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What to Do When Your Kids Are Running Wild

What to Do When Your Kids Are Running Wild

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.

ShainaNieto ShainaNieto 5 years
I totally agree with carlene. Our society has screwed most kids chances of growing up to be respectful contributors to society because were not allowed to spank them. One of my toddlers got away from me and ran into a busy parking lot that cars usually fly through. I caught him and spanked him explaining he could have been very hurt and he should never go in the steet alone. Then i had to look around and make sure no one was calling the cops. Would people rather i try to have a calm ligical conversation with my 2 year old so that next time he does get hit by a car??? Thank goodness we were able to load up and get home safely. He cried for a whole 30 seconds but im sure a time out or good talking to (which do have their place) would not have done him any good in that instance!
CarleneKeifer73018 CarleneKeifer73018 5 years
I agree with what Helen said, what happened to what the Bible says about children spare the rod spoil the child but the way it is now people are afraid to try and make their children mind while in public for fear of someone sayin it's child abuse. I think that is the problem with the world today because people are afraid to make their kid's mind ans school's no longer can either, that's why their is so many kids on drug's abd all of the other problem's that go along with not being made to mind and go by the rule's when they were younger. I by no means think that a child should be abused in any form whether it be verbal or physical but a good old fashion spanking wouldn't hurt them, I had them when I was young and it didn't kill me nor did it make me feel like I wasn't loved or anything else, it just told me that I had to obey rule's and not just mine.
AliciaOLeary AliciaOLeary 6 years
I don't mean to talk bad about any one of the people who have posted a response on here, but most of the stuff y'all are saying sounds like a bunch of hippies. I mean talk about his feelings and honoring his decisions and stuff, and talking to your child about how you're the adult and he needs to know the rights and all sounds good in theory, right? But the truth is, kids don't just listen and start behaving when you sit them down and talk to them sbout what they did wrong. I and their father have tried talking to, spanking, timeouts, we've tried everything and my kids just don't listen. What do you do then? Sit down with them and tell them they are driving you mad with the way they act and then hope the light bulb clicks on and they understand that they're being bad. What do you have as a tool when all of your methods fail? What do you do when the child still doesn't listen and behave? any answers anybody?
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