Last night on one of my favorite shows, a character introduced his 6 year-old son to his date. Here’s what happened:
First, imagine the wildest child you’ve ever met, this child was like that, only worse! He was laughing loudly and racing up and down the hallways, barely missing other people. Everyone was looking at him, but nothing was being done to stop him. He ran anywhere he wanted and touched everything. He was screaming, “I hate you, you’re ugly, you’re stupid, you’re a butt!,” and no one said anything!
As Dad was being introduced to the woman’s family he came out of nowhere and ran right into the date’s dad, which hurt his back, then he turned around and bolted. He ran away so fast that no one could catch him. He ran right into the crowd where he could have easily been hurt or taken.
Dad didn’t blink; he just sighed and blandly said, “Fred. Fred. Get back here Fred. Fred. Fred.”
Then the “sweet one” found a stack of napkins and began throwing them off the balcony down to the main floor. It looked like snow was falling. Again Dad simply said, “Fred. Fred. Get back here Fred. Fred. Fred.” When Fred didn’t come back, dad released a huge sigh and dejectedly said, “Oh, he’ll be back.”
How did Dad know his son would be back? He knew because Fred was feeding off the situation. Fred knows that Dad never takes action, never tries to stop him, he knows that all Dad ever does is call his name.
Dad can’t figure out why Fred doesn’t listen. Dad is defeated and his bland tone of voice sends the same message over and over again, “You win, I give up, do what you want.”
The facial expressions of people watching seem to say, “Do something, spank him, grab him—just do something to make it stop!” (See Tangerine E.'s post, Why do parents let their kids run wild?)
Believe it or not, Fred wants this to stop, too. Yes, you read that correctly. He is doing all of this to find out where his dad’s boundary is.
Fred has no set rules, no clear boundaries, so he keeps increasing his bad behavior to see if he’s reached Dad’s bottom line yet. Fred is thinking like a child, not an adult. He unconsciously wants to know where the rules are.
Fred wants to know what happens when he acts this badly, but no one is telling him. He figures that his behavior must be okay since he’s getting away with it. He has an unconscious need to know, “How bad do I have to be before Dad loves me enough to stop me?” I know that seems amazing, but it’s true.
Remember, children don’t think like we do. Their brains are still being turned on, so to speak. They don’t have access to full logical thinking, yet. That center of the brain isn’t activated until around age 7. Even after it’s activated a child still doesn’t fully think like an adult, that doesn’t happen until around age 18. That’s why parents are freaked out, and rightfully so, by the choices tweens, teens and first year college students make. Childhood is all about learning from choices and consequences and children haven’t achieved mastery, yet.
In order for Fred to change his behavior I think Dad needs to be very clear about a few things. Dad needs Fred to know that:
- I am your parent, and I’m in charge. You no longer rule this house.
- I will announce what the boundaries in this family are, and I will enforce them.
- I will enforce the rules and boundaries each and every time you misbehave.
- I will speak to you in an age appropriate way.
- I will make sure you clean up your messes and apologize when you offend or hurt someone.
- I will remind you that it’s my job to keep you safe and help you grow into the person I know you can be.
- I will let you know that I have faith in your ability to change.
- When I correct you, I’ll also make sure you know that I love you.
- I will never abandon you like that again.
That’s what I think Fred’s dad should do.
What do you think?
Sharon Silver is a parenting educator and the founder of Proactive Parenting. She's also the author of Stop Reacting and Start Responding: 108 Ways to Discipline Consciously and Become the Parent You Want to Be.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, POPSUGAR.