S.O.S.: What Every Parent of an Out of Control Child from Toddler to Teen Should Know

Not long ago, the movie She’s Out of Control came on TV. It has Tony Danza in it as a widowed father to two girls, one in high school and the other still in middle school. The elder daughter, played by Ami Dolenz, gets a makeover, and suddenly, the phone is ringing off the hook, and every boy in town wants to take her out.

I made my husband watch this guilty pleasure of mine from the 80s. “I hope our girls are never like that,” he said.

Honey, maybe you should ask my parents how I was at that age.

Whether you were a model citizen in your home growing up or a wild one, you may come face to face with karma as your children grow. For some of us, this will be during the toddler stage. When your 4 year old is out of control, it’s a little easier to handle. But getting help for an out of control teenager is a bit different.

I’d like to help all the mamas that read my posts by covering placement for troubled kids of all ages as well as free programs for out of control teenagers. So look below for your questions answered and what to do to get through this.

What to do with a child that is out of control?

To answer this question, it depends on the age of your child. With a young child like a 4 year old out of control, you will take a much different approach than you would with a teenager.

Young children are a bit easier to work with in this regard. You’ll want to speak in a quiet voice while staying calm. Make it more of a monotone with no inflection and hold it steady.

kids having fun

Then you’ll want to redirect their behavior. Small children and even those that are elementary-aged are easier to send in the right direction. Let your child know what they’re doing and why they shouldn’t do that. For example, if your son keeps throwing a ball at his sister and they’re not engaged in a game of Catch, then you should redirect him on what he should be doing instead.

“We shouldn’t hit Sister with the ball. Let’s throw it to her instead, and she can throw it back. Look how much fun that is!”

Tempting as it is to send him to his room or put him in time out, hold off briefly. When you punish him immediately without giving him the chance to correct his behavior, it could blow up in your face. See if your chat about not throwing the ball at his sister helps first before following up with a punishment.

Also, please know that it is totally OK to take a minute or two to collect yourself. I will get angry when my eldest daughter teases her sister until she cries. I feel like picking on her right back, but that’s not the solution. So, I take a moment to cool down and then speak to her about her behavior.

Children will develop self-control over time. Some will take more time to do this than others. But the best way to help younger children from going out of control is to teach and encourage self-control by managing your own emotions at the moment.

Remember, kids mirror what they see. They want to be just like us. That can be an excellent thing when we model good behavior. But if we’re up to no good, guess what? They’ll copy that too.

My youngest is perhaps the sweetest child on the planet. She’s very loving and kind. But when she gets upset, she will throw a fit. So I sit with her and talk to her. Sometimes I have to leave the room because I feel myself getting ready to burst. But I tell her, “Mommy is going to give you a moment to calm down, and then we can talk.”

Sometimes she still screams, but usually, it will work. When I approach her again, I remind her that she is completely allowed to feel angry about something. However, she needs to learn how to express her anger appropriately.

“I know you were angry with your sister, and you’re allowed to be. She was not nice when she called you a name. But it is also not nice to throw things at people when we’re mad at them. What could we do differently next time to express our anger safely?”

When she’s calm, and I speak to her like this, she will tell me she should get one of her fidgets, a stress ball, or a stuffed animal to squeeze until she can talk, not shout, about what has made her angry.

I try to keep calm when I’m angry, too, so my kids can see what it looks like from the outside. But I’m not perfect. There are times when I’ve mentally gone to the zoo, and afterward, I will sit my kids down, apologize for them having to witness my anger, and tell them what I should have done instead.

Now, all this lays a great foundation as your kids get bigger. But sometimes, even the best of parents can find themselves with an out of control teen. So, what do you do about one of those? Read on!

Who to call if my child is out of control?

Now, you do have options if your child is out of control. But it will depend on what they’re up to as to who you’re going to call. And it’s not Ghostbusters, just so you know (though it may seem like you need an exorcist).

You may want to call programs for out of control teens in your local area. Just search for that with “near me” tacked onto the end, and you should find out more. The principal of your school might be another person that can help direct you to other programs that can help your out of control child.

Out of control teenager legal options will also depend on what your child is doing. You may need to call the police on your child. But which behaviors would warrant reporting to the law?

  • Safety issues and criminal behavior

If your child is endangering themselves or someone else, or they’re committing significant property damage, you need to call the police. Just to be clear, if your teenager utters the mother of all curses at your and then throws a book clear across the room into a wall, that’s not an issue for the cops to be called.

