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My 11-year-old son is now in class 5. Until class 4, he was good in studies, scoring around 90 %, but from this academic year he has not been showing interest in studies. He does not complete his class work or finish home work on time. He does not listen to me. If I tell him anything, he will shout at me and hit me and his behaviour is also very bad. He always wants to play and use his mobile phone.

For a change, if I take him out for shopping or to play outside, he will create some problem then. For example, Sunday we went for shopping, he selected one toy and I said "Not now. First you have to behave properly and be a good boy and get good marks in the coming exam, then I will buy that toy". He then got angry and did not come home with me , he was roaming the road for almost one hour, then he came back... Many situations of this type happen when we go out.

I am a very patient lady and am soft-spoken, but only with my son I have to shout. He will make me shout... I'm worried how to handle him and fear about future if the same continues. Please help me.

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This sounds like a very difficult, complex situation, and potentially already dangerous for him and you. In the best of cases it will take a long time to work through.

The question naturally lacks enough information to give a really nuanced answer, but I would call out 3 snippets that to me highlight the difficulties, and frame them in the context that recovering from a deeply damaged relationship requires both the establishment of red lines within which behavior must remain, and also, counterintuitively, the redevelopment of empathy on both sides, to understand the difficulties that each is having in the context of the other. It is very difficult to do both of these at the same time without a counselor.

First, red lines:

  1. "If I tell him anything, he will shout at me and hit me"

    This is the most concerning and dangerous signal, for both him and you. He cannot be in a place where hitting you is viable behavior. It may not be with intent to harm, or it may, but this is a red line. Any form of violence is unacceptable, and if he does not learn this, there may be life destroying impacts for him in the future.

    You have to enforce in some way for yourself that hitting is unacceptable, by at minimum removing yourself from the situation when it happens, and for a time, ceasing engagement with him.

    From an empathetic perspective, while his decision to perform violence is ultimately his responsibility, it is not necessarily his fault. It is very likely that if the state of affairs where he is hitting you is framed as his fault that he will fall further away from a place where he can be repaired. He needs help finding ways to understand his emotions and using words rather than violence. This is a skill that has to be taught, like reading or cooking or playing a sport.

Then empathy:

  1. "He will make me shout."

    Can you get to an empathetic place where you see that he doesn't make you do anything, you are making the choice to shout? Do you understand why you are making this choice?

  2. "If I take him out shopping, he will create some problem...he selected a toy and then I said..."

    Can you get to a place where you see that he didn't create this problem as described, but you did? Why did you decide to change the terms of the trip on him?

In sum, I strongly advise finding a counselor- through his school, or through a trusted relative who also has a relationship with him- who can help the two of you start to repair your relationship.

It is absolutely essential that he learn that hitting is not an acceptable means of expressing anger and frustration.

But it is also essential for the two of you- and you have to lead on this- find greater empathy and understanding for each other.

My heart goes out to you. Good luck.

  • I'm not sure there was a change of rules. I took it they went shopping with some specific purpose in mind (i.e. buying clothes, groceries or other necessities) and not to buy him a toy. – DRF Aug 7 '18 at 10:49
  • Hmm, could be. May be overreading use of the "select" and "take him for shopping" to imply pre-arranged to buy a toy, not do non-toy shopping. – Jonah Benton Aug 7 '18 at 11:33
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At 11, he is probably entering puberty. One of the known effects of puberty in boys (or more specifically testosterone in humans) is increased aggressiveness. It is also likely that he is getting to an age that unrelated bonuses for behavior will become ineffective - i.e. you have reached the limit of bribery and he needs to start being responsible for his own behavior, because the balance of power has shifted significantly in his direction.

It may be time to start transitioning from treating him as a child to treating him more as an adult (as long as you act like an adult we will treat you as one). He is still young enough for that to be a potential reward in itself.

If he were 21 years old instead of 11, how would you handle the same situation?

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  1. Choose not to shout. This doesn't mean you have to be soft spoken. You can still speak forcefully. But he knows he's hit a button if he gets you to shout.

  2. Structure his life.

a. After supper is homework time. There is no TV, no phone, no games until you have examined his homework. In one boarding school I worked at a kid who was doing badly had a homework book. Teacher had to sign that the the assignment was written correctly into the book so that the duty master could call him on it in study hall. "Math p 103 odd problems" it says. Don't tell me you don't have math homework.

