Monday 22 January 2018

David Coleman Column: My boy is using blackmail to get what he wants

When we are rewarded for a behaviour we are more likely to engage in that behaviour
When we are rewarded for a behaviour we are more likely to engage in that behaviour

I am writing about my nine-year-old son who uses emotional blackmailing to get what he wants. I think he has learned it from his dad who has emotionally harassed us for a long time.

I am trying to separate from his dad and even though I own the family home and we are not married I can't get him to leave.

I ended up leaving the country to go home with my son for eight months just to get away from the mind control.

However, I had to eventually come back to Ireland because my son refused to settle himself into my culture, including going to school.

We had power struggles almost everyday while we were away and he really wanted to be back in Ireland.

I gave in to him but I told him that the only reason we came back was for his education.

Since we got back he has been using this emotional blackmail, telling me "I won't go to school if you do/don't do..." I have some respite over the summer but the Education and Welfare people keep telling me I have to make sure he is in school.

So if this kicks off again in September do I need to give in to him and let him take control to make sure he'll go to school?

Things are also so messy with his dad who still won't move out of the house unless I give him money.

Any advice would be much appreciated!

David replies:

The core principles of behaviourism are founded on the premise that when we are rewarded for our behaviour we are more likely to engage in that behaviour. The flip side is also true, that when the consequences of acting in a particular way are very bad for us we are less likely to act in that way. So your son has realised that his education is a very powerful bargaining chip in his relationship with you. He has seen that his refusal to go to school in your home country got him the "reward" he wanted which was a return to Ireland. It seems to me that he is now replicating this particular "bargaining approach" since it was so effective before. He has seen that this kind of bartering seems to work with you. Indeed, not only has it worked for him he has also seen his dad role-model this manipulative approach to life. From what you describe his dad is apparently, even now, trying to emotionally blackmail you by insisting on a payout in order to give you the freedom you want. He may have witnessed that you will always be the one to seek compromise first, or to back down in order to maintain peace. He may have learned that if he can put enough pressure on you that you will cave in. Your son, no doubt, picks up your anxiety about his education. He realises that you are afraid of the consequences for him, directly, in not having an education and also the consequences of the National Education and Welfare Board censuring you for not having him in school.

So, I think you need to call your son's bluff. You need to let him know that school attendance is non-negotiable. You certainly don't want to continue to feed into his belief that refusing to go to school will get him what he wants.

I am interested, for example, to know how he currently tries to persuade or cajole you to doing what he wants since the threat of his non-attendance at school is moot during the summer holidays? I would guess that he may not be so powerful at this time of year!

If that is the case then your best approach in September will be to use his own tactics to effectively lock things down on days that he won't go to school.

So if he isn't at school he gets no access to TV, internet, phone, computer games, books (other than school books) or games. In the afternoons he gets no visits with friends and is, effectively, on a curfew in the house.

He needs to know that you will be more powerful than him for the time being. He needs to learn that refusing school isn't an option and that you and he will get on much better and have more fun together when he goes to school.

If you continue to struggle to exert your own influence again in September then you might want to consider getting some professional help from a child psychologist to do so.

Health & Living

Promoted Links

Life Newsletter

Our digest of the week's juiciest lifestyle titbits.

Promoted Links

Editors Choice

Also in Life