My 12-year-old daughter has become angry and violent toward her younger sister. She tells her that she hates her, calls her names, hits her and recently said that she wants to kill her. I just made an appointment with her pediatrician because I am terrified. She does get angry with me, but she only acts this severely toward her younger sister. Any suggestions would greatly help at this point.
Sibling conflicts can disrupt the entire home environment. Both of your children have the right to grow up in a safe environment, and it is not safe in your home for your younger child if she is being yelled at and threatened by her sister. “Hate” is a strong and hurtful word, and it is not easily forgotten.
When your 12-year-old gets angry at her sister, what has occurred? What have you attempted to do to change the environment so this does not continue? What has been done as a result of the yelling and threatening? Is the 12-year-old required to apologize and do something nice for her sister as a consequence? If these consequences are not in place, we encourage you to work on this right away.
Sit your 12-year-old down when she is calm and inform her that her behavior is not tolerated in your home or anywhere else. It is OK to be angry, but that anger must be expressed in a socially acceptable manner. When she gets angry, she needs to go to her room to calm down. Once she is calm, she can talk to you about why she is angry and what she can do about the situation that caused the anger. Formulate a plan with your daughter on how to improve the situations that give rise to her anger, as well as ways to handle her anger when it occurs.
Let her know that these are your expectations all the time. If she meets those expectations, she will continue to have the privileges she enjoys. If she does not and falls back into her old ways of yelling, saying she hates people or is threatening them, she will be required to apologize and lose one of the privileges she enjoys. If she continues, she will continue to lose privileges.
Monitor the girls as closely as possible. Let them know that you will be watching for them to get along. Find a task for them to do together in your presence so you can watch how they interact, and then do some teaching to improve their relationship. Consulting your pediatrician is an excellent idea. He or she knows your children and can talk with them individually. He or she can assess the seriousness of the situation and offer recommendations for outside intervention if necessary.
How old is too old for time-outs?
A time-out can be used at nearly any age as long as it has the desired effect as a consequence. As our children get older and lose privileges or are grounded, those are forms of time-outs.
When your child is young, a time-out is one of the most effective consequences you can use when he misbehaves. You remove your child from the good things in life for a small amount of time immediately after he misbehaves. It is a great way to discipline without raising your hand or your voice. A time-out is simply having your child sit in one place for a certain amount of time (one minute for each year of life).
Time-outs continue to be effective as long as your child would rather be playing or engaging in an activity than sitting still and doing nothing. An example of an older child’s time-out would be during a hockey game. Players who violate the rules are put in time-out, and they have to sit and watch rather than participate or play in the game. It works because they would rather play than watch.
How can I get my teenager to listen to me? How can I make him clean his room, pick up after himself and help out around the house?
Those are great questions! Unfortunately, we don’t have a simple answer, and there isn't just one thing we can tell you to do that will make your child listen. Without much information about your son or your situation, we cannot provide a lot of specifics. But we can give you some of our basic parenting strategies to try.
Use positive and negative consequences to change behaviors. Positive consequences (time with friends, for example) increase the chances of a behavior happening. Negative consequences (such as the loss of privileges) decrease the chances of a behavior happening.
When using consequences to change a behavior, keep these five things in mind. A consequence should be:
1. Important to the child
3. Appropriate in size
4. Relate to your child's behavior
5. Appropriate for your child's level of development
Use consequences to teach your child, not to punish him. When you issue a consequence, remind your son of the appropriate behavior that he is supposed to have. Even though you may have told him three times yesterday, remind him again today because he still does not have the appropriate behavior.
If you are already issuing consequences for your son's behavior and are not seeing changes, you might need to reevaluate the consequences. Consequences will change as your child changes. Sometimes as parents we have to be creative in order to keep our consequences effective.
I am having a very hard time with my 13-year-old son. Ever since I had his 6-year-old sister, he has changed. I have always given him everything he has ever wanted. I never follow through with his punishments.
We battle every morning over getting ready for school. His father has been married five times, and he is not a full-time parent. When I ask him to help, he just says “beat his butt.” I don’t want my son to feel that I love his sister more than him, but she is the total opposite. I never have to punish her, and she never asks for anything.
It is tough to be a teenage boy. There are physical changes taking place and all kinds of pressures in his world. When he was your only child for seven years, he undoubtedly was spoiled with your attention. He didn't have to share you with anyone else. When his sister was born, the majority of your attention was on her, and rightly so since she needed your care.
The problem is that he feels that since he is no longer getting the attention that he is used to from you, he has started acting out to get your attention. Even though he has misbehaved, he has still received material things he has demanded from you. He just hasn’t received your undivided attention.
He very likely will continue to misbehave, and he will possibly increase the severity of his behavior in an attempt to get your attention. You said that you have always given him everything he wants, but then you listed material possessions rather than your attention. Then you admitted that you never follow through with consequences, which is another example of not giving him the attention he is seeking.
