My son is 12 and I’m quite fed up, not knowing what to do about his behaviour. It’s hard as a parent to admit this, but I actually feel intimidated by him. He has always been a quiet andac well-behaved child, but recently he has started to become verbally aggressive and disrespectful towards us. Trying to get him to do chores or study has become a nightmare. We now find it hard to shout at him or punish him. He even physically lashed out at me recently. We worry we are losing control of the situation, can you help?
I’ve spoken a lot about parents being too heavy-handed when it comes to disciplining their children – but often we forget it could easily work the other way around.
We often think of children as not having the ability to intimidate their parents, whether this be in a verbal or even physical manner. But it can happen. Our influence over our children’s behaviour is key – it unlocks their future and prepares them for adulthood. We also know most kids won’t get far in life lacking basic respect and defined boundaries.
In your current situation, you are at a crossroads. Your relationship with your son needs clarity and a defined hierarchy. This becomes increasingly vital as he progresses into his teens.
How you approach his behaviour now will outline how he acts in the years to come – these are important times, so bear this in mind as you prepare to modify your parenting and put yourself back in control.
So why has your boy become so angry? Aggression in children heading into their teenage years can be caused by a feeling of frustration. They often see themselves as fully formed grown-ups – physically they may be on the way, but emotionally they still have plenty of developing to do. This is confusing and frustrating.
Inevitably, youngsters try to find cracks in their parents’ rules, looking for ways to assert themselves. And if they detect a soft spot, they can use this to their advantage to avoid study, chores and responsibilities altogether.
Remember how you used to do everything for him when he was small, how he ‘needed’ you? Now he’s finding and testing your parental boundaries – this is normal behaviour. Your son becoming aggressive in the process is not acceptable and this should not be tolerated.
I suggest both parents (a united front is critical) sit him down and explain what your concerns are and how things are going to be from now on. If this creates a flashpoint, then it’s your first opportunity to implement the new regime.
Start with my two golden words: ‘boundaries’ and ‘respect’. Explain in simple terms what you expect from him and why. How you expect him to behave within clearly defined boundaries and how you demand respect. After all, he cannot expect it if he doesn’t give it.
Next, always try to use the mantra that ‘I am the adult here – I am in control’. I know it’s hard, but try to maintain a calm persona at all times, if he raises his voice, try lowering yours, if a situation becomes uncomfortable, calmly remove yourself from it.
Once the situation has cooled, this is where you must calmly speak to him and reiterate what your expectations of him are.
Ultimately he is still a child and he needs you more than ever. Deep down he doesn’t want to hurt or upset you.
By you setting parental expectations in a calm, tough, yet fair way, you underpin your own authority and this will help you all through this difficult phase.