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Parenting K-6 Kids/Behavior problems in 10 year old

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My son is 10 and has been having behavioral issues since he was seven. He is very immature for his age and not interested in school, to the point where he doesn't care how well he does, often neglects his homework and would just rather play than do anything else. He is also angry a lot. Up until a year or so ago he would break things when he was angry, but he has stopped doing that and will now either just make threats ("I will stab you with a knife!" Or "I will throw you out a window!") or feel sorry for himself ("I don't deserve to be in this family!" Or "I should be dead!") His threats are usually directed at his younger siblings, never towards us or other adults and he does not display this type of behavior in school. But both behaviors really concern me. I think they are empty threats--no matter how many times I've told his father I don't want him watching pg13 movies I often come home and find them watching the x men or transformers or some other violent film, and I just don't think he's mature enough to watch those types of films. He saw a therapist a couple of years ago but we can no longer afford those sessions, however the therapist didn't seem to think he was headed down a particularly dangerous path. These remaining behaviors really concern me though and I need some strategies to deal with them. We've tried asking him to go to his room and think it out, but he will often just refuse to go. Taking away privileges works sometimes but I feel like it's really the root of the behavior that needs to be addressed. Any suggestions? Thanks in advance.

Answer
Hi Sarah,
It's always a challenge for me to help with these types of questions, because I'm not there to observe or talk to you and your son. Although it's possible the comments about stabbing are to get attention, I find it's always best to err on the side of caution when children make harmful threats. While he may not hurt himself or others, certainly there is a reason for these comments, even if he can't articulate what it is.

However, behavior like this rarely pops up out of nowhere (i.e. age 7). New behaviors, especially problem ones, often arise from some event (divorce, moving, new sibling etc). Did something happen at 7 that might be unsettling for a 7 year old?

The fact that he has some sort of control over these behaviors (i.e. he doesn't show them at school) is a positive sign that the issue can be treated. Normally I'd recommend a parenting class (he really should go to time out if you tell him too) and/or family counseling (often behavior is the result of a family dynamic). However, if that's not an option, schools often have groups or counselors that might be able to help. If you go to church, sometimes they offer parent classes or counseling that can help as well.

I also think working to actively put positive interactions in his daily life can help. Life can get so busy with work, obligations, bills, chores, other children etc that sometimes one-on-one focused time gets left out. I've had many families find success spending 15 minutes every day one-on-one with their children playing/doing something the child chooses. This is child-centered and directed, so it's not homework time. They choose and lead the activity, which is not to say they can be mean or disrespectful, but if they want to change the rules of a game (for everyone) or paint the sun purple, that's okay. This play technique works because kids feel valued when parents focus on them in their world. It also can give you insight into how your son experiences his world. And it's fun!

I don't believe movies cause violent behavior, but if your husband enjoys them, it might be something your son has identified as a way to bond with him. Plus it has the added benefit of annoying you (kids can be contrary). Regardless, if it concerns you, your husband should be more supportive. Going behind your back to show the movies will give your son the idea that your opinions don't matter. Parents should always have a united front, even if they disagree. So I'd suggest you and your husband talk and come up with a plan, which might mean a P-13 movie you all watch together or only once a week.

I hope that helps.  

Parenting K-6 Kids

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Leslie Truex

Expertise

I am a parent of two, but also I'm a social worker with over 15 year experience working with children and families. I can provide many tips and techniques to help with child behavior, interventions for specific behavioral issues, ideas to help children through difficult times such as divorce or grief, hints on keeping the family running smoothly, and tips for developing confident, happy children.

Experience

I have a master's in social work and over 15 years experience working with children and families. I have worked in schools, public health, mental health and adoption agencies providing parent education courses and children's groups.

Education/Credentials
BA in Psychology and MSW.

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