Question: Our 5-year-old son recently was kicked off the school bus for misbehavior. He is now in trouble with the teacher because he refuses to do what he is asked to do in school.
We have constant battles at home getting him to listen and behave. He is the oldest of our three kids and the first grandchild. He has two younger sisters and I fear they will follow suit. He is very volatile and throws fits when he doesn’t get his way. What should we do?
Answer: Thanks for your letter and your concern. You really do have a situation worthy of all of your attention and that of your spouse. This is behavior that, if it continues, will be extremely difficult to deal with in the teenage years.
Let me offer advice from my latest book, “Have a New Kid by Friday.” My guess is that you have tried to be too good of a parent, and you’ve been overly concerned with your child’s happiness. You’ve tried to accommodate him and maybe even tried to bribe him to get him to do things. He caught on quickly and proclaimed himself “King Tyrant” of the family. He’s calling the shots.
There was a time when kids obeyed their parents. Unfortunately today, parents obey their children. That must be turned around, and in your case, very quickly.
I suggest you use some of the principles in my book. First: Say it once, turn your back and walk away. You’ve asked him to pick up his toys. You know he won’t, because he never does. But this time, after a couple of minutes and without fanfare, you’re going to pick up the toys and they are going to disappear for a while, put in a place where he cannot get them.
The next time you call him for dinner and he doesn’t come, you’re going to sit down and eat your dinner. If he shows up while dinner is in progress, fine. If he misses dinner, that’s also fine, but there are no snacks before bed. And yes, what the good doctor is suggesting is that we send this kid to bed hungry.
Now, before you call Child Protective Services on me, please notice at breakfast that the powerful little tyrant is eating everything you put in front of him because he is hungry. Let the reality of the situation become the teacher. He needs to connect the dots between being called to dinner and that terrible hungry feeling in his stomach.
On to bedtime, which ought to take about seven minutes. Establish a routine and stick to it. Then close the door and be ready for him to come out. Only this time, hold the door until he’s done with his power tantrum. When he’s quiet, open the door. He will be crying, but he’s also going to negotiate. You are willing to keep the door open, but only if he stays in bed. Once you exert your authority to be the parent, he will do as he is told.
I could go on and on, but the editor says, “Stop,” and being an obedient child, I will.
Dr. Kevin Leman is a Tucson psychologist and author of more than 30 best-selling books, including “Have a New Kid by Friday.” E-mail questions to him at firstname.lastname@example.org (email@example.com). Photo by Tom Spitz Photography.