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Seven-Year-Old Misbehaves at Home and School

Toddler and Teenager Expert Advice from Carleton Kendrick, Ed.M., LCSW

Q: My seven-year-old son has a behavior problem in school and at home. He doesn't do what he's told and has very little patience. You have to ask him five or more times to do something, even though he might hear you the first time. He is very smart, gets many perfect scores at school and reads much higher than average. He did go through a lot when he was not quite four years old: my bad marriage, a violent father, some child abuse, divorce, etc., any advice?

A: Of course I am speculating here but there may be some carryover of anger, fear, and tuning adults out that your son experienced in the violent days/years of your bad marriage. He may have had to literally tune out a lot of what was going on around him and being said to him. There could be a "you're not going to make me do it" attitude based on all the hurt, anger and fear he experienced in an abusive household. You indeed may be personally getting payback for past transgressions you and his father inflicted upon him. His lack of patience may be directly related to this chaotic, unpredictable early childhood where he unconsciously had to be on guard all the time. Not trusting that you can do anything without fear of it being interrupted by turmoil or abuse does not breed patience or calmness.

Despite his earlier abused childhood he appears to have found comfort and interest in academics. He does have control over this area, power to be in control of the situation without fear of someone ruining what he's involved in. Your repeating yourself over and over to get him to do something is not and will not work. You and he and perhaps his teachers as well will not get the compliance and appropriate behavior you desire if you keep up your own fixed behaviors.

For more of an understanding of why kids, in general, don't respond to us and other adults, as well as very helpful concrete suggestions (e.g. sample dialogues) on remedying the problem, please get a copy of Boston Globe newspaper columnist, Barbara Meltz's Child Caring article, When parents say 'now', children think 'later'. You can request a copy of the article by writing its name and the date published (Nov.16,1997)and sending a self-addressed stamped envelope to: Barbara F. Meltz, The Boston Globe, Box 2378, Boston, MA 02107-2378

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Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.


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