Letter from a Concerned Father
I thinking of buying you DVD “Parenting with Dignity”, but I have an issue right now and I would like to get you advice if I may.
I have a 12 yrs old son that has a great talent with music especially with all kinds of drums, also, he is learning the guitar.
My son has been very disrespectful with mom and dad and we tolled him that if he continues disrespecting us we will take the guitar a way and the drums will come next.
Well he disrespect mom and we took the guitar away. Now I do not know if this is a good thing we as parents are doing. What do you think we should do and how should we resolve or approach it. We are going to talk this weekend and I would appreciate if I can get some advice so I can have a better solution to implement.
An Answer from Mac
You are doing a wonderful thing in seeking advice and help with raising your son! Few parents have all of the answers when their children are born! The only way to get better at anything is to seek and ask for the help you need. Your son is lucky to have you for a dad. As long as you keep asking you will find the help you so desire.
Now for some specific help with your problem with your son:
You say he is “disrespecting his mother and father”. I have no idea what that means and imagine that your son does not either. The term “disrespect” is so overused in our society today that nobody really knows what it means… but people fight over that word daily. That term can mean anything from swearing to making faces or gestures. From your letter I have no idea what you mean. I doubt that your son knows what you mean either. If you wish to communicate with your son, you must be precise. Define the terms you are using for him.
Telling a Child What They Did Wrong is NO HELP!
And now we get to the real core issue, even if your definition is precise… that definition still is of no help to your son! It does not teach him one thing about the behavior that you want him to use!
Can you tell me what you want him TO DO? You tell me what he is doing wrong in very general terms like “being disrespectful”. But you say nothing to me about what it is that you want him to do. If you cannot tell me what you want him TO DO, I doubt that your son knows what you want him TO DO! The first thing that you and your wife must do is to sit down and define precisely what you want your son to do when he speaks to either of you. If you want him to speak differently to his mother that he speaks to you then you must explain those differences. Most important, you must explain to your son WHY he should choose to do as you are instructing.
Rule number #1 in our Parenting with Dignity curriculum states that “Parents must end any criticism with a positive statement of the expected behavior.” Put in very simple terms, “you must tell your child exactly what it is that you want him TO DO, in behavioral terms that he understands!” Tell him what you want! You have not told me what it is that you want your son to do so I will have a hard time structuring your actions.
Next, can you tell me what taking the guitar or drums away from your son will teach him about respect? What do guitars and drums have to do with respect? How do you propose that taking away something that he is good at will make him good at something else? I know that is a technique that many parents employ but just look at how well it is working for them.
Taking the drums away from your son does not help him to know what behaviors you want him to use. Only you can teach him that. About all that taking the drums away form him will do is make him mad and give him reason to not respect you. As long as he has you to blame he does not have to deal with his own behavior!
Let me put it this way… you contacted me for advice about how to deal with your son’s behavior. How well would it have worked if I just wrote back to you that I was going to take away your TV until you raised him correctly? …and that was all that I said to you.
How well would that work? Not very well, right? You are looking for instruction about what TO DO to elicit the proper behavior from your son. Telling you that what you are doing is wrong and then removing privileges does not teach you what to do. Are you getting the picture? You need specific instructions about the positive actions to take… and so does your son!
What your son needs is instruction in how you wish him to speak to his mother. That instruction must include very complete and detailed descriptions of the desired tone of voice and the desired word selection. Your son needs you to explain what body language and facial expressions he should use when speaking to his parents. About the only way that you can teach facial expression is to demonstrate to him exactly what you want him to look like when he speaks to the two you parents.
You should also explain how he should make his decisions about how he treats other people in general. Your son needs instruction about how to act. He needs to know that people who act and speak respectfully are treated in a much better manner by others than people who are surly and nasty. He does not need to have you withholding things from him that he does well. Just about all that will do for you is to build resentment in your son!
Once you have explained to him how it is that you expect him to act and speak when he talks to you then you must let your actions do your teaching! Once he has demonstrated to you that he understands how you expect him to act and speak to you, you must never, ever respond to any words he uses that are not expressed in precisely the expected manner. I hate to tell you this but you have taught him to talk in the manner that he does right now! If he speaks in a rude manner to his mother and it gets your attention and gets you to react ot him, that disrespectful manner of speaking has just worked for him. He has learned precisely how to control you! He can make you jump and shout by just talking in a rude manner to his mother! E will never know what he is trying to do by his current “disrespectful” behavior but we do not need to.
You must demonstrate to your son that people who speak in that manner are not listened to in your home. Do not tell him… show him! Let your actions speak. Disrespectful comments are simply ignored by you and his mother.
Then the inute that he speaks in the desired manner, give him your undivided and cheerful attention. Let your actions do the teaching.
If your son is at the dinner table and he starts to speak in a disrespectful (whatever you define that to be) manner, get up and leave the room. If he is in the living room and he does it again, turn off the TV and leave the room. If he asks you to do something in a disrespectful manner, just ignore him. Let your actions speak for you. As long as he insists in speaking in a manner other than the one that you have explained to him, let him see that all it gets for him is that others ignore everything that he says.
Keep your anger out of the equation. Do not get angry and do not lecture. Absolutely do not try to teach him during the time that he is acting in the undesired manner. If you feel that he is not understanding what you mean, wait until some time when he is calm and you are calm and explain to him again how you want him to act. Write it down and give it to him. Have him repeat back to you what you expect of him. Keep explaining it to him until he does as you have instructed.