My child is driving me crazy. Help.
June 13, 2007 10:18 AM   Subscribe

My kid is *such* a whiner. Help.

My 6-year-old boy has been driving me crazy lately. He seems to be set off by the smallest things, and he'll start crying if things don't happen exactly how he wants them, or expects them.

Background: I'm divorced. The kid's dad is a *real* jerk, but he has court-ordered visitation. Every time he comes back from his visits, we have to go through "detox," where he's forgotten his manners, we have to remind him how to say please and thank you, and he's just generally "touchy." This time, however, it has been especially bad, possibly owing to the fact that there's a new baby at his dad's house now (huge change), but I don't really know.

I love my son so much. I want him to be successful. But he cries when he doesn't get to play nintendo, or if he doesn't get to watch a TV show, and he gets angry at school when he has to do what he's told, and he has such a hard time shaking it off. Once he's gone, it's really, really hard to get him back. And I'm sick to death of this. I'm a fairly patient, non-overindulgent, perfectly-capable-of-saying-no parent, I just don't know what to do with all this excess anger and frustration he's feeling, and when he starts whining and crying about stuff that doesn't matter, I don't know what to do.

Anyone with any ideas, personal experiences, helpful books, references - anything? Help me feel like I can do this.
posted by eleyna to Human Relations (47 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
 
Anger and frustration: work it off. Maybe martial arts, even boxing. Boys have tons of aggressive energy and it can be helpful to be able to express that safely.

Whining: ignore it. Yes it's hard, but most "normal" kids have excellent pattern recognition. If whining, throwing fits etc doesn't get attention, they'll stop.
posted by Skorgu at 10:25 AM on June 13, 2007


Does he get enough exercise? I've heard kids, especially young boys, are much less likely to misbehave if they get plenty of rough-and-tough playtime.

I have heard two approaches to dealing with kids who whine a lot. One is telling the kid "I love you, but this is the way it is right now. We need to do [this and this and this] because of [this and this and this], and crying is not going to change that." The other one is distracting him from what's making him cry, like taking him on an airplane ride or pretending to be an elephant--basically doing something so crazy and off-the-wall that the kid loses focus from his anger and starts paying attention to you.
posted by schroedinger at 10:28 AM on June 13, 2007


Your son is whining because he knows that if he keeps doing it, you're going to break down and give him what he wants. If not, you're going to give him attention. He needs to learn that whining won't get him what he wants. Use positive reinforcement to show him that not whining will get him what he wants.

If his dad is a jerk, then your son is learning to be a jerk or to tap into that part of him when his dad is around. Since the dad has court order visitation rights, you're stuck with it but you can work around it. Get your kid active in sports and physical activities that will tire him out - use physical actives to tire him out.

You could also try the "fear" approach to parenting but...um. No. Don't.
posted by Stynxno at 10:35 AM on June 13, 2007


Beyond being firm I'm not sure what you can do. The trick with whining children is to ignore them. Once they realize whining gets them no where they will stop. If your husband responds to his being whiny that is a problem, but I think your child should still realize that behaviour won't work with you.

As others have said, putting him in martial arts might be a good idea. My fiancee teaches Karate to little kids, and it does seem to help kids with their discipline, etc.

You could also smack him when he starts to act up.
posted by chunking express at 10:37 AM on June 13, 2007


I've had some luck with my 3yr old when he's cranky and whiny to open my arms for a hug, have him come over to me and then talk to him about what's wrong. I ask him why he's sad and if he's tired and bring up emotional topics that might have set him off.

You say:

"This time, however, it has been especially bad, possibly owing to the fact that there's a new baby at his dad's house now (huge change), but I don't really know."

Have you sat him down and given him some mom-hugs and talked about how this makes him feel? I'm honestly surprised by the comments in this thread about just ignoring the whining and crying and that frustration can be "worked off" through play time.

I'll agree that if he's using whining and crying to get his way, it should be ignored....but perhaps try digging down deeper to some emotional issues that might be at the root of this attitude.

I mean, from his perspective it could be bad enough that his daddy left and his attention occupied by another woman but to have a new baby in the house? He may be lucky to get his dad to register him - that's really tough for a little man to understand and process.

So certainly ignore the attention-getting tactics, make sure he's being active and take some "mommy and me" time to talk about how he feels.
posted by bkdelong at 10:45 AM on June 13, 2007 [3 favorites]


He'll just keep trying until it works and then he'll use it all the time. On the other hand, if you don't give in, he'll keep trying too.

I have two kids who are great. But when it comes to whining behaviour, it's a war of attrition. They'll keep it up for months. They really don't care if their behaviour upsets you. You just keep doing the right thing the first time, the second time and the ten-millionth time.

