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
"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?