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Leman: Mom might be root of children’s bad-seed behavior

Question: I am a 23-year-old single mother with four children. I love them with all my heart, but lately I am easily affected by their defiance and disrespect. I have been reading your book, “Making Children Mind Without Losing Yours.” I have been using some of the guidelines, but it doesn’t seem to be enough.

My biggest issue is my 4-year-old son. We have been struggling with him listening and getting ready for school, and he has become violent. He has hit me, spit in my face and told me that he hates me. I broke down, because I have been trying to make them happy.

My other son is 6. He doesn’t like to do homework and has been lying and stealing.

My daughter is 5 and has the habit of destroying things that I recently accomplished. I mop my floor, and she will urinate on it or if I clean my bathroom, she takes a roll of toilet paper and stuffs it down the toilet. I made her clean it, but I almost lost my temper. My 2-year-old son has been acting out, too.

I don’t like the way that I have been feeling. I am under a lot of stress, but I don’t like regretting the life that I have. Can you help?

Answer: It seems like there might be more to the story than what you are sharing. Kids don’t just pee on floors.

You said you almost lost your temper, and I wonder if maybe you are losing your temper. You need to do a gut check to figure out if you are the stimulus that creates this unhappiness.

I also think you would be smart to move to Parenting 102, which would include reading the book, “Have a New Kid by Friday.” It details precisely what you need to do in situations such as yours.

For example: You never allow a child to hit you. You can hold a child’s arms close to your body, walk them to a safe place, close the door – holding it closed, if necessary – until your child calms down.

It’s really important that your kids see you as a loving authority figure, rather than a reactive authoritarian.

Your plate is very full. But you are the adult here. One of the best lines in “Have a New Kid by Friday” is “An unhappy child is a healthy child.”

If you are starting your day with, “All my four kids must be happy at all times,” you are barking up the wrong tree.

You need to get predictability in your home, a healthy routine. Routine is what gives young kids a sense of security. Discipline should be swift and effective.

You’d be surprised what good listeners kids can become if they know mom is just going to say things once.

Good luck.

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 whatsupdoc@tucsoncitizen.com. Photo by Tom Spitz Photography.

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