17

So, I recently asked this question, and after following the advice given, it has only made things more erratic.

At this point, they both do listen when told what they have done wrong, and why it is wrong, they show the effort to not repeat the mistake, but after a period of time, it all reverts back. It's beginning to feel like they are only doing it to make us happy, so they can go back to doing what they want again. Quell the beast so it goes back to sleep, as it were.

The oldest is the main issue, however. The younger one is too innocent to want anything beyond "I want to play with my brother". We're fine with that, the main issue is the older one. He sneaks around, takes things that have been confiscated, because he knows where they are, and plays with them at night when "mum and dad are asleep". But it's at the point where my own body clock automatically wakes me up at 2-4am daily now, because of this behaviour.

Previously, it was their DS's they'd received for their birthdays (about 12 months ago now). They had kept sneaking out and playing with them, so we took them out of their bedrooms at night. They simply snuck out, and took them. We then confiscated them, only giving them back as a reward for good behaviour (don't get out of bed, you get to play with your DS). This worked for a while, but soon the behaviour returned.

It got to a point where we told the boys we had sold their DS's, which they believed for several months, however last night, I found them both, with the oldest having had snuck into our bedroom, taken only his DS, which was next to his brothers, and taken it back to his room to play.

This event has brought us to the point where we can only think of some kind of "trigger event", to associate with the misbehaviour, such as physically breaking the DS in front of him.

We are uncertain of how to continue. We can't do much more than give them a smack and send them back to bed when this happens of a night time, as we are too tired to think of the right response at the time. This leaves too much of a gap between the event and the consequence to properly associate for them. The oldest is still too young to grasp "grounding", they are not yet at the level of thinking things through properly, beyond repeating exactly what has been said to them already, and night time misbehaviour disregards that all together.

We are at a loss of what to do.

EDIT: I would like to clarify that at the time of posting, a lot of the things we were thinking and feeling were just a product of our stress and emotions. I suggested we sit on it until we could get our heads back in the right pace, and look for suggestions on the best way to deal with this.

14
  • 8
    Have you considered buying a combination safe and locking the DSes away with a combination that only you and your wife know?
    – nick012000
    Jan 20 at 5:26
  • 6
    Did you consider going to family therapy? Behavioural patterns require change from all of you, not only from children. Jan 20 at 8:19
  • 49
    "This event has brought us to the point where we can only think of some kind of "trigger event", to associate with the misbehaviour, such as physically breaking the DS in front of him." Tread very carefully about the example and precedent you want to set here. As someone who happens to have been on the receiving end of such parenting, as well as having a few friends with similar experiences, I can say that you may end up never being forgiven for that kind of aggressive parenting. Two of us have permanently cut ties with our fathers specifically because of these kinds of escalations.
    – Flater
    Jan 20 at 12:22
  • 11
    Breaking their things is never the solution. If you go that route, you'll cause damage to the kids, not teach them a lesson.
    – T. Sar
    Jan 20 at 13:52
  • 8
    "consequences" is just a political correct word for "punishment". Tell him exactly what he is not allowed to. Jan 20 at 14:58
57

Your relationship with your oldest child appears to be in a downward spiral. You seem to describe a power contest, where the only resort you have is to continuously up the punishments. This is never helpful.

Something that might help: assume that kids are always trying their best. They want to succeed, and your job is both to teach them how, and to rig the situations so that they can. Instead of thinking of them as disobedient, assume that they couldn't resist the urge to look for that DS. It wouldn't occur to you to beat up a blind kid for not seeing, not even as a last resort when you're tired and can't think of anything else. Similarly, I hope such a change of view will make punishment an unnatural response for you, and not something you need a good night's sleep to avoid.

I also think you'd be helped by the principles of motivational interviewing, which is an evidence based method for changing undesired behaviour that works on the premise that the only one you have the power to change is yourself. If you want your child's behaviour to change, you need to guide them to finding their motivation for the desired behaviour. It might not be the same as your motivation. There are techniques for this; read up on motivational interviewing.

You seem to be doing a lot of telling them why the things they're doing is wrong. Practice listening to them and their needs. Ask honest and curious questions about why they make the decisions they do. And not in a judgmental manner, but actually take an interest in what they like. Confirm the their desires are valid. You don't have to agree, but you have to hear them. If they feel your rules are disregarding their needs, they'll disregard your rules. See if you can use your adult reasoning skills to think of ways to meet their needs that doesn't conflict with yours.

I expect you'll have a lot of relationship building to do. You'll need to really like your kids. Treat them with warmth and they'll reciprocate. Just don't expect immediate results, because you need to do the work to gain trust first. One show of good will would be to tell them you're sorry about how things have developed, that you want to reset, and tell them you won't resort to punishment in the future. Then stick to that, obviously.

