I have one son who doesn't seem to be responding much to the changes in our family, and I am starting to worry about him. I know you have dealt with many children who have come from dysfunctional situations and maybe even need counseling. I am wondering if there is a way to tell if this child needs counseling or if I just need to continue doing what we are doing and hope that it is making a difference little by little. He is 10.
The main issues we are having with him are lying and a tendency to constantly look for and feel pity for himself. He has been difficult since the beginning, always a very fussy baby, and I had some postpartum blues with him that made it hard to bond at first, which I think may have affected his perception of being loved and accepted. He is the oldest child and very perfectionist and critical of others and himself. I am trying to point out the positive I see in him whenever I can, but he is still very defensive always. He says he feels sick several times a week, usually when it is time to do work or when he is looking for attention and sympathy. He tends to get 'hurt' when he feels picked on or has gotten in trouble for his behavior as a tool to try to get sympathy. He seems overly needy for babying - he still wants to sit on our laps all the time and he doesn't want to do simple things for himself like dishing his food or getting himself a drink.
When I am talking to other kids about their behavior, he will often run into the room to emphasize that he didn't do such and such, when I wasn't talking to or about him at all. He will lie about his behavior if he did something wrong, even if he knows we saw him do it and lying will not convince us of anything. He lies about things that don't matter as well, for no reason I can fathom.
The other night he gave a family home evening lesson on honesty, which was very good and well thought out, and then promptly lied to his dad about not having seen a show so he could stay up and watch it again with him.
I am especially at a loss to know how to handle it when I am 99 percent sure he has lied about something (he said he vacuumed but I never heard the sound of a vacuum and I see crumbs all over the floor) but I wasn't there to see it and he won't admit it. He takes every hint of a criticism or suspicion as an attack on him, and he is constantly saying things like 'you never believe me no matter what I do,' 'everyone hates me,' 'I'm just the worst person in the world, aren't I!' No one ever says they hate him, of course, we tell him all the time we love him. And I try to praise and thank him every time he is honest with me, especially when he admits he has done something wrong, which is very rare.
He has some wonderful qualities too if they are used for the right things, like being extremely determined and very smart and sensitive. But I don't know how to get through the wall he has put up. I don't have these problems with any of my other kids. He seems determined to be miserable and hurting and won't believe that we love him unconditionally. He doesn't seem to love himself at all. There seems to be a disconnect in his mind and heart. There have been times when I have felt like maybe I was starting to chip away at the wall and like he might start believing we really do love him, but then it's almost like he plugs his ears and covers his eyes and refuses to believe the evidence of love we are giving him. He starts saying things like that even more, and when he is upset he will go in his room and repeat those negative things to himself over and over. I am worried about him.
Other than the brief post partum blues and the fact that I was a nervous first time mother, I have not parented him much different than my others, and they all seem secure in our love and happy. What could be the cause of this, and how can I help him? Thanks for any ideas you may have.
This is a sad story. I feel your pain. You and your 10 year old must be miserable right now. I have not met your son, so I am going to give you advice based on the experiences with the youth I have had. It is entirely possible that my advice to you is not what your son needs, but I usually find that while no two people are the same, many behaviors which people have and the reasons they have them are often similar.
You mentioned counseling. I know some things about counseling. I have had many youth come to live with me who are required by law to attend counseling. I have also had youth live with me who went to church based therapy and private, not government affiliated therapists. This is what I have learned.
1. Once you start going to therapy, the therapy will run a lot of your life and the interactions you have with your child.
2. People are way too quick to jump into therapy. And, once you jump in the therapists make it really hard for you to jump out. They try to keep their jobs secure.
3. In most cases, the person who spends the most time with the child is really the "expert" for the child. Everyone else is just guessing. Even me.
4. With many therapists, you will be pushed to give your child mood altering drugs. (There is a place for these kinds of medications. There are actual mental illnesses which can be treated with medication. But, most often mood altering drugs are offered when they shouldn't be.)
