The Mail on Sunday - You - - Dear Zelda -

I am di­vorced and in a new re­la­tion­ship with a lovely woman who has two sons of 14 and nine. Her el­der son is de­light­ful, but the younger is ex­tremely loud, screams a lot of the time for no rea­son and is al­ways de­mand­ing his mother’s at­ten­tion. He of­ten goes into melt­down, loses all con­trol and shouts abuse, kick­ing his mother and call­ing her names. There is no par­tic­u­lar trig­ger for this be­hav­iour and he will even do it in pub­lic – he just doesn’t care. I think he should have out­grown this by now. I have talked to my part­ner and sug­gested that he needs to be pun­ished, as well as be­ing given re­wards for good be­hav­iour. She has tried to be more strict with him, but it isn’t work­ing. I love her but I’m not sure if our re­la­tion­ship has a fu­ture as long as this con­tin­ues. I would ap­pre­ci­ate your ad­vice. This is in­cred­i­bly hard for you and the boy’s mother. It is dif­fi­cult enough to cope with this kind of be­hav­iour when you are the child’s nat­u­ral par­ent, so I un­der­stand your un­cer­tainty in tak­ing the re­la­tion­ship fur­ther. How­ever, what you de­scribe is, I think, more than just a naughty child and per­haps one who is on the autis­tic spec­trum, pos­si­bly with at­ten­tion deficit hy­per­ac­tiv­ity dis­or­der (ADHD) and/or op­po­si­tional de­fi­ant dis­or­der (ODD). It is es­sen­tial for him to get pro­fes­sional help. His mother should ask her GP for an ur­gent re­fer­ral to Child and Ado­les­cent Men­tal Health Ser­vices or, if she can af­ford it, go pri­vately to see a child psy­chi­a­trist or ther­a­pist who spe­cialises in these types of prob­lems. Chil­dren with ODD usu­ally have an over­whelm­ing need to con­trol other peo­ple and what goes on around them. Be­ing very strict with them rarely works. It is best to try to set a few house rules for your part­ner’s son, talk about the con­se­quences if he breaks them and give him lots of praise when he does man­age to be­have. It is vi­tal to keep calm, which I know is not al­ways easy. A struc­tured life­style will not only help the child, but also the whole fam­ily. As you love this boy’s mother – and if she is pre­pared to get help – you should give the re­la­tion­ship a chance to see if things im­prove. I am sure your sup­port would mean a lot to her. But if noth­ing changes, it is prob­a­bly too much for you to take on.

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