Dear Dr. Irene:
I am shocked! I never thought I would see the day that my husband is
actually becoming so much better, and I am now seeing my 10 year old son
mimicking his father's past behavior!!! Good
for your hubby!
I am aware of a normal child and their "power
plays" at this age to try and become independent, but this is
different. When he is frustrated or not "getting his way,"
he is lashing out at me just as his father used to. Actually repeating
some of the things my husband once said to me.
Obviously, almost 10 years of his life he had to live
through this in the home - and this is what he was taught. Apparently he was a good "student." This
behavior just came out of nowhere, though. He was always such a
mature, sweet boy who would do anything and everything to try and make me
happy. I have started to set boundaries with him, just as I did with
my husband. I tell him things like "if you continue to speak to
me this way, you will lose a privilege, etc.". Good!
The problem is, is that I feel so guilty punishing him
for this. I feel it is so unfair that this poor kid had to suffer
through such a dysfunctional, verbally abusive childhood, and that it is
cruel to "punish" him for the only way he was taught to control
his temper and respond to situations. I think
you'd better deal with your guilt. It is not helping your child.
I had always hoped that my influence along the way would
show him the correct way to act. I have to do something quick in
order to stop 4 generations of verbal abuse. I want my son to know
how to properly treat his wife and children when he is older, and I am
hoping that he is still young enough to turn around. I have to find
a way to let go of the guilt because I know that I have a job to do here. Yes! Please, if you can offer any advise, I would
greatly appreciate it. Keep reading...
I have researched this and cannot find anything that
talks about this. I have been so happy that my husband has come such a
long way since I started "therapy" on your site, that it is
truly breaking my heart to have to start again with my child. I know
you are very busy with a slew of letters so even if you cannot answer my
letter perhaps you may be able to tell me where to find some books on
this. None of my boundary books hone in on a small child following
in the footsteps of their parent. Thanks again! Keri
Dear Keri, Yes, your son is behaving the
way he was taught to behave. And, good for you for setting limits for him.
But, take the guilt and throw it out the window. Did you know that
children need boundaries? Did you know that even though kids
apparently love to be able to do as they want, they do not feel safe
when no one is setting limits for them? It's scary to be able to do
anything... where does it stop? Your child is learning to set boundaries
for himself. You help him when you set limits for him - and stick with
the consequences as you helped your husband when you did same for him.
Expect your child to test your limits - just as your husband did. Dump the
guilt so you can follow through; your child will learn to trust you.
Also, this should help you dump the
guilt: Your son has learned that anger is power. He watched daddy get his
way for years. And if daddy's anger took away from him, which it had to in
a variety of ways, your son is angry with you at some level for not
putting daddy in his place. Well, you put daddy in his place, now you have
to put your son in his place - otherwise he is likely to grow up with a
measure of contempt towards you and others he perceives as
"weak." I can't think of a better reason in the world to get
strong and follow through on reasonable consequences!
You don't mention your husband's
position in all this. I always tell my parents that it doesn't matter what
they agree on - as long as they agree. Consistency is very, very
important. Without agreement, your kid "splits" you and dad,
manipulating both of you to get his way. Very, very destructive and
emotionally very, very unsafe for your kid.
I don't know of any books that
specifically relate parental discipline to verbal abuse per se, but that's
not a problem. All these principles and more are covered in Canter &
Canter's Assertive Discipline for Children. Read
it with your husband, or at least tell him about what you are learning.
This is the best book I know.
It is a workbook that teaches parents
how to discipline without becoming emotionally involved (e.g., mommy gets sad
or daddy gets mad when kid does such and such). Emotional
discipline puts too much pressure on your child to perform to make mom
happy, or keep dad calm, etc. Kid's shouldn't have to be burdened by
having to watch out for their parent's emotional issues. This trains
codependency. You are taught the verbal skills for unemotional delivery of
You are taught how to give your
child choices - which have "good" or "bad"
consequences associated with them. This is a wonderful technique that will
help counteract the control issues inherent in the abusive household. Your
child has fewer reasons to rebel or otherwise act out when he can make
choices. He is also learning the building blocks of personal
responsibility. In fact, the book encourages you to involve the child. He
is likely to "own" his consequences if he has a hand in helping
to make up the rules ahead of time. Making up the rules ahead of time has
the added benefit of counteracting the lack of consistency in abusive
homes, where the child doesn't know what to expect.
You are also taught that rewards
increase the probability of good behaviors - and how to set them up to
help create incentive for your child to do his very, very best.
If you and your husband can literally
memorize this book and work with it, your child can only benefit from the
benevolent, consistent, and firm parenting skills it teaches. (Ps: You can
also use some of the techniques on your hubby!) Good luck Keri. Dr. Irene
I want to
read the posts.