5. When you put your child into therapy, your life will be put under a microscope. You will be the biggest topic of conversation. The counselor will not usually side with you. They are much more concerned about your child liking them than you liking them. You got it.....you will have created a triangle. They will try to tell you how to parent your child. The voice they will give you is a voice of indulgence for your child.
6. Most therapists treat therapy time as a time for your child to tattle tale on you and everyone else in their lives. If you have a liar as a child, your therapist will spend the bulk of their time getting sucked into your child's lies.
7. I do not believe lying can be treated with therapy. No matter where lying starts from, it is a behavior and it CAN be controlled. Trust me, I used to be a really good liar. I had to choose to change my behavior on my own. And I had youth who were liars. Therapy didn't stop the lies, my home did.
8. Lastly, out of all the youth I have had come live with me, everyone of them was in therapy. Of all of these youth, not one of them over came their problem behaviors because of therapy. All of them that did over come their problem behaviors, over came them because they understood cause and effect well enough to choose to change.
*I think there is a place for therapy. Sometimes someone needs to sort out things in their life and their past with someone. This is what therapy is for. I have to note here that for centuries family and friends have always been used for therapy. Not until people became less trusting of their family and friend relationships did we decide to make an industry out of therapy. You could be the best therapy for your child. In fact you probably are.
Talking out things with your child is very important. I call this having a counseling session. In a counseling session you should talk to your child about what he wants, what makes him happy, his behaviors, and what his choices are in dealing with his behaviors. Then, set a plan for how to conquer the behavior. Set goals with positive and negative consequences attached and then follow them explicitly. Have a daily time to check up. At 4:00 every day sit down and talk about how the behavior went that day.
This reminds me, only work on one behavior per week or possibly every two weeks. You have to show him he can master a behavior if he chooses to. Pick the easiest behavior to conquer first, so that he can find success.
Once you get good enough at lying, or you see lying work often enough it becomes second nature to you. Your son might be at this point. He might be lying because he likes to. This is why I used to lie. It was fun to make things sound more dramatic than they actually were.
He might be lying to get attention. This would explain his sloppy style of lying. A good liar knows not to get caught. If he is lying to get attention, then you can not under any circumstances over react to his lies. You have to treat the behavior like potty training. Do not show that you are disappointed. Show no emotion. Speak calmly. When he lies you say, " Just now you said...............that was a lie. To communicate honestly you should have said.............you have earned...............Let's practice communicating honestly....."
He might be lying to gain control of situations. This reason is the most common. There are many things a person might want to control. Attention, possession of things, or even his status as a problem child. If he gets attention for being a problem child, he may be addicted to seeking that kind of attention.
FIXING THE PROBLEM
As part of your daily check up time which I mentioned earlier, practice communicating honestly. This exercise can seem silly, but it is effective. Ask the child, "What color is the wall?...............When is your birthday?....................What did we eat for lunch today?" You get the idea. Each question must be answered honestly. Teach him to think about what the true answer is before choosing to speak. Occasionally a question may be answered with "I don't know" but not usually. I try to teach my children to answer questions they don't know with other questions such as, "I don't know what county we live in. Where could I find that information?"
The other most important thing you can do is catch every single lie. Determine if he is lying to only you or to everyone he knows. If he is lying to everyone he knows then you will have to explain to him that because you love him you will have to accompany him to his church classes etc until he has learned how to control the impulse to lie. You must catch EVERY lie. Cause and effect remember. If he gets away with lying sometimes, choosing to fix the behavior will take very long.
If you suspect he is lying, you tell him that you suspect he is lying. If he tells you he isn't and you still suspect, then you tell him that because he can't be trusted when he communicates yet, you have to go on your feelings alone. He needs to earn a negative consequence. In our home, my children earn 30 minutes of work time every time they are dishonest. Explain that when he can be trusted you be able to base your judgements on what he actually says and not just your feelings. Tell him you can't wait for that time.
It is good you are rewarding honest communication. Also reward the the honesty practice time each day with a possitive consequence.