Here’s one story:

I have a friend named Ursula (yes, like Phoebe’s twin on Friends!), and when her son was a teenager, he was a bit troubled. Ursula and her husband did everything they could to be good parents but their son, Mike, was incredibly defiant. Mike took a tire iron, smashed a collection of Wedgewood ceramics in their formal dining room, got high on drugs, and stole his dad’s expensive tools to sell them for said drugs.

Once he stole from his dad, though, the police were called. It was the wake-up call Mike needed. Mike is now an adult, has worked very hard to control his behavior, and now guess what he does? He’s a lawyer that volunteers with troubled children on the weekends.

Ursula’s situation is really extreme, and most of us won’t have to go to these levels to correct bad behavior. But some of us might.

  • Protect your family

Remember, when your child behaves criminally, this is a job for the police. You can absolutely give them a warning and tell them if they do it again, the police will be called. Make good on it too.

If you have other children in the house and your out of control teen is damaging things and being dangerous, you have an obligation to call the police. How would you feel if your other child were injured or even killed from these actions? Even if your out-of-control child doesn’t harm their siblings, they will live with this trauma forever and may even have problems of their own.

  • Report illegal behavior

Children that get into drugs or attempt to fence stolen property are in danger. Drugs can lead to prison time, especially if they’re dealing with it. Depending on the drug, they can overdose and die. I’ve seen too many people lose their lives from drug overdoses, and I can tell you, it hurts so much.

You can tell your child that you can’t stop them from getting high but that if you find drugs on your property, you’re calling the police. And if they are stealing things and you find stolen property, you’ll be calling the police for that too.

Can I have my child removed from my house?

No, you can’t just throw your child out of the house. They’re considered minor.

gavel courtroom

You will need to go to family court in your state. You can find more information about PINS petitions, which means you can request your child’s supervision or treatment. This process will vary by state, so you will have to see what happens where you live.

Typically, the court will set an attorney for the child and the parents even if you can’t afford it. As this is all being considered, your child will live with you unless the court feels this is not the best arrangement. Your child may be put in temporary care with a relative, foster care, or even a group home. After the hearing, you may be able to put your teen in treatment or foster care, depending on the situation.

Where to send a defiant teenager?

There are definitely programs for out of control teens. Among them, you have boot camp. It’s very military in style and focuses on drills and intimidation to scare your kids straight. But suppose you feel that’s too much. In that case, others have a military-style structure along with an educational environment, so your bad teen learns leadership, builds confidence and respect, and becomes disciplined.

Here’s my recommendation:

Wilderness camp is best for behavioral disorders and those with substance abuse issues. It’s a bit less structured than the military-style programs but still very effective. Kids here will learn how to accept responsibility for actions and discover new ambitions that will help them become productive adults.

Therapeutic camps are designed to be the opposite of the scare tactics in military schools. Some offer a ranch setting where kids learn responsibility, communication, patience, and other essential traits to get on the right path. They also provide accredited high school education so your child will work on their behavior and their studies.

And finally, if your child is using drugs or has a mental disorder like depression or anxiety, a residential treatment center is the best place for them. They’re staffed with therapists and psychologists that can help curate a treatment plan that meets your child’s needs.

Residential treatment centers get your child away from the distractions and triggers in their daily lives and help them work out those struggles. For kids on drugs, I highly recommend this type of intervention. It could save their life.

A friend of mine who I will call “Daisy” to protect her privacy was even wilder than I was in high school. In fact, my parents forbid me from hanging out with her. I was so mad at the time, but I was so grateful months later. Daisy started doing cocaine and had been hanging out with a dealer. The cops came when she was at his house, and she almost got in trouble for all of it.

They made a deal and sent her to residential treatment. Before they could take her, though, Daisy climbed out her bedroom window and went wilder than ever. She used a fake ID to get into a 21+ club and did a dangerous mixture of heroin and cocaine. Some woman found her in the bathroom and got her help. She was thankfully revived and brought to treatment. She stayed there for over 6 months and came out of it so happy and full of life.

Now Daisy has a family and a great career. She often gives talks at local middle and high schools to help kids avoid what she went through.

In short, there is hope for your out of control child. But you need to keep your head on straight. That means staying calm, following through with what you say, and reaching out for that help because it’s there for the taking should things get crazy.

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