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Young Boys are Terrors at Home but Sweet as Pie With Others


I have a 4-year-old boy and a 6-year-old boy who think they run our house. They are very disrespectful at home, and also are a little out of control when we are out in public with us, which can be quite embarrassing. But at school or with others, they are very well-behaved. We are very frustrated and feel like we are failing as parents because they just don't listen and constantly do whatever they want at home. We’ve used several different discipline methods, such as timeouts and removing privileges, but nothing seems to work. Any advice would be helpful.



First, a positive note: It sounds as if your sons are capable of controlling their behaviors because they don't act out at school or around other people. This means you should be able to use preventive teaching to focus on the positive behaviors you want to see from them.

We often encourage parents to take a parenting class in order to “tweak” the parenting skills they already have and perhaps learn some new ones. This also helps parents learn how to create a united front so they are on the same page when it comes to effectively parenting their kids. 

In your situation, we would recommend going back to square one. What we mean by this is taking some time and identifying your specific expectations for your boys and their behaviors. These should include school performance, responsibilities around the home and using social skills, especially ​the basic skills like “Following Instructions,” “Accepting Consequences” and “Asking Permission.” As you identify your expectations, write them down. Next, create a list of privileges that are available to your boys. These should include access to all electronics such as video games, television, tablets, etc., as well as playing with friends and participating in activities outside the home. Then explain to your boys how your expectations and the consequences are connected.  Tell them they can enjoy their privileges if they meet your expectations; when they don’t meet your expectations, they will lose their privileges.

Prepare for this conversation ahead of time, and choose a neutral time and a distraction-free area to talk with them so they understand. Keep it simple and straightforward.
For this strategy to work, you must be consistent with your expectations and your consequences. At first, your boys’ behaviors may get worse because they are not used to your firm reinforcement of the rules. But if you stick with it, they will eventually learn that there are consequences for all their behaviors, both positive and negative. They will understand that rules and expectations are directly connected to privileges, and that if they want something, they have to earn it.