My 12 year-old stepson has always stolen and destroyed things. He’s started fires and flunked three grades in school. Recently he popped the stones out of one of my rings and threw the ring away. He said he found it outside in the grass. I told him he needed to tell the truth and he said he took it from my jewelry box. I asked him why and he gave me the same answer he does for everything: "I don't know." His dad and I have tried everything including taking him to doctors but he can’t take medicine because of a heart murmur. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.
Parenting, whether step or biological, can be frustrating and challenging. When this young man was taken to Doctors, was he diagnosed with a mental illness? Does he have a counselor, or does the family? It may be helpful to have someone who can gather the historical information of this young man, stay updated on the current behaviors, help develop a treatment plan to address his behaviors and guide you and his father along your journey of raising him.
Not knowing where you live makes it difficult to offer referrals for specialized schools that deal with behavioral issues and academics. There are a number of them and perhaps you would consider that as an option to help him experience some academic success.
My 12 year-old son has bipolar disorder, is defiant, doesn’t follow rules or directions, gets angry easily and overall has numerous behavioral issues. I have tried rewards and consequences for good and bad behavior. He sees a psychiatrist and counselor regularly but he only seems to bet getting more out of control every day. How can I help him?
Parenting a child who requires extra care makes an already tough job that much more challenging. Children who are diagnosed early on in life with bipolar disorder face many challenges, as does their family.
It can be common for their disorder to change as they do. Changes in the disorder may require adjustments in medication of either type or dosage. We always encourage parents to be completely forthcoming with how the medications are going because it can have such an impact on the child's treatment. Have you recently had him evaluated? Sometimes other types of disorders will co exist with bipolar, which may better explain some of the behaviors he's been displaying.
It can be overwhelming to think that his disorder might be in constant motion and some parents have found it helpful to keep a daily record that includes specific behaviors, eating patterns, medication status and sleeping patterns. Examine the record for patterns that might be developing.
We encourage you to consider family therapy if you haven't already done so. Sometimes parents caring for a child who needs more attention often put their own needs last. However, it's hard to care for someone else if you're not caring for yourself first. Continue with positive and negative consequences consistently to create a stable environment for your son.
My seven year-old son does very well with homework because we sit with him and do it together, but when he is at school his teacher says he’s too social and doesn’t finish his work. How can I help him excel at school?
Set up a meeting with your son's teacher to discuss his behaviors. It's great that he is getting his work done at home, which shows that he is able to control his behavior.
When you meet with the school, share what you do at home that helps him get his work done. It might be helpful if a resource teacher came to work with your son, or if his teacher took him to a different room during in-class work time so the distractions are removed. This might also be a good time to come up with alternative ideas, such as a reward system for when he does well and gets his work done.
My five year-old daughter is calm, generous, fun, caring and sensitive. We’ve always had a good bedtime routine and she has always slept in her own bed without any problems. After reading, I bring her to bed and spend 10-15 minutes with her, but over the last few months she is increasingly unhappy sleeping by herself and only wants to sleep in her younger sister’s bedroom. She says she’s afraid of tigers and fire. I think she’s very content and happy and secure in general but wonder if she has some underlying insecurities. Once she's asleep she sleeps all night but I don’t want the fears to escalate.
Many parents go through this exact situation. It’s so good that you are reading to your daughter and making it part of her bedtime routine. When kids are afraid of something it is important to explore what they're afraid of and why. If having the five year-old in the room sleeping with your two year-old messes up both of the children's routine then we suggest changing or decreasing the behavior.
From what you described, it sounds like reading time happens in a place other than the child's bedroom. Perhaps reading to her in her own bedroom would give her the extra 10 or 15 minutes to get comfortable with her surroundings. Another suggestion would be the increase the amount of time that you spend with her in her room after reading and before turning out the lights. This is something that can gradually decreased if her fears start to subside.
Your daughter is still exploring her world and it's boundaries. She is in a continuous state of learning, and research shows that our brains aren't fully developed until we're in our mid twenties. Her ability to conceptualize and rationalize is not at the same level as an adult. As parents the best thing we can do is teach our children and offer comfort as they try to make sense of everything. As with potty training and feeding, it can take multiple repetitions for a child to understand something. Be consistent and patient. Your daughter will outgrow this!
