Help! “My Once Loveable Child Has Turned Into A Monster…” “I do not recognize my child any longer,” says the mother of a middle school 7th grader. I remember that feeling as a mom who had a middle schooler, currently has a middle schooler, and another child on the way to middle school. Whew! One minute we are holding our children as babies, and the next minute they think that they can tell us about the world. I know you wonder,
Is this my baby?
Yes, that is still your baby, but middle school is so hard. It is difficult on parents, and challenging for middle school staff. I have empathy folks! I survived it once and although it can make you sad as a parent to see a difference in your child, knowing that you are raising an adult helps. At least it helped me. It is easy to see the growth in terms of the physiological appearance, but the emotional maturity also increases which brings forth new beliefs, debate, and the overwhelming thought that they know more than we do as parents. In their minds this growth equate to, I can do a lot more than you allow or, I have my own mind, style, and position on topics.
About a week ago, I said to my daughter, “That was my song when I used to club.” She said, “What? You used to club?” I said, “Yes, all the time in my 20s and younger 30s.” You would have thought that I revealed that I used to have two heads or something with the shock on her face. After I dropped her off from school, I realized that my child only knows “Mommy” and not “Lisa.” Make sense? The “monster” that you described as your child is actually your child’s personality and not your “baby's” emerging temperament any longer. My daughter was observing Lisa's personality and not her "Mommy."
How do you deal with the change in personality?
Carefully, and your directives will help to develop it properly. You are the key person to aid in your child's transition into adulthood. This includes monitoring how they understand themselves which will structure their autonomy in the world. This learning fosters a developmental process that allows your children the freedom to make positive choices toward who they will choose to be in life. Each teachable moment will be beneficial to their growth. You can provide your child with guidance while he or she is being a “monster” as it occurs. You see, some kids lack the verbal ability to express themselves verbally, but act out their feelings and frustrations by being oppositional, or just difficult to manage. You, however, can be one step ahead of your child's monstrous behaviors. Below are my suggestions to parents beginning with a topic that many people dislike discussing, but it is necessary to build strong kids and that is discipline.
What is the fear about disciplining children? Many people are either afraid to implement discipline into their parenting, or even talk about it. A child void of discipline and structure can lead to poor behavioral control. This happens due to no consequences or corrective actions are being implemented to restructure wrongdoing.
I speak to parents who are against using a type of discipline to teach their children better ways of handling situations that need correction. Options offered are punishment, time-out or a loss of privileges. Remember, discipline is love and you must provide consequences for poor actions to your children as needed. If you do not structure your child’s behaviors, then you may not be teaching them to become responsible adults. Asserting that type of authority over your child does not equate to verbal or physical abuse. You may not abuse your children under any circumstances, but you can teach them to obey rules using a corrective action plan of your choice, to improve obedience.
When my oldest daughter had Senior night for varsity basketball in high school, her academic accomplishments were announced to the audience. After the game, a gentleman walked up to me with his daughter and he asked,
“How did you get such a good daughter?”
His question caught me off-guard, and I stared at him for a few moments. I politely asked him, “Are you serious?” He said, “Yes” with his daughter listening in the background. I quickly responded, “Discipline.” He said, “Is that all it took?” I said, “Yes and high expectations.” For example, I tell all of my kids that unless a subject is extremely hard and tutoring is needed, then my expectation is that they all bring home As and Bs. My job is to work to take care of you, and your job is to make good grades to give you more options in your future. This man looked at me, then looked at his daughter and said, “Ok thank you.” Then, he politely walked off with his child.
Sometimes discipline also means being creative because your little “monster” is also intelligent and thinks well outside of the box. As. your child ages, your disciplinary strategies will need to change, and they need to hurt to teach lessons. Say this with me,
“Discipline is supposed to hurt!”
In order for your discipline to be meaningful to your child, it must disable their thoughts about repeating the behavior. My parents used to say, “This is going to hurt me more than it hurts you?” That is a very true statement; one that I did not believe until I had my own kids. No caring parent wants to see their kids suffer, but you must discipline them correctly in order for a behavior to change. Here’s an example:
Parent: You may not drive your car for two weeks, catch the school bus.
