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Wild Boys

Wild Boys

Help! My kids are out of control and I'm a stress case because of it!


Dear Mrs. Radcliffe,

At times I feel so inadequate. My three boys (ages 3, 5 and 8) are very wild. I know I have trouble being consistent with discipline but I try my best. Still, I always feel embarrassed when people come over because my kids run around, don't listen, don't sit still and basically don't make a very good impression. I know that others are judging me and even though my husband obviously has a role in this too as their father, I feel that I'm the one everyone blames. My own siblings have said things out loud like, "You shouldn't let them get away with this," implying that I'm not even trying to remedy the situation. I don't even want people coming over anymore because I feel too stressed from it. Is there anything I can do to get my kids to act more normally?

Dear Parent,

The world always seems to blame mothers, doesn't it? It puts so much pressure on women. Children's good behavior and misbehavior is caused by so many factors -- mothering is actually only a part of the equation. Some other factors that might be affecting your own situation are the fact that your kids are healthy little boys (boys tend to be quite physically active when they are healthy) and the fact that they are quite young (kids under 10 run around a lot more than older kids do).

If your boys are even more active than other kids their age, then other factors might also be at play. For instance, they might have a genetic tendency to be more active. Or it's possible you've given them a bit more freedom than other parents' tend to give, tending to favor the "free spirit" in your youngsters. It's also possible that these little guys need more structure, guidance or discipline than is natural for you to offer.

Be your own best friend by acknowledging and praising effort, not results.

Whatever the cause, the first order of events is to support yourself. You say you've been trying to get your children to calm down. That's great! It takes 20 years to raise a child so we don't tend to expect immediate results from any particular intervention! Keep trying to help them, but do acknowledge your own efforts. Unlike your siblings who don't know what you've been doing, you know exactly how hard you've been working at this -- so praise yourself!

Talking nicely to ourselves is more important than anything we hear from anyone else. Be your own best friend by acknowledging and praising effort, not results. In order to see which strategies are working and which can be discarded, you might keep a little notebook. Put the date, the name of the problem ("wild," "running," "not listening" etc.) and your current strategy. Give each strategy a fair trial -- a couple of weeks minimum, a month if it looks promising. Note any improvement or worsening of the behaviors in question.

Get strategies from books, parenting classes, friends, and professionals. Pick everybody's brain! Remember, you've got plenty of time to work on this. Many "wild" little guys turn out to be amazing adults, no worse for wear. The only one that suffers is the one who suffered through it all -- poor, old Mom!

Don't let that happen. A sense of perspective and a sense of humor are mandatory tools of the parenting trade. No one has total control over another person -- parents can't "make" children behavior in certain ways. They can only encourage and discourage behaviors. Some kids are perfectly behaved due to their inborn natures. Some are, well, "wild."

Meanwhile, there are a few strategies I can suggest to you. Try them and see if anything makes a positive difference. The first is the CLeaR Method. This techniques involves noticing NORMAL, non-wild behavior and giving it three types of positive attention: a positive comment ("I see how nicely you're playing."), a positive label ("You're so CALM right now.") and a small reward ("When you play so nicely like this I think you deserve a big hug/special treat/extra privilege."). The reward can be given the first few times you are attending to NORMAL behavior and then gradually "thinned out."

A second strategy that is sometimes helpful is called The Two Times Rule (2X Rule). When your kids are running around inappropriately, ask them to settle down (sit down, play quietly or whatever). If they don't comply, ask them again, this time adding a warning of a negative consequence. Maybe it would sound like this, "If you don't settle down, I'll have to ask you to leave the room and return when you can stay here quietly." If they still don't get it, quietly escort them out of the room.

A calming diet can also be helpful for "wild" kids. More grains, protein and vegetables with less sugar, white flour products and junk food has been shown to reduce hyper behavior in some kids. It's worth a try! Also, the Bach Flower Remedy called Vervain (a harmless, water-based "vibrational" remedy) can sometimes help balance a child's system to reduce excess activity and intensity, helping the child to be his best self rather than his most frenetic self.

Finally, providing more structure -- although not always possible for a busy mom -- can sometimes prevent or reduce wild behavior. Give the kids a puzzle to work on or a craft to do. Or get a slew of books for them to read. If possible, let them "get the crazies out" by having a good run around at a park or other outdoor venue or, if your house has the space, restricting all running behavior to a play room in the basement or out in the yard.

Whether or not that technique works, praise yourself for trying it out. Acknowledge that being the mother of three very active little boys is really a hard job. Never compare yourself to other moms and don't compare your kids to other kids -- every situation is completely unique. Just continue to do the best you can in your own situation with your own resources. Remember -- the Almighty loves you and your kids, and is there to help you every inch of the way on your parenting journey.

August 10, 2008

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Visitor Comments: 6

(6) Sharonah S., November 8, 2012 9:03 AM

Great advice

As a mother of six energetic boys, I always comment that my walls are flowing with testosterone. My boys also feed off of each others energy. Individually they are wonderful, but get them together and your in for a ride. I ask Hashem everyday to give me the strength to handle them and just know that I'm doing the best that I can. I know in my heart that when they grow up they will each one give me nachat in their own way. Just keep the patience and love them everyday.

(5) Anonymous, September 6, 2008 2:13 PM

terrific advice

I'm a mom of two AD/HD children (BH') and so much of the time I spend trying to get them to settle down. I think this article is full of practical advice, with a very kind tone. This is one smart advice columnist!

(4) Feigele, August 26, 2008 9:42 AM

Take them to the Parks

G-d willing, all these boys will become Men and Mensches. Meanwhile, the problem this mother is having is now. We are so fortunate today to live in a country that offers so many activities for children, but more often, parents do not take advantage of it. When my 3 children were young I would take them to different parks every time near where we lived, and every time I would be so surprised that not many other kids where there to play and work out their energy. Then in summertime there was the pool and of course all kind of other team sports. I can assure you that when they went home all they wanted was to rest and either read or play games nicely and quietly. Where we live today, it hasn’t changed, all the parks are still empty. No kids. Parents don’t take time or pleasure in taking their kids to parks not only to play but also to meet other kids and let them run freely. Kids are kids and you can’t blame them for being so full of life. Then of course, there is still discipline and structure being taught at home.

(3) Anonymous, August 17, 2008 2:30 PM

There's a woman I know who had the same problem: her son was a wild child and very mischievous. At times she wondered what would happen to him. Well, she and her husband did what they could, teaching him Torah values and respect. That wild, mischievous son grew up to become active in shul, a lamdan, and the most wonderful husband in the world- MINE! Don't give up. Your children have a lot of energy and you just need to teach them to channel it to Torah and Mitzvot.

(2) Grace Fishenfeld, August 12, 2008 8:15 PM

It Gets Better

We can only give glessings to you and your three boys. The best is yet to come so hang in there. Take them to parks and fields where they can run and fly kites. Mothers of boys have to be healthy strong and patient. You are no worse than other parents. Remember, God's children did not listen to him either. Here we are working out the kinks in the world as we continue to produce the generations.It is a challange to all of us.

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