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You Are Not at War With Your Child

dealing with bad child behavior

Happy July! Summer fun is in full swing. Trips to the park, family vacations, and other adventures are a weekly, if not daily, occurrence. You’re probably spending a lot more time with your small beings than usual, so are creating many cherished memories.

And you’re also dealing with moments that make you feel like you’re in a war zone. Have you ever felt like you’re battling against your children? Like your kids need to be “taught a lesson”? Many families are experiencing this right now, so you wouldn’t be alone.

Here’s a potential – and common – scenario. You are at a family BBQ with cousins who you have not seen since last summer. All the kids are running around in the grass except for your child. She is sitting on the sidelines yelling and pulling food off the picnic table.

You are mortified! You go into sergeant mode and attempt to teach your daughter that this is not how to behave. A piece of you knows this is simply to show your relatives that you have not completely lost control of your family, even though deep down that is how you feel.

So, you march up to your child and threaten her with no dessert. You make a bargain: one more hour of good behavior for a new toy truck. All of your attempts make things worse. Eventually you give up, pick her up, and head home.

Once home, the princess you love dearly returns. You are defeated, confused, and exhausted. You swear never to attend a family function again … or at least not till next summer.

If this happens to you just once a summer, then consider yourself blessed. If this happens to you on a weekly basis, then let’s talk! There is one secret that changes this dynamic, ensuring that you and your daughter will enjoy the rest of the summer with more ease.

Simple remember that you and your child are on the same team. When you go into warlord mode against your own child you are dividing your family unit. You and your child should always be on the same side, even when you don’t agree.

Let me repeat, you are on the same team as your child!

This means that you set up this dynamic starting with the trip to get to the family gathering. Let your child know that if something is hard or overwhelming to come talk with you about it before she acts up. When she knows that she can ask to go for a walk or she can sit inside in a quiet place this will improve her behavior, as she won’t feel trapped.

Another option is to take breaks throughout the event. Most children do not know how to pace themselves and your small being is no exception. Taking periodic walks, just you and your daughter, may increase her stamina. It will also give you a chance to point out how well she is doing and to remind her to keep her behavior moving in the right direction.

This adjustment requires you to shift your expectations. If your child has had their limit of socialization and a pause in activity doesn’t restore her, then you probably need to leave the gathering, as much as you don’t want to. Yes, this is unfair to you as the parent, but it is part of your role. There are many times that you need to put your child’s needs ahead of your own and this is one of them.

Remember, you are a family. No matter what behavior you face, do know that you are part of the solution.


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Dr. Marcie is a behavior specialist based in Brooklyn. She has worked with thousands of families over 15 years and has condensed her observations into her practice and programs.

Dr. Marcie Beigel's picture
Behavior Therapist

Dr. Marcie has realistic ideas for the real-life behaviors that parents and professionals face. For over 15 years, Dr. Marcie has created tantrum-free zones for thousands of families, many being the most challenging cases, and has effective and tested strategies for today's parents and educators to regain control of their children, their lives and their classrooms. She is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst-Doctorate, and earned her Doctorate from Teachers College, Columbia University and her New York State Certification as a Special Education Teacher and Administrator. Dr. Marcie conducts professional development and parenting trainings privately, at universities, at day care centers, as well as pre-school, elementary and secondary schools around the country, and has a column in NY Parenting.