(Written by Stephanie) Most parents, at some point in time, have had an out of control kid. For some it is an isolated incident here and there that can be dealt with fairly easily and it doesn’t become a persistent problem. For others, it seems like the “out of control kid” is the only kid they know. Parents dealing with such children/teens often feel powerless and frustrated. It may feel like every conversation or situation ends in an argument.
My kids are pre-teenage, a boy and a girl, and I found myself repeatedly asking them over and over and over to pick up their clothes, get their homework done, do their chores, the list goes on and on.
I found myself getting very frustrated and often angry and yelling because I felt like my kids never listened until they knew I was mad. I knew this was not a healthy environment nor was it teaching my kids the responsibility, structure, and discipline that I was trying to teach them. I knew something had to change.
I started looking for suggestions online, talking to friends and family, read a couple of parenting books, and got a lot of great advice and suggestions from friends and family. Finally I realized that I needed something concrete, something that the kids and I could talk through and work out together so that we could find something we all agreed on and were committed to.
I knew that most of the issues were coming about because it was a power struggle between me and my kids. They wanted to see how much they could get away with, I wanted them to be responsible and help without me reminding them a dozen times. I also knew enough to know that part of it was their need for more attention.
As a single, working parent, time is the one thing that is always stretched thin and in short-supply. So, we had a family meeting. We talked about the things that I felt were issues, the kids told me their perspective and we agreed that we could all make some changes that would result in a happier, more peaceful home and give us more time for fun!
Now, I knew from previous conversations that getting them to “agree” to something and getting them to do it were two different things. After a little research I decided that using a behavior chart and a parent contract would be worth a shot. Together, each kid and I set down one-on-one and came up with a individualized chart that detailed exactly what was expected, when it had to be done, and what the reward or consequence would be for adhering to or not following through with the agreement.
In addition, we decided to use parent contracts for specific issues that were applicable to each of the kids. We used a school and grades contract and a privileges contract to determine standards and expectations for school work and grades as well as what privileges (cell phone, computer, video games, TV, etc) were allowed and in what circumstances.
After we came to an agreement about what was expected, we both signed each contract to show that we agreed to and would follow through on our commitment.
The following are the basic behavior modification techniques I used that worked for me, and when I say behavior modification I originally thought it was only my kids’ behavior that needed modification but I soon realized I had behaviors that needed modifying as well.
Behavior Modification Techniques that Work
- Talk openly with your child/teen about the issues at hand. By discuss I don’t mean sit your kid down and lecture him or her about everything he is doing wrong and “what has got to change.” Allowing the child to voice his/her opinion and letting him help determine what he is responsible for and what rewards and consequences will follow gives him a vested interest in what is expected.
- Create a written agreement – be it a chart, contract, or simply a written document- and sign it. This is teaching the child responsibility, the importance of a contract or agreement, and the importance of keeping your word. It also eliminates arguments about what is expected, what rewards are earned, or what the consequence is for misbehavior. The more specific and detailed it is the better. Be sure to review each contract on a regular basis (every 3-6 months) and make changes and adjustments as needed.
- Follow through. If you are not consistent and do not follow through with everything set forth in the agreement, it will not work. Do not argue, or allow the child to argue, that a punishment is not fair or that they didn’t know they had to do something. That is exactly why every part is discussed and agreed upon before-hand. If the child has an issue, refer him or her to the document that you both agreed upon and signed. Of course “life happens” and there will be things that come up but whenever possible arrangements need to be made prior and both parties need to come to an agreement about what changes are acceptable. (e.g. there is a curfew contract in place but the child will be attending an event that will go past his/her curfew time. Together you can come up with a separate agreement that details the exception for this one event)
For my family, this has been hugely successful. My kids know exactly what is expected and the time frame in which each thing must be completed. If they fail to comply they know exactly what the consequence will be. I do not nag or remind them, I simply enforce the rewards and consequences as appropriate.
I can’t believe the difference I have seen by applying these simple behavior modification techniques with my children. I am not the “bad guy” and my kids don’t feel like I am harassing them. We all know what is expected and the power struggles are no longer an issue. We are all happier and have more time to really have fun and enjoy being together.
About the author: Stephanie is a single parent that works 8 hours a day and then goes home to work another 16 hours a day! Stephanie is a huge advocate of parent contracts and behavior charts.