What do you do with a child (8-year-old son) who has a strong will? He gets very angry if he's asked to do something he doesn't want to. He will yell and resist. He seems to have a very limited sense of empathy towards other people, although he has friends and enjoys playing and participating in activities. He's happy doing what interests him (reading, computer games, Nintendo DS) but pushes back on other things. He behaves in school and does his work (he's very bright) but "off the clock" it's a different story. How do we help him become more flexible and try other things (activities, foods, etc...) that he so far is resisting? Thanks.
From: Kathode, Roslindale
There are a couple reasons why an 8-year-old boy might "push back," as you say. One is his stage of development; this tends to be a time when kids are very rule-bound. They see the world as black and white with no shades of gray: Food is either yummy or yukky with no room for nuance, something is either fair or not fair, with no wiggle room whatsoever. This age is also on the cusp of big developmental changes. Puberty is not far ahead, and kids at this stage want to feel validated. They want to know that you respect them.
The best way to deal with this combination is to not push an activity or a food or whatever, but rather to suggest or recommend: "Gee, this is something I really like. You might like it, too." If you do that and then back off, you're sending the message that you know he has his own likes and dislikes and that you respect his judgment and his choices. In fact, it doesn't hurt to even say sometimes: "Listen, I know you're your own person. I was just hoping you'd try a bike ride with me just once. If you don't like it, you don't have to do it again." If his answer is, "Yuk, why would I want to try that?" then just say, "OK, I thought you were someone who liked to be a little adventuresome. If you don't want to, it's your decision." That gives him some food for thought, at least, and I bet that in time, he will try it.
For choices that aren't really choices -- doing homework, or a chore -- let him feel as if he's in control by giving him some flexibility and choice in the matter: "I need help with these two before-dinner chores. Which one do you want to do?" Or: "It seems like you don't like doing homework before dinner anymore. What ideas do you have about when you want to do it?" In other words, you're making it clear that he doesn't have a choice about whether to do the chore or the homework, but he does have some control over when and how.
Don't let yourself get sucked into negotiation, because then you are into a power struggle and that's what leads to yelling and resistance. The choices you've given him are the negotiations. I don't think of this as negotiation, by the way. Of course, there also are times when there isn't even room for this much and that's when you need to be firm: "This isn't a choice." But even if you think he's spending too much time in front of a screen, say, or he's not getting enough exercise, whenever you can put that in the form of a choice, you will have greater success.
As the parent of a boy, you might enjoy "Raising Cain," by Michael Thompson, and his companion book, "Best Friends, Worst Enemies, Understanding the Social Lives of Children."
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