He will eventually stop. In six months to a year. My experience has been that kids go through cycles where they're whiny seemingly forever and then one day you notice there hasn't been any whining in a while. I think it has something to do with brain development. But settle in for the long haul.
posted by GuyZero at 10:48 AM on June 13, 2007 [1 favorite]


Stick to your guns, yes, but consider bigger guns. If he's whiny because he can't play Nintendo now, politely inform him that if the whining continues, he won't play Nintendo tomorrow either. If he keeps up, he loses it for a week. A month. A year. FOREVER.

Whatever you do, follow up on your promised punishments. When he loses it for that week, the whole week long, when he starts whining, you can say "Well you were going to get your Nintendo back on Monday, but if you decide to whine about it now, you'll lose it for another week." (Its really his decision so you need to frame it that way).

Threaten to get rid of it forever, if that's what it takes. Follow through on that too.
posted by allkindsoftime at 10:57 AM on June 13, 2007 [1 favorite]


Is his dad giving him junk food? If he's coming back loaded with sugar and salt that could explain part of this problem.
posted by teleskiving at 10:59 AM on June 13, 2007 [1 favorite]


I think bkdelong has given some outstanding advice here. Sure, kids whine and cry for completely inconsequential reasons, but they also do it when they're having trouble adapting to unfamiliar situations (or recovering from those situations, as may be the case after a visit with Dad). I think taking a nurturing approach to addressing the child's problems (encouraging hugs, discussion of what's bothering him, etc) while also not responding to outright tantrums, is the right way to go. Sort of a slightly more advanced version of the old "use your words" routine.
posted by justonegirl at 11:03 AM on June 13, 2007


He needs something else to do instead of whining. Sports, martial arts, daily bike rides, something. This seems to help with my little whiner.
posted by LarryC at 11:07 AM on June 13, 2007


Normally I would simply say that it is best to tell the child "I can't hear whining" and totally ignore him till he talks to me in a normal voice. But here the whining is simply a symptom of the fact this young boy's world has been totally rocked to the core.

Perhaps check with his teacher or a school counselor, or see if there are any divorce care groups for children out there or something. The two of you could use a little extra help and support with this. You need strategies that will enable him to not whine so much while at the same time not make him feel rejected by YOU too.

My sympathies. This is rough. Poor little fellow.
posted by konolia at 11:10 AM on June 13, 2007 [2 favorites]


Oh, and if possible try to have stable routines and things for him. He can use every bit of stability he can get right now, and if you can provide him with that, that will help quite a bit. Things like stable bedtimes, morning routines, etc. Things he can rely on that will STAY THE SAME.
posted by konolia at 11:13 AM on June 13, 2007 [1 favorite]


Your son is six and doesn't have the capacity or the vocabulary to really tell you what's really bothering him - he is sad and frustrated by his current situation. And he's angry, too. Most kids know when they're being a pain in the ass, and really don't want to be, but it's the only way that they have to ask you for help. Did you ever hear the saying that most negative behavior is done for a positive reason? This is a perfect example of that.

If you have the resources, I would consider consulting a child psychologist. Sit down with him/her first, and then depending upon what they suggest, go to some sessions with your son. If you don't have the resources, try asking your son to draw a picture of how is feeling when he whines. This will give you a real insight as to what is going on in his head, and will encourage him to open up to you.

I second the suggestion above to spend lots of one-on-one time with him - give him lots of contact with you. He needs more than Nintendo right now - he needs to know that someone loves him and wants to put him first. Sit him down and read a book to him, do a craft, take him bowling, and then, at bed time, tell him that he's the most important guy in the world to you, and that you will love him forever. There are many books with this theme - "Love you Forever", "The Runaway Bunny", etc.

What he needs right now is not to be ignored, but you.
posted by Flakypastry at 11:22 AM on June 13, 2007


I am with GuyZero on this. My six-year-old definitely goes through whiny phases, and nothing but time seems to make them go away. We have wheedled, cajoled, shouted, punished, caved in, and every other response you can think of. It mostly takes care of itself. You can make the situation worse, and your individual circumstances may be a contributing factor, but I think I have come to the conclusion that it is just part of the bargain with kids.
posted by briank at 11:23 AM on June 13, 2007


I'm not a parent, but I'm in the midst of reading a number of parenting books for a class I'm taking on child therapy.

