My 5-year-old son and I have a very close relationship. He thinks I am the most knowledgeable person on earth. When I ask what he would like to be when he grows up, he says “A father.” When he pretend plays, he invariably imitates me. He becomes a father of two kids, “drives” a car, talks to “clients” on his toy cell phone and “works” on a toy laptop.
What concerns me is that he has difficulty separating this imaginary play from real life. He acts as though he is an adult rather than a child. When I ask him to stop playacting he gets upset. When I ask him a question a parent typically asks a child, such as “Son, what did you have for lunch today?” he ignores the question and resumes his imaginary adult conversation. I know that imaginary play is normal for his age, but I am worried that he no longer recognizes what is real and what is not.
The fact that your son wants so much to be like you must make you proud. Please do not worry about what seems to be an inability to determine real life from his imaginary one. His behavior can and will change with your help.
It sounds like you do work-related tasks at home. If this is true, how much of your work does your son witness? The more you work in your son’s presence, the more he will think this is the way things are supposed to be. This is especially true if your work is conducted in an easy, stress-free manner. It is natural for him to want to play this way.
To shift his focus away from “work” play, plan outings and activities with your son that have nothing to do with work. As often as you can, have your son see you engaged in activities that are purely recreational. If he tries to shift back into “office” mode, tell him that people who work in offices do other activities too. They do not work all the time.
He is likely to become upset. Have a talk with him, saying that even the hardest-working fathers take time off. Keep the conversation simple and on a level he can understand. Having fun is just as important as working.
If he is still reluctant, try this. Tell him you are going to another part of the house to do something fun. Invite him to come along, but don’t force him or bargain with him to join you. Whatever you choose to do, make sure it is enjoyable for both of you. Then leave the room. Don’t make a big deal out of it, but do make certain that he can hear you laughing and having fun.
Chances are that he will be curious and join you. He may just watch, or he may ask to participate. Give him encouragement along the way. This is a case where actions speak louder than words. You are reinforcing that there are numerous activities in which you both can participate that are not work-related.
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.
My 12-year-old son has always been a good student up until this year. Now he is in sixth grade and will not finish his homework. He has received Ds and Fs on his last two report cards, and he is acting out in class. He has even been suspended for picking a fight with another boy, and he is disrespectful of his teachers. He has friends and does not seem to dislike school, however. We have taken away privileges such as video games and other electronic devices. What else can we do?
It is possible that your son is struggling with school this year because he feels overwhelmed academically and does not understand what is being taught. When this occurs, children often act out behaviorally. A “bad boy” image is preferable to a “dumb boy” image in their minds.
Or perhaps your son is having problems with his friendships and peers, and it is resulting in an increase in defiance and negative behaviors. Could it be possible that bullying is involved?
Stress in young children is often evident in behavior and changes in sleeping and eating patterns. Children don’t know how to ask for help and cannot calm themselves down with healthy coping strategies. Can your son talk to a school counselor? He might need the time and space to open up about what is really going on in his life.
We encourage you to keep issuing consequences for his negative behavior. If the consequences you have established are not working, then reevaluate what is important to your son and take away related privileges. What worked for him last year or when he was younger might not hold the same value for him now. Consequences must be meaningful to work, and what is meaningful to a child changes as he grows.
Also, in conjunction with issuing consequences for negative behaviors, teach appropriate behaviors too. Do not assume that he knows what appropriate and inappropriate behaviors are. Whenever possible, link the consequence to the infraction.
For instance, if he is disrespectful to his teacher have him write a letter apologizing to the teacher or have him list 10 ways he can demonstrate respect to adults. Then ask him to check in with you throughout the week to talk about how he is using the ways on the list with others.
My 4-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter only want my wife to help them with their morning and evening routines. I would like to help them brush their teeth, read a book, etc., but they refuse. Both my wife and I are becoming frustrated.
One of the best ways to get young children to follow instructions is to make a game out of it. Consider making a “job jar” that contains all the chores that must be done in the morning and evening. Have “mommy and daddy chores” on one color of card and “kid” chores on another. Explain the plan at a family meeting.
