My 17-year-old son is an angry young man who experiences dramatic mood swings. He has become so angry in the past that he has punched and kicked holes in a wall. He calls me names, is disobedient and flips me off on a daily basis. He refuses to participate in family holiday gatherings – including his own birthday – and he is earning either failing or very low grades in school.
We recently moved in with my sister. She lives 10 miles away from his close group of friends, whom he still sees about three times a week. His father has drug and anger problems and is not present in our son’s life. There is much sorrow and instability in my ex-husband’s life, including the murder of his daughter from a different marriage. When I was attending school full-time, his father and older siblings cared for him.
I have called the police twice. They have taken my son to mental health facilities, where he acts calmly and says he will accept counseling. Both times he reverted back to his angry ways once he was home. I have also taken him to counseling, but he refuses to go back and will not have the necessary blood work done for the doctor to prescribe medication.
You will need to establish guidelines for behavior and enforce consequences when these guidelines are not met. It is not OK for him to show you disrespect and disobey rules. When he does these things, take away a privilege and make him earn back the privilege by proving that he can be respectful and follow the rules. Since his friends are important to him, you can take away his time spent with them.
It sounds like your son has been through quite a bit and has unresolved feelings about the upheaval in his life. His initial willingness to open up with counselors indicates that he wants help even though he reverts back to his unhealthy behavior once he is home.
Given the situation, consider in-home family services. An in-home specialist actually comes to your house and works with your family as a whole, while paying individual attention to family members as well. He might be more willing to talk to and open up if someone comes to him. He would not be able to opt out.
Boys Town can help you find services of this nature in your area. Just give us a call. You can also always talk to one of our counselors at 800-448-3000.
My 3-year-old son is having difficulty adjusting to the birth of his baby sister, who is 3 weeks old. He is very physical and is having frequent tantrums. His preschool teachers say he is more aggressive at school and is engaging in attention-seeking behavior. What can we do as parents to help him?
Do not ignore his new behaviors – address them like you would have before his sister was born. To help him adjust to his new sibling, focus on his role as the big brother. Point out what is “cool” about being the big brother and engage him in tasks that involve caring for his little sister.
Perhaps he can hand you a diaper when needed or help tuck his sister in bed. Give him jobs that only a big brother can do. Make him feel needed and important to the family.
While it may be difficult, share some one-on-one time with your son. Can Grandma and Grandpa babysit your daughter for an hour so you and your son can do something together? This will help reinforce that you still love him. He needs your attention, as hard as that may be right now.
My 2-year-old daughter has become very aggressive. Most often her aggressive behavior is evident when she is overstimulated. But there have been numerous other times when she has hit someone for no apparent reason. I am concerned that this is not a stage she will outgrow.
It may be most effective to teach your daughter some strategies to help her stay calm when she is overstimulated or simply upset. Though she is only 2, you can teach her this if you practice.
At a calm time when she is not upset or overstimulated, talk about being mad. Tell her that feeling angry is okay. It is a normal emotion, and even Mommy gets angry sometimes. But hitting is not okay. Tell her that when she starts to feel mad, you want her to do something else. Then describe and show her what you want her to do.
This could be finding her favorite stuffed animal and giving it a tight squeeze. It could also be blowing out her “birthday candles.” Have her hold up one finger for each year of her life. In your daughter’s case, this is two. Then have her blow out each candle one at a time. You can also have your daughter put her hands in her pockets or clasp them behind her back if she feels like hitting.
You have now told her what you don’t want her to do and you have given her options on what to DO instead. Whichever calming technique you choose, you must practice it with your daughter frequently. In doing so, she will more likely enact the appropriate response to anger rather than the inappropriate one such as hitting.
If you can tell when she is about to lose control and hit, gently prompt her and show her one of the calming techniques you have practiced. In essence, you are heading off bad behavior before it happens. Each and every time she uses one of the new strategies, praise her. Be enthusiastic and sincere.
If she doesn’t use one of her new calming techniques and begins to hit, physically intervene. Gently take her aside, calm her down and re-teach one of the strategies. Then have her practice it.
This process will take time. Do not expect immediate results, and don’t be discouraged if she relapses. And don’t let her fall back into a hitting behavior.
For the past two years, my 15-year-old son’s behavior has deteriorated. His teachers are concerned about his academic performance. He has great difficulty remaining focused and on-task. I learned last month that he is part of a criminal gang. His aggressive behavior is difficult to control. What can I do?
You state that your son’s behavior changed two years ago. Were there any major changes in his life at that time? Your son is making poor choices. If he is involved with a gang, it could be influencing his decisions and making it difficult for him to turn his life around.
You need to gain support wherever you can. For example, have you contacted the school’s staff and informed them of your concerns? Schools have excellent resources with on-site counselors and school psychologists who can meet with your son during school hours. They also can be another set of eyes and ears for you by monitoring his behaviors more closely during school hours.
If you have not already, we strongly encourage you to start outpatient counseling for your son. If you feel that he won’t go with you, reach out to the school for support.