One suggestion that I just read from a book I really like (Parenting From the Inside Out) is to acknowledge the kid's emotions while at the same time teaching him appropriate ways to deal with that emotion. So, "I know you're bored right now, but I can't have you playing Nintendo right now. What else could you do?" (or "... Why don't you do X instead?"). Or, "It must be really frustrating for you when the teacher tells you to do something you don't want to do. But it's not ok to yell at school. Maybe you could [save up your questions till the end of the lesson / run around at recess instead / etc.]".

I think part of it's not just "Using your words," but also making sure kids have the emotional vocabulary they need to figure out what they're feeling, and the knowledge necessary to figure out appropriate ways of dealing with that feeling.

(I'd also totally recommend the entire book. Part of it deals with what the authors call "low road" behavior, when either the parent or kid is so emotionally overwhelmed that they can't act rationally, and how to help both yourself and your kid get through those states (and not get into them in the first place). It sounds a bit like that's something you may be dealing with?)
posted by occhiblu at 11:23 AM on June 13, 2007 [1 favorite]


I liked this article over at Violent Acres the other day. Kids are smarter than we give them credit for, and at 6 years of age you should be able to reason with your son and tell him that at his Dad's house, he can get away with whatever his dad lets him -- but when he's at home, he'd better follow your rules. And then enforce the rules in a crystal-clear way that all of the child psychology books have been advocating against for years.
posted by SpecialK at 11:25 AM on June 13, 2007


Oops, I meant to explain further: It's important that you try to give names to his emotions, because he may not have the emotional maturity or intellectual capacity to do so yet. Hence the "You must be bored" or "That sounds frustrating" language. It's teaching him to identify his emotional needs, so that he can go about solving them.
posted by occhiblu at 11:25 AM on June 13, 2007


The fact that there's a transition from his behavior coming from visiting his dad to coming back to you means the opposite is probably happening as well. Can you imagine this kid always having something be wrong with his behavior that he has to change it so drastically from place to place? I'd be frustrated too, not to mention what would be going through my head wondering if there's something wrong with me that my parents always have a problem with how I act.
posted by rhizome at 11:34 AM on June 13, 2007


the first thing I'd do is ask for the question to be deleted and ask it anonymously. Do you really want your kid to discover this in 5 years?

I think the post sounds loving and honest, which are good things for parents to be. If I felt this way about my child, I would not mind that they found out when they were older. It's part of the emerging relationship.
posted by jbickers at 11:39 AM on June 13, 2007


A friend told me that this book is "Miraculous! Like Ferberizing for whining!". YMMV, since you have the additional elements of divorce and a new baby, but my friend swears by it.
posted by shannonm at 11:40 AM on June 13, 2007


And I'm sick to death of this

Honestly? Suck it up and "detox" him. You're a parent, you've had your chance to blow off steam here, now do what you know has to be done.

No one said it would be easy or fair. But you are the parent and there are sucky, boring, sanity testing things you not only have to do, but do repeatedly for the next decade or two.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:41 AM on June 13, 2007


Have you sat him down and given him some mom-hugs and talked about how this makes him feel? I'm honestly surprised by the comments in this thread about just ignoring the whining and crying and that frustration can be "worked off" through play time.

I have, actually. We've talked about it a lot. More now that he's older, even. And even though he's not totally able to really understand what's going on, we've talked about being frustrated, and how it feels when his dad yells (at him, and the new baby, etc.). I've told him, "Your dad loves you very, very much, but sometimes he doesn't know how to behave, and it's okay to tell him you don't want to be yelled at. You can tell your dad to please stop yelling."

He really does get plenty of hugs, and plenty of mom-time, talk-time, emotion-time. I'm actually really thinking the "more activity" thing might help. I think that part of the problem with being a single parent is that you can't make up the part of the other parent - and I'm certainly not much in the way of a rough-house, rough-n-tumble, let's-go-kick-a-ball around, kind of mom.

So, "I know you're bored right now, but I can't have you playing Nintendo right now. What else could you do?" (or "... Why don't you do X instead?").

His usual response is to this type of "acknowledge feelings, try to get him to figure it out" tactic is to withdraw further inward, make fists, (sometimes he hits his palm with his fist), get upset and angry. He doesn't seem to be particularly able to work through point A to point B. He just sort of shuts down.

I am with GuyZero on this. My six-year-old definitely goes through whiny phases, and nothing but time seems to make them go away. We have wheedled, cajoled, shouted, punished, caved in, and every other response you can think of. It mostly takes care of itself.

This helps.

And maybe it's unrealistic to expect kids not to whine. I just have this vision of the two of us hiking, biking, whatevering, and having a great time, and I wish he would have a good attitude instead of whining after 5 minutes.
posted by eleyna at 11:45 AM on June 13, 2007


Thank you to all for the suggestions. Many of these are things I've thought of, but haven't done. It helps to have some reinforcement in knowing what works for other people- I think I really will get him involved in some sports. He doesn't have any of that.

