Saturday 20 January 2018

David Coleman Column: My son has a bad attitude -what am I doing wrong?

If he regularly feels criticised and feels that he isn't good enough it most likely has a very negative impact on his self-esteem
If he regularly feels criticised and feels that he isn't good enough it most likely has a very negative impact on his self-esteem
David Coleman

David Coleman

MY nine-year-old son has always been headstrong, obstinate, stubborn and awkward. He always looks at the half-empty glass and feels that everyone else has the full one!

He would argue with his toes and is his own worst enemy.

He knows there are consequences for bad behaviour yet still does it.

I am big into good manners (rules) and consequences for lack thereof. He is often disrespectful and after the initial few minutes has forgotten to be grateful.

Never a day goes by without him being lazy, cranky, shouting at us and showing us disrespect.

He hates being corrected and gets very defensive. We just haven't managed to teach him the proper way to deal with criticism and that life isn't all bad!

I look at my brother's family and wonder how I am failing so miserably. Their family life is really good. They've raised their two boys so easily and they've turned out so lovely – really nice, kind, good fun with great attitudes.

Everything wasn't a battle and the parents would never have been disrespected like we so often are.

Where am I going wrong? What can I do to make my little boy better adjusted?

I WONDER if you are perhaps a bit too much into "good manners (rules) and consequences for lack thereof".

It may be that your son experiences you and his dad as quite harsh, punitive, negative and critical of him.

If this is the case then it will possibly be having several different effects on him as well as his behaviour.

In the first instance if he regularly feels criticised and feels that he isn't good enough for you and his dad, it most likely has a very negative impact on his self-esteem.

Similarly, if he experiences that he is only acceptable when he behaves within the rules, any misbehaviour on his part will leave him feeling unloved and unappreciated as he is then given out to, criticised or punished.

It is really hard for anyone to deal with criticism, especially when it is frequent and intense.

Most criticism is negative and designed to simply point out, and show disapproval of, wrongdoing. Criticism is never constructive. It is destructive in intent and outcome.

Correction and coaching, on the other hand, is a positive way to address mistakes that children make.

We can absolutely tell them or show them when they get things wrong. However, rather than criticising or punishing them, we need to show them how to do the things right or better the next time.

The core of your approach with your son needs to be to see his mistakes and misbehaviour as an opportunity for him to learn rather than an opportunity to have a go at him.

He may already have come to believe that he isn't, at his core, good enough.

Or he may believe that he is a bold child. Consequently he may feel little or no motivation to be good instead.

I wonder if he feels that a lot of your criticism and punishment of him is unjust or unwarranted.

If so, then a sense of injustice may add to his feelings of anger that are then expressed in further misbehaviour, disrespectful comments, shouting and general grumpiness.

You draw a parallel with your brother's family. You describe their family as really good and go on to describe how their boys are "so lovely – really nice, kind, good fun with great attitudes".

The positive attitude of their children might reflect a really positive approach from their parents!

That might give you some ideas for dealing with your son. Think of creating your own interactions with him as being nice, warm, fun and kind.

Begin to see his misbehaviour as a natural consequence of being nine and getting things wrong, and think of your own response as an opportunity to positively coach him in how to do things better.

Ease off when you feel that you are being rigid or harsh in applying rules and consequences. Instead, find those opportunities when he gets things right and really praise him.

I think he will respond very positively when he feels that you and his dad are on his side rather than on his case.

Irish Independent

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