We are here, waiting for this baby, so I thought I’d do an Ask Auntie Leila, as there seems to be a veritable epidemic of boys out there who are misbehaving in a major way. It’s funny how the emails I get definitely go in waves. Right now we are apparently experiencing the result of some crazy alignment of stars or something, five years ago, because these boys are giving their moms a hard time.
The basic question is as follows (I’m going to compress them into one, as this topic does seem to be of general interest):
Dear Auntie Leila,
My oldest child, a boy, is turning five. (Alternately, “My third child and first boy is almost five.” Once in a while, “my daughter” but not usually.) My husband and I have been really frustrated with his behavior lately. I will try not to exaggerate, since he really is a sweet boy when he wants to be, but most of the time he is disobedient, disrespectful, untruthful, and lately getting into mischief that seemed he was beyond creating a long time ago. For example, lately I can’t trust him to go to the bathroom on his own without his getting into the toothpaste or unrolling all the toilet paper. The other day, left alone for 10 min., he got into my make-up and drenched himself in my perfume and used my eyeliner for war paint. These are the sorts of things he used to do, and what I would expect his two younger brothers to do when unsupervised, but I thought he was past that stage. He seems to be reverting.
When he misbehaves, we send him to his room or spank him.
The other day he bit his baby sister, then argued with me about it, then got a swat for the biting/arguing, then he threw a temper tantrum because he was mad he got a swat so was sent to his room, and then that kid had the nerve to sneak around the corner and throw little rocks at me because he was mad he had been punished for biting! Things will just keep escalating like this until he gets to a point where he’s a sobbing little mess who needs to be picked up and cuddled because he has reached the pit of despair. Then he gets the talk about why what he did was wrong, and about making good decision, etc. etc. He will sincerely apologize, and yet somehow, this never seems to deter him the next time. Next time means in five minutes!
I want to put him in front of the TV just to get a break. I am at my wits’ end. I am worried about the effect of all this misbehavior on my other children!
Concerned, Desperate, etc. etc.
Dear Concerned and Desperate,
Clearly you are not alone. Auntie Leila’s inbox is here to attest to that! Some little boys are naughty as a matter of course, and it all reaches a peak between the ages of four and five! As much as this is a developmental stage for the little blighter, it’s one for you as well. You are leaving the stage of your life where you basically move toddlers through their day (or, in the case of the older children being girls, have enjoyed a time of rather inward-directed energy) and into a somewhat frightening realm where the subjects are discovering that they are autonomous and they are going to make the most of it.
What worries you is that this child will be a delinquent reports of whom get shared on Facebook. You are sure you won’t be around to read them, having expired from the effort required to manage him. You are beat.
But don’t worry. Things will be all right! Your heedless five-year-old will be your strong and considerate seventeen-year-old. I realize it’s a long row to hoe, but hopefully it helps to know that things get better!
At any stage, always apply the first line of defense that I outlined in the whining post. Do read it. No matter what the age (mothers of teens, take note!), no matter who the difficult person in question might be (mothers, it might be you!), make sure that they are getting enough sleep and enough food! Make sure the day is structured and has plenty of outdoor time and little or no screen time. Give him more breakfasts and more rocks to break (= swimming lessons, moving wood, and anything that tires him out!).
What I really want to talk to you about, though, is to make sure that you have the alpha roles well in hand in your family. When a child becomes demanding, it’s all too easy to let him become the lynchpin of all activity — we find ourselves referring everything to him and always checking to see that his reactions are okay. Even just making sure he behaves can cause all the energy in the family to revolve around him.
Since only certain animals are capable of being the alphas, keeping things straight makes the others feel secure, and that security is reflected in their subsequent behavior, which becomes much more calm, once the ranks are established.
How does this translate to human behavior in a family? It’s important that you and your husband talk to each other without paying too much attention to the children — at least sometimes! It’s important that you, the alpha pair, are taking care of business and not having things revolve around the children in the sense that you look at them as you do something, let them interrupt you, take care of them first, etc.
Take care of the foundation — you and your husband. Sometimes (it isn’t possible all the time, of course — all the more reason to make the effort at least once in a while), put him first, answer him first, ask him what he’d like, etc. And he tries, at least a good portion of the time, to show you the same deference.
Now, once that is cleared up, you can go on to the actual transgressions.
If your boy says something rude, you can just ignore him. Little by little you can let him know that he has to speak appropriately. It’s not necessary to react to every infraction! Whatever you do, do it swiftly. Don’t let him wear you down. Either set him straight or let it go.
You can also just say, “Daddy is going to take care of this.” (Discuss it beforehand with your husband and make sure he’s on board, will come home on the early side if you ask him, and in general will be the heavy. He should take it very seriously and very calmly — no ranting and very little talking. He should just say, “Son, I am disappointed that you did something so naughty. Biting is a nasty thing for a big boy to do to his little sister. You are her protector. Now come get your punishment.” Then he should leave him alone for about 20 minutes and then give him a hug and go on without dwelling on it. Later, and completely unrelatedly, he should tell him that he is proud of him for some good act towards his sister.)
It isn’t so much naughtiness that you should be working on as helping him to gain awareness of others and how he is affecting them. Wait before you react. If he says something disrespectful, WAIT. Let it sink in. Then calmly say, “That was disrespectful. Speak more respectfully.”
Also, be very sure that you are not speaking about him when he can hear. Recently, I have noticed moms commenting on their child’s behavior — “John is really behaving so badly today and I don’t know what to do with him!” –in his presence. Just don’t do it. It’s highly destructive. I’m sure you don’t.
Instead, give him hugs and cuddles — on your own terms. I like to say, be strict and warm!
I will say that if you hang in there, don’t look to him for affirmation, keep your standards, and don’t get upset when things go wrong (at least most of the time — Auntie Leila knows that mistakes happen even in the best regulated families), you will find that it will be okay. Children do go through stages and he is at the stage where he does need to start interacting with others and getting his rough edges rubbed off.