Do this at the dining room table, not in his room.

b. Give him chores to help out the household. Ideally these are things that are done on a regular basis. Washing dishes, sweeping the floor, mowing the lawn, walking the dog. One good idea is a chore jar for odd jobs. Chores should be structured in units of about 5-15 minutes. So "Mow the lawn" is a 4 chore job, and "Trim the lawn" is a 2 more chore points. So he may have 30 minutes of daily chores, and a requirement for 8 chore points a week. He goes nowhere on Saturday until he's done his chores.

c. Don't give him an order that you can't verify. Thus it's ok if he gets home before you to start his homework, but you don't command this, as it's hard to enforce.

  1. Actions have consequences.

a. He swings at you, you grab his arm, and immobilize it. All people who work in care take courses on handling uncooperative people. There are ways for a petite nurse to keep a big hulk of a man under control. Check youtube if you want to learn on your own.

b. "No!" in your best bad dog voice is a useful tool.

c. Anytime he acts out there is a consequence. Kimberly was a 3 year old who had tantrums. Helen's standard line was, "Go to your room until you can smile." Kim was usually back and bubbly in under 2 minutes.

At age 11, consequences should be immediate. At that age, something that happens next Tuesday isn't very real. Ideally consequences should be linked to the event. E.g. I had a kid who was chronically late to class. So I told him that if he wanted to go home for the weekend he had to practice getting places on time. So during his free time after school, he had to report to me every 15 minutes plus or minus 1 minute. Each time he missed, I added two more report times.

He shouts: Hand him a strip of duct tape. "Put this over your mouth for the next hour, and think carefully before you shout at people." The act of making him put the tape on himself is a way that he is learning to discipline himself.

Put a box in the middle of the room. (A milk crate is great for this.) "Stand in the box until you are calm enough to talk."

If he values his phone, taking it away from him is a viable option. If you think he needs a phone for safety reasons, look into getting a burner phone that can be restricted to only calling certain numbers. Game access works the same way.

  1. Open the contract negotiation process. We have social contracts all the time, but we rarely speak them out loud. One of them is "I will give you food, clothing and shelter, and hugs. You will be reasonably cooperative, do what your told, and give me a hug back"

At a later age, one good tactic is to go through the process of what it would take to live on his own. This was actually part of a grade 10 course in my school, "Career and Life Management" Part of it was to find a job using the papers and online services, but using only their present education, figure out what they would make, then try to find a place to rent, a way to get to/from work, and what they had left to eat with. Most kids were astounded that even at $16 to $18 an hour (I'm in Canada) they needed a roommate to make ends meet, and there wasn't much in the budget for partying. Part of the course was some basic cooking too, and how to do comparison shopping for food... Made a bunch of headstrong boys somewhat more thoughtful.

So, start out by asking him what he wants. He makes a list -- bigger allowance, stay out late, getting drunk, whatever. Ask him what he needs. This is a longer discussion and involves drawing him out in terms of immediate needs -- food, clothing, shelter, as well as longer term needs -- education, independence. Point out that every freedom has it's price. "I want to be abe to drive so I can go to the mall on my own." This has several prices: Driving responsibly and safely; paying for the car, the gas, the insurance.

Ask him what he things you need. Draw out the notion of cooperation as being a better way to get things done. Ask him what he's willing to do to get the things, and freedoms he wants.

At this age getting him to put himself in your shoes is a tough call, but it's good practice. You want him to realize that one of the things you want is for him to do well in school.

  1. This is a contest of wills. (In the bad old days this sort of behaviour would be met with a spanking, at least until you weren't physically able to handle him. This seems to be unfashionable now, but it makes for polite kids.)

    You must not back down. Sometimes it means you leave whatever you were doing: abandon the shopping cart and go straight home. If the two of you have to live on oatmeal for a week because of his tantrum at the supermarket

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I don't have teenage kid yet but I remember when I was around his age, most efficient instrument for controlling me was my weekly allowance. Also you need to show him that you are the one in charge. It's not popular nowadays but I think that soft physical punishment is some cases is fine just to stop unacceptable behavior and show him that he crossed all red lines. Good luck.

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