Honestly? Suck it up and "detox" him. You're a parent, you've had your chance to blow off steam here, now do what you know has to be done.

Which was... what? I'm genuinely looking for things that will work better, not, "do the same thing again and again and expect different results this time."
posted by eleyna at 11:50 AM on June 13, 2007


Six-year-olds are pretty smart. They fully understand rules change in different environments. So, for starters, I would stop blaming his behaviour in your house on the father.

Next, allkindsoftime has it. Persistance and follow-through. You will have the conversation a hundred times before it begins to make a difference, but everytime he whines tell him he is whining and that he is only going to make things worse by continuing to do so. If he continues, the old give him something to cry about is required. If not, yeah, give him a hug.
posted by and hosted from Uranus at 11:53 AM on June 13, 2007


Please DO NOT hit your grieving child, as advised above.

How would that help him to better understand his world? How would it help him remember that, as things get upturned, he is still loved by mum? How would it teach him that dad may be flaky but mum is stable?

Do try any other technique or philosophy mentioned above - but please, don't hit the kid.
posted by dash_slot- at 12:04 PM on June 13, 2007


Frankly, I think you're doing everything you can do, and could give better advice on this topic than you've gotten. Keep being a good mom. That's all you can do, and in the long run, that should be enough.
posted by kingjoeshmoe at 12:19 PM on June 13, 2007


and I'm certainly not much in the way of a rough-house, rough-n-tumble, let's-go-kick-a-ball around, kind of mom.

You should look to see if there is a YMCA in your area. They usually offer all sorts of programs for little children, at least the ones in Canada.
posted by chunking express at 12:21 PM on June 13, 2007


I'm partial to the "Love and Logic" (series of books, google/amazon is your friend here) method of parenting, wherein you let your kid choose from a set of choices that you provide, and which are all acceptable choices for you.

How does this work with a whining kid?

Well...

This morning my 3 year old was whining because I wouldn't turn a cartoon on TV for him. I let him watch PBS cartoons in the morning during my shower, so if I wake up and shower before he wakes up, like I did this morning, he doesn't watch cartoons in the morning, because I can manage him without the TV.

His whining this morning got bad/loud/annoying enough that I put him in his room and told him that he could come out when he was ready to be nice. The whining went on from inside his room -- maybe 10 minutes -- until I was ready to go to take him to preschool and go to work myself.

Here's the thing: Every morning, when the weather is decent enough, my son has a choice about how he gets to go to preschool: He can ride in the car or he can ride on my bicycle. He loves riding in the kid-seat on the bicycle.

When I gave him this choice -- car or bike -- he immediately snapped out of the reptile-brain whining and into higher order cognition. Immediately he said "ride the bike!" and that was that. We were suddenly doing something of his choosing that he wants to do! The rest of the morning with him was idyllic.

The "Love and Logic" method here is that you give the kid a choice, and if he doesn't make the choice within about 3 seconds, you make the choice for him. So he has about 3 seconds to "take control" of the situation. This in practice means he has to quickly recover from "whine-mode" and go into "choice-mode".

He had to mess up a few times, and not get to make a choice that he wanted to make, before he got really good at recognizing when a choice "i.e. car or bike" that he really cared about was in play. And the times that he messed up, it really sucked for me, because the whining doesn't stop, it just transitioned from "I want to watch curious george" to "I want to ride the bike".

Most of the time it really does work now. He hears the "choice" language and switches almost shockingly quickly from whining auto-pilot to engaged, thinking 3-year old.

It's a method. It takes time to implement. Once in place, it seems great.
posted by u2604ab at 12:23 PM on June 13, 2007 [8 favorites]


Video games and TV are like sugary candies: pleasant in the present time, but not very satisfying in the long run. When your kid clamors for them, it's just like whining for a chocolate bar. He needs something better to do, that won't just leave him hungry.

Perhaps sometime when he's not whining, or if he asks nicely, you could take him to the park or play together. If you're not comfortable with rough-and-tumble play styles, get him together with some other kids who are, or find him a sport to play. Can't hurt to have him in the habit of athletic activity when young, anyway.

As I'm sure you know, it won't kill him to be a bit upset or lonely. But "quit yer yappin' or I'll give you something to cry about!" only teaches him not to express what he's feeling. It sounds like he just doesn't know any other way to express himself right now, like a screaming baby.

