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Is My Child a Troublemaker?

Learn how to tell whether a child's bad behavior is just typical kid stuff or something more -- and what to do about it.
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Step 2: Be Honest

Before you take any steps to correct your child's behavior, you need to admit there's a problem. Taking the "My child is perfect -- someone else must be instigating these fights" attitude won't solve anything.

"Honestly appraise it and recognize that he does need an intervention, that it will not go away on its own and it's not a phase," Borba says.

Another thing you shouldn't do is put yourself in the middle of the situation to protect your child. "Parents sometimes throw themselves under the bus to keep the kid from having consequences from their behaviors, which makes the behaviors even worse," Kashurba says. In other words, if your child gets detention for being disruptive in class, let him serve it out. When your child consistently has to face the consequences of his actions, he'll eventually learn accountability.

Step 3: Get Help

Now that you've described the problem, find the right person to help you solve it. Start with someone you trust who already knows your child, like a teacher, school counselor, or your pediatrician.

If that person can't solve the problem, or the issue is so severe that it's threatening your child's safety or relationships, your doctor may refer you to a child psychologist or psychiatrist for further evaluation. That evaluation will help determine whether your child's actions are a sign of a behavioral problem or some underlying biological problem, such as ADHD or depression.

 

Step 4: Accentuate the Positive. Eliminate the Negative.

Being branded a "troublemaker" can be brutal to a child's self-esteem and self-image. "It has a disastrous effect on him, because the child begins to act the way he perceives that everyone thinks of him," Borba says. Constantly telling your child he's being bad will only perpetuate that perception.

Instead, as the old Johnny Mercer song goes, "accentuate the positive" and "eliminate the negative."

"You want to reinforce the positive behaviors, reinforce the pro-social behaviors, and reinforce the things you really want to see," Kashurba says. "You want to stay away from intentionally or inadvertently reinforcing the behaviors you don't want to see."

Eliminating the negative means letting your child know, in no uncertain terms, that you're not going to tolerate bad behaviors. That won't always be easy. You might have to walk out of the supermarket and leave your full shopping cart in the aisle to stop a tantrum, or take your child out of the theater in the middle of a movie when she won't quit hitting her brother. Expect at least some resistance. "Any time you change those behaviors, the child is going to test that," Kashurba says.

While you're discouraging bad behaviors, show your child the good behaviors you want him to emulate. For example, say, "Use your words instead of hitting." Practice that same good behavior over and over again, and praise him when he gets it right.

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