KENNEBUNKPORT – The poorly behaved child, whether in kindergarten, high school or all the grades in between, is a problem for everyone.

Children with inappropriate behaviors detract attention from well-behaved kids and interfere with learning. Every other child in the classroom is robbed of good teaching tactics when a teacher is forced to respond to tantrums, bullying or vulgarity.

But how does any child become a terror? If you’re a parent of a tot, how do you make sure that you’re not raising a poorly behaved kid? Are you the designated driver in your family? Do you make the rules and make sure your children follow them?

Think about when you were young and you asked for something you just had to have. Perhaps it was a Cabbage Patch doll, a large Ben and Jerry’s cone or a later bedtime.

If you didn’t succeed with the asking, maybe you threw yourself on the floor and kicked your feet. Maybe you screamed out at the top of your lungs and cried and cried.

Depending on how your parents reacted to your tantrum, your behavior either stopped or became a pattern.

If you got what you wanted, you now knew that a tantrum equals success. In fact, maybe as an adult you still have tantrums. If you were unsuccessful, you probably gave up acting so childishly.

Let’s imagine a boy named Daniel, who is 3. He’s an adorable little guy with dark hair and eyes. Usually he’s a dear, but occasionally he acts like any other kid – defiantly. His daddy and mommy tell him it is “chair time.” That’s his time-out spot.

One parent gets the folding chair from the front hall and sets it up in the foyer. Little Daniel climbs up on it and sulks. Three minutes later, the timer goes off and he jumps down. Nobody raises a voice and the misbehavior is forgotten. Nice work, you guys. We all need time-outs.

What works one time may not work the next. Children test their limits and try to gain control. If the adult loses her cool, the child has won. If the adult gives in, the child won. Remember that no child, not even a teen, wants control. It’s very scary to know that the adults in your life have no clue how to control you.

“Stop me,” he says when he’s pushing the limit further.

When behaviors are completely out of control, the child can’t turn back. Now everyone thinks he’s a terror. Labels are thrown around and alternative school programs are discussed. He’s destined to be like another child we can imagine named Billy.

No one knew how to control Billy. When he asked for anything, he got it. If he didn’t, all hell broke loose. So Billy was given whatever toy he wanted, and whatever food he wanted.

He decided on his own bedtime, decided what he wore, and where he wanted to go. Oh, his parents tried a little, but they were never united in their rules and never followed through with their threats.

“We don’t know what to do with him. He never listens,” they would say. He was 4 years old.

When Billy was in elementary school, he spent an increasing amount of time sitting in the principal’s office for poor behavior in class. Other mothers heard stories about Billy and didn’t want him invited to their home for play dates or birthday parties.

The school psychologists and counselors recommended an evaluation, but no real documented disabilities were found. There was no attention disorder. Billy grew older and his misbehaviors more serious. His behaviors were too well ingrained and his parents weren’t going to take charge now.

In high school he was put in an alternative class, where he learned more poor behaviors.

Billy didn’t ask to be a discipline problem. He didn’t lie there in his crib deciding which road he’d take and choose the difficult-child role. His parents led him onto that road every time they gave in – every time they were too lazy to stick to clear rules and consistent consequences.

Billy’s parents forgot that it was their role as the adults to steer him in the right direction. They forgot, like so many other adults, that they were the Designated Drivers.

It’s time for parents to take the wheel. Kids aren’t old enough to drive their own destiny.

– Special to the Press Herald