OUT OF CONTROL – Why your child is driving you crazy?!

Sometimes your child spins completely out of control?!

Why is this happening and what can you do about it?

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Alfred Adler, an Austrian doctor and psychotherapist concluded the childish/human behavior very precise: everything kids do is goal driven and the primary goal of a child (even very young ones) is to reach the following:

1. Significance: have significance, be able, have influence, have meaning, be important to others, be treated respectful

2. Belonging: to feel like a valuable part of the community, belonging and feeling loved, knowing your place in your family

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As soon as the fundamental physic needs of the child for nourishment and shelter are met, they begin to try to fulfill these two essential emotional needs: significance and belonging.

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What does belonging and significance mean from a child’s perspective?

In regard to belonging, a child needs to know where he or she stands in the family and how they are emotional connected with the other members. They need an adequate amount of positive attention which helps them to feel loved and included.

To get a feeling of significance, they need to perceive themselves to be capable, making a difference through contributing their useful share for the family. Responsibility and being able to do things autonomously, creates a feeling of empowerment. All humans crave personal power – a feeling of free will or independency. The older a child gets the more independency or „power“ he will ask for.

Your child does not even know it, but she’s on a mission to get the belonging and meaning she needs. If these two basic needs are not fulfilled in a positive way, they will resort to negative behaviors to get what they want. Misconduct is not the actual problem – it is only a symptom of a deeper problem. If we eliminate the reasons, the bad behavior will often disappear or be reduced and our children get what they need – in a positive way.

So, if your little one throws a tantrum, follows you through the whole apartment and is very clingy or throws food on the ground, he actually wants to say: „I want to belong and feel important, but I don’t know how to manage that“. Since he can’t put his feelings into words, he is resorting to crying, screaming, whining etc to get attention in another (negative) way. Soon yourchild learns that this strategy is working!

How long do you manage to stay calm, if you’re for example talking to a friend on the phone and your child is clinging to your leg and deciding to have a major meltdown right now. You get angry and possibly scold your child – but you will disrupt your call and pay full attention to your child. Her strategy has worked again – she got attention. Your toddler wants chocolate while you are shopping at the supermarket? Well, his goal is reached by screaming loudly. Mommy is ashamed, and to avoid getting more scornful looks the chocolate is bought. This time again it has worked and your child knows he is able to control you.

Your schoolchild won’t say „Mommy, lately I don’t get a strong feeling of commitment from you and I wish you would pay me more attention. “ Or like: „It seems you got a stronger interest in your iPhone than in taking care of me. “ Also they won’t communicate their need for more independency and power in a vert civilized way.

So, a reliable strategy is used: Drive mom crazy until she just has to pay attention to me or do what I want.

Whether mommy’s or daddy’s response was positive or negative, it did fulfill the child’s need for attention or power. Your child wanted positive attention; but negative attention is better than none at all!

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So what can you do to give your child what he or she needs, but at the same time teach them that the whole world doesn’t revolve around them?

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Special Time

Reserve for your child “special time” with mom or dad. If you have several children, then have for each child their own “special time” and the other children should not be around. They will have their turn later.

Just 10-15 minutes, once or twice a day. Even if you spend a lot of the day with your child, since you are working from home or are on parental leave, respect this special time with your child. For older children, you can have a scheduled time, but even for smaller ones, you should still make it obvious that you now have your special time together.

During this time, the child can choose what he wants to do with you. Be it reading a book, playing with Barbie or Lego’s, go to the playground just around the corner etc. I would not recommend watching television on your time together or only very rarely.

The purpose of this “special time” is that your child feels a close connection and you are bonding so he or she does not need to seek too much negative attention.

Even if you have a stressful daily life and not much time, try to reserve a few minutes each day exclusively for your child. Maybe in the morning, right after getting up before everyone gets ready and eats breakfast, after you pick your child up from daycare/school or before going to bed and include your special time into the good-night routine….?

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Do not pay attention to negative behavior

Do not add fuel to the fire by engaging in power struggles with your child. If she tries to test her power by challenging you, then simply don’t engage . Your child refuses to each lunch, or the food lands on walls and the floor?! Then take the plate away and the meal is finished. Do not scold, do not explain why there is no more food now, don’t get angry or frustrated. Be calm, even if your child will throw a huge tantrum now. As I said, do not allow the situation to escalate further by getting caught in it and never let yourself be sucked into a power struggle – you will lose!

You cannot force any child in this world to eat, sleep or listen to you. You just can’t make them. If you try to force them anyways, this is the chance for your child to demonstrate their power over you.

Think how it looks from the perspective of a 3 year old who is able to make an adult sit angry, frustrated and screaming at the kitchen table trying to convince his toddler desperately to eat his food – but all his attempts failing. This is fun and gives an enormous power-rush to your child.

Your goal is not to win, but to teach your child to make good decisions.

Offering choices gives your son or daughter some power over the situation – he can behave and eat, or don’t, and then the plate is gone. She can decide to put on her jacket and then go to the playground or no jacket and you stay at home.

This will take the pressure off of you and you can be the well-balanced mom you always wanted to be. To be honest, do you like being this typical nagging, whining and annoying mom?!

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Don’t over- or underwhelm your child 

Rudolf Dreikurs said once: “Never do for your child what they can do for themselves“

The most beautiful gift to your child is giving him a sense of self-realization, to feel capable, to be able to do something and to make an important contribution.

Show him how to tie his shoes, even if you are in a hurry and would rather quickly do it yourself. Help him to do things that he can do already. Teach him new things and don’t enable him to feel helpless.

Give him age-appropriate chores and tasks which he has to do at home. This teaches him not only that everyone should do his or her part to the family/community and helps him take responsibility, but that his contribution is important and appreciated. Think about what your child’s chores could be and take your time to teach them.

Try to give your child certain freedom of decision making. This gives them the feeling of having a voice and being involved. Even if they have to do something, you can pretend as if they have some say in it as well. E.g. What do you like to do first: brush your teeth or put on your pajamas? Of course she has to do both, but instead of getting annoyed that mommy forcing her to do something and giving instructions again, she concentrates now on the decision she can make. No need to for her to challenge you since you gave her „some“ power!

 Everything of course with common sense. Don’t ask a 2 year old what he wants to eat and expect a healthy answer. Do not overwhelm your child with too many decisions or not age-appropriate ones.

It is more about giving them the FEELING to decide and have some power. With age and maturity, this changes naturally and you will grant your child more responsibility. You will see, if you give your child more self-realization and personal power, power struggles will be reduced to a minimum.

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If you follow these tips, you will soon notice positive changes in your child.

But do not stress and do not expect perfection, either from you or from your child. Try every day to do what you can and don’t forget to have fun being a mom or a daddy!

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