Here is my column from The Sunday Province:
Q: We are wondering if our seven-year-old son has some serious psychological problem. He has violent outbursts that can last for hours. He got so mad one day that he got out a bag of flour and threw it all over the living room. It took us hours to clean it up and we’re still getting up from the couch covered in flour. The confusing part is that he’s perfect at school yet he won’t listen to reason or negotiate with us. We have tried disciplining him by depriving him of things he likes but that only makes him worse. His teacher has suggested we provide him with more structure at home. But whenever we try to set a regular bed time or anything, he is worse so it’s just easier to give in to keep the peace.
A: You’ve fallen into the same trap many parents do, i.e., “giving in to keep the peace.” This parenting technique is great if you want to train your kids to be in charge, otherwise it’s disastrous. The reason your son is well behaved at school is because he’s getting structure and discipline, in other words, he’s getting what he needs.
One of the first things I coach parents not to do is get caught up in dialogue during discipline. The more you justify and explain yourself, the less respect you will get. You are his parents, and you are in charge. No negotiating that, certainly not at his young age!
In future, when he has tantrums, do your best to ignore him. If you have to interrupt his actions, like taking flour out of his hands, then do so with no talking, eye contact or anger. The more calm, controlled and silent you are, the more he will learn to respect you.
Be warned that once you start taking charge he will sense this and probably get worse before he gets better. That’s normal and to be expected. Just be consistent, calm (at least on the outside) and patient, and eventually these leadership skills will pay off. Kids don’t really want to be in charge, they want to be parented.
Lisa Bunnage, Parenting Coach & Mom ( email: firstname.lastname@example.org )