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Gram with Temporary Custody of Preschooler Struggles with Discipline


I'm the temporary guardian of my 4 yr old grandson, he has many discipline problems. I really don't know how to handle them at times, I go in another room to think. Ex: he doesn't sit still when watching a family movie, BUT when a TV add is showing that deals with action, violence, he is listening attentively, then our family movie comes back on, he starts to wander all over the room.

Another Ex: he has little cars to play with, he destroys them by crashing them together. I tell him he can crash them together but not too hard, because he will break them & I will not buy him any more cars, these are cars that I just purchased for him that same day. He crashes them harder, and eventually he breaks them. I do not buy him any more cars, when I tell him to be careful with certain items, he will not take caution of the items...

Ex: He loves playing on tablets, but I'm always sitting next to him to make sure he doesn't press anything that comes up, he wants total control of the tablet, and tells me to go away.

His mom doesn't call him in the 3 months I've had him, only once has she seen him, he gives me big hugs, very loving little boy, he sometimes tells me he wants to go with his mom, when I do punish him, I tell him OK, you u can go with her when she calls me, because I don't have her number, and his anger and crying stops. My son is the one with anger problems, I think there's where my grandson sees it, and starts acting like his dad, and my grandson wants to always fight. Ex: You Need to behave, this is not the place for you to be running around here inside the store, he'll come up to my face with both hands fist ready to fight, and he'll tell me, you want me to beat you up??

I tell him NO, you don't talk to me like that, and he'll come closer to my face, and I tell him NO you better stop, or I will spank you, and he does back off, but I'm scared as he gets older he won't back off and try to tempt me into seeing if I really will spank him. Please, any advice will greatly be appreciated.

From: Grandma, Corpus Christi, Tx


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Dear Grandma,

It sounds like there are two things going on here: The poor role model your son presents to your grandson and an absentee mother. Understandably, he is likely angry and confused by his mom's absence and silence, and, instead of having healthy outlets for his feelings, his anger gets fueled by his father's poor example of emotional outbursts.

He needs help to manage all his feelings. For instance:

Give him permission to talk about his mom, not just when he's angry, not just when you're frustrated by her absence, but at quiet, ordinary times, too: "These are great strawberries! Your mom strawberries....did you know that?" Have photos of her in the house, or in his room.That gives him permission to think about her and also tells him that just because a person is absent doesn't mean she disappears from the heart.

Give him permission to ask questions and give him honest, but age-appropriate answers. "I bet you wonder where you mom is......" Don't give him information he can't handle. Not: "She's doing drugs, who knows where she is..." But: "Your mother has a sickness called addiction. It's a sickness that makes her very confused. That's why your mother forgets to visit or to tell us where she is."

Don't plant false home. Not: "I promise she will come back," but, "I hope she will come back. I hope she will get better."

Grant his wishes in fantasy: "You wish your mom was a person who could take care of you, don't you?" It's even OK to make up stories about what that mom would be like ("Would she sing to you at bedtime?"), as long as you keep it in the realm of wishes: "That would be nice. I wish that for you, too."

As far as his anger, rather than threaten him with more loss in his life by taking away toys, help him find appropriate outlets. When he starts to crash the cars: "I can tell you're having angry feelings. Here's a pillow you can punch. Let's punch it together, really hard!" "Can you draw a picture of what you are feeling?" Let him scribble angrily, even if he tears the paper. Then ask him to tell you a story of what he drew. You may be surprised to hear it.

Monitor and eliminate as much viewing as possible that contains violence and anger. Instead of watching a family movie on a commercial station, borrow videos from the library. If he has a short attention span, you could be making choices that aren't appropriate for him; ask a librarian for help. If he starts to wander anyway, pause the movie. Let him do something physical. Make the viewing revolve around his needs, not yours.

Can you get dad to do something about his anger management? If not, do whatever you can to offer a more positive role model yourself for how to deal with all sorts of feelings. Leaving the room to think? That's fine (assuming he's safe), and especially if you can compose yourself when you return. Stop the action: "We're both upset. Let's both sit down and be quiet so we can start over."

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