A problem child...

How is the best way to handle an 8 year old boy who constantly “stirs the pot”? My daughter is engaged to a man who has raised this kid by himself for the last 6 or so years. He got custody in the divorce because his ex became a crack addict after the kid was born.

I realize that for the last 6 years, he has had ALL of his fathers undivided attention. And now that my daughter and granddaughter have moved in, he no longer gets all the attention. As a result, he has become a BRAT with a capital B. Not only does he whine every single time he is told to do something, he outright defies my daughter when she asks or tells him to do something he knows he is responsible for doing. He takes my graddaughters toys (she is 2 1/2) and when she cries to get them back, he claims she “gave it to him”. He will purposely piss on the toilet seat because he knows it makes my daughter mad (and rightly so, especially since she is pregnant). Not only that, but when he takes a crap, he wipes his butt two or three times and flushes the toilet. Then he finishes wiping he butt and throws that in the waste basket rather than the toilet. He is disgusting. He pitches a fit when he has to take a shower or brush his teeth. He lies about having changed his underwear and socks. This is only really the tip of the iceberg. His dad NEVER had a bit of these problems until he met my daughter and they moved in together.

For whatever it’s worth, this kid was diagnosed with ADHD 3 or 4 years ago. Personally, I question the diagnosis because so many of the symptoms just aren’t there.

Incidentally, this kid can turn this behavior on and off like a light switch. About 3 months ago, he was acting up, to the point of almost causing my daughter and his dad to split up. His dad threatened to send him to live with his mother, something he does NOT want to do under any circumstances. He immediately straightened up his act and was a completely different child for over a week.

Taking away privileges and things like grounding have no effect at all. They realize that 8 year olds aren’t perfect by any stretch, but they would really like the kid to be closer to “normal”. The question is, how do they get him to straighten up his act?

Can we have a little sympathy for this kid? My God, his mom is a crack addict , and has been his whole life.

And now two whole extra people, one of them 2 years old, are moving into his house whether he likes it or not. I can tell you, as a well adjusted, adult person, I would find the sudden addition of a grown woman and a 2 year old girl to my household, even if it were at my express invitation, extremely stressful. I think his acting out is really to be expected.

I won’t have any direct experience with raising eight year old boys until a year from now, but it seems obvious to me that this change in situation is stressing the child out. I know “seek professional help” is sort of a cliched answer, but there are therapists who specialize in blended families.

Let’s at least replace “BRAT” with “troubled child”.

Discord over child rearing issues is the number one cause of breakup in second marriages (no cite, heard that on the “Dr Joy” radio show :slight_smile: )

I second what carlotta said about not labeling the kid as a brat. He is, after all, just a kid. The OP makes it sound like the kid is some sort of evil little genius doing all this on purpose.

Eight year olds never know what they are doing. The OP’s first mistake is expecting too much from the little kid.

Since this behavior has been going on for more than 3 months and you still do not know how to deal with it, seeking profession help would be good advice.

I am going to reinforce the idea of seeking help from someone who knows how to help blended families. Maybe you should go as well, and learn what you can do as a new grandmotherly type to help this boy adjust? I’d bet that he might find he likes having another grandparental type in his life. It might be worth trying. :slight_smile:

Wow! Your attitude toward this child is terrible. What if it was the other way around and it was your granddaughter who was acting up? I can only imagine the trauma this child has gone through in his life. After reading your OP I only feel sorry for this little boy.

And now, all of a sudden he has two new people living in his house? A brand new authority figure who suddenly bossing him around. A brand new sibling type person when he’s never had one before. One who probably wanders into his room from time to time and touches his stuff.

He probably feels his dad doesn’t love him as much as he used to. He may feel your adorable granddaughter is slowly taking his place. And you say your daughter is pregnant with another child? Is it his father’s? I’m sure that doesn’t make him feel any more secure in his place in this new family.

Taking away privileges probably won’t work, because he sees it as just *one more thing * being taken away from him in addition to his dad, his privacy, his house, etc. Rewarding good behavior may work. Threatening him with sending him back to his mother is only going to scar his relationship with his father. Plus, it’s probably and empty threat and he will realize it soon enough.

A frank family discussion about what responsibilities are expected from each member and some family (and perhaps individual) counselling will probably work wonders.

You come across as having nor regard for this little boy whatsoever. If his father and your daughter marry, how will you treat him? As the *step-*grandchild or as an equal with your grandchild and this new baby? I worry for this boy.