Model good ways of getting what you want, rather than the screaming he sees from his father. Over time you can teach him constructive ways to respond to emotion. It can be learned even when it doesn't come naturally.
posted by Lady Li at 12:30 PM on June 13, 2007


And maybe it's unrealistic to expect kids not to whine. I just have this vision of the two of us hiking, biking, whatevering, and having a great time, and I wish he would have a good attitude instead of whining after 5 minutes.

Yeah. Real kids aren't like the kids in books, who are little angels just waiting for the right kid grown-up to show them the world. Kids are as independently miserable as anyone else, sometimes more so because every emotional upset is "Category 5" for them. But I know what you mean. Unhappy kids make you unhappy too. Just be happy anyway.

As a hiking example: is he really hurt? Is he really exhausted? Is he really hungry? Those things can make life less fun for anyone. But if nothing is really wrong, my suggestion is to act like everyone is happy and to carry on. Just act as if he acting like you want him to. Eventually he learns by example that people are just naturally upbeat.
posted by GuyZero at 12:39 PM on June 13, 2007


I was that kid. My father is such an asshole. Visits with him were awful: he just seemed to resent me. I could go on and on, but suffice to say similar circumstances, and as an adult I choose no to associate with him.

Think about it this way: do you suspect that your son may reach the conclusion someday that his dad is a toxic, angry person more likely to harm him emotionally than be of any positive use? Wasn't that approximately the conclusion you made in divorcing him? If so, please understand that he's dealing with those horrible things now, completely underprepared, since he's only 6. The more he's allowed to feel pissed off and the more he's taught that it's normal to be aggravated by shitty family members, the less time he'll spend emulating those behaviors as an adult or crying all day on father's day every year or doing whatever things 20-somethings do to express or expunge bad childhood experiences. Of course, you don't have to badmouth his father, but frankly, my mom never said a peep about my dad and I could have used a little context. I don't know what that might entail for you, exactly. My mom didn't need to wait till I was 20 to tell me my father thought I was "a trap", though. How you choose to use information to protect your child is up to you.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 1:01 PM on June 13, 2007 [1 favorite]



Which was... what? I'm genuinely looking for things that will work better, not, "do the same thing again and again and expect different results this time."


"detox him" as you said you've done in the past. Their kids, you have to repeat some stuff with them, to let'em know what will and won't be tolerated.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:03 PM on June 13, 2007


I, like you, have a young son (5) and share custody with a difficult father.

This is certainly not a cure-all (some claim it is) but it has really helped me stay calm and steady and unemotional when addressing whining and defiant attitude:

1-2-3 Magic by Thomas Phelan. I highly recommend it- it's practical and a quick read- which is esp. nice for a single parent.

It has simple tools- I don't think they can be as constantly applied as the book claims- but they DO HELP SO MUCH if you are consistent and loving.

I use a lot of humor with my son during whiny periods- sometimes I insist that he sing his requests to me rather than whining them... which eventually results in a lot of laughs...

Also- I find that during bedtime- when we are close, finished with stories, snuggling a bit- I can get him to talk about things on his mind...

I am sure the new baby at his father's home has had a huge impact on him. Try to be patient and loving while also firm. Our modern families can be hard for them to get used to.
posted by mistsandrain at 1:13 PM on June 13, 2007


Some time when he is calm, try talking to him about why it is hard to get back and forth between the two houses. Since he probably can't name the feelings, it can helpful to give him several options in the form of "some children" and he can agree or add other ideas of his own. For example "Lots of children find it hard to adjust when they change from one parent's house to the others. Some children feel like they have to be on their good behavior when they are Dad's house for the weekend and when they come home, they can relax and be themselves. Other children find it easy to do what they want at Dad's house and then it is hard to get used to rules at Mom's house. What do things do you think might make it harder for you"

If he happens to tell you about specific behaviors that his father did, you can let him know that if is normal to feel hurt and angry and left out when those things happen (without bad mouthing his father.)

You might also be able to make a plan with him to help with his re-entry. For example, on days when he comes back from Dad's house, he gets extra Ninendo time. Write down the agreement, use illustrations if he isn't a good reader.

You might also want to make a poster with the rules of the house. when he comes home and forgets his manners, you can just nicely say "I think you've forgetten the rules of our house. Why don't go over and look at hte poster and see and if you can figure out which one?" Assuming he will know already, you don't even have to make him tell you (that can turn into a power struggle) - just assume that once reminded he will remember.
posted by metahawk at 1:15 PM on June 13, 2007


I don't have kids of my own, but I have three nephews I'm very close to (ages 2-6), and several close friends with kids in the same age bracket. So I've had the luxury of interacting with a lot of kids without actually raising them -- so feel free to take this with a grain of salt!

