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 son recently refused to take part in a cowboy day at his preschool. He was reluctant to dress in his Halloween cowboy costume (he was reluctant on Halloween as well). He became so agitated at school that his teachers had to call me to pick him up. This is unusual for him. He would not return to the classroom, but instead cried and covered his eyes because of all of the cowboy costumes in his classroom.
Every time he goes to school now, he happily announces that there will not be any cowboys there today. We had him evaluated for his behavior, but it was determined that he does not have a behavioral problem. It is a communication problem. So I know that he does not have an anxiety problem. But I still don’t know why he became so upset.
It is not unusual for young children to develop fears or phobias that though odd to an adult, are very real to the child. These fears typically go away as children age. What you need to focus on now is helping your son handle his fear of cowboys. You can do this with reassurance, understanding and patience.
Reassurance: Let your son know that it is perfectly OK to not like something that others like. When he has themed days at school, talk to him about these special days beforehand. Allow him to talk about how he feels about these days and to participate as much or as little as he likes. Do not push him or make his participation mandatory.
You will most likely see him make the adjustments that he needs so he feels good about the situation. This, in turn, will foster increased participation in different activities and events. Validate his feelings and know that his feelings can change over time.
Understanding: Try to put yourself in your son’s shoes in order to view the situation from his perspective. When he talks about this incident or others, repeat back to him what you hear him saying to make sure that you understand his feelings accurately and what exactly he meant to say. This shows that you truly want to understand how he feels and what he thinks. He will feel more secure knowing that he has your support. When he is frightened, he needs to feel that he has extra support.
Patience: Allow your son the freedom to get past this in his own time. Encourage progress you see along the way, telling him what a big boy he is becoming. Positive reinforcement will boost his self-confidence. Working through fears, remember, takes time. Afford him this time.
My 4-year-old recently threw a temper tantrum complete with yelling, crying and dropping to the floor when I did not allow her to push the cash register buttons while checking out at a store. I offered her stickers if she would get up and walk out of the store quietly. She did not. So my boyfriend, her father, picked her up and took her to the car screaming. Once at the car, I again offered her stickers if she would get into her car seat quietly. (She does not like to ride in her car seat.) She complied and thus earned the stickers.
My boyfriend feels that she should not have received anything given her poor behavior. I feel that parents should reward children for good behavior (in her case, getting into the car quickly and quietly), and ignore bad behavior (the initial temper tantrum). Who is correct?
Young children often have difficulties at stores. They want things and they are often (rightly) denied them. We can predict that this situation will likely result in a temper tantrum if we don’t do some pre-teaching about proper behavior.
Do this before you go to the store next time. Make sure you approach this subject with your daughter during a neutral time when you are not upset. Focus on what you want her TO DO and not what you don’t want her to do.
Say something like, “Honey, we are going to check out. Remember that the lady is the only one who can push the buttons. Mommy doesn’t get to and you don’t either. You can use a calculator to keep track of how many items we buy (give her a calculator from your purse).”
If she has a total at the end of the transaction, give her a high-five or a pat on the back. Praise her, saying that maybe one day she will be able to work in a store like the lady behind the counter.
You asked who was correct: you or your boyfriend. In a way, you both were. Your daughter getting into her seat quietly was good behavior and should be praised. But instead of stickers, reward her with a hug and verbal praise. Remind her that now she will be safe in the car.
Using stickers to coax her out of poor behavior may be confusing for her. If she didn’t earn them earlier for leaving the store quietly, she should not have another chance to earn them moments later.
Her father also has a point. Her temper tantrum was not acceptable, and this behavior needs to stop. Instead of just ignoring poor behavior, she should be taught a more acceptable behavior.
On the drive home or once she is at home, she should also lose a privilege that she enjoys (a negative consequence). Rather than watching her favorite cartoon, she can practice self-control strategies to use the next time she feels like throwing a temper tantrum.
Teach her to count to 10 or to take a deep breath. She can hug herself firmly to control herself. Make sure she knows that the loss of the cartoon is a result of her temper tantrum. We have to help children connect their behaviors to what happens to them as a result. That is what consequences are.
Parents are bound to disagree on discipline sometimes. But you must not disagree in front of your daughter or she will become very skillful at manipulation. Sit down together and list a few rules you want to establish for your daughter’s behavior in social settings and at home. List the desired behavior in these situations and the privileges she will earn if she meets your expectations. Also list the negative consequences she will earn if she does not. Please agree on these ahead of time as much as possible.
My 9-year-old son is very bright and is doing well academically in school. But his behavior is poor. He started out as the class clown, but now his behavior has progressed into lying and cheating. I have tried taking things away, assigning manual labor tasks, sitting him in the corner, talking to him and offering choices and consequences. Nothing seems to work. He doesn’t seem to care. The only thing I have not done is remove him from his sports teams. I prefer not to do that.
