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So I have read this post, and it is a great starting point, but there is a bit extra that thickens the plot, and some merging conflicts that we need to deal with in order to hopefully adress this properly.

So, as I said, he's growing up and reaching the teen/pre-teen stage, and is getting primarily selfish, and emotional:

  • Instead of doing his chores/jobs, he makes as much or more effort to avoid doing them. I have explained this to him, and he says he understands, but the behaviour re-emerges regularly.
  • We use the effort/reward "system" (you do your jobs and chores, then you can do whatever you want) - trying to teach importance/priority, as well as using the incentive to get the "boring" stuff out of the way and spend the rest of the time free. We also use a week-long point-reward system; do things to earn points (generally doing your chores, and extra points are awarded for doing them without being told to or reminded). He instead simply hides away to do what he wants, whenever he wants, regardless of how many times he gets caught out and also gets upset by not being rewarded, or having to "work for the reward".
  • We allow device time in appropriate periods (between 3 and 5 on school days, 12 and 8 on weekends/holidays), and award extra time for effort made. He does have his own phone, which we are more lax with, but still enforce through verbal agreement - "you can talk to your friends once you've finished your jobs." If he does not follow this, the phone is confiscated until he earns it back by putting in the effort.

All of that is pretty standard. I was very similar as a teen, so that much is simply patience and teamwork to overcome. However, there is also some history that I believe has an effect on things.

Firstly, I am not his father, nor am I his first step father. I met him when he was 8, and his previous father figure (Let's call him Bob) was abusive, and I am told I look very similar to him. This then has an effect when I raise my voice, as it triggers the (potential - it has not been diagnosed) PTSD in him, which creates the wrong response. Instead of simply stopping the behaivour and thinking about it, he withdraws out of fear. I only raise my voice when the three chances have run out, I have become firm and explained my feelings and intent, and the intention is to create a "snap reaction", or similar response - the idea is to snap them out of their current mindset (generally playing games and not paying proper attention).

I have spoken to him about this - he used to call Bob "Dad", as he does me, but he does like calling me "Dad", unlike Bob; even when I offered him call me by my name when he's uncomfortable. He also pointed out that when I wear my glasses, this makes me look like Bob. I have since made the effort to take my glasses off when I feel I am getting firm (before I lose my patience, or temper), which I feel is having a good effect (this has only been a few days so far).

Secondly, when they were younger, he used to be the "one in charge" of himself and his younger brother. This was generally because Bob disliked him, and vice versa, so I believe hi did this to separate them both from Bob. When I came into the picture, I slowly separated them to the point where now, the younger brother dislikes being "told what to do" by his older brother. This is good because they used to see themselves as one entity in regards to work and reward. One might do something good, so both would earn the reward. They would ask for something, for both of them regardless of what the other was doing, or even wanted. This was getting to a point where the younger brother had been getting manipulated into doing things for the older brother - so he could earn the reward with none of the effort.


Now, this sometimes does still occur; the older brother would tell the younger brother "Dad told you to do (x)". This would either end up in an argument, which would have to be intervened, or I might overhear it and correct him; I try to deal with them separately, and tell them both individually.

The problem this has is the lack of authority he used to have, and the extra effort he has to now make. I am happy to challenge this, and take on the role of authority, and I do try and help him understand the situation, but again, the behaviour quickly re-emerges.

The ways he deals with all of this is either simply sitting in his room, hiding in his room (often with his phone to talk to his friends, or on his iPad to distract himself with whatever apps he has available - even if it's just his camera to take photos of himself or his room), or by attempting to lie his way out of things. Again I have recently changed my approach to lies from "lies create trust issues" to "lies affect other people's feelings". I also do not enter his room without permission, or I simply call him out to talk - his room is his space.


Last night was a breaking point for all of us. I have joined them up to Fencing (sport) and the coach started them off on some exercises. The evening started with him sneaking his phone into his room and texting his friends instead of doing his chores, then attempting to lie to me about it. He then spent a few minutes (not long at all) doing some lunges up and down the hallway when he was not being supervised. This then made his legs hurt immensely (according to him), therefore making him unable to do his last job, sweeping the kitchen.

We started talking to him about it, but he quickly withdrew, simply hiding his face in his hands and not responding. I explained that we always ask they do their chores first, he had not done so; the coach had explained these exercises would make their legs hurt, so he either forgot, or made the choice to do it, in order to try and get out of the job (playing the pity card). He again did not respond to this, so I gave him a choice - go to bed early, or finish his job (this is our normal deal for shirking on their responsibilities).

He again did not respond, so I told him I would give him a minute to decide. After which he did finally say, very quietly and and grumpily, that he would do the job. He then began to hobble around and cry. No one had raised their voice or expressed anything emotional beyond disappointment at this point, only being firm to keep the conversation moving just to avoid sitting in silence and wasting time.

After a few minutes of him only have moved a few chairs out of the way, Mum finally snapped and lost her temper "Does it really hurt that much?!" (the intention was care, but obviously came out as anger). He screamed "Yes it does several!" times in response, at which point I interjected and told him to go to bed. He would not have to do the sweeping, his legs hurt and needed to rest.

I had not said anything, but I had always intended to help with the pain by bringing him a heatpack once he had gone to bed, or finished his job. So after calming down I took it in to him and he was lying in bed, sobbing. I gave him his favourite toy to com,fort him, and explained the heatpack, which helped him calm down.

