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I am a single Mum of two (9 and 7). I work full time and don’t get much support from friends and family. I split up with the kids father 6 years ago and he now lives abroad so has very little contact with them. Recently my daughter has been acting a bit like a teenager at home and I am struggling to cope with this behaviour. I need to find out what is at the root of this behaviour before it spirals out of control and then need some advice on how to deal with it as it is wearing me down and affecting both my stress levels and her little brother too. Can you recommend a course of action for me to take?
– 23 January 2009 –
First of all, give yourself a big pat on the back for managing a hectic and complicated “balancing act” – being Mum (and surrogate Dad, too), working full time and running the home. Even with support, that is a considerable achievement, and something to be proud of doing. This kind of demanding life allows precious little time for reflection, but that is precisely what I am going to suggest you do.
Coaches believe that you cannot change others, only yourself. Sometimes parents are loath to accept this, saying they want the child to change, but when I have worked with parents on a one to one basis, it has become clear that the child’s behaviour is a symptom of the larger family situation.
From your brief description - “acting a bit like a teenager” - it is difficult to give you clear guidelines. For instance, you don’t say when the children’s father moved abroad. If this was recent, your daughter may be missing seeing her father, and feel that he has disappeared from her life.
So all I can do is make a few suggestions which may be of help to you and your daughter.
l. Open up the lines of communication with your daughter by being ready to talk when she indicates that she wants to share something with you. Make time for her alone, for example when her little brother is in bed, to share an activity you both enjoy. Try to switch off from other pressing demands on your time and attention at this time. Children know that their parents’ time is precious, and they know that if you are making time for them, that is something of value. You will probably find that she is able to confide in you at this time, but rather than ask questions, wait for her to open up the dialogue.
2. Remember that you can prioritize those things which you consider important, for example your relationship with your children. If you bear in mind “the principle that people are more important than things” * you won’t go far wrong.
3. Be sure to let your children know when you are pleased with their behaviour. Parents often ignore good behaviour, and give them their attention only when things go badly. Let them know how much you love them by recognising their qualities and commenting appreciatively on positive behaviour.
4. Set boundaries which are suitable for each child’s age, and be consistent. Your daughter is old enough now for those boundaries to be discussed with her and the reasons for them explained to her.
Finally, why not reflect on how your life is at present? You may decide you want to make changes. There are many life coaching books which you might find useful. I would suggest you take a look at Carole Gaskell’s “Transform your Life” and try working on the wheel of life. As she says, “taking small steps and making simple changes can have a dramatic impact on you for the rest of your life”.
I wish you all the best with the rest of your life.
*Stephen R. Covey “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” – Franklin Covey Co.
I am a parent with 2 teenage children. My partner has a 3 1/2 year old son who spends a lot of time with us, and generally we live together as a family.
Recently my partner’s son has been extremely aggressive when returning from his mother, and has said things like ‘don’t hit me’. He has also said that he doesn’t like me and has told me to get away from him. Usually he is a very loving child, very affectionate and happy.
We have asked James’s mother to have a chat with us so that we can discuss his behaviour to find out why he is behaving like this (and also to find out whether the same thing happens when he is with her). However she has immediately got a health visitor involved and is also refusing to let me be present at a meeting which she insists is held only with her, my partner and the health visitor. My partner, on the other hand, is insistent that I am present as I do a lot of the parenting, and spend a lot of times with James. He is also concerned that his ex-partner is able to run rings around him and make him look foolish.
I would like to be present at the meeting. I am more calm about things than my partner, and more to the point am interested in James’s welfare and making sure that he is happy.
Another point to note is that James’s childminder has remarked on several occasions that James is much happier when either I or my partner drop him off and that he is always very angry when his mother drops him off.
Can I insist that I am present at the meeting? Can his mother insist that I am not present at the meeting? Although I understand I have no legal parental rights, I am still involved in his actual parenting and want to make sure that we all work together to understand his behaviour.
