Mothers & Babies

Thursday 10 July 2014

David Coleman Column: My son used to be so placid but he's changed since split with dad

David Coleman

Published 17/06/2013|04:00

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I HAD to separate from my husband due to a very verbally abusive marriage. While I did find the first year hard, I seemed to still have a very balanced little boy. But in the past year it's been very tough going. He is now four years of age.

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He had his first full week away from me in September 2012 and since then his behaviour when we go on visits to friends, parks, the pool and so on has been a real struggle.

He throws tantrums if he can't get something he wants, kicks me and uses bad language. I do like to get out with him as I am a lone parent but find when I get home I feel terrible.

He spends every second weekend with his dad, who gives in to him and buys him whatever he wants.

His dad seems to have no routine with him. I can't ask his dad to do as I do as it only causes an argument, so I just parent the way I do and leave it at that.

He used to be such a placid little boy and I always had a great routine with him. It's just his behaviour that I find hard.

IN YOUR house things sound relatively settled and routined. You sound like you have clear expectations of your son and his behaviour. However, from what you describe, his dad takes a much more laissez-faire approach. The week he spent away from you sounds like it may have been quite distressing for him.

A week is a long time to be away at his age. I'm guessing you got little feedback about what happened during that week but it may have been difficult for both him and his dad, neither of whom was used to the other.

Perhaps your son has been acting out his distress since then.

Alternatively, or as well, it may be that since he has been spending more time with his dad, your son has become confused, learning a very different message from his dad, akin to "you can do what you like".

Naturally this would be an appealing message for a child to hear and one that they then are likely to replicate in other situations.

I think you are correct to recognise that you can't really influence what happens in his dad's house at the moment. You can only have an effect in your own house.

Down the line, your relationship with his dad might become easier and then it might be possible to suggest ways of dealing with your son to try to increase the consistency of his experience in the two homes.

For now, though, you need to stick quite firmly with your own approach of being kind but determined about what behaviours are acceptable and what behaviours are not.

The good news is that children are very adaptable and flexible and most of them will quickly realise that you can behave one way in one environment, but that you may have to behave a different way in another environment because the rules and expectations may be different.

It is essential that the rules in your house are clear and are predictably and consistently enforced.

At his age he needs to learn from experience that behaviours like hitting, kicking or cursing will have negative consequences for him, such as not being brought out for trips or visits, not being allowed to continue to play with friends for short periods and so on.

Help him to recognise when he feels frustrated or angry at times, but then remind him that he can tell you in words without having to show you by kicking, for example. Then work really hard to catch him being good so that you can praise and reward this behaviour instead.

Having a strong routine in your home is a very good thing, too, as the regularity and predictability of his experiences with you will help him to slot back into his normal, good behaviour with you sooner.

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