September 20, 2005
Screaming, hitting, bullying, temper tantrums — If your child's behavior is out of control and nothing you do is working, it's time for commando parenting! By shaking up dysfunctional behavior patterns, you can create positive change. For more information on parenting through change, see Chapter 11 of Family First: Your Step-by-Step Plan for Creating a Phenomenal Family. Then, use the exercises in The Family First Workbook to get started.
You must be willing to adopt what I call "commando parenting." If you don't commit to totally immersing yourself in the plan, you'll sabotage your child's chance to change, which may, in turn, sabotage your family's future.
Gather the Army
This isn't something you can play at. If there are two of you involved on a daily basis you must both have a whatever-it-takes mentality. This is akin to an intervention, so you need a unified front. Dad may have to take two weeks of his vacation time and stay home with the children 24/7 to create a unified front with Mom. It could even mean that one of you has to quit working or downgrade to a part-time job to spend more time at home. You might have to drive a less expensive car, live in a smaller house, cut down on restaurant meals and vacation closer to home, but shaking up this family is more important than all of those extraneous things combined. Your future and the future of your children is at stake.
Get Back to Basics
An example of commando parenting is stripping everything from your child's room. Take away everything they love and enjoy. This means all toys, games, posters, and entertainment. Strip their bedroom of everything except a mattress, a blanket and a pillow. Then make them earn it all back one item at a time. There's a sense of entitlement with spoiled children and they need to learn that their toys and games are privileges.
Don't Back Down
Your child must be shown with 100 percent certainty that forbidden behavior will meet with the consequences you've laid out. If you don't enforce those consequences, you'll sabotage your child's development. You will confuse them. You will create anxiety and encourage maladaptive behavior.
Be Prepared for War
Your child will often revert to primitive behaviors, such as screaming, stomping around, wetting the bed, gagging, vomiting, throwing tantrums and other disruptive behaviors. Be prepared to tough it out. Think ahead and make a list of your child's most probable power plays and plan a reaction to each. When they have calmed down, explain to them that they haven't been behaving well and they won't be seeing any of their things until they've earned them back. Be specific about what they need to do to earn them back: Play nicely with others, use a nice voice when asking for something, don't scream at Mom and Dad, etc.
When it comes to putting your child in a time-out, choose a "boring" location devoid of stimulation. A corner, an empty room, wherever you choose the time-out to be, make sure there's absolutely nothing there to entertain them. If you have trouble keeping them in a room, lock the door. If you have to get a nanny cam or cut the door in half so you can monitor them, do so. Time-outs should last no longer than five minutes. One minute per year of life is a good rule of thumb. Explain to your child that the time-out doesn't start until they are quiet and behaving. If they're quiet for four minutes and 45 seconds and then they start screaming, start the time over.
Reward Good Behavior
The other step of commando parenting and reshaping your child's behavior is catching them doing something good. When you do, scoop them up in your arms and tell them how good they're being and thank them for being such a good kid. And then you can begin by giving them back a toy. But if they revert back to their previous behavior, don't be afraid to start all over again. Your child will learn and soon you'll have a much happier, healthier family.