors. But those neighbors don't have to live in a house held hostage by children who have been given too much authority at too young an age. It's time for you to step up and run the house.

Your kids don't listen to you or do what they are told because they don't have to. They know you can't tolerate the tantrums so they pull that out whenever they need to get out of doing something. Stop being afraid of them, and let them get angry. Allow them to yell and scream, but don't give in. If you are taking away a toy or privilege and they throw a fit, view it as a sign that your punishment is a good one. Your child will remember the awfulness of the experience and not make the same mistake again. Once the kids realize you will not give in to their tyranny, these behaviors will diminish.

Now, to be clear, reward charts do work. But they have to be implemented correctly. Make sure to keep it simple by only rewarding 2-3 behaviors at a time. It is imperative that you find meaningful rewards for the children. Provide choices for immediate rewards (a sweet, a video, a later bedtime) or ones that are earned over time (give points that add up to a trip to a movie, the ice cream shop, the trampoline place). You will feel much more in control by remaining unflappable and consistent, and your kids will respond accordingly.

Dear Family Coach: Each morning you never know what you're going to get with my daughter. Sometimes, she's happy and delightful and other times she's a bundle of crankiness. How can I help her wake up happier and avoid the battle we often have about getting up for school? — Sick of Mornings Dad

Dear Dad: Your daughter is clearly not a morning person and that's quite normal. But you can improve her functioning so that the early hours are less awful for you both.

Start by making sure she is getting enough shuteye. Most children are actually sleeping an hour or two less than they need for their age. Younger school-aged children should have between 10 and 12 hours per night. High schoolers can get away with nine hours. Also, think about waking your daughter up a few minutes earlier in the mornings. I know, it sounds counterintuitive to wake up a cranky sleepy child early. But for those children (and adults) who struggle to rouse, a little extra time allows for a slow slide into being awake. Go into your daughter's room and nudge her gently. Then return five minutes later to turn the light on. Let her know you will be back in five more minutes to make sure she is really up. Also, think about rewarding her for getting up on her own before that last visit. That might help motivate her and leave your battle behind.

Dr. Catherine Pearlman, the founder of The Family Coach, LLC, advises parents on all matters of child rearing. To write to Dr. Pearlman, send her an email at [email protected] To find out more about Dr. Catherine Pearlman and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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