My seven year old son has been really working against us – “no” to doing homework before play, “no” to eating dinner before dessert – everything you can possibly imagine and this is also happening in public places. He is also big into calling me names now that he’s figured out how to truly get my attention. What happens inevitably afterwards, is that there will be an hour’s worth of him challenging me and then we both take some time to decompress and distance ourselves from each other (in the form of a “time out”) to get perspective. During our little “talk,” afterwards he articulates himself so eloquently and understands why he behaved the way he did only by then I am quite exhausted. How to survive (and thrive) this challenging stage? Any tips and advice?
Dorit, in PA
Consequences, empathy and detachment. Repeat.
Consequences. Your son may not call you names without swift and noteworthy consequences. I don’t care how eloquently he can articulate his reasons for doing this, he needs to find a more articulate and eloquent and, above all respectful, way to express his frustration with you.
When he’s not in trouble, you (and your parenting partner if you have one) and your son sit down and you say: “There is no name calling in our family. If you do this again ever, the punishment will be ______. If you do it again after that, the consequences will get more severe. Do you understand?” You can have a long conversation about love and respect and communication or a very short one. Then write down the agreement along with the consequences, and everyone signs it. Hang it where you will all see it often.
Empathy. It is great that he can make you understand how he feels. Help him see that he likes it when you understand and can empathize with his feelings. Help him express his feelings rather than saying “No.” Saying no doesn’t move his goals any closer, it just gets him in trouble. Teach him to help you have empathy for his situation.
Detachment. Separate a little from his bad behavior. He is not challenging you because he doesn’t love you. He is challenging you because he wants to be in charge of his moment-to-moment life. That is an understandable desire (empathy, right?) but not a reasonable one for a 7 year old. He needn’t exhaust you. You have the power in the relationship. His name-calling should get him in trouble but don’t let it impact your self-esteem. He is throwing the 7 year old version of a tantrum, and it has very little to do with you.
If you react strongly he will do it again and again. Stay cool and stand your ground. If you want to thrive you’re going to have to take your drama out of it. When he sees that his bad behavior gets him very little emotional reaction but does get him unpleasant consequences, he will try something else.
Repeat. Once you have eliminated the name-calling you can start on the “No!” behavior. Same principles apply.
This may take a while! Find a place of calm and strength when he behaves this way. And if that doesn’t work, fake it.