Accept that it is your responsibility as the adult to ensure that your interactions are constructive, with all that comes with that insight. Don't punish them for not making adult decisions; they aren't adults. If you can't solve the situation, it's an even bigger ask of them, so don't take your failure out on the kids.

Remember that you cannot ultimately control what your kids do, you can only (to some extent) control the likelihood that they'll tell you. Soon enough your kids will get better at hiding things from you. Relationship is everything. If you manage to build mutual trust, and if they see that you are truly making sure to accommodate their needs in whatever structure you choose to enforce, they'll be more inclined to assume you are making decisions with their best interests in mind.

I often think forward to when the children are fifteen and wants to go to a party where you know there might be drugs. If you forbid them, then worst case is they go anyway and end up in trouble, but don't reach out to you for help for fear of being found out. You want to be able to say "I really wish you wouldn't go to that party, but if you do, I'll drive you there and pick you up after".

7
  • 6
    This. You want to build trust, not fear. Jan 20 at 14:59
  • 46
    Real-life example: my first university party, a classmate got dead drunk. The kind where they need monitoring to ensure they don't choke on their vomit. We had to leave the place soon, and I was really wondering what to do. His friend called his dad, and told us "don't worry, his dad is cool". His dad showed up, took the kid, and told us "don't worry, I'll make sure he's okay". That's the level of trust you need to build to save your kids from their mistakes. Jan 20 at 15:10
  • 10
    ... and he was never heard from again Jan 20 at 15:27
  • @AsteroidsWithWings Have you mixed up the "his"es? (I did on first reading) Jan 20 at 19:23
  • 2
    @Araucaria-Nothereanymore. Don't think so? Jan 20 at 19:31
51

First: do not, under any circumstances, try to "trigger" them. That's a great way to end up in a reddit thread a decade or so down the line complaining about the child's mentally abusive parents - and they wouldn't be far off. Trying to "shock" them into good behavior would do nothing except make them fear you, which hopefully isn't your goal, and encourage them to get better at hiding their misbehavior. This never turns out well. "Getting their attention" is something you shouldn't be doing by hurting them: it's something you should be doing by talking to them, as human beings, and teaching them, by example and by words.

Second:

give them a smack

That sounds like it's also part of the same problem. Physical punishment does not solve any problem, other than, again, making them fear you. Is this what you're hoping to do? Physical abuse as a disciplinary method is never acceptable, not only because of the real harm it does but also because it doesn't work for the most part. Your goal should be producing a child who wants to behave properly, not one who acts well-behaved due to fear of physical consequences. Again - this is another human being; treat them that way.

Third:

It got to a point where we told the boys we had sold their DS's, which they believed for several months`

So - you lied to them, and they caught you on your lie. At this point they haven't even done anything wrong - at the point you told them they sold the devices, they no longer had the obligation not to play with them, after all. At least, that's what I'd have argued as a child. Lying to children is never the answer for things like this - I'm generally opposed to even the minor lies (Santa Claus, doggie went to a new home, etc.), but here it's far worse: in a disciplinary setting, you lied to them. That tells them that you think lying is okay.


Let's start over here. What you have is two children, about the same age as mine I might add, who go behind your back to get away with things they shouldn't. There are two things you need to consider:

  1. Immediate approach (what do we do when we find them doing it)
  2. Long-term approach (how do we solve this over time)

The immediate approach should generally be to stop them from doing what they're immediately doing, and put some appropriate barriers in place to help them stay on the straight and narrow. This dovetails with the long-term approach, which is to teach them why they need to follow these rules.

I recently had a similar issue with my seven year old, where he figured out our parental control passcode that we used to enforce his "downtime" at night (he'd read all night if he could!). How we approached it:

  • Immediate: Took his device downstairs; changed our passcode; reminded him he wasn't supposed to be reading, and why [lack of sleep = sad child tomorrow].
  • Long term: Talked with him about why it's important to sleep. Talked with him each day for the next several weeks (up to present) at bedtime, reminding him that his reading time will end, and asking if he's going to have a good bedtime.

Notice we didn't have any "severe" consequences. Our consequences were all directly related to the behavior: stopping the behavior, making changes to help enforce the behavior long-term. That's really what is needed: to reinforce the good behavior, and put rails on the edge of the road to make it a little harder to go off. We didn't have any illusions that our passcode was a perfect solution; nor were we particularly surprised that our child eventually figured it out. For the most part, that stuff is there just as an alarm that tells them it's time to go to bed, and avoids some arguments; as they get older we'll remove these, and let them control their bedtime more directly.

