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6-Year-Old Boy Thinks Only of Himself

Question:

My ​son is 6, and his father and I have been divorced since he was 2. Recently, he started doing things that don’t seem normal, like throwing other kids’ lunch in the trash at school before they’re finished eating. Last night, he hit me. I take things away from him and ask him if he feels bad, and he tells me he only cares about himself. He shows no signs of empathy or remorse, and never feels the need to apologize. I have recently met with a therapist, but my ex-husband doesn't think our son needs to see one. We have 50/50 custody, so I need his father’s permission to start any therapy. I need help. I feel like I’m doing something wrong.

Answer:

Parenting is a tough job, and parents often have to be resourceful to find what works best with their children. Have you spoken to your son’s pediatrician about your concerns? Since he knows your son and his health history, he may be able to offer some suggestions or explanations for these recent behaviors.

While it doesn’t help to ask your son why he is doing these things, it is important to address these behaviors, give negative consequences – such as losing a privilege or doing an additional chore – and teach him a better way to handle a situation. An example of a negative consequence might be not getting to watch his favorite TV show, and instead, practicing how to apologize to a student whose lunch he has thrown away or who has been hurt by another of his negative behaviors.

While you cannot control your son’s thoughts or feelings, you can work on changing his behavior. As you continue to appropriately deal with his misbehavior and teach and practice more socially acceptable behavior, his thoughts will be affected. Changing his way of thinking is what will eventually change his feelings.

Very often, kids use behaviors – positive and negative – to get attention. The behaviors you have described seem to be of that variety, both at home and in school. For some kids, if they get more attention out of using bad behavior than good, it leads to more misbehavior. Recognizing your son’s good behaviors and pouring on the praise when you do is one way to address this situation and help your son learn that he can get more attention (and positive consequences) by using the positive behaviors you want to see.

If you would like an outside person to help, your son’s school or school district probably has a psychologist who can meet with him and observe his behaviors as he interacts with other students. Typically, a school psychologist can compile a comprehensive report and provide suggestions for you.

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