Ask the Parenting Coach


My Angry Aggressive Child

A: It sure can be frustrating when a child suddenly turns from a Dr. Jeckyl to a Mr. Hyde.  I can understand how difficult this is for you.  It's odd that your child has turned so abruptly in so short a period of time,  and it is likely that something has triggered this.  There is likely something going on in his world that has caused this abrupt change.  In fact, experts say when a child's behaviour changes as abruptly as you say it has, then parents need to sit up and pay attention.  Your first step might be to talk to the school about this, who may be able to shed some light.  Do ask that your conversation with the school be 100% confidential.  You don't want your child to know that you are discussing these things behind his back.  Kids are enormously sensitive at this age. Your son may be a victim of bullying, sexual abuse or even drugs.  There are many possibilities for this sudden change and asking for help from the school's social worker, your family's doctor or even former counselor may point you in the right direction.  Again, I urge you to keep these conversations confidential until you are ready to help resolve the situation.

If however, his behaviour is more indicative of fallout that often occurs during the teen years then trying to communicate with him is key. Any love, support and understanding you can offer will be very helpful. So, if you're approaching him sternly and with an "I can't stand this" attitude, you may be pushing him away.  Dr. William Pollack in his book Real Boys , tells us that boys communicate differently than girls do and may require gentle prodding to get them to open up, especially if there are strong feelings involved.  (I highly recommend parents to read Pollack's book, as well as A Fine Young Man by Michael Gurian.)

Kids generally lie either because they want to protect you (out of their love for you) or to protect themselves from your harsh opinions and possibly harsh actions.  Try to find out what's going on for your son and try to understand his private logic for his behaviour.  Awareness, understanding and deep listening may help you to see things from a different perspective.

To get into your son's world, Dr. Jane Nelsen from Positive Discipline for Teenagers says you need to listen and be curious.  Find out why he's lying and being so aggressive.  Be supportive and calm.  Make a real effort to avoid blaming.  Begin a conversation with him when both of you have the time and privacy to talk.  Say, "I've been concerned with your behaviour lately and I'd really like to talk about it.  Be sure to use I-messages like "I'm upset, I'm concerned, I'm worried..." rather than you-messages such as "you're lying, you're driving me crazy, you're irresponsible..."  If your son doesn't want to talk at that moment, then negotiate a time that he would be willing to talk by saying, "This is very important to me, and I do want to have a discussion.  When would be a good time for you to do this?" Once, you have an agreed upon time, hold to it.  Then, during the conversation be curious as to what may have been happening over the past month for him.  Be careful to avoid putting blame on him although you might want to comment that his behaviour is uncharacteristic for him.  Say it gently, without criticism.  Make a real effort to see things from his vantage point by using active listening skills including paraphrasing and mirroring back.  The less upset you are and the more carefully you listen to him and his feelings, the more likely he will open up.  Be sure to tell him how much you believe in him, love him and respect him.  Getting that message across is very important.  He needs to feel you are on his side not against him, even though his behaviour hasn't really invited that.  Also, notice if your reaction over the past month has been threatening.  If he's been made to feel bad or humiliated, then any open communication will be thwarted.  You may have already created distance instead of closeness.  This is the time to repair any damage and really work together on resolving this situation.  Resolution may be in the form of less aggressive behaviour, more honest communication, and less punitive reaction on your part.  Whatever it is that you negotiate, make co-operation a top priority, and find a solution that you can BOTH live with.  While this situation has certainly caused you worry and concern, it may be the starting point of a new and fuller relationship with your soon to be teenage son.  Much of what goes on in the teenage years is around the relationship one has with one's children.  If the relationship is damaged, then your influence is weakened.  Work on building a new, less controlling relationship with your son.  Dr. Nelsen's book is a very easy read, full of practical help and tips for parents dealing with their teenagers.

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