irresponsible child

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    I have a smart, outgoing independent ten year old boy, who I have spoiled. As a result, he wants everything done for him. Food dished out, laces tied, clothes picked out. He loses his lunch ticket, doesn’t eat his snacks and sees no consequences. I am an overworked single mother and I realize I’m the problem because I’m so tired most of the time. Please, what should I do. I lecture. I  explain. I take away toys. Doesn’t work. I know I’m the problem and I’m not being consistent, but how do I at least deal with the lack of responsibility? What do I do when he loses the lunch ticket? And he gets so angry when I say no to something. Worst is when he screams at me in public, or interrupts me when I’m talking with adults. Obviously I have not taught him about boundaries and feel a failure. It’s easier to deal with huge work issues than deal with my son. I feel like a failure. Please help me.

    SS Moderator
    SS Moderator

    Hello Mama Jaan,

    Firstly sorry for the delay in replying, this site was going through some updates this week.

    Let’s take this one piece at a time. Being a single working parent can be very challenging. Being self-critical won’t help you, or your son. He may pick up on your feelings of failure, and use that as a way of getting what he wants. If he knows you feel “guilty” or “a failure”, he will manipulate this. Pre-teens and teens are especially good at this. So start with telling yourself that life is tough and you are doing your best. Tell yourself that, just as you deal with huge work issues, you can deal with this also. If you start with being kind to yourself, and acknowledging your ability to handle this, then you will actually feel more competent. Look after yourself first, get some down time, engage in positive friendships, exercise, and think positively.

    When your son IS behaving well, what are you doing, that helps him? Try to identify YOUR role in his acting out. Is he picking up on your stress? Are there patterns that you can identify, such as “when you…… then he………? Behaviors are simply patterns (with underlying motivations). To change a behavior you need to find motivation to change the patterns.

    Behavior management techniques that focus on positive reinforcement work well. Start with sitting down with your son, when you are both calm and relaxed. Tell him that you love certain things he does (point them out, however small they may be). Point out his talents, skills and abilities and tell him how proud you are of him. Then tell him that you love it when he is well behaved. Ask him how he feels when you say you love him and are proud of him – ask him if he likes this feeling, and if he’d like to feel this way more often. Chances are, if you’ve got him at a relaxed moment, that he’ll agree that he feels good when you are happy with him and he’d like to feel this all the time. Then tell him that you can both come up with a plan that will help him be well-behaved. List a few unacceptable behaviors. Together, come up with alternative behaviors. For example, it’s unacceptable for him to shout at you. Instead he can………..count backwards from 100 while doing slow deep breathing?  Then, calmly tell you what’s bothering him? And at your end you will agree to listen to his request and think about it? So come up with a short list of unacceptable behaviors, and break the existing pattern of emotional escalation by trying different responses. Track what works, and what doesn’t work, so you may need to try different “alternative behaviors” till you find what works. When he does embrace a new behavior, give him lots of specific positive reinforcement: “I loved it when you just ……., you’re trying hard and I’m proud of you”.

    Consistency on your part is key. It takes time to change fixed patterns.  Please go to the Support Library on this website and have a look at the document “how to motivate a teen”. Even though your son is a pre-teen, it will give you some helpful strategies. Also reach out for help. Do you have access to a child behavior therapist, who could help you put together an effective parenting plan? Can his school counselors refer someone?  You may need this kind of support initially. Good luck!

    • This reply was modified 6 years, 3 months ago by SS ModeratorSS Moderator.
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