It is unusual to see a child who lives in a home where there are reasonable rules and who is following those rules but having severe behavior problems at school or in the community. Putting this another way, children who cooperate with and get along with their parents seldom get into repeated trouble away from home. Youngsters first learn to cooperate and get along at home; and if they do not, they likely have serious problems away from home.
The first question to ask if your child exhibits this sign is whether you have rules and expectations for your child. Far too many youngsters are left to fend for themselves. Basically they are allowed to do whatever they want, whenever they want, with whomever they want so long as they do not bother anyone at home. They have few rules and little supervision. That combination is a nearly certain way to end up with a child with serious behavior problems. Children who have not been taught to behave do not behave very well.
Next, children develop serious behavior problems in homes where the rules are on-again, off-again. Sometimes they can do as they please and other times nothing they do is right. Sometimes their parents ignore their behavior and sometimes the reactions the children get are out of proportion to anything they did or did not do. This pattern is often seen in homes where there is violence, alcohol and drug abuse, adults moving in and out, or illegal activity. It also is seen in homes where the adults themselves have serious behavior problems. There, children learn to behave just like one or both of their parents.
Alternatively, youngsters with this type of maladjustment sometimes grow up in homes where the rules and expectations are simply unreasonable. They cannot follow the rules and cannot get along. Also, the same difficulty comes up if a child has other problems keeping him from being able to do what is expected. For example, learning or serious emotional problems can keep children from doing what people expect. In this case, the expectations are actually unreasonable for the specific child.
If your child is not following your rules, these questions need answered.
Do you have rules and expectations your child understands and can follow?
Do the rules stay the same, without changing unpredictably?
Does your child get positive feedback when he follows your rules?
Does not following your rules consistently lead to negative feedback your child can understand and handle?
Discipline needs to be there; but it needs to be consistent, in proportion to what happened, and not just another version of the tough guy approach. It is often better to ask your child what should happen when he does not follow one of your family’s rules. Youngsters often have suggestions that are both reasonable and appropriate. Family discussions about rules also can serve as an important part of your child’s learning to cooperate and get along.