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Bonnie, Psychologist
Category: Parenting
Satisfied Customers: 2189
Experience:  and pediatric nurse practitioner with 30 years of experience counseling parents.
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I have been living with my girlfriend and her almost 6 year

Customer Question

I have been living with my girlfriend and her almost 6 year old son now for over 2 years. We are experiencing problems between us because we don't agree on how to discipline the youngster. I love him like he was my own and he does refer to me as his dad. He has never known his real father. His behavior is getting worse and worse though. When he does not get his way he resorts to hitting, mostly her but sometimes me as well. He goes into a tantrum and gets obsessed on what he wants but we tell him can't have or can't do.

Its a battle every minute of every day to get him to do things like take a shower, brush his teeth, eat his dinner, go to bed, get ready for school. Pretty much everything. It's like if he doesn't want to do something, he won't do it no matter what it is.

She doesn't believe in spanking. She tries to talk to him and calm him down and it does work but only after an exhausting half hour or so of dealing with the tantrum. When this takes place several times a day it becomes extremely taxing on her and I am fed up because I believe that he needs more physical discipline, like a spanking before it really gets out of hand. Taking away toys or sending him to his room only increases the level of his tantrums. I don't know what to do to help either of them.

Submitted: 6 years ago.
Category: Parenting
Expert:  Bonnie replied 6 years ago.
Thank you for trusting JA with your question. I agree with mother on one thing and with you on another. The spankings are not a good idea because they model aggression and hitting (the very thing you want to change). However, the following through on the negative consequence is extremely important.

Here's more:

You are describing the behavior of an Oppositional Defiant Child. Interventions for this pattern are 3-fold:
1. Increase special alone parent time which is scheduled and fun for both. It does not have to be long 20-30 minutes. Call it Special Mommy Time and Special Daddy Time. Just like the following though on discipline, this must be predictable and consistent.

2. Increase praise for good behavior (until you feel like your praising too much).

3. Introduce a behavior management program: I will give you some ideas here but you will also need to get the book called Your Defiant Child; 8 steps to better behavior by Russell Barkley. In the meantime pick a few high priority behaviors and make a rule:
No Destroying Things
Then, tell him that if he goes through one day without hitting, he will get a sticker; When he gets 5 stickers, you will give him a bigger treat (you need to decide what is motivating to him; i.e., money towards buying something?). The book will give you many other ideas on a behavior plan.

One last issue: This behavior is usually a result of inner anger. Could he be angry about something? If so consider a short course of child therapy to give him coping skills to deal with the anger. Sometimes it is an inborn temperament thing. It helps to figure out the cause.

I hope I have answered your question but if not feel free to ask follow up questions.
Bonnie and other Parenting Specialists are ready to help you
Customer: replied 6 years ago.
Thanks Bonnie for your advice. You have some helpful suggestions. I know she has tried the behavior chart giving stars and X's for different things each day. It doesn't seem to be helping yet but it has only recently begun. (This month).

I will certainly initiate the Special Mommy and Daddy Time and will talk to her about considering some therapy. I agree that there are anger issues there and we do need to find out why.

I'll track down that book tomorrow as well.

Thanks again.
Customer: replied 6 years ago.

What are your thoughts on James Lehman's Total Transformation Program? Have you had any experience with anyone who has tried it?
Expert:  Bonnie replied 6 years ago.
No I have not. But ... Generally those programs (like Lucinda Bassett) are just different ways of packaging the tried and true interventions.