Q. Stuck at home with three kids is bad enough but one of them is going to drive me insane. My older and my younger are doing their work and managing okay, but my 8 yr. old refuses to do his school work, along with everything else, and has regular meltdowns. He’s always been tough and resistant to what I want him to do, but now he just won’t do anything I say and is starting to use profanity toward me and my husband. I yell, send him to his room, but mostly just give up. What else can I do?
A. I’m sure you are the voice of so many parents all over the world today cooped up at home with the whole family. You are scared and anxious, not to mention frustrated with kids underfoot all day long. So are your kids.
I am going to assume that your 8 yr. old is what I call an Integrity child. That means his individual make-up (not your doing) is extremely sensitive. He was born with a core sense of justice, rightness. He will not be told what to do and will not take no for an answer. This does not mean he is not caring and cooperative. It does mean that when you tell him what to do, he feels controlled because he is more sensitive to that than your others. And given the present circumstances, his sensitivity is on hyper-alert so he is stressed most of the time. One cannot be at their best when stressed. No one knows that more than you.
A stressed child shows his stress in his behavior. When you don’t like the behavior, you react to it. Your reaction sends him the message that he is not right. He gets more stressed and behaves worse. That’s the cycle you must stop to help him. Not easy especially when your mindset is in the old reward and punishment framework.
Your other children, I assume are more the Harmony child. These children want peaceful relationships, do not like conflict, and feel best when everything is in harmony. They are more malleable and tougher skinned and can more easily let problems and stress roll off their backs. They are easier to parent and thus get into a positive feedback loop. They feel more confident in their relationship with you and their behavior shows it.
Your Integrity kid sees your relationship with his siblings and knows how much easier they are for you. He may assume you love them more, which causes him to feel even worse about himself—thus worse behavior. When he gets it that you get him and don’t wish he were different, he will respond much differently.
Gaining your Integrity child’s cooperation means understanding how he works—seeing the world from his point of view. When Integrity kids feel misunderstood and alone, they tend to wake up every day, put on their suit of armor, and prepare for battle. You barely have to say anything to set him off because he’s already there. But when your mindset changes to really see him and understand how miserable he is, you will switch from anger and hopelessness to compassion and clarity. He will feel it and his defenses will start to melt.
It’s important that he find his own way into doing the right thing. He knows what that is—probably more than his siblings. But he can’t (not won’t) do what does not fit his sense of logic and fairness. So:
- Give him choices about how he does what he needs to do.
- Use problem solving, which he will thrive on, engaging him in figuring things out.
- Ask him when and where he wants to do his homework instead of telling him to get it done.
- Let him know it’s time for whatever, and ask him what he needs to do before that.
- Never, never threaten him or punish him in any way. He will not take it and will punish you back. That doesn’t mean you can’t get angry—but own it: “I am so angry about…” rather than, “You never…You have to…You make me so mad.”
- Don’t engage is his warfare—don’t take it personally. Use true empathy. Say, “I can see why you think it’s wrong for me to tell you to turn off the TV. I want you to turn it off, you don’t. How can we make this work for both of us.” That is fair.
- Do negotiate. It might be exhausting but it’s good for his brain. If you have given a final answer, then stop negotiating and say so. Then don’t engage and fuel the argument.
Blame will always backfire because his subsequent behavior will come from a place of defense. Integrity kids never shy away from a fight when they believe you are wrong. Problems arise frequently because what is right and wrong to a young child doesn’t always match what is right and wrong to you.
Practice seeing things from his point of view. This gets easier the more you understand where he’s coming from and the more compassion you feel. Remember when his behavior is unacceptable it means he is having a problem, not being a problem. If you can see this behavior and think, He’s miserable, then you will come from the right place.
All this means you MUST take care of yourself. Harder than ever these days when you can’t join a friend for coffee or take a yoga class. But do find some way to give to yourself. Integrity kids are high needs, which means their parents are high needs. Don’t think you can do it on your own. Read Homebound with kids.
When Integrity kids are given a supportive and understanding environment, they will astonish you with their creativity and individuality. When they feel confident and secure, all you have to do is sit back and watch them unfold.
We punish our children in an attempt to keep them from pushing our buttons, often escalating the original problem into a cycle of anger and blame. When Your Kids Push Your Buttons is not about what to do to your kids to get them to stop pushing your buttons. This book is about how to be the parent you wish you could be-the parent that only you are holding yourself back from.