Also note that our child did not lie to us when we confronted him with it. That's in part because of how we addressed it. It wasn't a big deal, and there was no anger or yelling - just a brief conversation about it. Most of the conversation was the next day, when we had the first of the long-term conversations.

We also addressed the bigger picture in those. I pointed out what bad consequences are possible of someone who steals an administrative password later in life. I reminded him that he has other routes to take if he doesn't agree with a limit. I explained how stealing our passcode made us distrust him, and how that lack of trust leads to more limits - while his brother, who has more freedom, has earned that through keeping our trust.


In your case, I think you need to re-establish trust on both sides. Talk to them, kindly, about how they are hurt by this behavior. Show them the negative consequences they create for themselves - how tired they are the next day. Try to work with them to get to where they understand why you have rules here.

Then, set up a reasonable schedule, that includes them getting to play with their devices. Totally removing the devices is a mistake: it doesn't give them a way to recover. Set up a schedule, say, 1 hour a day, whatever is reasonable for your household, and then set up rules around that - if they use their device over their limit one day, they lose some (but not all, generally) of the time the next day. Losing some, but not all, is a far better lesson in my experience: losing a whole day, they'll just hate you for it but mostly forget it long term - but losing half an hour from their hour? Much more noticeable when it happens, because they have it for some time and have the extra reminder of having to stop. They also have an extra positive reinforcement - when they do successfully follow those (shorter) limits, they have the positive reinforcement of the next day getting the full time.

If you don't feel comfortable just giving them their normal time after all of what's happen, compromise here: give them a way to earn it back. Tell them they can have their normal time each day if they do an extra chore. Have this be time bound - say, they have to do the extra chore for the next few weeks. Or, have the limit be half of the normal time for a few weeks.

But honestly, I'd suggest not doing that, and just having everything be a fresh start. Lying to them about the device was a big mistake on your part, and you can use that as a good example for them: you own up to your mistake, and tell them let's start clean.

You could also set up a reward chart, going at this from the opposite angle. On days they follow the rules, they get a star, and a number of stars later, they get a full day of playing, or something equivalent and appropriate for your family.

The idea, regardless of approach, is to give them a mild incentive to comply - but mostly to teach them why they should comply, rather than just having it be a "because I said so". Children who believe the rules make sense, will follow them; children who think the rules don't make sense, won't.

8
  • 21
    Then try them again - and perhaps reset your expectations some. Parenting is hard, and this stuff takes time - months, years, longer sometimes. And don't expect a nine year old to be perfect! Just gently guide them back to where they should be. Otherwise you have a nineteen year old who doesn't have a good moral compass, and only follows the rules when they have to...
    – Joe
    Jan 19 at 21:43
  • 7
    Overall, this is a great answer. But I am not certain that the complete removal of the DS from the picture is a bad idea. Video games can be tempting, and sometimes self-moderation is just too hard. I've heard from more than one PhD student who had to uninstall their favourite game (or even get themselves banned from some MMO) in order to complete their dissertations. And these are adults, not 9 year olds.
    – Arno
    Jan 20 at 0:04
  • 13
    @Arno That's actually an important distinction here: this is a nine year old, not an adult. This is exactly when you want them to have the temptations - so they can learn to manage them. At 24, in a Ph.D. program, that probably seems like the only option - but at 9, Mom and Dad can help set reasonable limits and help teach their children to manage their time.
    – Joe
    Jan 20 at 5:20
  • 4
    @nick012000 - smacking a child is illegal in many countries. And it has no real place in a comment under someone else's post. I'm going to delete the comments on this, as they do not help clarify Joe's post.
    – Rory Alsop
    Jan 20 at 9:05
  • 4
    "they haven't even done anything wrong - at the point you told them they sold the devices, they no longer had the obligation not to play with them, after all." What Jan 20 at 15:27
28

Both in this question and in the linked question you write that this happens in the middle of the night. You seems to believe that the problem is that they are sneaking up and playing games; I think the problem is that they wake up in the middle of the night and don't go back to sleep for hours.

What do you expect them to do if they are wide awake at 2am? Have you talked to them about that? Have you tried adjusting their bedtimes to see if that makes them sleep through the night? Have you talked to their pediatrician about their sleeping habits?

Playing games for a while until they are sleepy enough to go back to bed might actually be as good a way to handle it as they are capable of coming up with on their own.