From what I've observed, the only child of the bunch who doesn't whine (or who snaps out of it quickly) is the one with the mom who says very calmly, very firmly, every single time, "I can't hear whining. Talk to me in your big girl voice." And she means it: she does not listen to it. She does not negotiate, bargain, or bribe. She does not plead, wheedle, or coax. She doesn't get angry (if she's pissed off, she saves it for later to blow off some steam on her own.) She just calmly, firmly doesn't brook it. If her daughter doesn't snap out of it and moves into tantrum mode, there is an immediate, appropriate consequence (the TV is turned off, or they leave the playground, a five-minute timeout, etc.). She also praises when her daughter responds without whining -- "I appreciate how you asked so nicely," etc.

She also did this as a single mom for several years, in which her very unstable ex-husband didn't exactly do any favors in terms of modeling good behavior either. She'd simply say -- again, consistently and calmly -- "I know that works at dad's house, but it doesn't work at mom's. I want to hear you but only in your big girl voice."
posted by scody at 1:18 PM on June 13, 2007 [1 favorite]


Some of this has already been said, and I'm sure you're doing some of it, but here are my suggestions as a fellow parent of a child who tends to be whiny whenever something doesn't go right. For what it's worth, he's a 3 and a half year old boy.

1. We have two rules that we always follow. First, of course, whatever he whines for, he doesn't get. Ever. Even if it is something we would've given him gladly had he asked nicely. In that case, we do sometimes prompt him with "only if you ask nicely" and give him a chance to correct himself. The second rule is, if he's whining/fit-throwing because something went wrong, he goes to his bed, immediately, and doesn't get up again till he's calm. This usually works amazingly quickly.

2. I tend to find that when I spend more time with him, doing whatever he wants to do for a while and just being silly together, he tends to whine less, even about totally unrelated things. This may just be him, but the sillier we are, the better behaved he is for quite a while. He has quite an imagination, so I may end up pretending to be a whale in the water with him, or a zebra being chased by him, the lion. The more silly/fun time we get together, the better he is the rest of the time.

3. I have to make sure I give him appropriate attention/sympathy without rewarding the whining. This is kind of a fine line sometimes, especially if it's an incident with his brother; if his brother was being completely unreasonable to him, but he threw a whiny fit instead of dealing with it appropriately, he does deserve some reassurance that his brother was really being mean; he just needs to react differently.

4. The more patient and calm I am when dealing with his whininess & fits, the better it works. The angrier and more frustrated I get, even if I don't think I'm showing it, the less effective I am. If I lose it and yell at him for his fits, I'm basically throwing my own fit, and he knows it.

These things help, but I don't think there's an instant solution. These are the things that I find make a good difference and seem to improve things over time. Good luck!
posted by greenmagnet at 1:47 PM on June 13, 2007


Oh, and one more thing. Like the last poster said, praise when he does it right is so helpful. Both of my kids really respond well to a "hey, that was great how you handled that" kind of remark. Catching them doing something right and letting them know how proud you are of them definitely makes a difference. Again, not necessarily immediately, but over time.

It also helps me to do that because it helps me remember that even if he's being generally difficult at this point, he's getting it right sometimes. :) That in turn helps with the being calm and patient thing when he doesn't get it right.
posted by greenmagnet at 1:52 PM on June 13, 2007


I just have this vision of the two of us hiking, biking, whatevering, and having a great time, and I wish he would have a good attitude instead of whining after 5 minutes.

I don't mean this as a snark, or to be mean, but as an honest attempt to help: your son has this vision of the three of you hiking, biking, whatevering, and having a great time, and he wishes the two of you (you and your ex) would love each other instead of divorcing.

A divorce is a hugely impactful experience in a child's life, and you're going to have to readjust your own expectations a bit; rather than wanting him to do these awesome things, be grateful when he's doing ordinary things, because divorce is not an ordinary circumstance for a child; whereas for us, as adults, as hard as it can be, we've known about it for years and understand it, and are surrounded by people who have gone through it. Your son, on the other hand, only knows that HIS PARENTS DON'T LOVE EACH OTHER AND ARE NOT TOGETHER and it's a singular, earth-shattering event.

Now, pile on the fact that he's six, and so still (as you recognize) struggling to understand his own emotions -- at a time when it's hard enough to understand the normal ones, much less the anger and fear associated with divorce -- and it's no wonder everything's heightened.

Probably the best thing you can do here is be consistent; keep him on an eating and sleeping schedule with a run of the same (more or less) foods, set boundaries and stick to them, and otherwise let his life with you be completely stable -- and of course, full of love that doesn't need his perfect behavior to trigger it.