If you truly want to increase his good behavior and decrease his bad behavior, you are going to have to make a commitment to give him attention by teaching or disciplining him.
Let's take the example of the difficulty that occurs in your home in the morning. Think about what you want him to do. Come up with a good reason for doing it that way. Make sure it is a reason that shows the benefit to him, not to you. Then role-play what you want the morning to be like.
Before you present this to him, make a list of his privileges so that you can point out what privileges will be available to him if he follows through with the plan. If he does not, he will lose some of his privileges for at least 24 hours. He will have a chance to earn these privileges back the next morning by following the plan.
Before you have this talk with him and take advantage of the teaching moment it presents, purchase an alarm clock for him. Teach him how to set it, and then actually have him show you that he understands how to do it. You will no longer be waking him up in the morning!
Remember that it has taken him six years to form the behaviors you are now seeing, and those behaviors will not disappear overnight. Don't give up on him. Be consistent with your expectations and your consequences. This is truly how you will show him how much you love him.
My divorced friend's 4-year-old son regularly punches her in the face when he does not get what he wants. He doesn’t seem angry, but he punches hard enough for it to hurt. After punching, he is given a time-out to think about it, and he destroys the room. After an hour, he returns to the sweet little boy that he is most of the time. How can we correct this behavior?
Time-outs are a very effective way to change behaviors if they are used correctly. From what you have told us, there are a few things we would encourage your friend to modify when putting her son in a time-out to make it more effective.
Have your friend explain to her son what a time-out should look like. This conversation should happen at a time when he is not being corrected and everyone is calm. Have her explain why he needs to go sit in a time-out and for how long. Then have her explain in detail what he should be doing while in time-out.
For example, it might sound something like, "When you are sitting in time-out, I want you to quietly sit on your bottom with your hands in your lap. When you can do this, I will know that you are ready to listen and follow instructions again." Then have him practice sitting in a time-out so that he knows exactly what is expected of him. A time-out should be one minute in length for each year of age the child has obtained (4 years old = a 4- minute time-out).
A time-out should be in an area where the child can be monitored at all times, such as a chair in a hallway or a step on a staircase. Select a spot for a time-out that has little to distract the child. Bedrooms tend to not be good, especially if they are filled with toys.
One of the biggest mistakes when using a time-out is a lack of teaching at the end of it. When trying to change or correct a behavior, it's important to have a consequence (time-out), and then teach the new appropriate behavior. Even if it seems like common sense or you assume the child knows what the correct behavior is, his actions are obviously not showing that he knows so teach it to him again.
After a time-out occurs, discuss what happened (in a calm way), and remind him what he is supposed to do. Have the child practice the appropriate behavior so that he is constantly reminded what is expected of him.
My 12 year-old son has bipolar disorder, is defiant, doesn’t follow rules or directions, gets angry easily and overall has numerous behavioral issues. I have tried rewards and consequences for good and bad behavior. He sees a psychiatrist and counselor regularly but he only seems to bet getting more out of control every day. How can I help him?
Parenting a child who requires extra care makes an already tough job that much more challenging. Children who are diagnosed early on in life with bipolar disorder face many challenges, as does their family.
It can be common for their disorder to change as they do. Changes in the disorder may require adjustments in medication of either type or dosage. We always encourage parents to be completely forthcoming with how the medications are going because it can have such an impact on the child's treatment. Have you recently had him evaluated? Sometimes other types of disorders will co exist with bipolar, which may better explain some of the behaviors he's been displaying.
It can be overwhelming to think that his disorder might be in constant motion and some parents have found it helpful to keep a daily record that includes specific behaviors, eating patterns, medication status and sleeping patterns. Examine the record for patterns that might be developing.
We encourage you to consider family therapy if you haven't already done so. Sometimes parents caring for a child who needs more attention often put their own needs last. However, it's hard to care for someone else if you're not caring for yourself first. Continue with positive and negative consequences consistently to create a stable environment for your son.
My four year-old son hits others. When I tell him to stop he yells at me saying that he doesn’t have to do what I tell him to do. Sometimes, he will run away from me into his uncle’s room. How can I help him change his behavior?
There's reason behind every behavior. At four years-old, your son is still testing boundaries and exploring his surroundings. When he hits it's important that you act on the unwanted behavior immediately after it happens. For example, take his hand and say "no, we don't hit" and then explain that hitting is wrong because it hurts others. It may take several repetitions before he actually understands what you are trying to teach him. His ability to comprehend and make sense of things is much different compared to that of a teenager or an adult.
Effectively utilizing consequences can be a helpful way to change unwanted behavior. Consequences can be positive and negative. A positive consequence, like more playtime or a treat, increases the chances of a behavior happening. A negative consequence, like a time out, decreases the chances of a behavior happening again.
