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Tame Child's Disruptive Behavior at Holiday Get-Togethers

Q: I’m already dreading the holidays. Our eight-year-old is a very excitable child and our family is expected to attend numerous holiday get-togethers at the homes of family members. When he’s included in events where there’s lots of excitement and anticipation in the air, he has a reputation for becoming very impulsive, loud, talkative, bouncy, and generally annoying. He’s also the oldest grandchild and the other, younger kids tend to follow his lead. I do not want to be constantly correcting him, but I don’t know what else to do. People tolerate him because he’s family, but I can tell that his presence and behavior often makes them feel uncomfortable. In addition, I begin to feel like everyone is watching to see how I’m going to deal with him. For me, it’s like being under a microscope. My husband gets equally frustrated, but he doesn’t know what to do either. Help!

A: Hands down, your question is the Number One Question I Am Asked Around the Holidays. I’m glad you don’t want to suffer through another discomforting family get-together. I’m heartened, in fact, to hear that there are actually parents out there, still, who think it’s important that their children learn how to properly conduct themselves in such gatherings. Lots of parents abdicate the responsibility with excuses like, “Oh, c’mon, it’s Christmas, after all!”

What does that mean? That “holiday” means parents can and should take a holiday from teaching children the whys and hows of proper behavior? A holiday from discipline? What a concept! I don’t think so. Learning how to properly behave when in a group, especially a mixed-age group, is important to a child’s overall socialization.

Besides, your son is a ringleader. He’s regarded by the younger kids as the “lead monkey,” which makes it all the more important that he be well-behaved and set a good example at family gatherings.

I’d be willing to bet that you’re waiting too long to do something about his misbehavior. By the time you act, the proverbial snowball has already rolled considerably downhill. It’s gained a lot of momentum and mass. If you’re going to do something, which I think is important, you need to put the brakes on the snowball before it makes one full turn.

As soon as you see tell-tale signs of disruptive behavior, you need to take him to the garage, car, outside (your choice, largely dependent on the weather) – a quiet, private place. Tell him that you are going to stand or sit with him until he calms down, but regardless, he’s not going back into the group for at least fifteen minutes.

At the end of the fifteen minutes, assuming he’s got both feet on the ground, take him back in and try again. But before you do, tell him that if you remove him again, it will be for at least thirty minutes. And if you need to remove him and third time, you’ll just go home where he will spend the rest of the day in his room.

The key ingredient in this recipe is “right away.” Don’t let his behavior escalate to the point where it’s disruptive. Quarantine it before it becomes discomforting to you and others.

You might say that my “solution” punishes you, too. In a sense, it does, but there’s a price to be paid for everything.

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