Good luck.
posted by davejay at 2:46 PM on June 13, 2007 [1 favorite]


From what I've observed, the only child of the bunch who doesn't whine (or who snaps out of it quickly) is the one with the mom who says very calmly, very firmly, every single time, "I can't hear whining. Talk to me in your big girl voice."

I hope you're right about this; we tell our kids "tantrums don't work in this house" and ignore their behavior, but snap to attention about their needs as soon as they stop. We also snap to attention about their needs especially quickly if they say "please" (or "peez", as they're not yet two years old.) So far it works sometimes, but not always.
posted by davejay at 2:51 PM on June 13, 2007


although lately, they've been jumping right out of the tantrum when we remind them about "please", so I hope that's a good sign.
posted by davejay at 2:52 PM on June 13, 2007


Divorce, Dad in a relationship, new baby at Dad's. That's a lot to handle, and the whining is probably a message that he's really needy. Do not reward whining with attention, or give in to it. What gets rewarded, gets repeated. Schedule teevee and videogame time, and stick to the schedule fiercely.

Get some hand puppets, and give them names and voices, and let him talk to them, while you operate them. My son would tell Polar Bear and Bunny all sorts of things he couldn't say to me, even though he knew it was my hand in the puppet, and my voice. You and the puppets should reassure him that you aren't going away (like Daddy did, but don't say it) and you and Daddy love him, and the divorce was not his fault, and you and Daddy love him, etc. Repeat way mre than you think is reasonable.

Make sure he's getting enough sleep. Do as much fun stuff together as possible, like movies, field trips, etc. Ask a good children's librarian for recommendations of especially reassuring books and videos.

I generally found that when I recognized my child as especially needy, it was much easier to cope with tantrum-y behavior, and to head it off before it got there.

And no matter how big a jerk his Dad is, do absolutely everything you can to help him have a great relationship with his Dad. Because it's good for your son.
posted by theora55 at 4:05 PM on June 13, 2007


I have to respectfully disagree with this:

"Your dad loves you very, very much, but sometimes he doesn't know how to behave, and it's okay to tell him you don't want to be yelled at. You can tell your dad to please stop yelling."

No, he can't. He's six years old. He can't intellectually separate bad behavior from being a bad person, yet, and he can't separate his dad being a bad person from him being a bad person for loving his dad.

Suggesting to the child right now that Dad is behaving badly and he should ask Dad to change is akin to saying "I hate your dad and I might hate you a little bit too, because he's acting badly which makes you stupid because you love him, and I'm making grownup behavior your problem even though you're a little kid oh and by the way don't forget WE'RE DIVORCED!!!!!" Which, I know you would never in a million years want to do.

Or, from another angle, how would you feel if your ex's new wife didn't like a behavior of yours, one that you saw as perfectly acceptable parenting... and then she told your son that Mommy wasn't behaving properly and he should tell you to stop? Especially knowing that your kid would be virtually powerless to share that with you?

I'm truly sorry to be harsh, but Rule #1 of shared custody is never, ever badmouth the other parent/household, even in a loving, advocate sort of way -- because the kid is emotionally tied up in that parent regardless. No matter what a jackass the dad is, he's still your son's father and your son still loves him and has feelings for him.

The only thing you can do is be the best parent you can be, and provide the safest, most loving household you can, and hope that your son remembers how it was and realizes the difference that you provided. It's hard to take the high road always, but it's best. And it's cold comfort now, but I promise the payoff comes -- my kid is 11 and is finally beginning to recognize for herself some of the things that our house does differently than her mom's house, and the different ways it makes her feel. But you can't force it.

I'm not saying your son doesn't deserve some advocacy... just that he's not old enough to do it himself. If you really feel that the dad is being verbally abusive (and not just parenting differently), it might be worth stepping in, and saying, "The kiddo seems to be having some issues right now surrounding the divorce and new sibling. We're in this together for the next 12 years. Can you make some time for us all three to go talk to a child psychologist and get some practical co-parenting help?"

His usual response is to this type of "acknowledge feelings, try to get him to figure it out" tactic is to withdraw further inward, make fists, (sometimes he hits his palm with his fist), get upset and angry. He doesn't seem to be particularly able to work through point A to point B.

That sounds normal -- again, he's only six, so he might not be ready for that kind of cognitive thinking. I agree with u2604ab that "Parenting with Love and Logic" might be a good book for you. It's all but eliminated whining, back talk, and tantrums in our house.

Good luck, whatever you decide!
posted by pineapple at 6:04 PM on June 13, 2007


You could also smack him when he starts to act up.