Ask your children for input on job ideas. Every morning and evening each family member pulls a duty from the job jar. You, for example, might draw “help with brushing teeth.” Your son might draw “put cereal on the table.” If applicable, this will be his or her job for the entire day.
Praise your children when they comply and do their jobs correctly without complaint. Explain to them that a family is like a team who pulls together to pitch in and help.
My 8-year-old son is in third grade, and he recently heard a classmate reference sex. He has since casually mentioned the word “sex.” Should my husband and I take this opportunity to have “the talk” with him, or is he too young? Also, should we do this together, or should my husband talk to him alone?
Now is certainly a good time to talk with your son about the basics of sex. It is a sensitive subject and one that needs to be treated with respect. Approach the subject from this point of view with your son.
If the topic is approached as something that is awkward, embarrassing or “bad,” your son will adopt that point of view. So it is important that you stress that it is natural and good but private. Make your son aware that it is a topic to be treated with respect and that he is free to ask questions privately. Others may have different boundaries regarding the topic, and he needs to respect those boundaries.
Tie sex in with other healthy relationships in general, such as friendship. For tips on this, visit parenting.org/article/assessing-relationships
You can also use your own marriage as an example of when sex is appropriate, natural and important. Address that sex is a demonstration of love and is an extension of the trust, compatibility and openness of a lifelong commitment. Sex falls within the boundaries of marriage and is a natural component of the relationship.
Boundaries will be a very important part of your discussion with your son, especially at his age. It is important that you teach your son that any sexual contact at his age is inappropriate, and that he should come to you if anyone engages or attempts to engage in sexual acts with him.
Once you’ve established this foundation, you can discuss the very basic mechanics of sex. Allow your son to ask questions. Be matter-of-fact and straightforward. If you act awkward, your son will too. If you feel this should come from your husband, you can excuse yourself from the room. But do share the earlier mentioned conversation as a family since this reinforces sex as a natural part of married life. This way your son knows he can come to you, too, with any questions that he may have.
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 6-year-old son grabs things from his classmates on a consistent basis. I have received numerous notifications from his school regarding this behavior. How can I help him change?
Since your son is only 6, he probably is new to the school setting. He will be expected to display many social skills, such as following directions, staying on-task, keeping his hands to himself, sharing, etc. These skills take time to learn and master, but you can also do things at home to help him acquire these skills.
Create role-playing activities for him if he does not have siblings at home with whom he can practice. Set up situations in which you pretend to be one of his classmates. Show him the appropriate way to ask for something rather than just taking it.
Start off with easy role-playing situations, such as simply giving him a toy that he has requested. Then introduce more difficult situations, like being a friend who does not want to share. Have him show you how he would react to the situation, and then teach him how you and his teachers would like him to react in the future. Then practice, practice, practice. The more practice he gets, the more comfortable he will become using these new skills.
Also, giving a negative consequence immediately after he displays an undesired behavior will help curb this behavior. Follow up by teaching your son what the appropriate behavior is. You will probably have to do this repeatedly. Practice on a daily basis so you know he understands what he is supposed to do. Be patient; he is young and is still learning.
My son is in the sixth grade. Though he is capable of A and B work, he is failing most of his classes. When he does finish his homework, he often turns it in late. He is tardy between classes and says that he doesn’t care about school.
His home life is not any better. He is demanding and disruptive, so much so that his college-aged siblings don’t want to come home when he is here.
His father and I are divorced and share custody. One week he is with me, and one week he is with his father. He does meet with his school counselor once a week. We have unsuccessfully tried outside counseling. He and his former counselor did not click, and there are few children’s counselors in our area.
When a child starts to display negative behavior, it is often for attention-seeking reasons. Ask yourself these two questions: 1. Has your son recently experienced a big life change? 2. Is your son getting enough attention for good behavior? If you answer “yes” to the first question and “no” to the second, then you need to address these issues.
If, however, neither question applies to you, then consider having your child evaluated physically and mentally. A clinical psychologist can assess your child. If you need referrals for this type of assessment, call the Boys Town National HotlineSM at 1-800-448-3000. If you are calling from Nebraska, you can also try the Nebraska Family Helpline at 1-888-866-8660.
