Are visiting grandson's bad behaviors a bunch of bad habits or something more?

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  July 27, 2012 06:00 AM

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My 6 year old grandson is spending the summer with me. I thought that the lying, stealing, wetting pants (day and night), picking at other kids and just saying mean things in general to other children (older ones) was because of the change in his environment but I have learned that these are the frustrations my daughter is dealing with on a daily basis. He has a sister 3 years younger. I want to make absolutely sure I am giving him exactly what he needs and be able to give her sound advice on how to deal with these issues. Please help me help him. Thank you so much,

From: Denise, Fort Myers, FLA


Dear Denise,

"Absolutely" sure? Yikes! That's a lot of pressure, especially when there's no such guarantee with children, and certainly not on my blog, where I'm responding to questions via email, with limited info. But I have a few thoughts, and you might not like them.

A 6-year-old who is wetting (but not, I presume, soiling) day and night may have a medical issue. The first thing to do is to get that checked out.

Lying? As I wrote earlier this week, tell him lying isn't fair; that's a concept he will understand. Be clear that you value telling the truth and you each need to know that you can trust him. If you think he's lying, don't accuse him or try to trap him. Instead, give him the chance to recant: "Hmmmm. Are you sure about that? I'm going to give you a couple minutes to think about that again." If he changes his story, praise him: "I'm so glad you had a chance to think about that again, I really value it when people tell the truth. Thank you."

Stealing? Whether a child is 6 or 16, stealing needs to be taken seriously because if you ignore it, it's for a child to do it again and for it to become a pattern. On the other hand, at this age, it could be innocent -- he sees, he wants, he takes -- and also a matter of not yet understanding the concept of respecting personal property. When you know he's taken something, label it for what it is. For instance, if he swiped a pack of gum at the grocery check out: " We didn't pay for that. That's called stealing. We need to return it. Next time you want something I haven't paid for, you need to ask me before you take it." Calmly go back into the store with him, go to the manager and say simply, "My grandson took this pack of gum and didn't tell me. We need to pay for it." Adapt the principle according to his behavior. It's OK for you to act on the suspicion of stealing, in much the same way I outlined for lying" "Gee, I'm wondering where this came from. It looks like one of John's toys....." and give him the chance to say, "Yeah, I brought it home."
You say: "Did he give it to you?"
His silence is a pretty good sign that this was done without permission.
Then you say: "Well, you can't keep something that doesn't belong to you. I'll hang on to it for now and we'll return it in the morning." He won't be happy, of course, but you need to go back to the person from whom he took it and model what you want him to learn: "In our family, we take stealing seriously." (There's a section on stealing and lying in my book.)
Sometimes kids act out as a test: "Will you love me no matter how badly I behave?" He needs to know that your love is unconditional. Tell him, over and over, "I will always love you, no matter what you do. But that doesn't mean I will always like what you do." Tell him honestly, clearly and directly when he behaves badly and what he could do instead: "In my family, we don't use mean words. Saying, 'You're stupid,' is mean. Instead, you can tell the person you have a different idea."
Each issue you raise, Denise, in itself is not a big deal. That they're happening together makes me wonder. Is it symptomatic of a stressed, single mom who needs help with parenting skills? Or is this a red flag that there's a bigger issue in this child's life for which professional help may be warranted?

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2 comments so far...
  1. My opinion is that the child may have some deep dark secrets and haven't learnt how to express himself. I'm a grandmother of 2 boys age 9 & 13 yrs. old and without fail someone is going to wet the bed. The oldest was abuse by his mother and now they reside with me and when she comes around the oldest child wakes up soiled. He doesn't want anything to do with her but i'm trying to get him to understand, that she's still my daughter and that we all make mistakes in life. The oldest was caught by me coming out of a sporting store with a bulge in his pants. I quickly observed what was going on and returnt the item and had a long talk him.

    Posted by Annie C. July 28, 12 01:30 PM
  1. "I'm a grandmother of 2 boys age 9 & 13 yrs. old and without fail someone is going to wet the bed. The oldest was abuse by his mother and now they reside with me and when she comes around the oldest child wakes up soiled. He doesn't want anything to do with her but i'm trying to get him to understand, that she's still my daughter and that we all make mistakes in life.."

    I understand frustrations but abuse is unforgivable. If abuse is a mere "mistake" ....*ugh*.. It is one big one that can never be taken back or fixed by the abuser.

    Sorry, Annie, for what your grandchildren are going through. I truly feel for them and wish them well. I understand she is your daughter, so this must hurt for you, I don't understand why an abusive parent still has access to their children. You clearly see what being around her does to these kids. I don't blame these kids for the lack of trust they have in her. Your daughter clearly does not deserve their trust. If she doesn't come around, you will see changes in these kids.....for the better. Just sayin......I wish you well with your grandchildren. :)

    Posted by Anonymous July 30, 12 06:09 AM
 
2 comments so far...
  1. My opinion is that the child may have some deep dark secrets and haven't learnt how to express himself. I'm a grandmother of 2 boys age 9 & 13 yrs. old and without fail someone is going to wet the bed. The oldest was abuse by his mother and now they reside with me and when she comes around the oldest child wakes up soiled. He doesn't want anything to do with her but i'm trying to get him to understand, that she's still my daughter and that we all make mistakes in life. The oldest was caught by me coming out of a sporting store with a bulge in his pants. I quickly observed what was going on and returnt the item and had a long talk him.

    Posted by Annie C. July 28, 12 01:30 PM
  1. "I'm a grandmother of 2 boys age 9 & 13 yrs. old and without fail someone is going to wet the bed. The oldest was abuse by his mother and now they reside with me and when she comes around the oldest child wakes up soiled. He doesn't want anything to do with her but i'm trying to get him to understand, that she's still my daughter and that we all make mistakes in life.."

    I understand frustrations but abuse is unforgivable. If abuse is a mere "mistake" ....*ugh*.. It is one big one that can never be taken back or fixed by the abuser.

    Sorry, Annie, for what your grandchildren are going through. I truly feel for them and wish them well. I understand she is your daughter, so this must hurt for you, I don't understand why an abusive parent still has access to their children. You clearly see what being around her does to these kids. I don't blame these kids for the lack of trust they have in her. Your daughter clearly does not deserve their trust. If she doesn't come around, you will see changes in these kids.....for the better. Just sayin......I wish you well with your grandchildren. :)

    Posted by Anonymous July 30, 12 06:09 AM
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About the author

Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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