I see that the general consensus is cut the kid some slack. I agree up to a point because his “world” has been turned upside down. But how much is too much? This has been going on now for almost a year already and it is only getting worse. I mean, shitty toilet paper thrown in the trash can across the room instead of the toilet where it belongs is a bit much for anyone to condone.

Incidentallly, professional help is not really an option due to the costs involved. (No health insurance coverage.)

Clear and concise expectations set down on paper, with Dad and Stepmom agreeing beforehand of course, go a long way towards reducing daily stress of behavior expectations. If everyone knows what the rules and punishments are, enforcing them becomes a lot easier. Granted, it’s not the easiest way to parent, but a few weeks of being rigid and establishing order are worth a more peaceful household.

Set up a chart detailing precisely what his responsibilities are, including personal hygiene details as he’s going to view those as additional chores, as well as things like ‘speaking respectfully’ and ‘demonstrating good manners’ and assign a grading system. A’s for doing things well and without reminding, B’s for one prompt, etc. Grade him every few hours, especially on the weekends, so he can still turn around a bad morning and have the chance to earn points rather than a bad day being a total loss. Points are then turned in to buy television/game time, snacks, a game of catch, trip to the library, everything and anything other than a roof over his head and the 3 squares. It’s not about bribing him for good behavior so much as a very hardcore look at what constitutes a privilege and what doesn’t.

Once he realizes that his own behavior dictates his quality of life, and he knows exactly how he has the power to improve his own circumstances, and you’ve given him a reason to comply with the parents’ expectations.

Almost every fair-sized community has some kind of “family builders”’ counseling service. You or your daughter could check with the city’s Community Action Program, to see what’s available. Lack of money is almost never an excuse to not get help, but it’s used as an excuse by a lot of people. My 7-year-old and I are just starting with a program through a behavioral health center’s Child and Family Team program, so I know that they’re out there. Maybe she should be more motivated to HELP this boy, rather than to just make him stop acting like this.

This may sound dumb and like you’re going the wrong direction with him - but try this:

Ignore the bad behavior. The only exception would be if it endangers himself or others. This is NOT letting him get away with it. It is taking away his pay-off for behaving badly. Without incentive to pee on the seat etc. etc. (he gets attention and he makes people he doesn’t much like unhappy) he’ll stop doing it.
Find each and every good thing the kid does and comment on it. Don’t praise it - just make a verbal comment. When you come into the kitchen and he’s waiting for dinner, say out loud “Bobby is siting quietly at the table.” If he dresses himself and combs his hair say out loud “Bobby has picked a nice outfit today and looks neat and ready to go.”
That’s it. Do it for a month. I’ll bet you his demeanor changes dramatically.

I’m not making any excuses for the boy, however, my sister and I both had “our moments” when our Mother was getting remarried. Even though my parents had been divorced for years before they even met, this man was the sole reason my parents weren’t getting back together.

The best thing my step father ever did was to tell my Sister and I that he was not attempting to replace our Father. He loved our Mother and we were each a part of her and that made us important to him, too. (It took a while for this to sink in but we eventually got it :slight_smile: ). My Mother also constantly reminded us that we were her children and no man, no matter how much she loved him, could ever come between us.

It’s important that he know exactly where he stands in this new arrangement.

I realize they both have a lot on their plate right now, especially with your Daughter being pregnant. But maybe they could lay out a special time for just him? After the 2 year old is in bed they could play a game with him or watch his favorite movie or something. It doesn’t even have to be every day - just once or twice a week makes a huge difference. I was 6 when my Sister was born. Every once in a while they would get a baby sitter for my sister and the three of us would go out to dinner (because, I was a big girl that deserved it). I know these sound like little time wasters in their already busy lives - but it must be important to a child for me to remember these times so fondly after 30 years.

Punishing will have no effect. They are just proving him right (in his mind). He’s trying to break them up so he can be #1 again. Once he comes to terms with the fact that your daughter isn’t going anywhere, but that all that means is he’s got an extra person to love him and pay attention to him, his behavior will improve.

There is a real danger in a case like this of the child becoming a scapegoat. Blending a family is hard–hell, making a family, when you just have the two adults to start with, is hard. It gets harder when you add children–and when you start with a couple and then add another, it’s rough for everyone. It just is. What can happen–and may well be in this case–is htat hte person that is having the most severe symptoms of the stress that everyone is feeling gets confused with the cause of the stress–which this boy is not. It becomes very easy for everyone to blame the overarching stress on that kid. WHich makes everything worse.

