Parenting K-6 Kids/managing children's behaviour
Hi, I am a mother of fine children aged 2 -13, which means I am very busy with running the household, etc. Our biggest problem at the moment is that I feel as a family we are not doing to well. The children are rude to each other and do not care for each others property. They don't respect their own room, its just a mess and none of them seem to be able to control their tempers. The second oldest is always grumpy and complains that no one wants to play with her and the third eldest doesn't seem to be able to eat properly amore she just sits there and picks at her food. The eldest has to put her nose into everyone else's business. And number four just screams at everyone and cries to get attention. I feel a bit overwhelmed and a bit tried of hearing all this every afternoon after school. Have you any suggestions to start to sort out our problems?
It is difficult for me to give advice without meeting and observing you and your children, but I can give some ideas that might help.
First, children's misbehavior continues because it works and gets them something. In order to stop it, the behavior needs to not deliver a benefit to them anymore. That means you'll need to set clear rules, consequences and enforce them. Failing to enforce a rule through consequences is nearly as bad as not having the rule. Consistency is the key to changing child behavior. This is going to take more energy on your part in the beginning, so you need to be up to the challenge. Kids won't follow the rules on the first direction (anymore than adults always follow driving rules). If they think they can continue to get away with behavior they will. That's where consistency comes in. Once they learn that you mean business, they'll change.
There are many interventions you can use. For example, you can use a mood time out where kids need to go somewhere else (away from everyone else) if they're grumpy or crying for attention.
It's possible that these behaviors are occurring because they're the only way to get attention. The behavior makes you tired, so you withdraw more, which leads them to do it more. It's a cycle. Busy families often have this cycle because life is so busy, and often the only interaction between parents and children is to give directions, discipline and other "negative" interaction. To fix this, you need to purposefully build in positive interactions. This one trick alone could change their behavior. Ideally, you want to spend 10-15 minutes everyday involved in each child's life. That means they get to pick and lead the activity you do with them. It's about you entering their world. This makes kids feel important and valued, and when kids feel that way, they tend to behave better. For this method to really work, you have to give them quality time no matter what. You can't use it as a form of punishment by threatening to take it away if they misbehave. That will make it seem like your love has conditions and will have the opposite effect that you want. So the kids get your special attention everyday, no matter what. Use something else as discipline if they misbehave.
As far as the eating, you can't control what goes in and what comes out of children, but you might want to take her to the doctor to make sure she doesn't have a medical issue or is at the beginning stages of an eating disorder (kids who develop eating disorders usually feel their lives are out of control, and eating is something they can control).
For more help and insight into your family, you might want to consider getting family counseling. A counselor will be able to talk with and observe you and your family (which I can't do), and give you ideas based on your family's needs.
Leslie Truex, MSW