Child: (Protests) Ok and walks off mad. Asks friends for a ride to school in the morning.
Parent: Sees child getting a ride to school from a friend. Parent extends the punishment to 3 weeks.
Child: Attempts to have friends pick up for school again.
Parent: Silently contacted the other parent to prevent their child from picking up his or her child from school.
Child: Gets upset but is on the school bus for the next 3 weeks.
Parent: Has a conversation with child, allows child to drive to school again.
Any mouthing off or back talk extends the punishment. You must stick to your own rules and not be tempted to change the terms based on feeling sorry for your child. Remain consistent and do not give in to their demands. You are teaching your child how to behave and if you give in it their protests, it shows them how manipulation can work to their benefit.
That is not the lesson that you want to teach your child. Children easily learn how to manipulate their parents, and when it works your disciplinary tactics prove useless. Thus, your child becomes at-risk for advanced behavioral concerns because you taught them that their misconduct is acceptable.
Go away from your child when he or she is preying on your heartstrings. My kids hate my punishments and I know it. Secretly, I dislike them too because I’d rather play with them or go places, but I do not allow fun when they are being punished. When I do feel myself having some “extra” empathy for them, I walk away and say to myself, “Lisa, you are raising adults.” Then, I go and find their baby pictures as a reminder that they are my babies and discipline is loving them.
I also look in the mirror and consider my own feelings. I encourage you to do this as well. it helps with understanding why you may feel the need to loosen your boundaries or discipline, and how it will assist your child to grow. Self-reflection can also allow you to understand where you have gone wrong in your discipline. Typically, my response to myself is, "No, early reduction in my punishment will not help my child." Or, "I should not have said yes to XYZ." Then, I explain why I need to say no next time, and stick to my guns and make my kids abide by my rules. Here are a few ways to consider your own feelings. For example,
“Is my child becoming a "monster" because I allow it?”
“Do I let behaviors continue because I do not know how to correct them?”
“Am I too tired to deal with my child’s behaviors?”
“Am I afraid of my child?”
“Does my child have a disability and is unable to behave, so I let the behaviors go?”
“Am I passive my child?”
"Am I just, unconcerned?"
How else does self-reflection help? It will assist you with taking responsibility that you may not have noticed, for your child’s behaviors. It is ok to pinpoint where we go wrong as parents, or where we believe that we can be more effective in our practices. It helps to write down where you can fix your own tactics, and how you will replace them with new strategies. I appreciate parenting groups a lot because you can learn from other parents a variety of techniques to use to aid in structuring your child’s behavior. For example, my children were always on a schedule from the time that their little bodies could tolerate that structure. They knew what to expect, even on the weekends. Our structure left no questions pertaining to what should happen in our household. We added limits and boundaries, and had many conversations about how to make improvements to their choices, even when in trouble. Self-refection allows answers to come to you without judgements which aids in determining the qualities that you want to instill into your children.
Effective communication is a tactic that can be used to ensure that your messages are received, understood, and acted upon by your children. When appropriate, allow them to exchange ideas with you. I asked my son recently, “So, what type of punishment do you think should happen,” when he did something that was incorrect. He told me his ideas, and we were able to exchange our thoughts, and agree upon a form of punishment that allowed all of us to be satisfied. You may not always have this agreement and believe me; my own kids protest certain methods, but I have learned over time to stick to my plan. You also do not have to include your kids in their punishments; it is all about what works for. your child, and your household.
Your communication needs to be timely, honest, and you need to speak directly to your child with strong eye contact. This shows active listening and the ability to be stern, when necessary, with your children. The eyes can show your child that you are serious with clear and concrete verbiage.
When upset, try to slow your breathing down and take deep breaths. During times when your child acts out, I know it is difficult to think of positive things but taking deep breaths and engaging in positive thinking and statements will trick the brain into thinking that it is not as mad or upset. It works, and keep your thoughts simple and repetitive to decrease your tension. It is not easy being a parent especially when you are watching your child change. The goal is to be as calm as possible to have calm responses, even when you are at the height of your own feelings while communicating. This was always a hard skill for me to learn because I can be very loud when upset. Hey, I am human.
