Thursday, October 16, 2008

Demanding Child


I am a mother of 5 children aged 8, 7, 5, 4 and 8 months old. There are many things I could ask about but I have gained so much just through reading as much as I can through your website. As well as this, we plan to order at least one of your books when we can afford it.

However, something I have not come across yet and am desperate to have answered is this. My (just turned) 4 year old son is very difficult to live with and hard to figure out at the moment. Briefly put, firstly, he will speak over someone else in the family or try to override their will with his without paying any attention to what they need or want no matter how reasonable. For example, when I am talking on the telephone, (which isn't that often), he will talk to me or yell and demand for what he wants even though he knows I'm talking to somebody else, it's very embarrassing. If he wants his own way he will fight or make a scene to get it no matter who's around or where we might be at the time! We sometimes give in to him because it's just easier, more peaceful or if in town, less embarrassing than to fight it. But other times, I stand my ground with him and have to calmly and kindly carry him out of the room to gently hold him and calm him down. The second problem is this, lately he has taken to hitting me whenever he perceives that I am being "mean" to him which is usually over the slightest little thing, like me kindly correcting him with a lilt in my voice or asking him not to annoy his sisters or brothers. But worse than that, he is verbally abusing me at the same time. He repeatedly says he "hates" me, that I'm being "mean to him", that I don't love him, that I'm a "disgusting" mother, when all I've done is tried to love him by setting boundaries for him. He totally overreacts and misunderstands me and my intentions.

I've always had a strong bond with him as a baby and he's normally a very joyful, delightful, social, outgoing, gregarious child who loves to be the center of attention! He's always known I love him and when he's happy he's been the one child who'll always tell me how much he loves me and so forth. I'm sad and concerned as he's miserable and his behavior is such that I getting to the stage of feeling anxious when we are around other people incase he behaves in any one of these totally inappropriate ways mentioned above. Or sometimes, it will be overtly rude or foolish behavior like saying rude or inappropriate words or annoying, repetitive noises where I have to ask to be quiet or leave the room, which is always to no avail.

Any advice to help and understand my son is so welcomed and much appreciated! Thank you.



Hi Jody, I can "hear" from you email what a good mom you are (and a busy one with five children) and how difficult and frustrating it is to deal with a challenging child. I can also tell that there is a lot going on that will be too difficult to explain in an email--it would take a book, but I will try a few concepts and suggestions.

As a mother of 5 children, you know (as do all mothers) that every child is born with different "temperaments" and little personalities. In the book, Positive Discipline for Preschoolers, we discuss temperament. Following is a brief summary:

Temperament and Development1[1]

Why Do They DO That?

Compiled from Positive Discipline the First Three Years and Positive Discipline for Preschoolers by Jane Nelsen, Cheryl Erwin, and Roslyn Duffy

A child’s behavior is the result of
individual temperament
emotional, physical, and cognitive development
what he or she has decided about how to find belonging and worth
Temperament is inborn and appears to remain constant throughout our lifespan. (See Chess and Thomas’s “Know Your Child”)

3. Behavior is a dance between temperament, development, and what your child believes about himself, you, and the world around you.

1. Activity Level
High activity -----------------------------------------------------Low activity
2. Rhythmicity (predictability of physical functions)

3. Initial Response (reaction to something new)

4. Adaptability (ability to adjust to change over time)
Adapts quickly------------------------------------------------------Adapts slowly

5. Sensory Threshold (sensitivity to sensory stimulation)
Very sensitive-------------------------------------------------------Less sensitive

6. Quality of Mood

7. Intensity of Reactions (response to events)
Intense reactions--------------------------------------------------Mild reactions

8. Distractibility (willingness of a child to be distracted)
Highly focused--------------------------------------------------Easily distracted

9. Persistence and Attention Span (ability to stay focused on an activity for a length of time)
Persistent/long attention span------------------------------Gives up/short span
Parents have temperaments, too; “goodness of fit” refers to how well a parent’s temperament matches his or her child’s.

Effective parenting means planning for the child you actually have!
In the early years, a child’s behavior has more to do with development than with “misbehavior”; children are young and unskilled, and need discipline that teaches, rather than punishment.

No matter how old your child is, it is important to know your child!!

I'm sure you will find your little 4-year-old on the scale. My guess is that he also feeling "dethroned" by the new baby. He got to be the "youngest" for quite awhile. To watch a candle demonstration you might want to try to deal with "dethronement," go to

Once you understand all this it is important to understand that you can't change him any more than you can change a petunia into a rose (he may alwyas be an "intense reactor") but you can do things to help him be the best he can be. The worst thing you can do is to give in to him. That teaches him that his methods work so you are engaging in tyrant training.

Some suggestions:

1. Keep doing many of the positive things you are doing--more consistently.

2. Don't worry about what other people think. I know this is difficult, but someone once asked me, "Do you want to be a good mother for the neighbors, or for your children?" That was a huge reminder to me to think more about what my children needed than what others thought.

3. Set up a special time with your son for 15 minutes a day. (It is a good idea to do this with all your chldren.) Then when he is demanding your time when you don't have it, you can say, "I'm busy now, but I sure am looking forward to our special time at 4:15." Then ignore his demands.

4. Ignore his demands a lot. Do the above or simply validate his feelings. "I know you really want that and you are so angry and upset that you can't have it now." Then ignore.

5. Let him have his feelings. Allow him to be upset and angry without thinking you have to rescue him or fix it for him. Children need to learn to develop their disappointment muscles so they learn confidence and resiliency--that they can handle the ups and downs of life.

6. Try hugs. For a great example of this, go to and scroll down to the free podcasts and listen to # 39.

7. Start regular family meetings on a weekly basis so all of your children can learn so many valuable and social lifeskills such as looking for the positive by giving and receiving compliments and by focusing on solutions. All the Positive Dsicipline books have chapters on family meetings. You can also go to and order the ebook on the Family Meeting Album.

I wish you the best,

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