Monday 19 February 2018

How should I deal with my eight-year-old's bad behaviour?

Illustration: Maisie McNeice.
Illustration: Maisie McNeice.
David Coleman

David Coleman

Advice from the parenting expert on how to deal with bold behaviour by an eight-year old and on how a mother can get things back on track when her husband and children are disrespectful to her.

Question: Recently our eight-year-old daughter has been acting up a lot, calling us names, telling us she hates us etc. For example, the other night she called me a "stupid idiot" because her dinner ran late and she didn't get to watch TV. We put her on the bold step in the hall for eight minutes. We brought her back in and she went mental then because we told her she couldn't have a cupcake (because of her continuing rudeness on the bold step). She went to bed crying and wouldn't apologise for her behaviour. Are we dealing with this right?

David replies: There isn't always a right or a wrong way to deal with bad behaviour. However, we can certainly see that some parenting approaches are more successful than others and some lead to more or less stress for parents and/or children.

In the example you give, it certainly seems to me that your use of the "bold step" is not particularly helpful or effective. It seems like it exacerbated an already difficult situation.

Think about it from your daughter's point of view. She was frustrated and disappointed that she didn't get to watch TV because the dinner ran late. She showed you that disappointment by getting cross and calling you a name.

Your response was to send her out to the hall, where she had to stay for eight minutes (a very long time to an eight-year-old). I could imagine she felt aggrieved by this punishment and so probably added her indignation and sense of injustice to her earlier disappointment.

All she was doing, by acting rudely while out on the "bold step", was continuing to show you how upset she felt. I wonder did you hang around in the hall with her to witness the further name-calling or rudeness?

Then, when, in theory, the issue should have been resolved after the initial transgression and the punishment of time out, you further punish her by refusing her a treat (presumably one that everyone else in the family was getting). No wonder she went "mental" at that point. She probably felt really stuck in a negative loop.

I'd suggest that you do a bit of a revamp on your parenting approach. I think it is fine to have expectations for our children and it is fine to set limits on their behaviour to keep them on the "straight and narrow".

However, the way in which we place our demands on our children is what is key.

Using your example above, the start of the whole incident was triggered by the dinner running late and your daughter missing her expected TV time.

So, if you had initially responded warmly and empathetically to her frustration that she didn't get her time with the TV, you may have found that the whole situation may have taken a different road.

Saying things like, "you sound disappointed that there isn't any more time to be able to watch TV" will help to dissipate the intensity of that disappointment.

Following up with statements like "you sound cross that I am saying no TV, but that doesn't make it right to call me names" will still correct her behaviour, but show her that you can understand why she is acting so crossly.

At that point, you may find that distraction, or a bit more empathy and then distraction, will allow you and her to move on without having to resort to consequences and punishments.

The more you can help her to understand and name her own feelings, the more likely she is to describe to you how she feels in the future, rather than showing you by misbehaving.

Even when she does misbehave, as she might, see if it is possible to simply correct her rather than have to punish her too. The punishment tends to exacerbate an already intense situation, without really teaching your daughter anything.

Also, even if we do punish our children, the punishment has to have a beginning and an end, we can't let punishments drag out, or morph into further punishments. When children do wrong, we must be ready to correct, then forgive and forget.

Read up about authoritative parenting styles, I think you may find they are more effective than the punishment-based style that you are using now.

My husband and children are disrespectful towards me. What should I do to get things back on track?

Question: I live with my husband and two children aged 12 and eight. I work full-time, as does my husband, but I am in charge of all of the family/domestic chores, school runs, homework, meals, cleaning etc. My husband spends his spare time and money on adventure sports and so is often away. Even when he is here, he rarely backs me up or helps. My children don't help in any way around the house and are lazy and disrespectful to me. I feel like my life is a drudge, but I can't really walk away from it as my children need me. How can I get things back on track?

David replies: You sound very stuck in your current situation and it must be hard to see the wood for the trees. Indeed, I could imagine you are so exhausted that even thinking about dealing with the issues in your family seems too much.

However, you have taken the first step, because by writing to me you have at least acknowledged the dynamic in your family is a problem and something needs to change. Now all you need to do is to decide what you need, or want, to change.

It may seem very drastic to "walk away" from your family, but in the longer term, if your husband and children don't take on board the need to do things differently, and to support you more, then this might well be something to consider.

As a start, however, I'd suggest you begin with your relationship with your husband and how you jointly manage (or not) your parenting. It seems to me that your husband is being incredibly selfish.

That selfishness needs to be challenged. I wonder if you might like a bit of external support to help you with the task of challenging your husband and his self-centredness? In the first instance you might want to get some counselling for yourself, with a view to bringing your husband into the therapy in due course.

He needs to realise things are reaching crisis point and if they don't change you may collapse, physically and emotionally, under the burden of keeping your family going.

The nature of your husband's selfishness means you must feel totally unsupported in your role as a mother.

All of the responsibility and all of the work seems to fall to you. That is not fair.

Your husband sounds, at best, absent and, at worst, undermining of you. His attitude to his family seems, from your description, to be inherently self-focused and he appears to shirk the parenting part of his role entirely.

It is no wonder you feel so overburdened since your husband appears to opt out.

He sounds like he hasn't invested in his relationship with the children either and that, of course, means they don't have the experience of a firm and solid father figure.

He doesn't seem to respect you (since he doesn't back you up or help you), so it is no wonder the children don't seem to respect you either.

In an ideal world, children should experience a balance between mothering and fathering. These are two very different things and children experience them as such. When fathers and mothers work together, there is a balance of their energy and children, generally, experience that their parents share the authority and power in the family.

It is a good thing for parents to be in charge and to be together in their determination to raise their children to be good, kind and respectful members of society.

I think you need to give your husband a kick-start into the reality he is a father first and an adventure sportsman second. Then you and he might be able to work together to get your parenting priorities aligned and deal with your children's behaviour.

So, with some back-up from a good therapist, really challenge your husband and try to find out if he cares enough about you and your children and is prepared to step up to the mark.

If you are working together you can address issues like the children's disrespect and their laziness. This is very manageable if you and your husband present a united force. But firstly, he needs to be around and be involved.

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