4
  • 7
    Food for thought here. +1.
    – Tim
    Jan 20 at 17:01
  • 4
    The light from screens will make falling asleep harder. "Read a paper book" would be a better alternative, assuming the light required doesn't wake up anyone.
    – swbarnes2
    Jan 20 at 21:44
  • 1
    This. Not being able to sleep is bad enough, but not being allowed to do something else instead is terrible. I second swbarnes2's suggestion about reading a book. If light in a shared room is a problem, there are technical solutions for that (e.g. reading lamps or e-book readers in night mode).
    – Heinzi
    Jan 21 at 12:25
  • 3
    It could also be the other way around. Normally, they'd go back to sleep when they wake up (for example, to go to the bathroom), but it's the DS that's keeping them awake.
    – Llewellyn
    Jan 21 at 20:54
12

This event has brought us to the point where we can only think of some kind of "trigger event", to associate with the misbehaviour, such as physically breaking the DS in front of him. [...] We can't do much more than give them a smack and send them back to bed.

I strongly recommend not to "give them a smack" (physical punishment is considered harmful). And "physically breaking the DS in front of him" seems unproductive as well. Enough said.

Instead, I recommend to:

  • Come up with a schedule for playing Nintendo DS, or watching TV, or any other activity that you consider a distraction. Involve the children in schedule setting.

  • Come up with a method to remind the children about the schedule (set a timer, etc). Again, involve the children in making the plan.

REFERENCES:

If we enforce a schedule on a child, the child may ignore that schedule completely and watch TV all day.

So what can we do so our child has scheduled technology time? First, don’t impose a schedule on them. Second, come up with a schedule together.

Here’s how Nir did it when Jasmine was just 5 years old:

  • Jasmine’s favorite phrase at the time was “iPad time”.
  • Nir wanted to fix this, so he sat down with his daughter one-on-one.
  • Nir told Jasmine that technology comes with an opportunity cost — a missed opportunity to play with him and her mom, read a book, or engage in other activities.
  • He asked her how much time she would like to spend a day on her iPad.

The result? Jasmine asked for 45 minutes a day. Just 45 minutes!

What if your own kid asks for more time? You might just have to learn how to negotiate better!

[...]

How do you hold your child accountable for keeping on schedule? Here are a few ideas:

  • Set a kitchen timer.
  • Use Alexa / Google Home to set a timer. (Maybe even have your child set this!)
  • Use the built-in timer or Screen Time on your phone or iPad.

But the most important thing here is to let your kid do it him- or her-self.

You cannot put in hard rules for your child to follow — this creates ‘little cheaters’ in the long run. Instead, teach them to set the timer on their own and follow it.

Nir Eyal: How to Raise Distraction Free Kids - Nir & Far: https://www.nirandfar.com/distraction-free-kids/

Eyal, N., & Li, J. (2019). Indistractable: How to control your attention and choose your life. Dallas, TX: BenBella Books: https://www.amazon.com/Indistractable-Control-Your-Attention-Choose/dp/194883653X

Raising Indistractable Kids with Nir Eyal and Vanessa Van Edwards (webinar): https://youtu.be/jW3J2vxRosA

10

Three strict rules --for me, not the kids --help me establish effective consequences with my children:

  1. Always make sure the consequence is directly and proportionally related to the misbehavior: If the child is misbehaving at the dinner table, the consequence could be that this meal ends early, even if they haven't eaten. But it wouldn't be losing tomorrow's meal, or losing their video game console. The first is out of proportion, the second is unrelated.
  2. Never establish a consequence I'm not willing and able to follow through on. This means I have to be careful to not make idle threats, get dramatic in the moment, or set consequences that are too high or too permanent. It also means not threatening consequences that are too inconvenient or unpleasant for me to want to follow up on (because that offers an opening for a clever kid to weaken my resolve).
  3. Follow through on all consequences: This is only possible if I'm strict with myself about the first two rules. Obviously, following through on a bad or ill-considered consequence is a bad idea. So I have to be very sure I'm only handing down appropriate consequences. But given that, I know I either back up what I say or I won't be taken seriously next time. So if I said I was going to sell or give away a video-game console, I would actually do it. I wouldn't hide it and lie about it. That's just begging for trouble.

Aside from all that, never pick unnecessary fights with your kids. Figure out what's truly important, and let the rest go. Kids always know when you're bluffing, or when you don't really have a good justification for your decrees.

3

To me this sounds either alike an early stage of addictive behavior - or some kind of computer obsession. As an autistic programmer myself, I can tell for certain that I've used my Super Nintendo whenever I wanted to and nobody could tell me when or how to use it (but some years elder and I had to buy everything from savings). It got particularly time-intense once I got the debug cartridge. This is kind of typical behavior for ASD / ADHD (having traits may already suffice). But when it's an addiction, one can attempt to detox, just alike with any other kind of addiction - and there will be withdrawal symptoms. For example:

Before taking steps, better make sure it's not ASD, else you'd risk war by taking the DS.
Or when taking it, only on terms of replacing it with a simple computer to learn with...
it's quite important to first determine if it's an addiction or an obsession.

