I’ve got a number of children. Three of them are easy and I have no problem with them, so I know it’s not me, but the fourth, my oldest, gives me a really hard time. He is very temperamental and challenging. He does not respond to being punished, and sometimes, I really feel at the end of my rope with him. I wish he could just be like other kids. Any tips on discipline would be appreciated.
Devoted father in Canton
Your boy sounds like he has his emotional “thermostat” set on “high”, meaning that he is “heated up” (tense and angry) more than he is “cool” (relaxed and happy.) Discipline that probably works great with your other kids won’t work well with him because it will just make him “hotter” (more tense) and just make him crankier. So first, you have to help him lower his emotional temperature. Then, consequences won’t put him over the edge.
Helping children lower their emotional temperature, however, is extremely challenging. Their emotions are very contagious so before we know it, we are feeling pretty tense and angry ourselves. I’m sure you have noticed this. Children pick up on these feelings and then experience us as critical, disapproving, tense, angry or rejecting of their feelings when we try to discipline them. This dynamic is just as natural as the sky is blue
With children like your son, however, we really have to hide our negative feelings as much as possible. We have to somehow pretend that these children make us just as happy, and proud, and pleased and delighted as our other children do. We have to accept their negativity and let it roll off our backs, by constantly remembering how difficult things are for these children, and how often they can tend to feel alone. When children realize they can’t always arouse their parents to negativity, they begin to learn how to regulate their own emotional temperature. Your son can “catch” your emotional feelings, just like you can catch his. If he can catch your feeling, he will start responding to discipline .
You can certainly also tell your son when you have hit a wall and are feeling too frustrated to listen to his complaints. There are always moments, with these children, when they try our patience beyond reason, and we go over the edge into anger. Forgive yourself. Traveling the world of tension, negativity, anger, or whatever you want to call that emotional “heat,” can prove to be a very rich emotional journey. I know you didn’t necessarily choose to go on this journey, but I’m happy to see you are invested in learning more about it. You were given this boy for a reason, and probably, that reason is to help you learn to climb a mountain that can, at times, feel higher than Mount Everest.