The Balancing Act: ‘He Is Just Too Naughty’
Every other week, Sonali Gupta draws on more than 10 years of experience as a clinical psychologist to answer readers’ questions about parenting, family dynamics, relationships, mental health, and more.
Out Of My Control: I want to consult with you regarding my 2-year- and 8-month-old son. Me and my husband are working parents. I have taken work from home to look after my kid. He is an extremely energetic and active child. My husband is a very sweet father who always tries to keep the child happy. I would like to share that I get rude to him at times; I do scold him or slap him whenever I feel the situation is out of my control. At times, it gets very difficult for us to handle him, as he starts ignoring us. For example, whenever we stop him from doing a particular thing, he will ignore us till we stop him by holding his hand and taking him away from that place or situation. Once we move him, he just starts doing the same thing. At times, it gets very difficult for us to handle him in public places, as he does not listen to us at all. Someone suggested me to be polite to him in every situation. I tried, but no result. He does talk back. He is just too naughty. Please share your suggestion.
Sonali: I can understand how frustrating this can be for you. There are two messages that stand out in your question: One is the feeling of guilt that you express about getting worked up and hitting him; two is your irritation, at times, when you feel he is choosing to ignore your instructions as you are disciplining him. This situation seems like a power struggle. However, the calmer you are, the better equipped you will be to deal with the situation. When children are 2 or 3 years old, they begin to assert themselves in little ways as they enjoy their newfound freedom and ability to explore. They may learn to ignore or tune out “No” when they hear it. They may not be able to sense the inherent danger or consequences, and hence pursue their behaviours.
What you can try is focusing on his behaviours that you want to encourage and subtly teach him alternative ways of exploring. Instead of saying, “Don’t touch the vase,” you can say, “Mama thinks that the vase is delicate. Let’s look at it carefully together.” Sometimes children feel very restricted by “No” messages, and it may help to learn other ways that encourage appropriate behaviour. Learn to tell your son what he must do, rather than what he must avoid. Instead of saying, “No jumping on the bed,” maybe ask, “Can you sit down and play?” Offer alternatives that allow him to explore, yet still be careful.
Maintaining eye contact and being firm, rather than aggressive, helps the communication process. Using a bit of humour and tact, when you think the child is ignoring you, also helps – there is nothing that draws children’s attention more than some goofiness and fun. Show appreciation and praise for appropriate behaviours, which will help lead him to model these behaviours. You may also need to figure out which of his negative behaviours needs to be ignored – remember negative attention is also attention for him.
Finally, no matter how angry or frustrated you are, choosing to slap or hit your child is not a good idea. Research shows that it encourages your child to exhibit violent behaviour. I would really suggest that you avoid using any form of physical punishment, as it can scar him. (Read more about healthy discipline on The Swaddle.)
Stressed For No Reason: I’m a mother of a 7-year-old kid who gets stressed for simple reasons like doing homework, going out, etc. I’m so perplexed about whether to push him to an extent or to leave him to do whatever he wants to do. There is no single day without clashing or engaging in a skirmish with him. I get angry and frustrated sometimes; I want to behave with him as a cool mother, but every time I fail. I’m feeling sad and depressed. I don’t know if it’s my problem, or his. At one time we were so close; he shared with me hugs and everything, and I pampered him most of the time. My main problem is I have to tell him innumerable times to do homework. Please help.
Sonali: You are feeling very helpless and frustrated about the situation at hand, and I can see it’s impacting your mood. Sometimes, when children come back from an activity-filled day at school, they may feel very exhausted, which in turn impacts their mood. Children like some downtime – unstructured play, reading or doing calming activities – to unwind. Lack of sleep and fatigue can also impact a child’s mood. Consider speaking with your son’s school to discover if anything has occurred to affect his emotional well-being, so that you are better equipped to deal with his behaviour.
Remember, as a parent, if you are feeling anxious, your son can sense it and that may affect the way he interacts with you. Sometimes, our anger and frustration creates a sense of haste so that the child feels pressured. Learning not to show your own frustration — but instead speaking in a calm, firm manner — may help to create a sense of calm and acceptance for your son that motivates him to work; nothing is more comforting for a child than the warmth and understanding a parent provides.
Try building a timetable together with your child. This timetable must ensure some relaxation after school, a structured period for homework, and time for unstructured play. Children need to be able to channel their energies into play, as it positively contributes to their happiness. A star chart or reward system can encourage your son to finish his homework, help instill a sense of responsibility in him and, in turn, become independent.