Please guide me in successfully parenting/disciplining my 5 yr old son.
My son doesn't treat/view my husband or I (or really anyone) as authority figures. He throws fits when not getting his way, and we dont budge, so we deal with alot of fits.He can be so sweet and lovable, I know he is smart and a good boy. But I don't know how to make him listen. I am past the point of frustration as well as worried because he will be starting kindergarten in a few weeks. We DO discipline and take action...but he doesnt seem to react to anything. It never "sinks in" I have tried timeouts, reasoning, commending him for good behavior, reward charts, taking toys away, grounding, spanking, posting house rules, , it always resorts to me yelling out of frustration which i know is unhealthy and also accomplishes nothing. Ex: he is a picky eater and won't eat but a few bites (IF he even tries it) I have tried to make him sit until he eats which ends with him screaming and vomiting and still hasnt cleaned plate, now i say fine nothing to eat til "lunch" he agrees then cries until the next meal that he is starving. I don't EVER give in with a snack but this happens meal after meal day after day. I am sticking to my guns, why doesnt he learn, and what am I missing. He needs to know i am in charge. But i am running out of energy. Please advice to make me a better mommy!
You have tried everything! Or, almost! I have an approach, called "Parenting by Connection," that might work, because it's based on a different idea than timeouts, reasoning, commending him, reward charts, consequences, spanking...all that. All those other interventions are based on the idea that parenting is a lot like teaching a dog--you offer rewards and praise for "good" behavior, and consequences or punishments for "bad" behavior, and the child is supposed to learn from the guidance of your positive and negative responses. But this works in only a very limited way with children, because they are so much more complex than the animals that this approach, behaviorism, was developed with.
Try out the idea that he's sweet and good and cooperative and creative when he feels close and connected to you, because that feeling of connection and safety is just what his young brain needs. Children need to be surrounded with the nonverbal signals that signal that the parent is connecting with them: eye contact, warm tone in our voices, and a generous and respectful attitude toward them. Their minds are exquisitely tuned to pick up on our signals that we like and respect them, and that we are feeling good about our lives and safe in our world. These signals from us are the way they gain a sense of safety in a world in which they are completely, utterly dependent on us and the safety we provide. Their brains HAVE to get the message that we're OK, and they're OK, so they can think properly, make good choices, and be flexible and cooperative.
So when he's not feeling close to you, his mind shuts down, and he just can't think! He can't think! He can't choose to try a new food. He can't put on his socks. He can't wait for a toy when someone else has it. It's not that he's stubborn or manipulative or "bad," it's that his mind is jammed with bad feelings, because he's lost his sense of safety and warmth. And without it, he feels out of kilter, from the inside out.
In order to get his mind back in working order, he needs some time and attention from you. When he's crying and having a big tantrum, he's using a natural emotional release process that's designed to rid his mind of those bad feelings he got from having felt disconnected. He's actually recovering his ability to feel close and safe, and to think well, while he cries and tantrums! He's been smart all along to try to get those feelings out of his system. But you didn't know that this was OK. Very few parents know this yet.
So try what we call Staylistening. When he's beginning an upset, move close. Offer to hold him, and keep him from hurting you by gently keeping his hands and feet from clawing or kicking. Let him do his big emotional upset in your arms or standing next to you with your arm around him. He will work through the big bad feelings that are caught in his system, and when he's finished (expect it to take from 15 minutes to close to an hour!), he'll feel close to you, calm, happy, and ready to cooperate. He may even try new things (don't expect miracles with his food tastes, though), and he'll be very glad to be with you. It's quite something to guide a child through their big feelings, and to be WITH them, instead of fighting them every moment! And the results are really good if you can hang in there until he is finished.
We have other "Listening Tools" that we teach, that I don't have room here to describe. You can get our booklets, "Listening to Children," at the website below, or read any one of about 60 free articles there.
One more note: I find that often, children who are picky eaters are children who had some kind of difficult birth, illness or prematurity at birth or early in their lives, or some other frightening thing happen to them. For some reason, the fear they carry from that early experience results in not liking lots of foods. And your son's frequent very emotional episodes indicate the same thing: something has frightened him, and now makes him vulnerable to feeling very big frightening feelings that are tripped by very small triggers.
I'll add a parent success story below that will give you an idea about how Staylistening works.
Good for you for reaching out for help--it's so smart of you to do!
I have 3 children so it may be a little easier if you only have one. At meal time, my children can talk, play, sing, or whatever (must be respectful) but they can not get up until the food is gone. I have one child that is a very picky eater but I have found that they love eating w/ their hands and will eat more. (i.e. pasta (no sauce) add adobo, butter,1/2 tbsp of olive oil) it's slippery but not real messy because there's no sauce but there is flavor. My picky eater will eat 3 big bowls of my pasta.
Time outs: I find a corner that is away from anything that would interest them. It usually only takes 1 minute before they are appologetic and respectful.
Also, telling your child to take deep breaths when they are upset or hyper does seem to help soothe and calm them.
Why are you reasoning with a 5 year old? Why are you yelling? Neither helps and only makes the situation worse. Look no child is perfect but I'm a big advocate of consistancy from an early age. It sounds like your son is very stubborn but as far as the meal issues, it sounds like you may have given in in other areas. I would stick to your guns, it may take alot of time but eventually it works. This is for every parent. My son is 14, he is not perfect, but because I have always been consistent with discipline and always stuck to my guns, even now if I say no he may ask again once but leaves it alone. Your son is at a perfect age for discipline and believe me in the long run it will work.
First do not reason with a 5 year old, also I don't believe in rewards, praise for the good things they do is reward enough. I would continue to keep doing what you are doing with meals. Kids eat when they are hungry but refrain in how many times you ask him to eat or take a bite, no more then 3 requests, then take it away, he's not going to starve. When he complains he;''s hungry for the next meal, then say well maybe this next meal you'll eat more end of story. Don't go into long monologues with a 5 year old. Another example: your at a store he wants something you say no, once, twice, 3 times now he's done, time to leave and he gets time out when you get home. He misbehaves in a restaurant, I have actually cancelled a meal because I asked my son 3 times to sit and behave and he didn't. You need to do what you say, you need to keep answers short and sweet or keep quiet during certain situations. And please refrain from losing your cool and yelling, it only causes more chaos. My sister-in-law always resorts to yelling and her kids could care less they only do something more.
No child is perfect and there is no perfect discipline. Just remember to keep your cool and have patience. I know how hard it is, step out side to compose yourself if you need to but do not let your son see yopu lose your cool, he will only take advantage of it.