You state that he has difficulty studying and remaining focused. This isn’t surprising, as he probably doesn’t have school on his mind given his gang involvement. He needs a neutral third party with whom he can discuss his concerns.
My 6-year-old son has recently been exhibiting negative behaviors such as throwing things, being mean to his sisters and ignoring my instructions. I have tried behavior modification techniques that have been successful in my work as a mental health specialist with other children, but they are ineffective with my own son. He only sees his father once a week, and I am wondering if this may be at the root of these behavioral concerns. What can I do to help him?
You have cause to be concerned about your son’s recent decline in behavior. When a normally well-behaved child begins to have behavioral problems, it can be an indication of deeper-rooted issues such as unresolved feelings regarding upheaval in the family structure. However, while your son’s behavior may in part be attributed to a lack of time with his father, it is most likely not the sole cause of this turnaround.
There comes a time in a child’s development when it becomes important for him or her to identify with the parent of the same sex. This does not mean that the time and care the parent of the opposite sex offers is unimportant. It just means that he is looking to relate to someone like him such as his father.
It sounds like your son is the only male in the family structure. This could be difficult for him to understand. But instead of guessing what he is feeling, you have to first find out what exactly he is feeling and then begin the necessary steps to help get things back to normal.
First, sit down with him and ask him to put into his own words what is going on. Guide the conversation by noting how he used to behave well and how things have changed. Explain that he needs to tell you what is wrong before you can help him change things for the better. Second, as he begins to tell you his feelings, let him know that it is OK to have these feelings; however, responding with negative behaviors is not acceptable. There are better ways to handle confusing or upsetting feelings.
In regard to his father, ask him about his feelings and what in particular he would like to happen in his relationship with his father. How are things when he is with his dad? What do they do together? Keep in mind that you are listening to his feelings. This does not mean that you will grant all that he wants or that you are accepting his behaviors that have resulted. You are merely asking him to put into his own words what he thinks and how he feels.
Don’t make empty promises. Reassure him that you will do what you can to make things better as long as he is willing to try.
Next, talk to his father and come up with a parenting plan. Whatever you decide must be reasonable and consistent. Consistency is vital, as it provides stability for your son. Once you understand what occurs while he is visiting his father, you will have an idea of what needs to change so that the connection with his son can be strengthened.
Children often become defiant as a way of expressing their frustration and to seek attention. This could certainly change once your son feels that he matters to his father – that there is interest there and commitment in the relationship. Children value time and attention most when it comes to interacting with a parent they don’t see that often.
Your son should not feel like he has to fix the relationship. His dad has to make an effort to improve the relationship, realizing that in doing so the result will be a happier child and parent.
Your son throwing things when he does not get his own way could be a result of a challenging father-son relationship. But it could be for other reasons as well. Sometimes children act out because they want what they want when they want it. They think that negative attention is better than no attention.
Try talking to your son about why he chooses to respond this way. Explain that doing so will only result in the opposite of what he wants – that he will not get his way when he acts inappropriately. The same principle holds true for being mean to his sisters and not listening to you. Ask him how he would feel if someone treated him the way he treats his sisters or if someone would not listen to him when he was telling her something important.
Try some role-playing. Ask him to put into words how he feels when he is treated unkindly or is ignored. This will show him that his actions affect others and have consequences.
While your son is working on his relationship with his father, you must address his negative behavior head-on. There needs to be consequences for his actions. Involve your son by having him contribute possible consequences. If they are appropriate, enforce them. This way when he loses a privilege (consequence) that he agreed upon, he will understand that you are not punishing him without a reason.
Perhaps a chart system would be a good visual reminder of rewards and consequences. He will be able to see, with either stickers or stars, when his behavior is appropriate and benefits him and when it is inappropriate and negatively impacts his daily life. It is important to BE CONSISTENT. His antics cannot pay off.
My 13-year-old grandson lives with his grandfather and myself. He is completely out of control. He will not shower or maintain basic good hygiene. He refuses to do simple chores around the house. He has a foul mouth and calls us names I can’t even write down. We are in our 80s and are unable to physically control him. Is Boys Town willing to take him in?
Your grandson is struggling with out-of-control behaviors to the point where intervention is needed. If you have not done so already, have your grandson evaluated for mental health conditions. Has he had substance abuse treatment? Does he receive counseling, or is he on medication? Do you go to family counseling? Have you tried any special academic programs or day treatment programs?
It sounds like you want your grandson to be placed outside the home. It is important to exhaust all local resources before placing your son at Boys Town. There are documents you will need to gather before going through the admissions process. These are a psychological or psychiatric evaluation performed within the last six months by a psychologist or psychiatrist; pertinent school information such as transcripts, individualized educational plans and behavioral reports; and a letter from the youth explaining why he wants to come to Boys Town.
This letter needs to include at least one personal goal that he wants to work on while he is at Boys Town (anger issues, academics, coping skills, etc.). This letter usually is the most difficult thing to obtain because many kids do not want to be placed outside of their homes.
