How to deal with a child not listening to you and throwing tantrums.

Jhonny asks: I have a seven year old boy. My problem is that he does not listen to me at all. Whenever he gets up after sleep, he cries a lot for no reason. I am really fed up. For every single thing he throws tantrums. Please help…

Hi Jhonny –

Thanks for writing me about your seven-year-old, and all the trouble you’re having. Being a parent is such incredibly hard work, at the best of times. And at the worst, it’s just about impossible!

So there are a lot of things I can suggest, but first, I should say something here. Now I’m about as great a dog as has ever lived. I’m kind and thoughtful and well-behaved and considerate and I just make Handsome’s life better all the time. But before this, I was… well, I was just awful! Handsome says I was the worst puppy he’s ever known (but he says that with a smile on his face, and lots of love in his voice). I chewed on everything, bit everyone, ripped friends’ clothes, destroyed as much stuff as I possibly could, barked at nice neighbors, whined all night… Again, I was awful!!!

My point is that the work you’re doing right now, the stressing out, the patience, the training, the discipline, the teaching, all of it – it pays off. As difficult as that kid is today, what’s wonderful about him will only grow.

So, onto the actual problems you describe. I have some suggestions, but these are all just ideas. If you find that your son’s problems are more difficult than these can help, you should definitely talk with a child therapist, or even a medical doctor, to check and see if there are deeper issues there.

1) He never listens to you:
It’s absolutely vital that a child listen to their parents, especially at this age, when they’re trying so many new things in their life. Does he really never listen to you about anything, or is it just that he doesn’t obey when you ask or tell him to do something? If he’s never listening to you, there’s something really wrong, either with your relationship or with him. If this is the case I would definitely say to talk to a doctor about the problem. But if it’s just that he’s disobedient, then here’s my thought: It’s part of a kid’s job to test boundaries, to see how far they can go, and to question authority. Your job now is to clarify just where the boundaries are. Are you always saying no to him, or telling him what to do? If so, then my suggestion (best to say this out loud) is to Pick Your No’s. Try to cut down the number of demands you make. But then, when you do make a demand, enforce it at once. You don’t have to be mean or even physical with him. If, when he disobeys, you make it clear that there’s a consequence, you can then take anything from him – take a pair of socks, it doesn’t matter! – and that will make a statement of your power. Will he have a tantrum? You bet he will! And maybe you’ll have to do this ten times. But once you’ve set the power relationship, all will be easier.

2) He cries when he wakes up:
My big question here is – why is he crying? Can he tell you? Is he actually sad? Is he in some sort of pain? This isn’t a normal thing for kids (we usually hear about kids crying when it’s time to go to bed, not when they wake up), so it’d be good to find out if he’s really upset, and if so, why. Once we find that out (including if he doesn’t know why), then we can work to find out how to help.

3) He throws tantrums all the time:
All kids throw tantrums, but really frequent tantrums, like you’re saying here, usually occur for one of two reasons. First is something truly wrong – he’s in some physical ailment, or he’s suffering from a trauma, or something else. But if it’s not that, I’d refer you back to my answer to #1 above. He’s probably having tantrums because that’s how he gets to have power. So your job is to make it clear that you (and any other parent or caregiver in your home) are the ones with the power in the home. So I’ll repeat – pick your “no’s,” but when you have to set a boundary, make it clear and have quick consequences.

One further note, though, Jhonny. Lots of times when we’re dealing with a really tough kid (or puppy!), we can kind of forget that what that screaming brat really wants and needs most is to feel loved and heard and understood. No matter how much that kid makes you feel powerless, the truth is he is tiny and scared and confused in a world that makes no sense to him. Maybe tomorrow, just for a surprise, take him out and get him some ice cream. And tell him it’s just because you like him.
Everything I said before is still true, but a surprise like that… that can work miracles.

Thanks again for writing, and be sure and check out the next issue of “The Pawprint,” which should be sent to you in about a week. Its main article will be about how to deal with the craziness of being a parent!

And let me know how all this goes!

Your Friend,

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