The Healthy Family Connections Podcast
Episode 112 · Duration: 00:14:01
Our 9-Year-Old Is Out Of Control
What do you do when your 9-year-old son refuses to participate in family activities, kicks holes in the wall, and is violent?
If you have a question you’d like me to address on this podcast, don’t be shy, we’ll all benefit from your question so come on over to my website, neildbrown.com and enter it there today. And if during this month of June, your question is selected, or you leave a review of HFC on iTunes, we’ll send you a free copy of my book, Ending the Parent-Teen Control Battle.
Today we’re hearing from Amy of Montreal Canada, and Amy writes:
I recently stumbled upon your podcast and love it.
I have a question I am hoping you can address on your podcast. I would also love to get a copy of your book if you are still offering it.
We have a highly sensitive & strong willed 9-year-old son who has been very difficult over the last year and we have definitely been in a Control Battle. My husband and I have not been working well together which led to massive chaos in our home last summer and our son ended up with way too much power. He was hitting us, kicking holes in the walls, swearing, bullying his young brother, refusing to attend planned activities holding all of us hostage - he was out of control and we have been working hard to regain authority.
Things have improved a lot but we still struggle in some areas. We are seeing a family therapist and I read a lot of parenting books - maybe too many which leave my head spinning and feeling confused. Punishment & rewards don't work and damage the parent child relationship - what now? Collaborative problem solving, but what if the kid is too immature? Do we impose parental consequences or just natural consequences?
On top of all this I am a therapist. So I should have this all figured out right?!
So my question is: Our son is so strong willed he will pull out all the stops if he really doesn't want to do something. How would you role-play a conversation with our 9 year old that says, “I don't want to go swimming! That is a waste of my time! You can all go, but I'm not going!!”
He also incessantly asks for play dates and sleep-overs and doesn't want to spend time with the family. I worry he is too peer oriented and I want to have a balance of time with friends and time with family.
Thanks for your question Amy, I’m glad you found me and find the podcasts helpful and yes, your copy of Ending the Parent-Teen Control Battle is on the way which I’m sure you’ll find very helpful as a parent and as a therapist.
Negative Consequences Of a Control Battle In The Family
So let’s look at your situation. In your family, your intense and it sounds like very competitive 9-year-old has had and continues to have too much power in the family. A better way to think of that is--that your son’s negative behavior and managing his negative behavior takes up way too much bandwidth in the family. In other words, we have a major Control Battle in your family. There are a lot of negative consequences that result from that:
- It interferes with your son’s development. While he’s is putting his energy into learning how to fight, resist, avoid and manipulate, he’s not putting his energy into social-emotional learning and growing.
- You fight with him and that gives or reinforces the idea that parents are against him
- His younger brother is growing up in an environment that is traumatic and all about managing his older brother
- And parents are undoubtedly at some level of parental burnout.
So yes, we do want to change this dynamic. You say things have gotten better since last summer, excellent! It demonstrates that your son responds when you do things differently and better. What did you do to make things better? I’m also curious about how your son does with his peers. Is he dominating and insensitive, or more sharing and fitting in? That can tell us how much of his behavior is contextual and how much is where he is developmentally.
How You and Your Partner can Approach the Control Battle
How you and your husband disagree about parenting is clearly a major factor in the family dynamic. While parents parenting differently is very common, the two of you absolutely need to understand and see how each of your responses to each other and to your sons, feed into the family choreography, the family control battle; or as I like to refer to it, feed the beast. And then find a more reasoned healthy way of dealing with each other’s styles and imperfections and your sons’ developmental and behavioral issues.
Amy, you are getting too hung up on parenting philosophies. No one approach is the right one all the time.
- You’re right, punishment and rewards make children and teens into white rats in a lab and not people. So let’s not think in those terms.
- Collaborative problem solving is great and in your case, you can offer and be available for it so that as your son gets healthier, he can participate in a healthy way. In the meantime, use it with his younger brother so that it’s established as a value and a healthy way for family members to get their needs met.
- Adult imposed or natural consequences? They both have their place and when you impose consequences as parents, if you do it in a consistent and relevant way, they will be seen less as adult-imposed and will be seen as natural. For instance, if your child kicks a hole in the wall, then there isn’t going to be any screen time, for instance, until he and a parent patch and paint and restore the wall, and he has a good understanding and a sincere commitment to using healthy self-regulation skills the next time he’s upset.
How to Support Your Child in Developing the Skills he Needs to be Happy and Successful
Which leads me to the next thing I want to talk with you about. How we frame a problem has everything to do with how we approach a solution. It’s easy to focus on the fact that he has too much power in the family, but if we think about the fact that he does not have or does not use healthy self-regulation skills, it gives us a better platform for making progress. He needs to do a better job of managing his needs and feelings. Then as parents, you can focus on supporting him in getting and using those skills.
In addition to the family therapy which is terrific, he could get some counseling focused on emotional management, or be in a social emotional learning group for kids his age. And there are programs that he could go to for a number of weeks that are quite positive, activity-oriented, and focus on self-management, social skills, and self-esteem. That way we’re changing the family dynamic and getting him the support and skills he needs to be happy and successful in life.
You say he’s sensitive and intense, but to me, he sounds competitive and intense. Is he in sports? Because that’s a great place to develop one’s competitiveness and even in sport, there is sportsmanship and he can learn about that from other adults while getting recognition for his competitive skills. I realize that this is a lot of conjecture, but the point is, let’s find the right environment to support his strengths while we work on his areas of weakness.
So now to your question about how I would have a conversation with our 9-year-old who says, “I don't want to go swimming! That is a waste of my time! You can all go, but I'm not going!!”
I actually wouldn’t have a conversation with a child that says that. I’d validate his feelings, set the limit, remind him that I want to support him in getting what he wants, and move on. Something like “Wow, I see you have some strong feelings about swimming for our family outing today. And since it is a family outing we are all going and I hope you decide to bring your best self with you so that we can plan that overnight you want.”
You are making progress and that’s a great thing, but don’t settle for how far you’ve come. It’s easy to get worn down and become resigned that family life is always going to include managing a difficult to manage son. And that will keep some level of Control Battle in place.
As I said earlier, you and your husband need to realize how you each feed the beast and find a way to starve it. Your son’s nature is challenging to you and your husband, but with the good therapeutic guidance you’re getting, keep moving forward towards your vision of family health. Don’t accept the status quo, better is good, but it isn’t good enough.Your son’s nature is challenging to you and your husband, but with the good therapeutic guidance you’re getting, keep moving forward towards your vision of family health. Don’t accept the status quo, better is good, but it isn’t good enough. Click To Tweet
When a major Control Battle is going on in a family, and child or teen behaviors are out of control and violent, it’s easy to get over-focused on managing their behavior or finding the right parenting approach. Instead focus on how we support the Control Battle, and what skills our child or teenager needs to acquire. If we can starve the beast, and get our youth the support for the skills and learning they need, that will get the job done.Instead focus on how we support the Control Battle, and what skills our child or teenager needs to acquire. If we can starve the beast, and get our youth the support for the skills and learning they need, that will get the job done. Click To Tweet
We have one week left this month of June and if you leave a review of HFC on iTunes before July 1st, we’ll send you a free copy of my book, Ending the Parent-Teen Control Battle. Be sure to email me your name and address so we can get that to you.
And I really mean it when I say, please, take care of yourselves; you need it, you deserve it, you’re worth it. Bye for now.
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