Heedless Lad

15 Oct

Dear LetterBalm: My 12-year-old son is having problems listening to me and his mother. He’ll attempt to do things, even after we tell him not to, and wreck the place. He turned on the high-powered sprinklers right after I had painted the garage doors and ruined the paint job. He ignored our caution about closing the bathroom door when you bathe the dog, and the pooch ran all over the house, broke my wife’s vase and tipped over a plant. It was a mess, and both my wife and I got really mad at him. He’s a good, smart kid, but these incidents end with all of us upset and our boy hole up in his room. I need to make him see that we appreciate his efforts, but he needs to pay attention to us.

–Don’t Help, Please

When you have a 12-year-old boy, you have the essence of energy plus invincibility. He thinks he knows it all, and he wants to be helpful – a lethal combination for anything fragile, breakable or destructible. Show your anger and make him clean up the mess (closely supervised – let’s not have him make a mess of the mess). Ms. L.B. believes parents have every right to explode when kids disregard warnings; it’s unhealthy for everyone to hold things in. Just don’t make it World War III, and make sure you don’t link his behavior to his self-worth. Talk with him at another time, when things are calm:

Jake, there’ve been some disasters around here that resulted when you didn’t listen to your mom and me. We know you’re trying to help around the house, and that’s appreciated. Most kids aren’t that interested in helping out. But when things get chaotic because you disregard our advice or warnings, well, we explode, you feel bad and everybody suffers. It’s O.K. for you to get angry at your actions – it’s healthy to do that, just like it’s healthy for your mom and me to let off steam. Can we make a deal? When you want to do something, and we’ve said don’t, can you stop and take a breath, count to five, whatever works for you? Just stop and be still for a minute. Then, without anger, we can talk about what you want to do. You know we are so lucky to have you as our son, and we love you very much. 

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