Taming Your Wild Child

This blog is based on everything I did right and everything I did wrong as a single mother. My ADHD daughter was DIFFICULT but has become a lovely, respectful, responsible adult. There is no such thing as a perfect child OR a perfect parent. Every child is different. I hope the following advice is helpful.

Patience is key. If you’re not a patient person by nature, you can change that. Don’t test yourself in the heat of the moment with your kid; practice patience in traffic, with relatives, and with co-workers. Train yourself to be patient. It can be done.

– Pick Your Battles. Stick to your guns when it’s important: life and death, manners in at home and in public, keeping promises, violence of any kind – physical or verbal. Angry words like “kill,” “hate,” etc. were off limits in our household. Let your kids express their opinions and feelings, let them negotiate and make their arguments, but demand respect while they’re doing it. They might actually have some valid points.

– Make a Schedule. This is not easy for some of us, but if you sit down and make a written schedule for your kiddo – same routine every day – it will pay off. I promise. Kids need to know what’s next on the agenda, particularly spirited ones. When my daughter was in grade school, I taped a checklist to the bathroom door where she could check off her daily tasks as she completed them. Her nightly chores were as simple as “brush teeth,” “lay out clothes for tomorrow,” “shower.” Change it up as needed. And be sure to schedule some “crazy time” (high-activity time) every day!

 – Forget Naptime. Some spirited children have a hard time sleeping in the middle of the day. I suggest enforcing “quiet time” instead of naptime, where tv, radio, and any other noise in the house is turned off and have your kiddo sit or lie in bed and read or engage in some other quiet activity. Reading never killed anyone. Being still is important for everyone, adults included. Same thing goes for bedtime. My daughter had to be in her bed by a certain time every night, and she was allowed to have a small light on to read or some other quiet activity. Have a “check in ” for all electronic devices at naptime/bedtime and keep them with you until it’s over.

– Limit Screen Time. This might seem old fashioned, but kids actually used to play with toys. I allowed my daughter 1 hour of screen time per day (tv. If that seems unrealistic, make it 2 hours. You can re-train your child to un-glue from screens if you want to. It might be hard, but you can do it. You should be spending at least 30 minutes a day interacting with your kids, individually if you have more than one.

– Right of Passage. Make it a BIG DEAL when you add new chores or tasks to the list. Here’s how I got my daughter to do her own laundry when she was 12: “Guess what! You’re turning 12 next week, so you get to do your own laundry now!” It worked! She saw it as a right of passage. In my opinion, your kids should be doing everything they are capable of doing for themselves (when it makes sense). If you want your kids to be self-sufficient adults, you must teach them how to be self-sufficient adults. “Do you think you’re old enough to help me in the kitchen?” Be smart; be creative.

– Keep Your Hands to Yourself. I realize that there are just times when you’re gonna lose your shit. As tempting as it is to spank, please keep your hands off. There are other ways to discipline kids that won’t send them the message that “violence is ok under certain circumstances.” (Yes, I’m one of those moms.) The obvious alternative, time out. Time out isn’t just for your kids; it’s for YOU, too. If your little angel suddenly turns into the spawn from hell, at home or in public, get them and yourself away to the bathroom, car, wherever you can to change the environment. This was particularly hard for me when we were at a restaurant or a store (you still have to pay for your stuff!), but I was as vigilant as I could be. Oftentimes, I left a cart full of groceries in the middle of the aisle. An alternative to time out is a big bear hug (restraining). This worked for my daughter for a short period, until she started head-butting me and biting my hands. Be creative with the discipline, but don’t hit. Natural consequences are my favorite.

– Rewards Work. As a former pre-school teacher, I learned early on that rewards work for pretty much every kid. You can call them bribes if you want, but either way, they work. Don’t give the reward if the kid doesn’t keep his/her word. The reward doesn’t have to be anything big. I kept a cookie jar on top of the fridge with little plastic rings, bubble gum, etc. (sugar was never an option). When the task or behavior was achieved, I let my daughter stick her hand in and blindly fish around for a reward. Don’t make them wait too long for the reward or it becomes meaningless.

So, what’s unacceptable behavior? Obviously, it varies from home to home, but if it’s not acceptable at school, then it shouldn’t be acceptable at home. It’s YOUR job to teach your kids how to be functioning members of society. If you’re screaming and yelling and throwing things at home, guess what… your kids think it’s ok. You will fail (maybe daily), but don’t beat yourself up. Tomorrow’s a new day – start all over, and do better. You got this.