Sunday, March 6, 2011

Dealing with a Difficult Child

My seven-year-old is getting increasingly more independent and has a constant bad attitude about everything. I'm really hoping this is a personality thing of his and will not be repeated with every child.

He is very good at turning everything into a battle of wills. He's already beaten me in some aspects. I'm already afraid to remind him to do certain things--like his chores or practicing his piano. And heaven forbid I assign him extra work because he owes me $16 for a library book he tore! If I even approach that, I'll get screaming and yelling and throwing toys for at least a half an hour.

Yes, I admit it, my seven-year-old has me trembling in my boots. Right now, it seems that the most effective tool is to threaten to call Dad at work and tell him so that when he gets home, he can punish the child. But then I feel like my son loses respect for me when it's only Dad who can ever dole out the punishments.

Here is today's story.

As we were pulling into the driveway from church, my husband tells the kids that they need to come right in, get changed and come downstairs so we can eat our big meal before Daddy needs to head to work, as he wanted to get there early today. We go in the house and two of the kids change quickly and obey while Daddy makes the gravy and cuts the meat and I set the table. The older two boys mess around and don't change very quickly. When the food is ready, Daddy sends the four-year-old upstairs to tell the older boys to come down for dinner. The seven-year-old clobbers him for delivering the message, so Daddy goes upstairs and sends everyone down exactly how they are--the seven-year-old is still in his underwear. Daddy makes him eat dinner just like that and the seven-year-old spends the entire meal whining and griping and explaining how he "accidentally" clobbered his little brother (you know, accidentally on purpose). He was told after eating to go sit on his bed until Daddy left for work, but he threw a big tantrum about that. Finally, he settled down and admitted and apologized for what had gone wrong.

Fast forward a few hours. Daddy is now at work. We've just eaten "supper" (on Sundays, we have a big "dinner" right after church, which is at 2 pm and then supper, which is more a snack, before bed). The kids were watching a video before supper and had plans to watch a second 30-minute video after supper. When they finished eating, I sent them up to get pajamas on and brush their teeth before putting in the video. They were acting wild and silly and not doing what I asked, so I went upstairs, monitored them while they brushed teeth and changed. They continued the silliness, so I said, no video, only books. I told them to get their books, and the seven-year-old threw a massive tantrum about not getting the video, so I told him he couldn't have a book either. I read to other three out in the hallway while he was supposed to be in his bed in the room, but he spent the entire time pounding on the wall, the door, and crying that he wanted a book. When I finished reading and put the other kids to bed, he was relentless in how he wanted a book. I stood firm, but he is still up there upset that he didn't get a book and has come down several times begging for one.

So, that is typical of how he deals with these things. I have no idea how to handle it. Sometimes I feel like it is a losing battle for me. He has really become a very difficult child.

Usually he is bright and happy and a good helper and a good big brother. But try and get him to do something he doesn't want to do or reprimand him for bad behavior, and the devil he becomes.

Please tell me that some of my children will not turn into this!?


Stacy said...

I think 7 is a really difficult age. Abby was very challenging when she was 7, and I'veheard from a lot of people that they went through a hard time then as well. We jokingly said that theyw ere hard right before they got baptized- like Satan was having a good old time with them right before they made the big committment.

I don't have any magic advice, just stay firm. Iw ouldn't use the threat of calling Dad- you need to be respected as well.

Good luck.

Devin & Ruthann said...

Yeah I have no idea. Sounds like Henry's fits. I don't handle those very well and he's only 2.

Leigh said...

I suspect it may have something to do with the impending arrival of another baby. He probably knows from experience how much of your time and attention it will demand. As the second oldest child of six, I felt pushed aside a little more and a little more to make room for the new babies. I also see that he's in a new room, sharing with three siblings. Maybe he's having difficulty adjusting to having less personal space and anticipating having less personal attention. A final thought, I've read your blog for a long time now and I see the stress. I think children see the stress in parents too and take some of it on themselves. Perhaps he could talk to the school counselor? I've read your blog anonymously until now, but I felt the need to comment here because I see a lot of myself in your son's situation, so perhaps as an adult I can verbalize (or at least guess) at what's going on with him. I hope that helps a little. Best, Leigh

swedemom said...

I'm so sorry that you are going through such a tough time. It can be so exasperating when you are dealing with discipline issues. I really understand how hard it is. Believe me, I do. I have a son that is EXTREMELY stubborn and strong-willed. We have clashes virtually everyday.

Here are a few things that have made a tremendous difference with him. They may or may not work, every child is different, but hopefully they can offer a starting point for you.

1. Create a schedule. I used to have daily clashes with my son about homework and piano practice. He would cry, throw fits and just be a bear. I finally made a schedule that I printed. It changed the entire tone of our afterschool routine. Each of my kids has a certain amount of time to do their homework and other things. They also have a built-in leisure period. Homework and piano battles have disappeared.
Set a specific time for piano practice and make sure that your son understand he only needs to practice for a set time. Use a timer. It really makes a huge difference.

2. I absolutely agree with your decision to make your son pay you the $15 owed through additional work. However, did you talk with your son and did he agree to it? Kids need to have some ownership in the process. I would set a daily time for him to do the extra time, keeping it within certain time limits. You can either agree to a certain chore or make up a list of chores that he can choose from. Giving kids choices in that process helps tremendously. And when you set a schedule, kids don't feel like it is always the parent arbitrarily setting a project up. You can always blame it on the schedule.

3. The purpose of discipline is to teach. I have found that when I set out to discipline with the intent to teach, I always get much better results. I have a terrible temper and sometimes I am just mad and want to punish, which invariably backfires and causes more tension and conflict. If there are certain things that he is doing, you need to set up a plan BEFORE it happens with consequences that are possible for you to enforce. Talk to him when he is in a good mood and explain what you expect from him. Decide what consequences he'll have for not behaving. Follow-up after discipline with teaching.

I guess my point is that you need to be clear and consistent. Your son needs to know what to expect with a schedule and with clear expectations of behavior and consequences. Be sure to include positive consequences.

swedemom said...

Another thought I had was when you are deciding what work he'll do and when he'll do it, could you offer him the possibility of two big jobs or 30 small jobs? Like washing the car inside and out twice or 30 small jobs worth 50 cents apiece? Then he'd have a limit that he could reach.

I know with my kids that the more I break down the job for them and they could see the end, the more cooperative they tend to be. When they feel like they'll be in debt forever, then they balk and get upset and refuse to even start.

Good luck!

swedemom said...

Sorry, I can't seem to stop.

One final thought. My friend advised me once to remember that being stubborn and strong-willed is a special gift. Our youth today need to be stubborn and strong-willed to stand up for their beliefs and live the gospel. They have to have that inner strength to fight for what is right. So while you are despairing about your clashes, remember that this weakness also has the potential to be a great strength to your son. Be careful to cultivate it in the right direction.

Royalbird said...

Thanks for all the advice. I am clear and consistent with him and we have a routine that we follow every day, when we get up in the morning and after school and at bedtime, which is why it's so distressing that he does this--he knows what's expected, he knows what the consequences are, but he keeps choosing to disobey. We had a REALLY long talk with him Monday morning before school because he'd gotten up and done the same thing again with getting ready and I think with what we discussed, it helped because he came home from school yesterday and got right to his homework and piano practicing.

He has trouble when he has to stop doing something he loves so he can go to bed or go to school and that's often when the tantrums happen, even though he is aware of the time (I keep reminding him...five more minutes, two more minutes, etc.) and aware of what the next step is. So that's something we need to work on and maybe just talking to him about that too (which I haven't done) will help.


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