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Difficult to Discipline

Question:

I’m not sure if I am on the right path; I’m not even sure where to begin. I am having trouble with my 10-year-old son. He is becoming more difficult to discipline. I have tried grounding him and talking to him. Nothing his father or I say to him fazes him. All their lives, both of my children have had everything they have ever wanted, and I am trying to make them understand that there is value to having things. However, my son does not appreciate anything and thinks that he can do and get whatever he wants at any time.

He also has a social problem at school, and I have tried seeking guidance from the school, but they were no help. He is about to enter middle school, and I don’t know what to do.

Today, when I told him he had to earn something he wants, he said he thinks it’s OK to take it from his sister and he shows no remorse. What can I do? I am very afraid of where this is leading. Please let me know if I have contacted the correct place.

Answer:

Thank you for contacting us for help. Parenting is a tough job, and we sometimes recognize that we have done things along the way that lead to even more difficulty as our children grow and develop.

It is counterproductive to look back and blame ourselves. It is productive to look back and learn from our mistakes and make changes in our own behaviors.

Children who are given everything without having to earn it often feel as though things are owed to them. They appreciate very few things, and they appreciate the people who provide these things even less. It sounds as though you have reached a point of realization that things must change.

If you can, sit down and establish clear expectations for behaviors. This includes using social skills as well as chores around the house. Also, plan in advance what can be earned when the child meets expectations and what the consequences are when he fails to meet the expectations.

Start by teaching him some basic social skills:

  • Follow instructions
    • Look at the person who is speaking to him
    • Say OK to show understanding
    • Perform the task immediately and let the other person know when the task is finished
  • Accept consequences
  • Accept a “no” answer
  • Ask permission

 
Describe these skills step by step to the child, and give him good reasons for performing the tasks the way you are describing. Then, have the child practice.

Let your children know that things must change and it may be uncomfortable for a while but you are going to stick to it. When your son is grounded make sure there are no privileges available to him that he enjoys, such as telephone, TV, DVD, I pod, computer, etc...

During the time he is grounded make sure he has things to do, extra chores, learning and practicing social skills, helping his parents. He will have to complete these assignments to re-gain his privileges.

Do not let your son talk you out of sticking to your plan and your consequences. In the situation you described, he didn’t accept consequences, and he took other’s property without permission.

These are both negative behaviors and should be confronted by teaching him more acceptable alternatives and negative consequences for engaging in them.

Boys Town has a parenting program called Common Sense Parenting that teaches the very techniques described above, and more. Parenting education can offer additional strategies and techniques when what you are doing isn’t working. A book by the same name can be purchased at local bookstores or at www.boystownpress.org.

If you feel your son has gotten to the point that he needs to be assessed by a counselor or therapist, then we can help you find one in your area. It is good that you are recognizing that his behaviors are getting in the way of his success in the social settings that life will present him with. Time is of the essence.

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