– 23 April 2008 –
This issue is a challenging one, and, as I am sure you know, needs a delicate touch, as you do not want to exacerbate any emotional conflict. Indeed, it sounds as if James may be picking up on the adults’ emotions, and this is probably due to the fact that he is growing older and more aware, although he wouldn’t be able to explain his feelings at this age. I think you need to consider what you want to achieve in the long run (which, after all, is what parenting is about!) and how best James’s needs can be met.
Bearing in mind that you cannot change other people, but only yourself, you need to decide how you want to handle your relationship with James. I know of another couple who experienced similar problems with a three year old, and in the end the only way to do this is with patience and consistency. You, as an adult, know that James, along with all children, can find adult behaviour confusing, and no child feels comfortable when they are the focus of adult conflict.
Although you understandably wish to be present at the meeting with the Health Visitor, you need to decide how James’s long term happiness is best served, and may decide that bowing out gracefully is your best option. If your partner goes along to the meeting with James’s mother seeking a positive outcome, and decides that the aim of working towards James’s happiness is his top priority, then seeking a win/win outcome and resisting being drawn into old arguments or issues with his ex-wife will be much more productive. If both adults set aside their own battles in the interests of the child, they are showing that they are truly responsible and have the child’s needs at heart.
Perhaps the Health Visitor will want to come and visit you and your partner at a future date, and this would give you the opportunity to show how well James is cared for and loved. I would imagine that Health Visitors are used to handling situations of this nature, and would not rush to judgement on the basis of one meeting.
As you are well aware, James needs consistent, calm and loving care, and as an important adult in his life, you can provide this, especially if you weather the aggressive outbursts with equanimity. Be a good listener, too, and resist the temptation to pass judgement on his mother. Being a parent is hard work, and seldom without challenges of one sort or another. Good luck with yours!
My son won’t eat his meals, saying he doesn’t like what is on his plate. I feel that he shouldn’t be allowed less healthy alternatives if he doesn’t eat his meal, and want to encourage him to have the same food that the rest of the family eats, but my husband gives in and lets him have what he wants.
– 2 August 2007 –
Sounds like you and your husband need to talk about this one, as your son is receiving conflicting messages from you. Find a quiet time to talk to your husband about how you feel, and why you want your son to learn to eat healthily. Ask him why he allows your son to do this. Maybe you can come to a consensus and allow your son some choice, whilst introducing him to more varied foodstuffs. Why not involve him in some of the cooking or preparation of family meals, so that he is encouraged to take an interest in food in a wider sense, and it’s not just a battle of wills.
My three-year-old often has a tantrum in the supermarket, and I find it so embarrassing when people look disapprovingly at me. I dread going shopping in case he makes a scene.
– 23 July 2007 –
It’s a good idea to analyse what is making your son feel angry and frustrated to that extent. Try to see what triggers this behaviour and if it is the same trigger each time. Once you have isolated the reason(s) for it, you are in a good position to do something about it! Maybe you yourself are feeling stressed and harassed, and this is being transmitted to him. One way to counteract this scenario would be to make sure you have plenty of time, and make the experience a bit more pleasurable for both of you. Why not give him his own tasks, such as looking out for certain items which you know will be at his level. Don’t forget that a small reward as you leave (which doesn’t have to be sweets, but could be a visit to the park on the way home) is a great incentive and shows that you are recognising how co-operative he has been.
I don’t seem to have any time in the day for enjoying my family. I’m so busy rushing around doing all the jobs I need to do, I hardly have any time to talk to them properly or enjoy their company. I need more than 24 hours!
– 15 July 2007 –
We all lead very busy lives, and time is a precious commodity, especially in family life. Children are very aware that time is valuable to us, and they know that if we give them our time, we are showing them how important they are to us. Try to make a special one-to-one time for your child, so that they know that however busy you are, they can count on you to be there for them at that time, and that you won’t be distracted by other things, like phone calls. Let the answerphone do its job while you are giving your child that special time, and you will be giving them the reassurance that you love them. You will reap rewards yourself in that they will be secure in that knowledge and this will have a knock-on effect on their behaviour. Also, reflect on why you are always ‘rushing around’. What are the rest of the family doing? Can you get them ‘on board’ so that you can have more quality/fun time with them?