If you have lost control of your child or your household (like the rest of us!), you know how hard it is to get it back. Each time you try to enforce a rule, it’s ignored or your child creates such a backlash that it feels pointless. Who wants to invite more stress in their lives? Who wouldn’t give up and just learn to get by and muddle through?
A child’s backlash is a good thing; it’s evidence that you are gaining authority.
This seems counterintuitive, but the more your child fights back, and the more you limit it and recover your authority, the more you will be able to bring order in the home. Fighting back against new rules and boundaries is a normal psychological response that psychologists call an “extinction burst.” We all do this. It has been measured through behavioral observations of people of all ages and has nothing to do with troubled behavior. The term “extinction burst” is even used by dog and horse trainers to describe a behavioral change in training!
It goes like this: parents set a rule and start enforcing it, and one of two things happen: 1) an explosion, or 2) things are OK for a little while, and then an explosion. Psychological studies show that the extinction burst peaks when a child no longer fight back, they lose their own power and change their behavior. Look at this diagram: The line indicates level of bad behavior. When a rule is enforced (intervention), the explosion peaks then it falls off quickly.
If you can stick it out through that explosion, you will see the backlash extremes decrease over time, and the episodes become fewer and farther between. Be prepared, you might need to face several extinction bursts. Little by little, simple rules will be followed, or they’ll be followed most of the time (you will always be tested). But by this point, enforcement becomes easier.
Plan for explosions ahead of time and recruit help for a strong firm protective wall.
For explosive and aggressive children, it can be scary or dangerous to be on the receiving end because you know about the potential for violence and harm. Prepare family members and others, and explain how the explosion will be handled and how everyone will be kept safe. If you can stick it out emotionally, you will see the backlash extremes decrease over time, and the episodes become fewer and farther between. It works, but one must be like a rock and have support.
Rules for house rules:
- Strictly Enforced
Run a tight ship at home, but only have a few hard-and-fast rules, maybe 2 or 3, as this is easier to enforce. Pick the rules carefully because they need to make sense and feel fair to everyone, and they need to be about safety and family wellbeing, examples: we will eat every dinner together as a family; curfew is 8 pm; if there is any outburst, the person must stay in their room for 15 minutes…
You may be surprised how relieved everyone will be after living through chaos for so long! They will be thankful someone is finally in charge instead of the troubled child. When I put on my armor and set about getting my power back, it was exhausting and very stressful. Consistent order will bring a sense of security and safety, but use common sense and be flexible, set aside some rules temporarily if your child is in crisis or the family is too stressed at the moment. Be very strict on only a few critical things, for example: have zero tolerance for violence against others (and pets).
You earn more respect the more you are in control of yourself and can better ensure everyone’s peace of mind.
You are the king or queen of your home, it is not a democracy. Make reasonable and fair rules, enforce the rules with an iron hand at first, and then relax bit by bit, and live in a peaceable kingdom (with problems you can handle).