This is a little more complicated than it might seem, so I'll give some back-story.

We have 2 kids:

  1. The oldest, 11, was born to us during my first year of college, and I was only intermittently in the picture due to distance, and relationship instability at that point. He is diagnosed with moderate autism, but is extremely high functioning and has a high IQ. He is fairly creative and has a very good ability to think abstractly. He has a fair number of great qualities, but the negative behavior so dominates daily life that it really overshadows many of the good times daily. He also has significant social-behavior problems, and very poor impulse control, and frequently gets in trouble.
    We have a fairly high-stress and contentious relationship with this one. He will not complete any chores without significant involvement by one or both parents; he (quite viciously sometimes) argues just about everything that requires him to do anything other than what he is doing at the moment. This is emotionally taxing and makes it difficult to connect and maintain a connection him.

  2. The youngest, 3, was born to us after we reconciled, had moved in together for about a year or two, and had a stable relationship. He was a relatively early talker, is highly verbal and intelligent. He has his own issues that are hard to deal with, but he has not yet hit the pre-teen argumentative/defiant stage-or anything resembling it.

Currently, the 11-year-old is traveling out-of-state to visit family. My question is, other than taking time to more closely bond with the 3-year-old, and taking time to "recharge", what can actively be done in anticipation of our 11-year-old's return to prepare and, quite honestly, regroup, for a stronger/smarter/more understanding approach?

What I might also be asking, is "what are some good, fresh approaches to use with an argumentative, effort-avoiding, back-talking, smart ass whom I was not fully prepared to (positively) interact with as a parent in the first place"?

  • I don't have a good specific answer but I'll tell you what we were told when our moderately autistic 6 year old (now) was diagnosed: play to his strengths. If he likes building stuff, build stuff. If he likes exploring, go exploring. My figuring - and of course autistic kids are all individuals - is that they have to be met on their own terms a bit more than neurotypical children. Oh, and the frustration when pulled from one task to the other is always fraught with us too!
    – ctokelly
    Commented Jul 25, 2015 at 21:16

2 Answers 2


I can relate! I currently have a pre-teen.

During your 11yo's absence, perhaps you could write friendly, chatty letters to your child during his absence (stamp or email) to keep the connection.

Here are some ideas for reducing the stress, and improving your relationship:

  • cultivate common interests.
  • get involved in some activities that involve other parent-pre-teen pairs. Having other people around can be a civilizing influence.
  • In terms of chores, it might help to offer some choices. Write down all the chores that have to be done on a regular basis on a clipboard. Ask him which ones he dislikes the most, and cross those out. Then, you can make an effort not to ask him to do any of the crossed out ones (e.g. vacuuming, cleaning the toilet, or what have you).

If the harping he does gets to you too much, you might hand him a notebook or a clipboard and tell him you are not in a good state to listen to his negativity at the moment, but that you do want to take his points into account, so his best bet would be to write them down for you.

Here's an interesting thread about time-outs that might be worth reading.

You may want to consider taking a Coop Extension parenting workshop or getting started with a family therapist. In my town the workshops range from an isolated Saturday morning about a particular topic to a six-week series of one evening per week. It can be really nice to connect with other parents and compare notes.


First I have to say I laughed at what you called him, but in all seriousness. My brother is exactly like this. He's 19 now (I'm 17) and you can only imagine what I went through growing up with him.

Here my advice, offer him a reward and mention it first. like 'I'll give you a cookie if you do the dishes, and two if it's looks wonderful.'

Now I know I may not seem very qualified to be helping with this, but you learn a bit growing up with someone as stubborn as a rock (This is how I got my brother to do things for me :D)

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