Tammy Jacobs, L.C.S.W., describes how a parent can overcome and control her wild child.
Tammy Jacobs, L.C.S.W.:
I often have parents come to my office complaining that they have these wild children. The word that I prefer is intense because these parents, what they don’t see is that even with all this energy and this wildness that they have, it’s an intensity that’s a life force. So if we can figure out how to take that intensity and channel it into being good, it really helps them flourish.
So let me give you a few examples because there is a variety of different kinds of wild children. The first example would be simply, let’s say you are at home and your children are eating dinner at the table and whether they want to be smacking their food or throwing their food or purposely wanting to spill their milk, in that moment what you can do is when they are following and using the table manners that you like, that’s when you point them out.
There’s another method that you can use is you can hijack them into success and what I mean by that is, one time with my own children when they were little, what I did is they were chewing with their mouths, smacking their food, eating with their hands; what I did is hijack them to success by saying, “Right now, wow, I see you really working on what table manners could I use right now.” In that instant they closed their mouth, they picked up their fork because they wanted to own that success.
So that was literally like hijacking them into being successful. They finished the meal using their forks and using table manners. At that moment I figured hey, why not take this a stretch further and said, “So, why don’t you guys, what table manners are you using right now?” And they were able to then list through . . . “Any others? Which ones are you using right now? Which one is your sister using right now?” And being able to not only then speak upon, “Hey, here I am following the rules and being successful” instead of being a wild child, getting all this energy and attention to your child about following the rules correctly, instead of saying, “Stop throwing that food! You’re going to spill your milk. Stand up. You’re spilling food on your lap.” So that’s one example.
Another example is, I have a lot of parents that say, “My child just has so much energy and I just need them to be really calm, especially like going into the grocery store.” One of my children in particular, she would jump 24/7 if she could and she is up and down, up and down, up and down, up and down, which is a great use of her energy because instead she could be hitting her sister, she could be pushing me, she could be screaming. So is there a problem with her jumping up and down? You have to decide in that moment, “Is this something worth a lecture or not?”
One time we were in the store. We came up to the cashier and you could tell the cashier was kind of like, “Okay, this child is all over the counter,” and she is now on the counter pulling herself up and down. One time I just turned to her and as she’s in mid air I said, “Wow, I see you’re really thinking about not jumping up and pulling on their counter anymore.” Quickly she stopped and the cashier goes, “Hey, I like that,” and my daughter got the message that “Wow, I’m choosing not to jump anymore. My mom sees that as a great thing; the cashier sees this as a great thing and I am pretty successful,” so just in that one moment.
But instead if I would have been like, “Stop it! Stop it! You’re going to be in timeout, you know, you’re going to go to bed early.” it would have fed her and she would have wanted more and more and more and she would have jumped, who knows, she might have started throwing things, don’t know, but it took one sentence, done and over. She is on the path to success.
So these are just two examples of two types of wild children that many people have come to my office about. There’s many more depths of wild children and like the sentence that I used in the example of the one jumping up and down is, ”I see you right now thinking about not jumping up again on that counter.” Automatically what it did is it focused her in on being positive and being respectful and instead of being wild, channeling that wildness, that intensity, into being positive and successful.
About Tammy Jacobs, M.S.W., L.C.S.W.:
Tammy Jacobs is a licensed clinical social worker and child and family therapist in Mesa, Arizona. She specializes in parenting, specifically working with difficult children and teens. Tammy's number one approach is The Nutured Heart Approach developed by Howard Glasser.