This is then where it turned around a little, but I'm still not sure how to take it. He emerged after 10 minutes, and wanted to finish his job, since his leg was feeling better. I told him no, his leg might be feeling better, but it was not properly recovered. From what he had told us he would need to rest all night to make it better, and sent him back to bed with the heatpack again - this was all done and explained calmly.

I personally feel that this situation was another attempt to get out of doing what he didn't want to do, not any kind of injury; and his attempt to reconcile was just a belated attempt to get the reward to stay up longer.

So, where we are now is that his mother is worried we are being too harsh. I personally do not (and have explained this). She, and the boys do come from a very different upbringing to myself - I have no experience with toxic parenting, and this behaviour I use with the boys is the same way my father dealt with me. So I can definitely agree that the methods, mannerisms and communication needs some focus to work on, in order to help everyone. Am I doing the right thing in my parenting? What should I change, and what do I need to understand (apart from the kids and my partner) in how to deal with this history?

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    This is a long post (great, loads of detail!) but the one thing that really sticks out is you say that you shouting at him triggers him, as it reminds him of his abusive previous step-father, but that you do shout when he has had his three warnings. I'd say try just never shouting, ever, unless he's about to do something really dangerous. Try always using a calm voice and avoid any extra issues caused by him being reminded of his past.
    – R Davies
    Jul 19, 2023 at 8:24
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    I would not want you to make this post any longer, but there's no explanation at all that I can find of why you're an authority figure in this child's life. Are you simply living with his mother? How long has this been? Have you given any thought to family therapy? Thanks. Jul 19, 2023 at 11:26
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    @anongoodnurse They call me "dad", I have been living with them for 4 years, we have spoken about marriage, and more kids, (the boys have asked us for another sibling) we are a few weeks away from family therapy, and I have taken on the role of the authority figure over the past few years as they originally had none (being a single mother makes it difficult to manage all fronts of parenting).
    – Ben
    Jul 20, 2023 at 22:32

1 Answer 1

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When a parenting tool is tried and doesn't work out, then it's time to do something different. Your son is disturbed by yelling, so it's time to try something else, and since yelling is not a necessary parenting tool, there are many other options for things that work.

You are living with this child, which means you are dad. Children don't care about forms that are filled out or ceremonies, if you're there, living with them, you are dad.

A child that has lived in fear of an adult will choose to take on the role of adult, the protector, as much as they can. Giving up that role takes time because the loss of that role will feel very unsafe at first.

Your job as dad is to send multiple messages to your son every time you interact. You must always send the message that love and care about your son, and that he is part of this family. You must correct his bad behavior, and you'll need to send the message every day that you are the adult, and he is not.

About lying, when my son lied to me I would ask, without looking at him, if he wanted to revise his story. Since we had talked about this beforehand, he understood that I understood that what he just told me was not the truth, and I was giving him a second chance to tell the truth.

All children lie, some more than others, and in my experience children who've lived with an unsafe adult will lie the most. Stay the course with your son, it will take time for this to work itself out, and it's not his fault or yours. This is fallout from the past, and while it does need to be addressed, it cannot be corrected quickly, and should not be allowed to become a focus of your relationship.

Is your son selfish, probably, he's still very much a child, and no where near being an adult, so being selfish is not unusual.

Your response is to focus on the family rules and how they apply to everyone in the family, including you're son, so yes, he does have to contribute to the family by doing his chores.

Is your son emoticonal, I sincerely hope so, because all humans are emotional beings, and to deny or suppress this is unhealthy.

Your response is to focus on the family rules and how they apply to everyone in the family, including you're son, so yes, he does have to do his chores, even when he doesn't want to do them.

Developmentally, your son's brain is starting to change at a rate that is almost as fast as it did when he was a baby, so connections that used to be there sometimes disappear, and they'll come back, but it takes time for the brain to rewire itself.



Update:

After reading your question again I wanted to add a few things.

Both of your sons were injured by living with an unsafe adult, and by unsafe I mean an adult that caused these two wonderful boys to fear for their lives. That's what happens to tiny humans when they live with a big scary abusive adult.

Your sons can recovery. They need your help to do this, and they need you to believe in every moment that you spend with them that they will recover, because they don't just hear your words, they see into your heart and soul and know how you really feel about them.

You've already signed up to be Dad. You could not have known what that really meant at the time, but not to worry, all parents start their journey the same way. Additionally, you are enough, who you are right now is enough, to be the wonderful parent that your current and future kids need.

Congratulations, it's a boy, and another boy, and they have baggage, and the person who caused the baggage will never have to deal with it, you and your boys and their mom will.

It's not fair, but that's how it is.

A child only knows where the rules, boundaries, and limits are by testing them. So, when you feel that your child is pushing the limits, they are, and this is to be expected, because this is how kids learn.

You can expect that injured or not, your sons and any other children you have, will break rules, ignore you, lie, and generally try to get away with as much as they can, because that's how it looks when kids are testing the limits.

When your kids encounter a rule, boundary, or limit, they will feel bad. As long as you are setting reasonable rules, boundaries, and limits, and being kind and firm in how you talk to and treat them, your kids will be ok.

What's reasonable? That is something that you and your partner will have to work out, because both of you have to be confortable with how you've decided to parent the children.

After that what's most important is being absolutely consistent. If the rules, boundaries, and limits, are always the same, your children will grow into them and feel secure.

If you want to learn about a parenting program that I used with my kids that got me through the tough times, it's called Positive Discipline.

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