5 Steps to Gaining Control of Your Kids' Behavior

A young girl arguing with her mother
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Do you feel like your kids' behavior is completely out of control? It's never too late to step up and take the reins. In fact, your kids desperately need to know that you -- the adult -- are in control. To walk you through it, here are five steps to implementing a new behavioral system and gaining control of your kids' behavior once again:

Step One: Permit Yourself to Parent

Why do you think your kids have become out of control? Is it because you feel too guilty to discipline them? Think you're just not good at this aspect of parenting? Suffer from a lack of positive role models? Unfortunately, things probably won't improve much until you decide to step up and take your place as an authority in your kids' lives. So the first step toward getting your kids' behavior under control is to permit yourself to parent. Put aside any concerns about being "the bad guy" and remember that children need parents to set and maintain a clear set of expectations.

Step Two: Develop a List of Expectations and Consequences

Decide right now how you want your kids to behave. What basic expectations do you have for their behavior? These should be hard-and-fast ​rules that do not change, regardless of location, season, or time of day. For example, you might expect your kids to treat others -- including you -- with respect at all times. You might also expect your kids to clean up after themselves and participate in family chores.

At the same time, brainstorm a list of consequences that you are willing to enforce on a regular basis. Timeout works well with very young children, but as your kids grow older, you have to adjust your consequences to suit their stage of development. For older children, consider enforcing a loss of privileges that your children consider valuable, such as television or video games.

Step Three: Plan the Introduction of Your New Behavioral System

There's one thing you can count on when you lay out a new set of rules for your kids:​ They're going to test you! Therefore, before you even introduce this new behavioral system to your kids, make sure that you're ready. Ideally, you'll want to begin at a time when you're all well-rested when there are minimal distractions or simultaneous transitions going on. Also, because the first few weeks may be especially taxing for you, consider sharing your plan with a friend and asking him or her to let you vent as needed. 

Another strategy that can help you get through the worst of your kids' testing is to keep in mind the goal of what you're doing. You're not trying to make your kids happy; you're trying to raise them to be well-adjusted, responsible young adults. The pain you may experience now while enforcing these expectations is minimal compared to the challenges you'll face later if you don't get control of the situation while you still can!

Step Four: Lay Down the Law

Once you've developed your list of rules, schedule a family meeting where you can sit down together and discuss them. Focus on communicating your specific expectations clearly and explicitly, and letting your kids know what consequences they will face if they choose not to comply. Also, consider posting the rules in a prominent location, such as a whiteboard located in the kitchen where everyone can see it and refer to it as needed.

Step Five: Consistently Follow Through on Your New Rules and Consequences

Once you lay down the law, your kids are going to test you to see how serious you are. Your success in gaining control of your kids' behavior depends entirely on your ability to withstand this period of testing. If you give in or ignore the very things that you just made a point of saying you will no longer tolerate, you will reinforce the behaviors you are trying to eliminate! Therefore, it's extremely important that you persevere throughout their testing and apply your consequences just as you said you would. Remaining calm throughout this process is particularly important. It will take your kids by surprise since they're expecting you to be angry, frazzled, or too exhausted to follow through on the rules. Show them you mean business by staying calm and sticking to the plan.

Finally, remember that you can do this. It's not easy, but the benefits -- a calmer home, deeper connections with your kids, and peace of mind -- are worth it. It's never too late to step in and gain control of your kids' behavior.