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I understand my 9 year old is at the age where children are beginning to assert their independence and are about to begin cutting the apron strings. From my experience with his big brother, I understand that, apparently, boys really don't want their moms to volunteer at middle school, for one.. fathers are a different matter: you can be called a mama's boy, but not a daddy's boy, right?

In any case, this is not middle school yet. This is a gifted student program (where everybody is a geek and a mama's boy to a degree and there are no bullies), in a district where parents are known to volunteer a lot and keep a close eye on the kids at school.

So, as a single(ish) mother, what is my role then?

We are at the phase where my son is very affectionate in private, wants to sleep in my bed, can't tell me enough times how much he loves me; he is still OK with me volunteering. However, should I do something that does not meet his strict expectations at school (such as sit where other people apparently don't sit), he has tears running down his cheeks, he shows me his fist, and, worst of all, he is very public about admonishing me and publicly yells at me for "embarrassing him".

On some level, I understand what's going on; but, in our culture especially, family comes first and respect for parents is non-negotiable. I don't think this behavior would be OK in any culture though.. he would not think about treating his teacher or principal this way, wherever he happened to sit.

I am certainly going to have a talk with him. What are your opinions about how to navigate this stage?

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The next time he does that, remove him from the situation (eg leave the classroom and go into the hall; leave the hall and go outside; whatever.) As a parent, nobody will challenge you doing this; just say "Excuse us for a moment," and to the child say "Come out here with me for a moment." When you get out of earshot of everyone, stay calm and say:

That is not how you let me know I am doing the wrong thing. No matter how much it upsets you when I do something that embarrasses you I am sure you can find a way to tell me politely, just as I tell you.

Then clarify, if you need to, where he wants you to sit or whatever, and go back into the situation.

Later, at home, when things are calm, you can suggest some sort of secret signal between the two of you that he can use for those situations. You can also emphasize that yelling and fist showing are simply unacceptable and you expect him to speak to you with respect even if he is upset. (And of course, you are modelling this to him yourself the whole time.) Plenty of "we" sentences like "we don't yell," "we don't hit each other or threaten to," and so on will emphasize both the symmetry of your rules (there's no double standard) and your confidence that he can and will comport himself this way.

I would not suggest the secret signal first. Doing so skips the part where you tell him "what you are doing right now is unacceptable." For a nine-year old, "what you did earlier this morning (or worse, yesterday or last week) is unacceptable" is a bit of a challenge. So wait for it to happen again so that you can be clear that it's not ok.

Finally, consider the possibility that someone has teased him about liking you and perhaps about "letting you get away with" the sorts of sins 9 year olds care about, like sitting in the wrong place. His over-reaction and intense emotion may be due to conflict related to this teasing. If this could be so, you might (during that calm time when you're talking about the secret signal) acknowledge that unwritten rules are important and powerful, and that you know in many groups they are enforced by being mean to those who break them or allow others to break them. See what you hear in response to that.

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