Make sure you take the opportunity to teach him whenever he misbehaves. For instance, if he comes home and says he does not have homework and then you find out that he actually does, talk to him about lying. Sit him down and briefly describe what he did wrong: “You told me that you did not have homework, but you do.” Then give him an appropriate consequence like you have been doing. Make sure that you clearly link this consequence to his misbehavior. Say something like, “Because you lied to me …”
After you have described the negative behavior and given a consequence, follow up with teaching. Tell him what you want him to do differently next time. Say something like, “Next time you have homework just tell me the truth. If you need help with it or if you need breaks, talk to me about it.”
Give him a good reason why it is important for him to tell the truth. This might sound obvious, but children aren’t programmed with reasons. Sometimes you have to explain even the simplest things to them.
If you consistently and patiently try to teach him and give him consequences without seeing any improvement, it might be time to talk to his pediatrician. There could be a medical reason for his misbehavior. Some kids who have ADHD, for example, are bright but tend to be class clowns. They also struggle with impulse control, which explains why some ADHD kids steal and lie. This does not mean that your son has ADHD, but it is a possibility. If not, your pediatrician can offer you further suggestions to rectify your son’s behavior.
My husband and I got divorced last year. Our daughter lived with him at first, but gave him such a difficult time that she now lives with me. Now she is behaving poorly with me. I have taken her phone away, but she is still rebellious. Her grandmother recently passed away, and I know that she deeply feels the loss. But her bad behavior is beginning to affect her sisters. I am afraid that she will run away and I don’t know what to do. Is there somewhere I can take her to receive discipline help?
Now more than ever it is important to have house rules and to issue either positive or negative consequences based on your child’s behavior. You’ve already done this when you took her phone away. You must be consistent. She may be feeling insecure dealing with the two recent losses in her life. Thus, she needs her parents to be as consistent as possible right now even though she rebels.
If you and her father are communicating, you need to make sure that you are both on the same parenting page as far as discipline is concerned. If your daughter will not sit down and open up to you, it may be beneficial to take her to a counselor – possibly a grief counselor.
If she does open up to you, validate her feelings. She can’t help how she feels, but she may need help with how to act appropriately on those feelings.
It is important to communicate to your daughter that running away from home is not a good option. The dangers of the streets, lack of money, missed school days, bad weather and lack of shelter are just a few good reasons to remain at home.
If she does ever leave home without your permission, call the police so the law in your area can keep a lookout for her as well. Tell her that you want her to call the Boys Town Hotline (1-800-448-3000) if she ever feels like running away. There are many crisis counselors here who would be happy to talk to her.
Another suggestion is to talk to her when she is having a good day and share with her how you are feeling. Children do not need to know all of the adult details related to a divorce, but sometimes it can strengthen your relationship when your child realizes that you, too, have feelings.
Look online at www.centering.org. This website offers numerous books on grief. Boys Town's www.yourlifeyourvoice.org is a website just for teens. There are many articles under “family life” that she can read. She can also email a crisis counselor.
The key is getting her to open up to someone. Just venting can do wonders.
I have four children: three boys ages 20, 13 and 11; and one girl, age 16. My two youngest sons fight and call each other names. They are mean to each other. I have unsuccessfully tried to stop this. Do you have any suggestions?
It is a good idea to take the time to sit down and develop a plan to affect change. Define exactly what you want your children to do when they have disagreements or conflicts. Consider how you want their interactions to look and sound, including what tone they use and what words they exchange. Describe how one must listen while the other speaks and vice versa. If they cannot solve the issue themselves, then provide them with the opportunity to come to you for help.
Then consider the negative consequences that will be earned if they do not utilize this new way of communicating and resolving conflict. We recommend using the smallest consequence possible that will affect change. It must be meaningful to the boys, be equal in size to the severity and frequency of the infraction and be immediately carried out.
Planning these consequences in advance of the behavior is helpful. Doing so will make it less likely that emotions will dictate your actions. Negative consequences entail both loss of privileges and added work chores.
If you are parenting with the boys’ father, include him in devising this plan. You must both agree on the plan and also agree to be consistent in implementing it. Then at a neutral time, present this plan to your entire family – not just the two youngest members.
Start out by telling them that things have to change and that this change begins now. Say that all of us have differences of opinion and personality conflicts throughout our entire lives. The sooner we handle them in an acceptable way, the better off we will be. This is how you expect conflicts to be handled in your home. Then define your expectations and ask if everyone understands what you have said.
You are NOT asking for their opinion or input or whether they agree with you. You are only asking for understanding. This is not debatable! Then move on and let them know that there will be consequences earned immediately if this new method is not used or followed. Again, this is not debatable!
Let your sons know that you understand that it takes two people to fight, so when arguing occurs both parties will earn consequences. It does not matter who starts it or whether you were there. If you hear angry voices or name-calling, the new way of behaving is not being used. You are not an investigator, and you will not make changes to the consequences or expectations based on what they say or who is to blame.
