By Andrew Gibson, Ph.D.,
author “Got An Angry Kid? Parenting Spike-A Seriously Difficult Child”
On the web at DrAGibson.com and blogging at gotanangrykid.com
Spike is a ten year old out-of-control child. There is nothing his Mom and Dad can do by reward or punishment that actually works. He will resist anything. Yet, they try to force him into change. They think aggressiveness will subdue him. It won’t. They are doomed to find out the hard way.
One way they try to get Spike to behave is to threaten him. They get in his face. They raise their voice. They are hostile. They tell him he’s gonna get a slap if he doesn’t stop. They grab for a ruler, yardstick or something to shake at him. The dare him to step over the line. Everything is a threat. They are oblivious to his anger. Spike will step over the line anytime he feels like it. He doesn’t give an inch. He gives back what he gets.
What is the story with these people? Why can’t they see that this kid isn’t budging? Because they are stuck, that’s why. You can’t persuade Spike to do anything by threatening. Threatening is okay to keep a normally developing kid in line; it isn’t okay to manage an out-of-control child. It doesn’t work. Spike’s parent’s experience with their son should be obvious. But their experience hasn’t sunk in yet: out of control means out of control. Threat is a control technique. It is D.O.A.for Spike before it even leaves his Dad’s mouth.
Don’t they see and hear that Spike is doing the exact same thing to them as they are to Spike? He doesn’t shrink from their anger; he steps up to it. He yells. He swears. He insults. He threatens violence, too. Dad gets carried away and slaps Spike. Spike punches him back. Somebody threatens to call the cops. Somebody else says, “Go Ahead! Who cares?”
Spike doesn’t care. Cops don’t scare him. His folks have called the cops before. Nothing happens The cops have better things to do than referee this dogfight. They’ll threaten the family with a warning; they’ll scold his parents in front of him; they’ll get all tough sounding to Spike; then they’ll leave, just like last time.
We need an adult here. This kid is a coiled snake; if his parents ever want to hear the words ‘Spike’ and ‘normal’ in the same sentence they need to make changes. They may have given up even hoping that will happen. They shouldn’t. They must be poised, and dignified. They need a calm, low tone of voice. They need to say as little as possible. They should not touch him. They should keep a comfortable distance between themselves and him. The less they do the better.
No surprises. No threats. Spike is out of control. It’s his parent’s job prepare for his return to civilized behavior. They can. They need to give him the fewest possible excuses to become enraged. Send him away to a residential school? Bad idea. He’ll come back in a year or so and pick up where he left off. A big parenting change is required. If Spike’s parents are seriously considering a residential school, they are advised to learn how to manage him first. Otherwise, he is likely to run away from the school.
If he wants to talk, listen. But don’t beg him. Don’t allow provocation to upset you. Stay calm and focused. Tone is important. Deflect inappropriate comments. Don’t say anything negative. Be aware of your anxiety level. He is sensitive to parental anxiety and feeds on it. Don’t be humorous. Don’t praise or flatter him. Don’t sympathize either. If there is a problem, try breaking it down into smaller actionable pieces. If he can’t handle it, don’t.
Will this make Spike stop? No, not by itself. It’s a step. It represents a huge change from the parent who got in his face and slapped it. Threats are only good against the weak.
About The Author
Dr. Andrew Gibson was born in Detroit at the close of WWII. He grew up in the midst of farming country in central Michigan. Both parents were teachers. He keeps a picture of his childhood companion, Wags, to this day ( you had to see the tail to appreciate the name). After discharge from the Navy after the Viet Name war, he graduated with a BA and MA from San Diego State University and earned his Ph. D from the University of Connecticut. He has taught at Portland State University, n Portland Oregon, at the University of Maine, Presque Isle and at SUNY New Paltz. He resides in Eastern Connecticut, with his wife of 41 years, where he conducts a private practice in parenting seriously difficult children. His book “Got An Angry Kid? Parenting Spike-A Seriously Difficult Child’ is the first of a series examining seriously difficult children at various age and emotional disturbance levels. He invites you to find him on the web at DrAGibson.com or blog at gotanangrykid.com