Parenting When Nothing Works

ID-10075977I have a 4-year-old boy who argues and defies us constantly. He screams, bosses his little brother around, answers-back, tries to take control all the time and can become very agressive verbally and emotionally (although never physically). We’re stuck because we feel like we give him clear boundaries, we’re very consistent with our consequences. We are warm and play with him lots but are also clear about the fact that we are parents and not his friends. And despite all this, we don’t seem to be getting anywhere. The books I’ve read give tips that make it sound like a bad behavior happens 2 or 3 times a day. In our household, it’s DOZENS. I can’t negotiate, explain, compromise, validate and discuss every time!

Johanna, Canada

You are spot on, Johanna.

When kids argue and defy, scream and manipulate, what recommendations do parents hear?

  • Give clear boundaries: name what behavior is and isn’t acceptable.
  • Show your love: not only in words but in time, attention and play.
  • Be in charge: don’t let him run the show.

You’re doing all of those things.

What should we do when nothing is working?

  1. Look at your child. Answer these questions:
  • Has something changed in his world in the time that you’ve seen this behavior, or in the few months before that?
  • Does your gut instinct tell you that something more than usual developmental stuff is going on here?
  1. Talk to other adults you trust, who know your child.
  • Do they see the problems you see?
  • Do they see the methods you’re using to try to guide his behavior?
  • Are you being consistent in those efforts, in their opinion?

If any of this guides you towards a new way of looking at the situation, that is great. However, if there is no new insight here, it’s time to look outside your circle.

Getting professional evaluation for our kids shouldn’t be scary.

Asking for help is often the hardest step for parents. Getting someone else’s opinion – especially a stranger – can make us feel that we’ve somehow failed our child. We worry that we’ve messed up as parents and that now we’ll be told our child is broken, and (even worse) it’s our fault.

Every parent I know worries about these things when they worry about their kids.

Reaching out for resources teaches great lessons.

If your son is out of control at times, that is a very scary feeling, for him as well as you. When you get help you are teaching him important life skills.

  • Resilience requires resources. We can’t conquer every challenge alone. Strong people know to get help when they need it.
  • There is no shame in struggling. Learning comes when we’re uncomfortable. Don’t be afraid of struggling or learning.
  • Love requires bravery and sacrifice. You love him so much that you’ll do whatever it takes to help him.

When you need help interpreting and managing a child’s behavior, your child’s doctor or teacher are good people to start by asking. If they can direct you to resources or services, wonderful. If not, keep looking. A child psychologist or behavioralist is a good place to try next. Whatever you learn about your child, you will all learn valuable skills for managing behavior that can help your son throughout his life.

Parents, have you ever been in the “we’ve tried everything” spot? What have you done?

photo courtesy of David Castillo Dominici via FreeDigitalphotos.net

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