PROPER ATTENTION SEEKING
Your son is obviously having a hard time knowing how to properly seek attention. I have a few thoughts here. He is the oldest child. Often times, oldest children do need a little be more one on one time than younger siblings. Birth order really does make a differnce in the way people behave. Schedule personal time for him if needed.
Second, could this boy have been babied too much or too long? Does he prefer being babied to the vision of becoming a man? Help your boy want to become a strong man. Third, is he selfish? Does he not know how to share attention? Fourth, does he understand that his family is more important than himself? (The family vision and mission statements should help with this.)
In one of your counseling sessions you need to define what appropriate attention seeking is. In my opinion a 10 year old sitting on a parent's lap is still OK. I know some people aren't touchers, and have hard times with this kind of behavior for older children, but for now, I would not cut out affection. He might be a toucher and really need it for assurance of your love.
Not getting his own food and water at age 10 is amazing to me. My 6 year old cooks dinner twice a week and does dishes herself. Be sure to expect enough of him. Tell him in his counseling session that appropriate 10 year old behavior is to serve their own food etc. Then if he asks you to get it, you say, "NO." He knows how to accept a no answer right? If not, start with the four basics. If he has gotten away with this behavior in the past, you might not be being consistent enough with earning consequences for the four basics.
Rule of thumb.....Whatever behavior bothers you about your child is inappropriate. Bring it to their attention and don't tolerate it. If you never say anything you will both stay unhappy.
I know you are really concerned about your son, but he may need to be treated differently than he is. Think outside the box for a minute. Whenever anyone we know has a problem, our first response is always to think of excuses for them, feel sorry for them, and baby them. Even though the scriptures say, "Mourn with those that mourn," we have to remember that as parents God wants us to make a strong person who is ready to stand up for goodness in this world. We can't do that by merely feeling sorry for someone or giving them all they say they want. Strong people are made by not getting what they want. This is fact. Strong people have to analyze and then stretch to new heights.
Maybe instead of counseling etc about past things you aren't really sure about, you can just focus on giving him what he will need in this world to have successful future. Give him family fun, exposure to hard work, discipline, and self mastery.
If he ever starts saying things like, "I am the worst person in the world" etc. Do not talk back!!! He wants you to talk back. This kind of pouting is a power struggle. I would say, "It looks like you have some thing you want to say to me, and I really want to know what that is, but we can't ever talk until we are both calm. It seems like you could be out of instructional control. I am going to give you an instruction........Rule of three." When everyone is calm, don't forget to give your son the time to talk out whatever he might want to.
If you don't ever give pity for talk like this, then he will soon see it isn't effective and choose to stop the behavior. If you talk back, you have positively enforced a negative behavior.
The fact that you hear him say bad things about you over and over again when he is in his room etc and upset at you, is the answer to the problem. I remember doing the very same thing. I wanted my parents to hear me saying things like that so that even if I wasn't in the room, I could still have control. Also, when a person is angry, the Spirit of goodness and happiness is gone. It is replaced by a big ball of anxiety; usually in the stomach. Feeding this anxiety with anger is intoxicating. It is dramatic. It actually feels good. That's why people do it. Saying mean things during this time helps a person stay mad. It helps them stay disconnected from their loved ones and goodness. To keep the power we want it is very natural to try to stay mad a someone. Think of yourself. I am sure you have done this at some point in your life. Your spouse said something mean and you argued about it. Then you just could not let yourself forget the argument, or you would feel like you gave in and lost the argument. What people don't consciously know is letting go of the anger ball and focusing on repairing the relationship is really where the power lies.
If he runs in the room to tell you how good he is when someone else has chosen wrong, then he needs know how to seek attention appropriately. He also needs to know this behavior creates contention in the home and doesn't show concern or love for siblings; which is way more important than if he did something good. Sounds like he needs lots of praise though, so keep praising all the right choices and relationship building skills he decides to do.
Finally, make sure your son knows you want him to be happy, and so you are going to do the rule of three every time he is depressed or sad. Pouting, self induced depression, etc. are all out of instructional control behaviors. Treat them as such and you will see them become less and less prevalent in your home.