Dealing with a Violent Child

Dr. Phil's guests tell him: "My 11-year-old son Paul truly frightens me," "Halyn has the face of an angel, but she is monster," "Kristen is violent, angry and out of control."

He offers this advice on dealing with violent children:

  • Obtain a proper diagnosis from a psychologist.
    Many times, parents are quick to make evaluations of their children's unruly behavior, such as blaming aggressiveness on ADHD, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Dr. Phil advises parents to revisit their evaluations, because a child's violence may be stemming from other issues. Don't make judgments until you get to the root of the problem.

  • Acknowledge your role.
    When one child, or the "target patient" is acting out, the family will blame him or her for the family's dysfunction. "Oftentimes, you will see a family that will present a disruptive child for treatment ... this is the sacrificial lamb for the family's toxicity," says Dr. Phil. He advises parents to examine their own behavior, and if need be, the entire family should seek counseling.

  • Maintain a unified front.
    Sometimes aggressive children know that if they engage in "divide and conquer" tactics with their parents, they will be able to get their way. In Jamie and David's case, their 9-year-old daughter Halyn knew that she had consequences if she misbehaved with her father, yet knew that her mother would fail to punish her when she acted out. This strife over Halyn's discipline was dividing their marriage. Dr. Phil advises the couple to be unified in their parenting. "If you're together, if you're unified and if you're there for each other, then all of a sudden there's strength in numbers," he says. Don't forget to close the ranks.

  • Don't get into a power struggle with a child.
    Sometimes aggressive children know that if they struggle long enough with their parents, by yelling, screaming, or throwing temper tantrums in a crowded store, that they will get their way. Dr. Phil cautions parents against these tactics. He told Jamie that Halyn was winning the power struggle because she had worn her mother down to the point where she let her get away with things. Be firm in disciplining your child and let them know that there boundaries that they have to observe.

  • Every child has currency. Use it!
    "There's not a child born that doesn't have currency," says Dr. Phil, whether it's toys, clothes, games, or television. He stresses that access to this "currency" needs to be contingent upon proper behavior. For example, if a child throws a temper tantrum in a crowded store, she should not be rewarded with a toy or a coloring book. She needs to understand the consequences of her behavior, and as Dr. Phil says, "predict the consequences of her actions with 100 percent accuracy."

  • Stop being intimidated by your child.
    Many parents are afraid to discipline an unruly child for fear that their child will resent them for being an authority figure. Your child doesn't have to like you or even love you, but he or she does have to respect the parent/child relationship, and realize that there will be consequences for negative actions. Recognize that you don't have to be your child's friend, but you do have to be his or her parent.

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