Set Clear Expectations
Children need to know what you expect from them. Even after implementing discipline, have a conversation about what needs to happen going forward. You, as well as your child, will know what to expect should the incident occur again.
Clear expectations teaching your child ahead of time, how to manage their own behaviors to keep them away from harm. This is also a method to encourage healthy developmental patterns and communication skills. Remain firm and focused on the opportunity to teach your child goal-setting behaviors. As your child ages, your expectations will too and the demands will increase. Knowing is half the battle, the other is young compliance to your rules versus older acting out. The younger kids understand your rules, the better off you will be before they turn into middle school "monsters." Some parents wait to set expectations until children are teenagers. I employ you not to do that because it is much, much harder to implement once those kids are as tall as you are, and physically as strong. Do it now!
Reward Your Child
We cannot be so quick to discipline our children that we forget to reward them. This does not need to happen each time a child complies with directives. Initially, you may need to reward your child more often at each step in the process while you shape their behaviors. However, you want to gradually decrease your method of positive reinforcement, or giving rewards. Children need to behave because it is the right thing to do, but not because an incentive is given.
As your positive rewards are decreased, be honest and share with your children the reason(s) why especially highlighting how proud you are of their accomplishments. You can say something to the effect of rewards not being given as often because, “You do not need them as much since you are follow the rules.” Make it a proud moment and conversation! Or, personally I would tell my children, “I am no longer rewarding you because you are supposed to behave this way on your own, and I know that you can do it.” Make your children earn your rewards!
Let’s discuss special education services to address your child’s behavioral concerns. First, I would suggest that you use my, “It’s About Time: For a Parenting Journal,” located on my website, to keep track of your child’s behaviors.
Base upon this journal, if you notice a pattern of behaviors that occur only at home and not school, or school and not home, then your challenge will be to determine the catalyst for those behaviors at those locations.
Children with less positive behaviors should have consistent behaviors concerns. If they are inconsistent, it usually means some ability to control their behaviors is present. The challenge is determining why these behaviors happen in one setting. A therapist who specializes in behavior management can assist you with learning how to handle your child’s behaviors.
Once you track the root of the problem through your journal and take steps to resolve it, then managing their behaviors in that one setting should improve. If that one setting is at school, then your child’s school will alert you if the behaviors are interfering with their educational environment. With your participation and permission, schools can put interventions in place to allow for improved management of your child’s behaviors.
These interventions must be done prior to any discussions about educational testing or other special education services. Be aware that these interventions can take much longer than you might anticipate. Pending the length of time of the behaviors, restructuring can also be time-consuming. I encourage you to allow the school the time allotted needed to put those procedures in place, as long as it makes sense to you.
Your child's school will only request educational testing from the special education team when all interventions have failed over a period of time, to improve your child’s behaviors. Or, when they have enough evidence or data to show that despite all of the interventions, your child continues to engage in negative behaviors. At that point, the special education team will recommend an educational evaluation or study, to determine if these behaviors are indicative of an educational disability.
For your "little monster," my best suggestion is start discipline early, even if that means in middle school. Learning starts from the time that children are born. They are cute, cuddly, and full of life, but they do grow up. We can shape the course of their behaviors by way of managing them early within their lives.
Actually, your children are not little “monsters,” even on their worst days although it may feel that way. Kids grow up and mature, and those outward behaviors will improve with your nurturing and rules. “It takes a village” is a true statement and I want you to gain confidence in knowing that there are others who can help you to raise your children. Talk with your school administrators and sports coaches. Believe me, those sports coaches want their players to behave. Contact them as needed. Extra pushups go a very long way!
The battle may seem difficult at the moment, but do not give up and remain consistent with your plan. I watched some parents give up, but I encourage you not to do that just remain diligent, consistent, and faithful to your children. Your children need you; they deserve your guidance, and you do make a difference. When my oldest daughter graduated from college, she repeated something that I had been telling her for years. It was at that moment, when she made that statement, after walking across the stage to earn her 1st college degree is when I said,
“She was listening…” All that time.