Explain what his alternatives are if he doesn’t participate in the program. Once you’ve sent in all the information, the process takes about 30 days if the youth qualifies. Visit our website at www.boystown.org to learn more about the residential program.
It is important that you take care of yourself at this difficult time. Do you have someone to offer support? Though we are not right there with you, we are here 24/7 to support you and your family. Call us anytime at 1-800-448-3000.
My son is hitting and pushing at school. His teacher administers time-outs at school. At home I have used reward charts and have given him time-outs. Nothing seems to work.
We often tell our children to not continue negative behavior, but we forget to tell them what positive behaviors we want to see instead. When your son becomes frustrated or angry with others, he hits or pushes.
- Tell him you would like him to keep his hands to himself and use his words to express his feelings. Another option is to ask his teacher for help. Teach him that whenever someone frustrates him he needs to put his hands in his pockets. If he does not have pockets, he needs to put his “handcuffs” on, meaning that he puts his hands behind his back and holds his wrists.
- Give him a good kid-related reason to do what you are teaching. Point out the benefits to him for doing it this way.
- Have him practice. Demonstrate what you mean. Check his understanding by having him demonstrate it back.
For example, take a situation that has happened in the past at school in which your son hit or pushed a classmate. Then show your son the new way to handle the conflict. Practice daily at home because the more he becomes familiar with this new way, the more likely he will be to use it in the heat of the moment. Praise him when he uses it, and be patient. It takes time to replace old behaviors with new ones.
It is good that you are using consequences. The more immediately that they occur after the infraction, the more likely your son will see the connection between poor choices and negative consequences. A time-out is an appropriate consequence. We suggest that you fill the time-out with practicing his new behavior because consequences paired with teaching is an effective way to bring about change.
My 11-month-old daughter seems to be overly aggressive. She loves to take a swing at everything. When she doesn’t want any more food or drink, she swings her hand. She tosses her toys and hits people in the face when they pick her up. She pulls her own hair and even hits herself in the head, especially when she is frustrated. I have disciplined her for hitting others, but what do I do about her other volatile behaviors? Is this normal behavior for her age?
Taking a swing “at everything” is not unheard of at this age. However, if it is allowed to continue it will cause problems in other areas. It sounds like she does this rather than using her words, and that she does it both when she is happy and sad. How is her verbal development? Does this action usually have words attached to it?
If you have not already, visit with her pediatrician about her behavior and your concerns. We always encourage parents of young children to visit with their children’s doctor to rule out a medical reason for a child’s behavior. Meanwhile, when she lashes out or tries to pull her hair, take hold of her hands and use words to describe a feeling she is probably feeling at that time. This will help her relate her feelings to words rather than actions. The goal is to help her develop the habit of using words instead of physical actions.
My 15-year-old son is failing many of his classes and does not care. When his teachers offer to help him make up missed work after school, he doesn’t show up. I have been in consistent contact with the school’s staff, and I have taken away privileges like his phone, TV, gaming system, etc. Nothing seems to work.
He is disrespectful, leaving the house without permission and calling me names. And now he is becoming physically aggressive. I even had to call the police when he attacked me one time. I am a single mom without family support. We do see a psychologist and a psychiatrist once a month. What else can I do?
We are glad you are accessing help for you and your son. We encourage you to also call the police when your son leaves your home without permission. You are responsible for his safety until he is an adult. If he leaves, call the police and report him as missing. The police will pick him up if they see him and return him to you. This will hopefully send the message that it is not OK to leave without your permission.
There are agencies that help at-risk youth. Programming includes mentoring, tutoring and independent living skills. Often there are also substance abuse prevention programs.
For yourself, seek parent support groups in your community so you know that you are not alone in your struggles with your son. Parents in these groups have often experienced what you are going through. They can offer you suggestions that helped their child, which you in turn can use with your son. We can provide referrals for locating these services in your area.
My 10-year-old is very defiant. I have tried rewards and taking away privileges, but neither seems to work. He does not care if he loses privileges. He is becoming physically aggressive. I have tried counseling, but it has been ineffective. What else can I do?
There is a technique you could try called Corrective Teaching. Giving consequences is part of this practice, but it also includes teaching appropriate behaviors. This is an element that is often neglected with a strict reward or punishment approach.
Children often know what they are NOT supposed to do, but they are unclear as to what their parents expect of them instead. Corrective Teaching combines clear messages with consequences, and allows for opportunities to practice the appropriate skills to help parents respond to problem behaviors.
First, describe the problem behavior to your son and firmly tell him to stop. Give a negative consequence, either taking away a privilege or assigning a chore. Next, describe the positive behavior he should use instead of the misbehavior. Have him practice the positive behavior you have described. If he practices the desired behavior with sincere effort, he can earn back part of a privilege. This “carrot” should motivate him to continue to replace poor behavior with appropriate behavior.
Do not expect immediate results. This will take time, patience and encouragement. In the meantime, if you are interested in counseling or parent support groups, we have a database of referrals. We are also available 24/7. Call us at 1-800-448-3000. You can also visit a section on parenting.org called “Social Skills.”