If conseling is too expensive–and I agree that there are OFTEN community programs to help with things like this, start with church if they have one and the boy’s school counselor if they don’t–I have two suggestions.

  1. Go to the library and check out every book on blended families they have, You read them, your daughter read them, and her fiancee read them.

  2. Why aren’t they married? It sounds like the boy is really insecure and unsure of the place of these new people in his life, and if I were him, I would be too. I mean, I am no prude–I am an atheist who lived with my husband before marriage–but how can y’all expect him to commit to your daughter as his new mother if she and her boyfriend aren’t ready–after a year and a pregnancy–to commit to each other as spouses?

I have to respectfully disagree with shamrock227’s suggestion to tell the child that he is more important than his future step-mother. This sends a bad message, IMO. The two adults need to appear united to him, and let him know in no uncertain terms that his behavior will never break them up. This tells him that he isn’t responsible for what happens in the family, and that his behavior will never have the consequences he may intend, to have his father all to himself.

There are tons of books out there on childrearing advice as well, which you can use as a starting point in figuring out what is going on and what to do about it.

I guess the real question is, are your daughter and her boyfriend on the same page about dealing with his son? Are they both looking for some solutions to his bad behaviour? Are you asking for advice on how YOU deal with a problem future-step-grandson, or are you looking for answers for your daughter and her boyfriend? Does the boy’s father see him as a problem too, or just you and your daughter?

If you can’t afford counseling, go through the school. Every one where I’ve worked has a social worker on staff that help kids deal with tough situations, esp. if they are also affecting his performance in school. Also, I’m pretty sure the child can get services from your county mental health clinic even if the parents do not have insurance.

Someone needs to be on this kid’s side, to hear how he feels and help him make sense of it. This does not mean his acting out is OK nor that you should condone it. But consider that yelling at him and punishing him further entrenches his feeling that he is alienated from his family. Letting him know that he is loved and it is only his behavior that you don’t like would help-- and it’s not an easy distinction for kids that age to make.

Good luck with a challenging transition.

We are going to have to agree to disagree on this point. This boy needs to know he is as important as he was before. Not that he was just something to do until a woman came along. You can provide a united front while at the same time not giving the child the impression that he is nothing now that Daddys got a girlfriend. Think like an 8 year old for a minute – if this new person means more than me and she doesn’t like me and she tells Daddy to send me away he’ll do it because he loves her more and she’s more important. I’ve got to do things to drive her crazy to make her go away.

My Father made it quite clear to us when he remarried that his new family was going to take precedence over the leftovers from the old marriage. She was the important one, what she wanted for her and her kids was what mattered. If there was any time left over and she agreed to it maybe we got a phone call or gasp a live and in person visit.

Now, all these years later, his wife has passed on and her kids have gone back to their lives, so he’s trying to get back into ours and he wonders why we don’t have a good relationship with him but we refer to our StepFather as “Dad”.

If he wants his son to “behave” now and to have any kind of future relationship with him, he’d better damn well let his son know that the “new people” aren’t better than him or more important than him or taking his place in his Father’s heart. That this 2 year old and especially this baby are his siblings - not his replacements.

And, squeekster’s daughter would do well to let him know that she wants him in her life and try not to make the division of “his child”, “MY child”, “our child” obvious to the boy. I know she will think it, it’s only natural. But she can’t cuddle and coo about “her” children and, oh yeah, that other one (I’m not saying she’s doing it - but she has to be careful about giving that impression to him).

I would suggest your daughter take a step back, as in move out of the house and put the wedding on hold.

Then, she and her fiance need to get some counseling (I think the YMCA offers some low-cost help, and certainly churches and synagogues can help too) with the boy to get him acclimated.

If neither of these is an option, then Daddy needs to step in. If the boy pees on the seat, the boy cleans it up. If the boy throws toilet paper in the trash, then the boy pulls the toilet paper out of the trash and puts it where it belongs.

I think this is bigger than a boy acting up. It sounds like he has some serious emotional problems that will only get worse if they are not addressed now.

