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Saturday 19 April 2014

How do I control my son's bad behaviour?

Give him short-term goals to achieve

My husband and I have two boys, an eight-year-old and a six-year-old. Our eight-year-old's behaviour is very hard to manage.

While he is a bright boy, at home he acts very immaturely (if an eight-year-old can have a little maturity).

Every day he winds up and irritates his younger brother until a fight breaks out. He is giddy and excitable.

Every meal is a struggle as he is a picky eater.

Homework can go on forever, as he is slow to settle, preferring to annoy his younger brother by pinching or hitting him to get a reaction.

We have tried to play outside after school before homework to see will it help.

Recently he saw the video to the song 'I'm sexy and I know it' by LMFAO, in his friend's house. I explained it was not appropriate for him to watch it and ever since he seems obsessed with his privates.

If I'm working in the kitchen he will come in singing and gyrating, which he knows I disapprove of.

I know it sounds like this child is looking for attention, but I feel he gets plenty.

Usually one or both of us are with the kids on a daily basis where we will spend time reading, watching a film or taking them swimming or to rugby. I'm not sure what we can do to help him get through this phase.

Any insight would be great.

It can be very hard to pinpoint why some children are giddy, oppositional and wind others up. Sometimes it can indeed be a way of seeking attention or trying to show parents and others that a child is distressed. Sometimes it can be due to an issue like Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

There is a lot of research and opinion about ADHD but most people concur that it is usually an inbuilt, physiological issue with the brain. As such, children with ADHD are just built that way and may not, yet, have much control over their giddiness, distractibility or their hyperactivity.

Based on your description of your son, I think it may be worthwhile getting him psychologically assessed for ADHD. Let me describe the typical features of ADHD and you will be better able to decide if this is something that applies to your son.

• Fails to give close attention to details or makes careless mistakes.

• Has difficulty sustaining attention.

• Does not appear to listen.

• Struggles to follow through on instructions.

• Has difficulty with organisation.

• Avoids or dislikes tasks requiring sustained mental effort.

• Loses things.

• Is easily distracted.

• Is forgetful in daily activities.

Then specifically with regard to hyperactivity, you may see things like:

• Fidgets with hands or feet, or squirms in chair.

• Has difficulty remaining seated.

• Runs about or climbs excessively.

• Difficulty engaging in activities quietly.

• Acts as if driven by a motor.

• Talks excessively.

• Blurts out answers before questions have been completed.

• Difficulty waiting or taking turns.

• Interrupts or intrudes upon others.

Of course, even if these descriptions fit your son exactly, knowing that he might have something like ADHD is only half the battle.

He still needs help to regulate his behaviour so that he doesn't get himself into trouble and that he copes better with his brother and with family life.

Equally, if he doesn't seem to have ADHD, he also still needs to address the behaviours.

The kinds of things you might want to work on with him are his activation, arousal and effort. So this is about how to get him engaged in things like his homework.

One way of helping him might be to give him very short-term goals to achieve. So plan out his homework such that he works for about five minutes at a time, perhaps against the clock. This might help him to focus, knowing that he will have a one-minute break whenever the timer goes off.

During the work periods you can get him to take on mini-challenges, like reading a certain amount before the five minutes are up, or how quickly he can do a series of sums and so on.

This might encourage him to put in more effort for the short time, rather than getting disheartened at the prospect of "hours" of homework.

You can also teach him to self-talk, almost like a personal reminder of the rules. So show him how to repeat to himself how he is expected to behave, rather than you constantly having to remind him.

You will also have to help him to understand his emotions so that he knows better when he gets frustrated or cross and can take some time to calm himself down.

You can also teach him to recognise the feelings of other children and adults by helping him to notice people's facial expressions or demeanour while prompting him about what feelings these people may have.

You may find that actually ADHD is not the core issue and it is actually about his developmental stage.

With calmness, and determination on your part, you may discover that his behaviour becomes more settled and more appropriate as you, his teachers and other adults continue to give him similar messages about what is okay and not okay.

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