My son is an only child (6 years old) and is constantly getting into trouble at school. The counselors are running out of options for us to try. He is very energetic and smart. He has longed for a sibling from the day he could talk. He often is very physical toward other children. What can we do?
Very frustrated Mom
Kristina's Reply to Getting into Trouble:
This is a tough situation and I feel for you greatly as a frustrated mom! You want your son to be able to be happy, well-adjusted and
interacting positively with others. I do not think that the fact that he is an only child would really play into his behavior in this situation. However, if you possibly have some underlying guilt feelings for not providing him with a sibling (even though that is not your responsibility), that can manifest itself in lots of different ways that would in fact have a significant impact on his behavior. Just the fact that one of the few things you mention about this situation is the fact that he doesn't have siblings and you think he longs deeply for them, indicates that it is in your heart, you are
using that in some way to explain his behaviors. Even if you don't consciously excuse misbehaviors because of it, you may be less sure of your parenting because you sympathize with his emotional state (or the emotional state you IMAGINE he has), and you may subconsciously be parenting out of guilt.
But there will be lots and lots of things in life that your son wants, that he will not be able to have: Pet dinosaurs, an 'A' on a test he didn't study for, a little brother, the starting salary of his choosing... As a good parent, you teach him that unfulfillable desires are real, but don't have to limit or control him at all. And in fact, it shouldn't and can't be allowed to, if he is to be emotionally healthy and resilient.
So, forget about the siblings. It's not your fault that he wants them, and there is no instance in which it is normal or good for that
to effect his behavior.
Make sure that you never, ever, ever give in when he has misbehaved. Children search for strong boundaries, like solid ground to stand on, until they find them. If boundaries aren't provided or aren't consistent enough (because of parental guilt), they will keep walking outward until they find them. Once your son has misbehaved, there should be clear consequences, no matter what - whether it happens at school or at home, whether it's convenient for you or the other adults there or not. The consequences must be applied. I always strongly recommend a no-tolerance policy towards violence, whether it's the shoving or grabbing that kids do on the playground, or slamming a door in your face, you MUST stop this behavior now before he gets older.
Hitting, pushing or grabbing is simply him gratifying his impulse to control, have his way, or lash out at that moment. He gets to have
control over that situation in that moment, and that feels good to him. In order to stop it, you must make it much more unpleasant or inconvenient for him to do the bad behavior, than to NOT do so. Once he realizes how inconvenient and unpleasant it is to hit other people, he'll stop. (Same thing applies to any behavior.)
It doesn't matter what you do to make it inconvenient for him, but the things that work the best are immediate. Immediate time-out (go to your room, go to the car with me, stand in this corner, etc.) works well. I personally don't trust spanking as a discipline method, but this would be a situation where a swat on the behind would be recommended by others, because it is immediate and unpleasant (although spanking should never hurt). What my husband and I use for situations when we are responsible for a child who misbehaves, is push-ups. Yes, push-ups. Whether we're at the karate school or at an elementary school or in the supermarket. Kids at first don't believe you, and you simply have to be firm. Once they do a few, they'll realize you're serious. 10 push-ups for a 6-year-old is good, and then the next time it happens, make it 20. The next time, 30. Etc. You can do this with jumping jacks or any other thing that is equally inconvenient for your child. This works because it is immediate, and it sort of combines a calming/physical activity with a "time out" (because they are removed from the situation until they complete their task), along with a responsibility (complete this task). It's nearly the perfect consequence in a situation like this, because it's healthy.
I've not had kids get past 40 push-ups (4 misbehaviors - 10 the first time, 20 the second, etc.) in a day, because usually they learn pretty quickly that it's WAY more time-consuming and unpleasant to misbehave than to simply behave. For severe misbehaviors, there have been many times when I've had a child do 100 push-ups (even 5 year olds), while I wait. And, while they might cry, it only takes them a few minutes, gives them time to consider what they did, and then they NEVER do that again. It's not even close to being too strenuous for any normally-able-bodied kid.
Regardless of the consequence you choose, it must be applied swiftly, and you must not waiver. Not ever. Kids need to be able to trust what you say, without question. And, you must apply the consequences consistently. You can't have him doing push-ups every time he looks at you the wrong way - he needs to know what the rules are ahead of time! Don't be swayed when he tests you (and he will test you) to see if you'll still apply the consequences even when you're in public or have company over. He will look for where your boundaries are, and when he finds them, I think he will respect them.
Once your child learns that misbehaving is far more unpleasant than pleasant, he'll stop! Good luck, and STAY STRONG.
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