It is not unusual to see four or five counselors before finding a good fit. Let your son be part of the process in order to empower him. If he feels like he is part of the solution, he will be more open to the process. For instance, ask him if he feels more comfortable with a male or female counselor. You could also seek help from a behavioral therapist who will help him change his behavior by developing a plan that you can implement at school and at home.
As difficult as this is, you must stay calm and be consistent. Demonstrate that you love him but that his behavior is unacceptable, and bad behavior has negative consequences. When he is good, be sure to praise him. A general guideline is to offer four forms of praise for every one negative consequence or correction.
I have a friend who has a 4-year-old daughter whose dad is frequently away for his job. During her father’s absence, the little girl consistently wets herself. Once her father is home again, she goes back to using the toilet. My friend has warned her daughter that she will have to go back to wearing diapers, but this does not seem to concern the little girl. What can my friend do?
Children often exhibit behavior changes in times of stress. It sounds like your friend’s daughter is having difficulty handling her father’s absence, and she is demonstrating her stress through bathroom behaviors. While this is not unusual, it does need to be addressed.
What is the relationship between the father and daughter like? Are they close? Were they close before he started traveling? Does Dad make time for his daughter when he is home? You need to try to understand how she perceives their relationship and how she would like it to be.
Do not assume that all is OK with her and that she understands that her father loves her but just has to be away for extended periods of time because of his job. She has to know that he really cares about how she feels and what she thinks. Try to put yourself in her shoes to see how she is looking at the situation.
Has her father addressed her pants-wetting? Since she does not seem to care if her mom puts her back in a diaper, we can deduct that the problem isn’t with her mom. It’s with her father. Have both parents sat down with her to talk about the situation? Has Dad talked one-on-one with her?
A conversation about acceptable and unacceptable behaviors needs to take place. This is not about having accidents. Those occasionally happen. This is about knowing that there is a right way and a wrong way of doing things.
Once they have talked to their daughter, they need to establish a system of rewards and consequences for her behavior. Everyone must stick to them. It may work best if Dad and daughter develop the system and Mom acts as mediator.
The rewards and consequences can be simple, but everyone must agree on them. Rewards for using the toilet should be things their daughter likes the most. Consequences for wetting herself should be things she likes the least. If her parents – and especially her father – consistently give out the rewards and consequences, she has ample incentive to change her behavior.
But consistency is essential. Follow through every time she either uses or doesn’t use the bathroom. Be prepared for the little girl to test the waters to see if her parents are really serious. If Mom and Dad remain calm and consistent, the wetting should stop.
My 7-year-old daughter does not recognize my authority as her mother. She argues constantly, does not obey and makes demands rather than asking permission. It starts with teeth-brushing first thing in the morning and goes until bedtime. I have to repeat my requests often. I need help disciplining her.
First identify what your daughter is struggling with the most so you can focus on teaching and practicing one behavior at a time with her. If you try to tackle too many behaviors at once, you and your daughter will become overwhelmed.
It sounds like your daughter is struggling with following instructions. Work with her on learning and using this skill first.
Make sure your daughter understands what following instructions entails and how she should demonstrate it. Begin by explaining to her that you understand that she is having a difficult time with this important skill and that you are going to work on this together. Break the skill up, giving her specific and simple steps.
Give her a kid-friendly and age-appropriate reason for why she needs to learn how to follow instructions. How will she benefit from learning this skill? Have her list a few places where she will need to use the skill of following instructions and why.
Next, go over the steps to following instructions with her. Make it detailed, as in the following:
- Say “OK” immediately so I know you heard me.
- Then do the instruction right away.
- When you are done, check back with me so I know you completed the task.
Now you need to practice to see if she understands your expectations. Give her a simple instruction like, “Hand me the pillow on the couch.” Then have her look at you, say “OK,” hand you the pillow and tell you she is finished. Praise her if she does it correctly.
Once you know that she understands the skill, practice it every day. Make it fun, such as playing a game of Simon Says or baking cookies together. This way she is practicing receiving and then following instructions in a fun environment.
When your daughter chooses not to use this skill, remind her that it is in her best interest to follow instructions by giving her a negative consequence. Do not repeat your request. Do not yell. Just calmly issue the negative consequence. When she does use the skill, do not forget to praise her and issue a positive consequence to reinforce the desired behavior.