My six-year-old can’t cope with cor­rec­tion

Irish Independent - Health & Living - - PARENTING -

MY older son is six years old and his brother is nearly four. The six-yearold can’t cope with any kind of cor­rec­tion. He has even threat­ened to jump out a win­dow and die! When my son was only two or three years

IT is never a sim­ple equa­tion of par­ent­ing in­puts lead­ing to chil­dren’s be­havioural out­puts. We also have to take into ac­count a child’s own tem­per­a­ment and the myr­iad of other en­vi­ron­men­tal in­flu­ences that will shape them and their re­ac­tions to the world.

So, your son’s re­silience, or otherwise, will be af­fected by his own tem­per­a­ment, as well as the ways in which you have dealt with him and his be­hav­iour. It could be, for ex­am­ple, that he is very sen­si­tive to any kind of cor­rec­tion, or per­ceived crit­i­cism, such that he fears it to mean that he has been cast out, or re­jected, as soon as he senses any dis­ap­proval.

If that is the case, then his ex­treme re­sponse, of hurt­ing him­self, or threat­en­ing to kill him­self, may be his way of try­ing to elicit a car­ing, or softer, re­sponse from you or his dad.

He may have had ex­pe­ri­ences, from when he was smaller, where your cross­ness about cer­tain mis­be­haviours, turned to worry, car­ing or sooth­ing, if he seemed in­tent on hurt­ing him­self.

We psy­chol­o­gists will of­ten old he’d try to hurt him­self if he did some­thing wrong. We never used the bold step and pre­ferred to dis­cuss things with him rather than pun­ish­ing him. He also can’t cope with his brother be­ing praised so we have to even it out by prais­ing him too. Have I made him not re­silient to any level of crit­i­cism or cor­rect­ing him? de­scribe an un­in­tended pos­i­tive out­come from a given be­hav­iour as a “sec­ondary gain”. So, even though he may have hurt him­self as a preschooler, it might have the sec­ondary gain of soft­en­ing your at­ti­tude to him and re­in­sti­tut­ing what he then per­ceives to be a more car­ing re­sponse from you.

In the same way, he may feel left out, or pushed to the side, when he sees his brother get­ting any kind of pos­i­tive at­ten­tion. So, even though your praise of his brother is not com­par­a­tive (I pre­sume it is just ac­knowl­edge­ment of your other son’s good be­hav­iour), your older boy may feel that if his brother’s star ap­pears in the as­cen­dency, that his own star must be de­clin­ing.

It strikes me that there may be a sig­nif­i­cant anx­i­ety or in­se­cu­rity un­der­ly­ing these kinds of care­seek­ing be­hav­iours that he shows. His sub­con­scious goal, in be­com­ing self-de­struc­tive, may be to shift your at­ti­tude to­wards him from ap­par­ent dis­ap­proval (where he feels anx­ious) to care and con­cern for him (which in­creases his feel­ings of se­cu­rity).

This is the dy­namic that I think you might like to ad­dress. You can cer­tainly help your son to de­velop more re­silience, or bet­ter cop­ing strate­gies, such that he doesn’t slip into self-de­struc­tion as a means to elicit car­ing from oth­ers.

The most ef­fec­tive thing you could help him with, in this re­gard, is to help him to learn to un­der­stand his own emo­tional re­ac­tion to feel­ing “bold”, bad, re­jected or dis­ap­proved of.

You do this by con­tin­u­ing to cor­rect his mis­be­haviour when needed (with­out do­ing too much rea­son­ing or ra­tio­nal­is­ing), but ad­ding in a lot of em­pa­thy about the prob­a­ble im­pact of your cor­rec­tion.

So you might say things to him, like, “I won­der if it feels like I don’t love you when I give out to you?” or “I think you might get scared when I get cross”, or “you of­ten seem re­ally up­set if you think some­one might give out to you for your be­hav­iour”.

These kinds of state­ments, or oth­ers that tap into the dy­namic I have de­scribed, will hope­fully help him to be­come more aware of what is go­ing on inside him. You can then ad­dress his care-seek­ing be­hav­iour, say­ing some­thing like, “Even if you are scared, you don’t have to hurt your­self, I never stop lov­ing you any­way.” Or an al­ter­na­tive might be, “Even when I am cross about what you do, I still love you.”

These kinds of emo­tion­ally sup­port­ive state­ments should help him to learn to cope with the dif­fi­cult feel­ings, learn­ing that they might come, but that they will go too, and that the un­der­ly­ing con­nec­tion with you doesn’t change, no mat­ter how he be­haves.

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