I don't think it's about "discipline" ...but it may be a choice how you'll support the development.

In case it's gaming addiction, this would also be about "support", but of a different kind.

3

After a while wondering why everyone on the internet seems to have such ineffectual advice, I came to realize my son does not react the same as most kids, and as such, the common advice won't work on him. My son is far more impulsive and heedless of consequences than other kids. I know because his younger sister responds the way people on the internet seem to expect all kids to respond.

I think your son might be similar to mine. No amount of talking has ever helped. He lives completely in the moment, and if something isn't physically stopping him in the moment, he doesn't stop. We have good locks on all the other bedroom doors and the pantry. We set the alarm in away mode downstairs at night. If anything is particularly "addictive" for him, we lock it away at night until he gets over it.

He is still up at 2 am sometimes, but at least he isn't disturbing his sisters, because their doors are locked, and he isn't disturbing us wondering what he is into. If he ends up being tired in the morning, he has to deal with the natural consequence of attending to his responsibilities while he is tired.

That's really the best we can do. I would prefer if I could keep him from hurting himself by messing up his sleep, but I have adjusted my parenting philosophy on this particular rule to settle with keeping him from hurting others.

I know that might sound harsh, but at some point you can no longer protect a child from the natural consequences of his own choices. Hopefully, your son is not in that boat, and just needs more time and consistency, like the other answers are saying. However, if he still isn't responding after consistent effort, you shouldn't beat yourself up wondering if there's something you're missing. Some kids are just gonna do what they're gonna do.

-5

In indigenous societies children older than about 6 will be learning the skills to survive in nature. Their brains are becoming ready for that, they will become sensitive to possible future problems having to do with their primary needs, like having shelter and enough food. Behavioral problems that are common in our society are extremely rare in those societies.

This is then something you can exploit. You and your wife should think of a story about difficult times ahead. You could invoke the COVID crisis, having to work harder for a lower income etc.. Think of something that is simple enough for your 9-year-old to understand, that implies that a different routine is necessary at home to make sure you won't become homeless, that you'll have enough to eat, that your sons will still be getting birthday presents, Christmas presents etc. etc.

Also, make it clear that this has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with the tensions about their behavior. Tell them that you love them, that you regret having been harsh on them. But that you now face a crisis and that with very hard work you and your wife may be able to earn enough money to keep your house. Tell your son that if he can put in an hour of work per day with helping preparing food, cleaning etc. that will free up extra work time for you and your wife.

Presenting your oldest son with this new situation may put him on the right track to start behaving in the right way. It may come as a shock to your son, but you are actually presenting him with a more natural situation that we humans have lived under for hundreds of thousands of years. What passes for normal in our modern society is actually not normal at all, and that's then the root cause of the problems.

7
  • 2
    This response seems like you're trying to impose adult problems (pandemic, income inequality, etc.) onto the kids in this question. While I won't suggest that you cannot discuss adult problems with your kids, especially when those problems do affect them, this answer seems to suggest placing the burden of solving those problems onto the kids. And as written, I'm not sure that's a good idea as I'm unclear how the children would be even able to comprehend that given that there's no evidence to suggest that had previously occurred. Jan 20 at 15:26
  • 1
    @Pyrotechnical We wouldn't be here if 9-year-old children lacked the brainpower to help with essential tasks. My father went to work at age 9 to earn a few bucks so that there would a be a bit more food on the table. In the Middle Ages children were sent away from home around on apprenticeships. In our modern society there is no hardship for children anymore, which is a good thing. But what we are doing wrong is to not replace that hardship by a routine that imposes responsible behavior on children. Most children do fine without that, but not everyone. Jan 20 at 16:48
  • This is analogous to why we need to exercise. In our modern comfortable lives, most of us would get way too little physical exercise by just doing our jobs. Jan 20 at 16:49
  • 2
    Fine, but you're relying on shocking the 9 year old into compliance, which can easily cause other problems and doesn't really address the underlying issue. Jan 20 at 18:32
  • 1
    There is no difference between "nature" and "civilization"...we don't say that ants who build anthills are no longer living in nature, likewise humans who build things using the tools (brains, hands) that nature has equipped them with (even using those tools to build tools to build other tools). Civilization now is the natural habitat of humans, so it's better to learn how to cope with that then to try and live in the past. Jan 22 at 13:55

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.