My two year-old daughter is normally very compliant and even-tempered but when it comes to bed time at my cousin’s house, my daughter freaks out. After an hour of screaming I start to get upset with her. I don’t want to act out of anger but I also don’t know how to help her sleep at my cousin’s house without a fight.
Having a two year-old in the home can be a challenge at times. It sounds like she is upset when you stay at your cousin’s because her routine has changed, and at two years-old, this is normal behavior. Now, let's tackle how to handle it!
One way to try to dissolve the situation is to establish a bedtime routine. This might include helping her brush her teeth, reading her a story, saying prayers and singing her a song before she goes to bed. Whatever the routine is, it should be consistent. If you make it fun, she will think it's fun. We cannot encourage a bedtime routine enough, especially reading time. When parents read to their children, the child is learning the magic of language. When introducing a new routine or a parenting technique, you may find the child resists and this is a normal and temporary part of the process. If you stick with it that will eventually go away.
Parenting can be difficult at times and we completely understand. It's important that you have coping skills to handle parental frustration. For some people this includes journaling, deep breathing, calling a friend or family member for support or listening to music.
If you establish a routine you can take certain parts of that routine to other places, such as your cousin's house. It may be a different geographical location but you can show her that she is safe by continuing as you normally would.
My four year-old son hits others. When I tell him to stop he yells at me saying that he doesn’t have to do what I tell him to do. Sometimes, he will run away from me into his uncle’s room. How can I help him change his behavior?
There's reason behind every behavior. At four years-old, your son is still testing boundaries and exploring his surroundings. When he hits it's important that you act on the unwanted behavior immediately after it happens. For example, take his hand and say "no, we don't hit" and then explain that hitting is wrong because it hurts others. It may take several repetitions before he actually understands what you are trying to teach him. His ability to comprehend and make sense of things is much different compared to that of a teenager or an adult.
Effectively utilizing consequences can be a helpful way to change unwanted behavior. Consequences can be positive and negative. A positive consequence, like more playtime or a treat, increases the chances of a behavior happening. A negative consequence, like a time out, decreases the chances of a behavior happening again.
When administering consequences it's important to keep four things in mind:
- Keep it important to the child (a special toy or book)
- Make it immediate (directly following the unwanted/wanted behavior)
- Keep it appropriate (not too big and not too small)
- Make it relate to your child's behavior (if he hits with a toy, take the toy away)
It sounds like just telling him isn't working, so now is the time to try something new. If he is not supposed to talk back and if he's not supposed to go into his uncle's room then those are both unwanted behaviors and appropriate consequences need to be applied. Be consistent. If you stick with your new routine, his behavior should change.
My husband and I recently discovered that our 15 year-old daughter has smoked pot a few times and appears to be exploring drugs. She was sent home from school yesterday for taking one of her Dad’s Zanex pills. My husband wants to take away every privilege, which I feel is too harsh. I’ve scheduled an appointment with a Christian counselor but am worried. How can we help her?
Parents are not always going to agree on how to approach their children concerning their actions or what consequences should be delivered for those actions. Your daughter’s health and safety is the most important thing. Taking another's prescription medication is not only illegal, but it also could be harmful and put her health at risk. Since she has confessed to using marijuana as well, it may not be a bad idea to talk to her physician about a possible drug test or an actual office visit to make sure what she has ingested recently is not going to cause harm. Your husband was probably shocked and upset, as you were, and the fact that it was his medication might have struck another chord with him.
If your daughter has never had a mental health evaluation, this might be a good time for that. Some teens experiment for the sake of experimentation, but others could be self medicating for one reason or another. If depression runs in the family, now is the time to see if your daughter may actually be showing some symptoms of the same disease.
Talk with your husband and come to an agreement about what the consequences should be for your daughter’s behavior. She is old enough that if it takes some time for you to come up with a reasonable consequence, she can wait. Let her know that you are glad that she is okay, you want to get her help if she feels that she needs it, and that you love her, but because of the severity of what happened, there will be a consequence.
