Smart-Mouthed Kid

17 Apr

Letterbalm Juvenile DelinquentDear LetterBalm: My 12-year-old son is friends with a boy who’s been through tough times. His parents are dead, and he’s been in and out of foster care. He’s a bright kid and deserves a chance, but he has a real attitude. He mouths off to teachers, adults and anyone he thinks is an authority figure. It’s like classic juvenile delinquent behavior from the 1950s. I believe the time he spends with us is beneficial. But sometimes we have to say something when he really gets out of line. Any help here?

–Leading by Example

Ms. L.B. is imagining a tough kid in a leather jacket with a cigarette pack rolled in the sleeve of his T-shirt. It’s admirable that you and your family are befriending this boy and showing him by example how a respectful family operates. You’re probably finding it more difficult to discipline him because you’re not his parents. When he oversteps, you need to be non-patronizing, yet correcting him in a way that establishes boundaries and respect. Remember, he’s testing you and seeking attention. Here are some teachable-moment observations, during which you keep calm:

  • Billy, you need to stop now, check yourself and remember whom you’re talking to.
  • Please slow down and think about what you just said.
  • I hear what you’re saying, but until you check yourself, I can’t talk with you.
  • Billy, would you step into the other room and cool off for a few minutes? When you’re ready, come back and we can talk again.
  • Billy, you’re acting disrespectfully – you’re smart and you can figure out how you’re capable of behaving better.
  • You’ve got a good head on your shoulders. If something is bothering you, we can talk about it. But I can’t do it until you check yourself and talk respectfully.
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