Act Your Age, or It’s Paradise Lost


John Rosemund shares some practical ways that you can re-establish your parental authority if your young child is getting out of control.

We recently kicked our 6-year-old out of the Garden of Eden for constant whining, frequent tantrums, running away in stores, and other behaviors typical of 3-year-olds. He has no developmental delays, however, and is actually fairly intelligent. The problem is getting him to act his age. Help!

I need to explain for readers what is meant by "kicking a child out of the Garden of Eden." In this case, Paradise is the child's room, and kicking the child out means to strip the room of anything that's not essential furniture and clothing. The parents then establish specific behavioral goals, which the child must attain and maintain to begin getting his "stuff" back.

I recommend this conservatively, only when a child's misbehavior is persistently beyond the borders of outrageous, and the child has failed to respond to lower-level consequences.

The behavior you describe justifies this course of action. To begin your son's rehabilitation, establish one behavioral goal, such as not hiding behind you when you are talking with another adult. Tell your son, very specifically, what you expect of him in that situation: hold your hand, stand quiet at your side, and answer the adult's questions while maintaining eye contact.

Rehearse the behavior at home. When he has the new behavior(s) pretty well "down" in practice sessions, tell him that when he's able to successfully perform them in public as well as he is performing them at home, he will get back a coveted toy.

If he makes the attempt and doesn't quite get it, go home, review his "performance, " rehearse and then try again. Keep trying until he has success. Then establish a second goal.

If he backslides with the first, he has to give that toy back and start anew. This will take time and self-discipline on your part, but perseverance will eventually carry the day.

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