I am a grandparent with much concern for my granddaughter. Her mother tries hard, but my granddaughter has been hanging around with the wrong crowd. She was caught smoking pot, got suspended and again today she has apparently been kicked out of the school she attends. We just don't know where to go for help or what to do.
It's apparent that your granddaughter's behaviors are frustrating you, and you want them desperately to change. Even as you and her mother strive to do the best you can to keep her on the right track, the influence of peers can be overwhelming, making your efforts difficult. It is possible that her behaviors can be turned around, but it will take some time and patience.
Often times, teens do not want to talk to their parents or other family members about what they're going through but will open up with someone neutral, like a counselor. What discipline strategies have you tried already? Does your granddaughter understand the severity of her behaviors and how they might impact her future? Though some of this understanding will come from her counselor, it will be important for you and her mom to reinforce the same information.
In addition to counseling she is getting, developing a strong system of expectations should be established. It is never too late to do this with your granddaughter. Even though you are not her mother, you can still play an important part in this process by reinforcing the guidelines that are set for her. The consequences should be things that are easy for her mom initiate and for you to reinforce. They should also be meaningful to your granddaughter and be issued immediately. Stand firm on the consequences set regardless of quick improvement. Quick improvements are most likely manipulative behaviors to get back privileges she lost. It will be challenging at first, but once you both are able to see them through, you may notice significant improvement in your granddaughter's behavior.
My four year-old has slapped his teacher, kicked her, doesn't listen when she instructs him to pick up his toys, and has even called her stupid. He is a sweet little boy half of the time, but the other half of the time you never know what you are going to get. I have tried tactics for positive and negative behavior. I feel completely lost with him. What can I do to change his behavior?
Parenting young children can be the most frustrating thing you ever do in your life. However, it also is the most important thing you will ever do. Helping them form their behaviors, their boundaries and their ability to get along in this world is invaluable. All of our children have unique and individual emotional makeup that forms their personalities.
If you have not had his pediatrician check him over with the specific goal in mind of ruling out physical issues that might be affecting his behavior, do so to make sure there is not a contributing medical cause. If that is eliminated, then we encourage you to look into some possible programs that work specifically with young children who have continued to fail in spite of different approaches to modify their behaviors. Your frustration level, his and his teacher's are not making things better. In fact it is more difficult for all of us to control our behaviors when we are frustrated.
I'm not sure how to handle my 8-year-old son’s recent behavior. He’s been acting inappropriately towards his 5-year-old sister by daring other children to kiss her, which upsets her greatly. When I confront him about it, he lies. We’re a new military family at our first duty station, and my husband just left. My son starts to cry and throw a temper tantrum when the other kids "don’t want to play with him" because he’s being too bossy. I am a young mother of three and very concerned about this.
Being a parent is a tremendous responsibility and having to do it alone while your husband is deployed can be overwhelming. If there are groups of other mothers who find themselves in the same situation, we suggest you consider joining one of them. It will at least help you realize that you are not the only one experiencing these problems, and at most you may learn some strategies that others have used successfully with their children.
Initiate preventive teaching to help your son change his behavior. Preventative teaching involves three simple steps:
- Describe what kind of behavior your want.
- Give a reason.
If you were to use it to address the "kissing" issue, it may sound something like this:
- When you are playing, “kissing games” are not okay. But let's talk about what other games you can play. If someone suggests a kissing game, just say "No, I am not going to play,” and walk away.
- If you find other things to play, you will still have fun and not get into trouble when adults hear or see what you are doing. And, you’ll be able to play with those friends more.
- Okay, let's say you are over at the neighbors, and someone says, "Hey, let’s chase the girls and kiss them." Show me what you would do and say.
If the behavior continues, use a different parenting skill called “corrective teaching.” There are only four steps, and it’s used to respond to your child's problem behaviors by teaching and practicing acceptable alternatives:
- Stop the problem behavior.
- Give a consequence.
- Describe what you want.
- Practice what you want them to do.
The Boys Town Press book Common Sense Parenting describes these skills in more detail. There are examples and guidelines on using effective consequences.