When you address the negative behavior again, begin by describing what you just heard and saw. Then issue the negative consequence, reteach your expectations and have them practice by redoing what just happened. Make sure to follow through on the consequences. If using added chores, have them do the chores together when possible.
My husband and I have five children. The oldest two are from his previous marriage; the younger two are from my previous marriage; and the youngest is from our marriage. He has been divorced for six years; I have been divorced for three years. We have been married for almost two years.
We are stationed overseas, and the oldest children don’t get to see their mother very often. She does not seem to care. She only calls every three to four months. Just recently, our 9-year-old has begun acting up at school. She throws temper tantrums when she does not get her way, yells at her father and me and is physical with her sister to the point of leaving bruises.
We have tried numerous punishments, such as taking away privileges, sending her to bed early, making her stand in the corner and writing “I will not bite other people” over and over. But nothing seems to work, and I am running out of options. Please advise me on how to handle our daughter before her behavior gets even worse.
When a family breaks up, whether it is due to divorce or death, each member handles that traumatic experience in a different way. Sometimes the developmental level the child is at plays a role. It may be helpful to seek professional intervention at this time. Look for a therapist referral from a Family Advocacy or Family Readiness program or from your community.
Meanwhile, when your daughter gets upset, give her some calming techniques as more appropriate alternatives to temper tantrums and violence. Talk about this when she is calm. Offer her some suggestions that have worked for you. Give her reasons why she should try these techniques when she is angry. Then have her practice those in pretend scenarios that you know have triggered her anger in the past and that are likely to occur again.
At the end of the school day, review her academic work and ask her if she felt anger or frustration during the day and how she responded to those emotions. If she handled them well, praise and reward her. If not, teach her some more acceptable ways to respond. Don’t forget to practice.
All of your children have the right to grow up in a safe environment. Her behavior is threatening this safety. While you are seeking help for your daughter, establish a safety plan for your other children. When your daughter gets angry, make sure her siblings know what to do and where to go so they are safe.
If your daughter’s bedtime routine allows, review her day and have her rate it. If she handled her feelings well, offer praise and a reward. If not, talk about alternatives and pray for more success tomorrow. This should be the main focus with your child. Do not just administer consequences for negative behaviors; teach more socially acceptable alternative behaviors.
I don’t think I am effectively disciplining my 6-year-old son. He has been getting into trouble at school daily for talking too much. To reinforce that this is unacceptable behavior, I have taken away privileges such as watching TV and playing video games from a few hours to a few days. When this occurs, he just sits quietly in his room and I am concerned that this is not healthy for him. I have also tried sending him to bed early, but this too does not deter the behavior. He seems immune to punishment. What do I do?
The best way to change behavior is to use consequences in conjunction with teaching an alternative, desirable behavior. Often, we as parents focus on issuing negative consequences and forget to reinforce positive behaviors.
It is good that you are issuing consequences. Consequences are the most effective when they are issued immediately after the behavior occurs and are followed up by teaching (repeatedly) the appropriate, desired behavior. Have your son practice daily to ensure that he understands what is expected of him.
He is young. Learning will take time and practice. Schedule a meeting with his teacher during which you both can determine some immediate consequences for his disruptive behavior and some alternative behaviors his teacher can help him substitute for talking out of turn. Raising his hand is one example. Then you can practice these appropriate alternatives at home.
To “sweeten” the deal and keep him motivated, reward him for his practice with a little something such as an extra story at bedtime or a larger scoop of ice cream for dessert.
A sticker chart is a handy visual learning device. Your son earns a sticker for each day that he comes home from school without any negative reports for talking in class. After a predetermined number of stickers, he can earn an extra privilege. Select something that you know will motivate him.
How do you handle a child stealing? And is there a good way to make behavior charts and contracts?
As parents, we need to not only stop the undesired behaviors, but we need to teach socially acceptable ones as well. Your child is stealing; thus, you need to teach him the skills of honesty, asking permission and reporting his whereabouts.
You can teach these in three simple steps: 1) clearly and specifically describe what the skill looks like; 2) give him a good “kid” reason to do it the way you describe (how it will benefit him); 3) practice by having your child demonstrate doing what you have just taught.
Give an example and have your child show you how he would be completely honest; how he would ask for permission before doing something; and how he would report his whereabouts to you. When he demonstrates one of these skills, praise him. If you are using charts, he earns a sticker or mark for that skill. The chart should state that if he earns so many stickers or marks in a certain amount of time, the reward is ________.
You can describe the steps needed to fulfill the behavior, or you may describe the behavior on the chart. This serves as a reminder to him what he is supposed to do, and it will remind you how important consistent expectations are.
It is important to plan consequences in advance. One way to achieve this is to list the things your child likes to do and have. When he meets your expectations by using positive skills, he earns one of those privileges. When he fails to do so, he loses access to one or more of the privileges. You can then re-teach that particular skill using the stated criteria on the chart and practice it again.
We also recommend issuing extra chores for negative consequences to fill up the time he would have spent doing the privileges he has lost.