Q: We have an 11-yr-old son who is disobedient and defiant. He simply won’t do what he is told. He is chronically late getting ready for school, often telling us he isn’t going (6th grade private school), as well as many other things. He has had all privileges taken away (extracurricular activities, computer, time with friends). Do you have any suggestions regarding his getting ready for school? My husband has to take him and his sister to school before going to work. It often puts him in a position of being late for work.
A: The wonderful, wacky world of tweens. One minute, they’re little kids, the other, they’re acting like teenagers. It can be infuriating to have a kid who can’t get moving in the morning, can’t it? And tweens start wanting to sleep in more, which can make waking them up harder.
You don’t say how much sleep he gets, but I would move his bedtime to no later than 8:45 p.m. He might want to stay up later, but he still needs at least 8 to 10 hours of sleep a night.
For the morning, have him make a list of everything he has to do to get ready for school. Examples include: get dressed, eat breakfast, brush teeth, get shoes/coat on, get backpack ready, and any morning chores (feed an animal, make a bed, wash dishes, make lunch, etc.). Now look at that list and see what he can do the night before. If he has trouble getting dressed, perhaps he lays out his clothes before bed. If he gets bogged down making breakfast, he can get the bowl, spoon, glass and cereal out on the counter before bed. That sort of thing.
Then use a kitchen timer set at 10 minute increments to prod him along. Give him the list so he can check off his morning duties, and tell him he has 10 minutes for each or something like that. Then instead of telling him what to do, simply set the timer. When it goes off, he needs to be on to the next task.
This will take some training and patience on your part, but you need to shift the responsibility onto your son’s shoulders. If he makes your husband late to work, then he should have a consequence, like directly to bed after supper that day.
One final thing: instead of saying to your son, “It’s time to do X,” simply tell him that he needs to do the next thing on his list. That helps you to step back from micromanaging and helps him learn to manage his own tasks.
Q: I am a single mom who adopted my three-year-old daughter two days after her birth. She is super energetic and sometimes aggressive. Her current phase involves saying, “No!” to everything as well as changing her mind on every choice I give her. For example, I will say, “Do you want peas or corn?” Her answer: “Corn.” I fix the corn, then she screams, “No, I want peas!” It happens with any choice lately. any advice on her bossy and fickle behavior?
A: This is normal 3-year-old behavior. It sounds like she had a fairly calm toddler period and is now asserting herself more. All four of my kids breezed through the twos, but became rather like little dictators in the threes, much like your daughter.
Part of the problem is that you’re giving her too many choices. Kids should not make many decisions on a daily basis—that’s the parent’s job. Asking her what she thinks or wants each time there’s a possible choice gives her way too much control and say-so in the running of your household. Soliciting her opinion on what should be served or done or worn elevates her to be your equal because you’re giving her veto power.
Unfortunately, parents today have heard that children should have more a say in what they eat, wear, do, or go than warrants their tender years. Kids are not capable of making rational decisions or of even making the right decision for their own well-being. After all, most children would prefer to eat ice cream and candy for dinner, rather than the well-balanced and healthy meal you cook for them. Sure, we should let them make a small number of inconsequential choices, but at age three, kids should only be allowed to decide one or two things on a daily basis.
Here’s the nitty-gritty answer: Ignore her nos—that’s just white noise because she didn’t get what she wanted at that moment. If she throws a temper tantrum beyond yelling “No!,” confine her to her room until she calms down. Give her only one or two choices a day, such as letting her pick out her outfit or choosing her lunch option. (By the way, your daughter’s adoption has nothing to do with her behavior. It’s all part of the growing up process.) She’s going to complain, throw temper tantrums and basically act like someone who can’t make up her mind. Again, this is very normal!
When she does protest her choice (or your choice for her), don’t try to reason with her or try to get her to see the illogical nature of her response. Deal with the temper tantrum if necessary and ignore her protestations.
Q: Our 10-year-old daughter, the oldest of four children, has always been the most difficult and defiant of the lot. It sounds cliché, but it seems nothing can transform her. We have disciplined as consistently as we can since she was little but to no avail. Lately her disrespectful attitude and tone towards me, and her unpleasant disposition and emotional outbursts at home have gotten out of control. She is having a hard time adjusting to school this year after being homeschooled for many years, but I can’t say this is the root of the problem.
For example, if she acts disrespectful to me (like “How many times do I have to tell you to not call me a little kid?!”) or is sassy, I discipline (make her go to her room for 30 minutes or write 20 sentences), which causes her to do something else to get in trouble (“whatever…I don’t care mom!” or she throws a pencil across the room), so I further discipline (make the timeout longer and more sentences), then she yells, and on and on it keeps going. She is always getting in trouble with me much more than my husband. She tends to listen to him right away when he disciplines, and isn’t sassy to him. She complains about everything, is so negative, nags us to no end about everything, has crying outbursts when she doesn’t get her way, etc.
Every day is tough with her, and it is really disturbing the peace at home. I hate that my other children have to hear her outbursts and us being mad at her, though we try to calmly discipline. We have begun considering boarding school in the future if this continues, even though it would be a huge sacrifice. Other than praying for wisdom, I am at a loss. We fear the road ahead. Please give us guidance!
—An Exasperated Mother
A: Hmm, in reading your question, the first thought that comes to mind is that you’re expecting too much. Now before you stop reading, hear me out. You discipline her for every disrespectful or sassy comment, then pile on MORE discipline when she doesn’t take the first discipline with the RIGHT attitude. She keeps acting out probably because she feels hopeless at getting anything right—that doesn’t mean she gets a free pass, but I want you to understand it from her point of view.
I have two girls, now ages 11 and 13, so I know of which you speak. Around age 10, girls get a hormone boost that can make them a little crazy, some more than others. If she’s developing physically, her body could be doing some fairly weird things that make her emotions closer to the surface than at other times. And 10-year-olds are still generally clueless about tone of voice, so she might not realize how she sounds to you.
Again, I say that not to excuse her behavior but for you to understand your daughter more. Now, here’s what I would do if she were my kid (and yes, I’ve had this conversation with my daughters around this age). Have a conversation with her something like this: “Daughter, I’ve noticed that we’re having a tough time communicating/getting along lately. I feel like I’m yelling at you a lot, and I don’t like that—and I think you don’t either. I know it’s been tough to adjust to a new school, but this cycle we’re in isn’t good for you, for me or for our family. Is there anything you want to tell me about that would help me understand where you’re at right now?” Then listen. Don’t jump in with solutions, arguments, etc. Just listen.
Then say, “Thank you for sharing. Would you think about three things I could do that would make our relationship better? I’ll think of three things you could do as well. We’ll take a few days to think about this and come back to discuss this.”
Take a break during the reflection time where you’re ignoring the disrespect, sassiness and complaining. If she starts, just smile and say, “That sounds like [sassiness, disrespectfulness, complaining], so I’m not going to listen,” and walk away. Get back together and go over your suggestions—I think you might be pleasantly surprised at what she comes up with. Do those things if at all possible.
Also try to spend some time with her each day, even five minutes in the dark before she goes to bed, to reconnect with her. It sounds like you two have become estranged in a way because of all this. Find time at least once a month to do something just the two of you—something she suggests (like go out for ice cream, a walk or a trip to the mall to look at earrings, etc.). Look for ways to love her, such as cooking her favorite meal, picking up a book at the library you’ll know she’d like and writing notes to stick in her lunch.
With a little effort, you can reduce the level of conflict and restore a calmer relationship with your daughter—and have no need to fear the road ahead!