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by Maricela
(Riverside, CA)

My child has problems being nice to other kids. He tells them bad things, and I don't know why he does that.

I want him to be able to talk to me but what he does is yells at me and tells me what a bad Mother I am because I don't let him do what he wants.

I need help! He has really bad tantrums, he has a fit when I don't buy him what he wants. He is rude to my boyfriend and yells at him too.

I worry if I don't do something now what is going to happen to me later on down the road?

Please help me.

Comments for Misbehavior

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Changing Misbehavior - Part One
by: Annie Desantis

Hi Maricela,

You don't say how old your son is, but I am assuming he is still fairly young, maybe not at school yet?

What you want to be doing is reinforcing the behavior you DO want with him. A lot of parents put heaps of energy into bad behavior and what that actually does is reinforce what you DON'T want. He is learning he gets lots of attention when he performs or throws a tantrum. So the first thing to do is start noticing and reinforcing his good behavior. When he learns he gets positive input and attention from behaving well, he is going to be far more likely to keep doing that.

You can have a star or sticker chart and every time you notice him playing nicely with other kids, or being polite and helpful, make a big fuss, praise him and put up a sticker.

You can also build in a bigger reward if he gets a certain number of stickers in a week. The older the child, the more stickers they have to earn before they get a bigger reward. Don't make it a huge reward - it might be something like a small toy, a trip to MacDonalds, or a special outing with you.

The other thing that is important, is DO NOT GIVE IN to tantrums. If kids learn all they have to do is make a big enough fuss and Mom will cave in and buy they something, or give them what they want then of course they will keep on doing it.

Sure it is hard when they throw a tantrum in public, but the key to handling it, is don't get hooked into having a tantrum yourself trying to control him!

If you have the sticker system going, you can set the scene beforehand. Choose a situation where he it is common that he will perform - maybe shopping, or playing with friends. Mention the behavior you want to see - and do NOT mention the bad behavior. This is not a time to lecture him it is a time to set the scene for what you DO want, and to reinforce that you know he can have a lovely time with his friends being kind and having fun. You can tell him you are really looking forward to putting up some starts on his chart for being so helpful at the supermarket, or playing happily, and you know he can earn enough stars by the end of the week to get a treat.

Part Two Follows . . .

Changing Misbehavior - Part Two
by: Annie Desantis

If you are in situations where he is being unkind to other children or rude to your boyfriend - don't loose your cool, or you are demonstrating to him how to get angry and yell. Simply quietly remove him from the situation saying, "we don't treat people like this, I like it much better when you are kind and polite to other people." Or, "when you say things like that it hurts people's feelings, time for you to go outside for a while."

I am not a big fan of time-out as punishment. But time-out quietly and calmly to regroup and take a breath is a good way to interrupt bad behavior. If he is young, then just stay with him quietly without talking or lecturing. You don't want to be giving him lots of positive attention, nor do you want to be giving him negative attention. Kids will push for negative attention rather than none. Just sit with him for 2 mins, pretty much ignoring him or waiting for him to quieten. When he does quiet down, then reinforce that - "Lovely, now you have calmed down, let's go back in and play happily."

Just keep it simple, big long lectures or yelling at kids does not teach them to behave better, it teaches them to yell to get what they want, or to switch off when you start lecturing.

Now, the thing to keep in mind with your boyfriend, it is likely your son is feeling a bit uncertain about this man that is taking his mother's attention. It would be great if your boyfriend could also help to reinforce his good behavior, maybe reading him a story when the big hand gets to 12 if he has been behaving well. He needs to build a positive relationship with your son too.

It is also a really good idea to make sure you are giving your son some great quality time on his own, without your boyfriend around. Make sure that you don't stop special daily rituals like bedtime stories when your boyfriend visits - I am assuming your boyfriend is not living with you? If he is, then you need to be making sure you have time every day JUST with your son, where he is your focus of attention and he doesn't have to compete with your boyfriend. I suspect he is jealous and the only way he gets your attention is if he behaves badly. Even an angry Mom is better than her withdrawing her energy to someone else.

Part Three Follows . . . .

Changing Misbehavior - Part Three
by: Annie Desantis

The other thing a lot of parents do that doesn't work, and reinforces tantrum behavior - they threaten something, and often unreasonable threats, then back down.

Never threaten anything you are not prepared to carry out.

Preferably don't threaten at all - but you can use a consequence that is related to the behavior. For example, if he is about to throw a tantrum in the supermarket because he wants a packet of sweets, you could warn that you will put the biscuits back on the shelf if his bad behavior continues. I prefer to set the scene for earning good attention and not making threats at all. But if you do you MUST follow through or you have given him all your power.

Never threaten to withdraw your love or withdraw any basic need - like a meal. It is the behavior you dislike, not him.

You can use a 1, 2, 3 system of warning - and then there will be a consequence. The consequence maybe a cross instead of a sticker, or one sticker crossed out - it may be removal of the toy that is in dispute, it may be putting a treat back on the shelf. Make the consequence related to the bad behavior if possible. But keep it simple.

You don't threaten or warn with anger - you simply quietly say, "That's One - I much prefer you to play kindly - if I get to Three I put that toy away." "That's Two." "That's Three" - then follow through on the consequence without long explanations or lectures. You can stay at number 1 or 2 for the next hour before starting again if he is young. If he is at school age, then the 1 - 2 - 3 can cover the whole time of playing - so he might get a 1 early on, then a 2 an hour later etc.

If he yells at you and says you are a bad mother, just ignore him - he has learned somehow that this is something that pushes your buttons and makes you feel insecure as a Mom. YOU are the one in executive control. Sure he has to learn to have control over some things in his life, but you are running the show, and you have to decide what is acceptable in your home. Respecting yourself is being a good Mom. It sounds like he has taken too much power, and is also learning to do that with his friends too.

Kids don't always know why they do something, they simply react and do what seems to get them attention. More often than not, kids that are acting up a lot, have learned that bad behavior gives them attention, and most likely the best way to change that is to give lots of great quality time.

Part Four Follows . . .

Changing Misbehavior - Part Four
by: Annie Desantis

He shouldn't have to earn fun times with you - he can earn special times, like just you and him on an outing - but he should be getting lots of time with just you anyway, and more than likely he will stop performing so much.

Of course he also needs to learn, you are not always available for him at the drop of a hat, that you need to negotiate time together - maybe you are busy doing the washing, and you can say, "how about you help me hang out this washing, and then I can come and play Lego with you for 15 minutes before I start dinner." Or make helping you a fun and exciting thing to do - which will also be good quality attention - show him how to peel potatoes or chop carrots. Then make a big fuss over dinner that "these are special potatoes peeled by . . ."

The more you build and reinforce the good things, the less he will need to behave badly. Sure he will continue to test you at times, but that is when you claim your power, and stick to your plan.

Here are some other pages on this website you may find helpful:


Misbehaving Children

Good luck with it all, and have fun with him,
Annie Desantis

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