Ask Judge Lynn: Dealing with A Difficult Kid: Mother to Mother
“Hi, Judge Toler! My name is DeeDee. I am an attorney and a single mother of an 8 year old boy, affectionately called, “Big E”. However, I have been having a lot of problems with him lately, which started his second grade school year.
Because of my line of work, I am consistently on my son about thinking things through and doing the right thing at all times. Nonetheless, I get calls and notes from his teacher almost every other day. He had one fight at school, and was sent to detention once; otherwise, he gets notes sent home for talking too much and for being out of his seat.
I don’t know what to do. Currently, he sees a behavioral therapist weekly. He talks to her about his behavior, he expresses that he knows his behavior is wrong, but we cannot get him to articulate the reason he does the things he do. His therapist and I are now at an impasse.
Recently, I discovered that he was taking money from my wallet every morning to buy concessions from school. As a result, I took him to the youth detention center where a guard, took the time to speak with him, advising him to do the right thing to stay out of jail and threatened to lock him up if he didn’t stop. Well, he promised us that he would be good and wouldn’t steal anymore, but I caught him stealing three times afterwards, and each time he caught a whipping.
I am at my wits end. I know where this child can end up if I don’t “nip it in the bud” soon, so to speak. I explain the incarceration statistics to him, but nothing I tell him seems to get through. I take him to church faithfully; he knows stealing is wrong, but nothing helps. (He is immune to the whippings.)
Judge Toler, I know you have raised all boys. Any help or advice you can give me is greatly appreciated. I am so embarrassed by it all, I feel really ashamed of myself. Some folk in my family have talked about me behind my back and said some ugly things about my parenting to other people who are not even family members. Yes, I am an attorney and yes, my child should be better behaved, but I honestly don’t know where I went wrong.
I do not buy my son these expensive, name-brand “urban” clothing, I do not buy him Jordans, he does not even have any gaming systems! So, Judge, I really can’t tell you what went wrong. I don’t know how I ended up here. I have so much to say, but it would be incoherent if I tried to put it all into writing. Thanking you in advance, Judge Toler. I truly hope to hear from you soon!” — DeeDee
“Hi DeeDee: First, don’t despair and don’t feel embarrassed. Kids are people too with a wide variety of personalities and issues. I have a tough kid. Love him to death. Wanted to choke him every other Thursday.
He is still a work in progress but the key word is progress. He’s getting somewhere other than the washing machine of “What have you done now?” in which we once lived.
Along the way we discovered he is really bright and we’re really strong. Like I said, don’t despair.
Second, here’s some things I would suggest:
- You said that you have taken him to a behavioral therapist and she was stumped. Remember one expert is just that: One person with one point of view and one way of doing things. You may have to keep searching. If this one person doesn’t have any answers go to someone else. If they don’t work move on again. If you knew how many experts we’ve seen you’d pass out.
- Maybe one of your whispering relatives might want to lend a hand. Next time you hear the commentary don’t get insulted. Use it as an opportunity to ask for help. “Yes, I know he’s a handful. I could really use some help with him…” Having a new perspective on a kid can always help. Having someone who is fresh and not exhausted deal with him from time to time could be of use too. They say it takes a village for a reason. Tap yours. Even if they don’t help the upside is if they know you’ll ask for help when they throw darts they’ll be less likely to do it.
- Whether or not your relatives are willing to help remember this. Don’t let frustrations or embarrassment leak into your parenting. It can show up without your knowing it; always be mindful. You said because of your profession you are consistently on him about his behavior. I don’t know, maybe it’s the way you phrased it, but could it be too much? Just saying , he’s 8. Have you been so afraid of what may happen you’ve laid on him so hard he’s acting up? (I have no idea – just throwing that out there.)
- Does he have a male role model that would be willing to be a presence in his life? Maleness is an otherness I would never pretend I fully understand. Sometimes having a dude in the picture helps. Do you have a brother or friend willing to step in with a consistent meaningful presence? It could only be occasionally but consistently. If so enlist him. Some bigger cities have mentoring programs. A male friend of mine did it. He just took this young boy a twice a month for a day. It made a difference.
- I know you probably do a lot with him that you did not have the time to write here. But what I always like to remind parents is sometimes it’s not what you tell you kids they can’t do that makes a difference but what you DO with them instead. Help him find a passion. Help him find something worth behaving correctly for. Sports, art, something that absorbs him so he’s not just the kid who gets things wrong. Find out what he’s good at so he’s not just the boy who can’t sit in his seat.
- Boys are better with actions than words. My husband was more successful with the Tough One because it was an action-based relationship. My husband wore him out with baseball. Kept him moving. To the extent we dodged the bullets we did (Lord knows we didn’t dodge them all) I think it is because he was so busy doing something physical that he enjoyed
- If whippings don’t work stop doing it. If it’s not a deterrent it just teaches hitting as a viable response to an issue.
These are some things just to help you think in other directions. I am sure there are others. But remember this. Eight is young. I am not surprised he can’t explain his behavior, he’s a kid. Little boys don’t think things through. They feel then they do. Give him something new to do.
I will tell you one thing my Tough One told me. He said after a while he decided that since he couldn’t get it right there was no reason to try. I felt awful for a while then I felt empowered. He wasn’t an enigma; he was frustrated. I don’t know if that is true for your son but I do know that you have to “get” your kid and he is not the sum total of the rules he can’t obey. BEST OF LUCK!” — JLT