Please, for the love of God, DON'T DO THIS. All you're doing is teaching him the lesson that you can get what you want by hitting people.
posted by dhammond at 7:55 PM on June 13, 2007


I don't have a solution for all aspects of your problem, but we've worked something out to limit the gaming. My son is 8 years old now and from the moment he started gaming (at 3) he could never stop playing and he got mad or started shouting whenever he had to stop. We wanted to reduce it to a couple of hours a week and not longer than 1 hour at a time. We hated the confrontation of telling him to stop.
Then we introduced the cooking clock. Whenever he puts on the TV set, or picks up the Nintendo, we set the clock to one hour. When it rings, it's over. It took a couple of days, but then he stopped addressing us. It is not a topic of discussion anymore. Please make sure that you put the clock out of his reach. Because one day I was working in the other room and heard him playing, long after the hour had passed, but without hearing the ring. (He was 4 then) "What's going on?", I asked him. "Oh, I turned it back," he said, "I hadn't finished my level". Whenever he's with his grandparents, he probably plays half the day, I don't even dare to ask, but whenever he's back home, there's no problem at all.
Of course he tries to sneak in some hidden game time, but whenever we catch him, there's no gaming for a couple of days.
posted by ouke at 1:40 AM on June 14, 2007


If you really feel that the dad is being verbally abusive (and not just parenting differently), it might be worth stepping in, and saying, "The kiddo seems to be having some issues right now surrounding the divorce and new sibling. We're in this together for the next 12 years. Can you make some time for us all three to go talk to a child psychologist and get some practical co-parenting help?"

The father is verbally abusive. Plain and simple, and fairly by-the-book. The fact that this is nigh unto impossible to prove or get recognized by the courts is something that I have to deal with. And if I could have talked to him reasonably, or gotten him to go see a counselor in the first place, I would have. He flat out refused then, and I don't see that things would be different now.

So, and I'm saying this respectfully, because this is something I've thought *a lot* about, and I don't *know* what the best answer is, when my son comes to me and says that his dad yells at him, and "he was yelling at [newbaby] too, and sometimes he was screaming," I am supposed to say... nothing?

Really?

Because I really do think the dad probably loves the kid, inasmuch as he is capable. But I also want my kid to know that the yelling is not okay. He did not deserve it. There may be nothing he can do to prevent it, but he didn't cause it. Maybe there is no way for him to figure out these things, and he's screwed permanently because I made a bad choice. I've certainly considered that possibility as well.
posted by eleyna at 5:21 AM on June 14, 2007


"when my son comes to me and says that his dad yells at him, and 'he was yelling at [newbaby] too, and sometimes he was screaming,' I am supposed to say... nothing?"

I didn't say that you should say nothing. I said that telling your child that he can and should try to change his father's bad behavior is too much for him to carry, either emotionally or intellectually.

But, letting him know that it's okay to feel sad or angry or scared when Dad yells (as suggested by metahawk) is something altogether different. That's a conversation about the kid, where you are being loving and supportive -- and remaining strictly factual about his father, without inserting your judgment. Even saying that you don't like yelling either, and that you promise that you and he will have a household where people talk respectfully to one another, would be supporting him without inserting the "your dad's a jackass" message.

The problem is that some parents are simply jackasses who yell, and there's not any way to change those people. Your son is already learning that for himself, sadly. When he comes to the realization that "Dad is a loud mean jackass," let it be his own voice in his head he's hearing, and not yours.

There's no way to know what turn life could take. Maybe the baby will mellow out the dad. Maybe an illness will shock him into compassionate gentle parenting. Maybe your son will need a dad so badly that he finds his own way to cope with the yelling. But if at some point, your son ends up with a good relationship with his dad, bank on him remembering -- with resentment -- all the times you "talked bad" about the father he loves.

And, just because a counselor isn't an option for you and your ex jointly, nothing says you can't take your son on his own. If private therapy is not financially feasible, there are likely resources at his school or in the community.

"Maybe there is no way for him to figure out these things, and he's screwed permanently because I made a bad choice."

I doubt that's the case! Kids are surprisingly resilient, and six years old is still very, very young. That you're looking for help is pretty much a sign that you are a good parent who wants to be there for him.
posted by pineapple at 6:30 AM on June 14, 2007 [1 favorite]


Anyway, I'll probably need to seek a counselor (again) for kid-appropriate strategies for dealing with an abusive parent. (If there are any).

But thank you all for the advice about coping with the whining and tantrums and anger. Truly. Appreciated.
posted by eleyna at 8:09 AM on June 14, 2007


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