You don’t give any specifics on what symptoms “just aren’t there,” but you may want to read up on the topic before making any judgements in that regard; the popular conception of a kid with ADD is someone who can’t focus on anything and is constantly hyperactive, but this isn’t always the case. DSM-IV has actually broken the pathology into two types; Type 1 (with hyperactivity) and Type 2 (without hyperactivity).

But setting that aside, the behavior you describe, if accurate, can’t feasibly be attributed to ADD. It sounds more like a passive/aggressive defiance behavior. Given the situation–that the kid has had the exclusive attention of a single (presumably working) parent and now has to share his household with two (soon to be three) new people–it’s not really that suprising. If he has, or feels that he has, no input or involvement in what goes on in his house, this is the only way he has to assert control. That is, of course, on top of all the disgusting and obnoxious things that your standard 8 year old boy is prone to do. :wink:

If he genuinely has ADD (and that should be established by neurological testing performed and interpreted by a diagnostician, not some school nurse or a GP) then that it an additional stressor, but there’s clearly a lot more going on than that.

Sympathy is in order, perhaps, but allowing him to continue this way, or just trying to ignore his behavior is only going to cause it to get worse. It sounds like kid has some serious issues that need to be attended to before imposing any more significant changes into his life. Trying to patch it over with blind discipline or worse, creating a competition by telling him that he’s more|less important than the new wife and stepkid, is going to result in problems for everyone involved. I think ivylass’s advice is straight on; it’s better to step back and address the problem before making a commitment that will affect all parties involved.

It may sound like this is asking for the world to center around this 8 year old, but then, to him it does, and if he can’t feel like he has a safe place in this “blended” family he’ll just be constantly challenging is “competitors” to secure his position, to the detriment of everyone involved.

This sort of thing is part of the reason I have no interest in dating single mothers. But then, they’re probably better of for that anyway.


In a more light hearted vein than most of these replies…

Here is how I dealt with my 6 year old son who just couldn’t seem to get the idea of either (a) not pee-ing on the toilet seat or (b) wiping it off.

Upon sitting down and getting a wet heinie for the second time one day, without even really thinking what I was doing, I took some toilet tissue, got it damp with nice warm water, walked over to my son, pulled his pants down a very little, and wiped his butt cheek with the warm wet tissue.

He was shocked and asked what I was doing.

I said, “Well, you obviously think that** I** want your pee on my butt, so I decided to put some of mine on your butt.”

He was totally grossed out…ewwww…Mom…ewww… etc.

However, the toilet seat has been dry ever since.

He’s 15 and we laugh about this now.

I suppose it would be considered inappopriate, maybe even child abuse for a step child…but it worked.

I’m going to once again recommend the book I’ve recommended several times on the Dope and IRL: Parenting With Love and Logic. It saved our (blended) family.

One thing the authors talk about a lot is control: we all want it. But what they have found is that people judge their happiness with the amount of control they have by comparing it to how much control they used to have. If a small child is left to his own devices by a well-meaning but loosey-goosey parent, and then the parent discovers that they have to “clamp down and dicsipline” the child as a teen, the teen will be very unhappy - the control he’s had over his life is lessened. Conversely, if we control a large part of our children’s lives as very young children (serve meals at regular times, establish bedtimes and routines) and then begin to offer them limited control over their own lives, we increase their control until, as teens, they are pretty much running their own lives, with the knowledge that they can come to us for help. These teens love their new-found and ever increasing freedoms, and have learned slowly over the years to make their own choices and deal with the consequences.

Bottom line? This kid is pissed off because he used to have control over his life and his father and now he doesn’t. He doesn’t even control his own bowel movements.

Does that mean it’s ok for him to leave soiled toilet paper in the wastebasket? No. But it means that it needs to be his decision to put it in the toilet. Simply saying, “You can go play video games once the bathroom is clean” or “You may join us for breakfast when you are dressed in clean socks” puts the ball in his court. Followthrough is as simple as not feeding him for a meal. Offer him lots of love and sympathy when he complains he’s hungry, but point out that he made the decision. He’ll survive.

The best part of Love and Logic parenting is it lets the parents be totally on the kids side. It’s no longer about forcing the kid to do what you want - the kid chooses to do things. Instead of coming up with punishments, you come up only with rewards: you may do X when Y is done. I’m sorry I can’t articulate why or how it works, but it does. Read the book. Order an extra for your daughter and her fiance. It’s even made our lives with a baby easier - it’s invaluable for a toddler.