When administering consequences it's important to keep four things in mind:
- Keep it important to the child (a special toy or book)
- Make it immediate (directly following the unwanted/wanted behavior)
- Keep it appropriate (not too big and not too small)
- Make it relate to your child's behavior (if he hits with a toy, take the toy away)
It sounds like just telling him isn't working, so now is the time to try something new. If he is not supposed to talk back and if he's not supposed to go into his uncle's room then those are both unwanted behaviors and appropriate consequences need to be applied. Be consistent. If you stick with your new routine, his behavior should change.
My husband and I recently discovered that our 15 year-old daughter has smoked pot a few times and appears to be exploring drugs. She was sent home from school yesterday for taking one of her Dad’s Zanex pills. My husband wants to take away every privilege, which I feel is too harsh. I’ve scheduled an appointment with a Christian counselor but am worried. How can we help her?
Parents are not always going to agree on how to approach their children concerning their actions or what consequences should be delivered for those actions. Your daughter’s health and safety is the most important thing. Taking another's prescription medication is not only illegal, but it also could be harmful and put her health at risk. Since she has confessed to using marijuana as well, it may not be a bad idea to talk to her physician about a possible drug test or an actual office visit to make sure what she has ingested recently is not going to cause harm. Your husband was probably shocked and upset, as you were, and the fact that it was his medication might have struck another chord with him.
If your daughter has never had a mental health evaluation, this might be a good time for that. Some teens experiment for the sake of experimentation, but others could be self medicating for one reason or another. If depression runs in the family, now is the time to see if your daughter may actually be showing some symptoms of the same disease.
Talk with your husband and come to an agreement about what the consequences should be for your daughter’s behavior. She is old enough that if it takes some time for you to come up with a reasonable consequence, she can wait. Let her know that you are glad that she is okay, you want to get her help if she feels that she needs it, and that you love her, but because of the severity of what happened, there will be a consequence.
I am a grandparent with much concern for my granddaughter. Her mother tries hard, but my granddaughter has been hanging around with the wrong crowd. She was caught smoking pot, got suspended and again today she has apparently been kicked out of the school she attends. We just don't know where to go for help or what to do.
It's apparent that your granddaughter's behaviors are frustrating you, and you want them desperately to change. Even as you and her mother strive to do the best you can to keep her on the right track, the influence of peers can be overwhelming, making your efforts difficult. It is possible that her behaviors can be turned around, but it will take some time and patience.
Often times, teens do not want to talk to their parents or other family members about what they're going through but will open up with someone neutral, like a counselor. What discipline strategies have you tried already? Does your granddaughter understand the severity of her behaviors and how they might impact her future? Though some of this understanding will come from her counselor, it will be important for you and her mom to reinforce the same information.
In addition to counseling she is getting, developing a strong system of expectations should be established. It is never too late to do this with your granddaughter. Even though you are not her mother, you can still play an important part in this process by reinforcing the guidelines that are set for her. The consequences should be things that are easy for her mom initiate and for you to reinforce. They should also be meaningful to your granddaughter and be issued immediately. Stand firm on the consequences set regardless of quick improvement. Quick improvements are most likely manipulative behaviors to get back privileges she lost. It will be challenging at first, but once you both are able to see them through, you may notice significant improvement in your granddaughter's behavior.
I'm not sure how to handle my 8-year-old son’s recent behavior. He’s been acting inappropriately towards his 5-year-old sister by daring other children to kiss her, which upsets her greatly. When I confront him about it, he lies. We’re a new military family at our first duty station, and my husband just left. My son starts to cry and throw a temper tantrum when the other kids "don’t want to play with him" because he’s being too bossy. I am a young mother of three and very concerned about this.
Being a parent is a tremendous responsibility and having to do it alone while your husband is deployed can be overwhelming. If there are groups of other mothers who find themselves in the same situation, we suggest you consider joining one of them. It will at least help you realize that you are not the only one experiencing these problems, and at most you may learn some strategies that others have used successfully with their children.
Initiate preventive teaching to help your son change his behavior. Preventative teaching involves three simple steps:
- Describe what kind of behavior your want.
- Give a reason.
If you were to use it to address the "kissing" issue, it may sound something like this:
- When you are playing, “kissing games” are not okay. But let's talk about what other games you can play. If someone suggests a kissing game, just say "No, I am not going to play,” and walk away.
- If you find other things to play, you will still have fun and not get into trouble when adults hear or see what you are doing. And, you’ll be able to play with those friends more.
- Okay, let's say you are over at the neighbors, and someone says, "Hey, let’s chase the girls and kiss them." Show me what you would do and say.
If the behavior continues, use a different parenting skill called “corrective teaching.” There are only four steps, and it’s used to respond to your child's problem behaviors by teaching and practicing acceptable alternatives:
- Stop the problem behavior.
- Give a consequence.
- Describe what you want.
- Practice what you want them to do.
The Boys Town Press book Common Sense Parenting describes these skills in more detail. There are examples and guidelines on using effective consequences.