Child behaviour problem - please help!

I’m looking for ways to deal with our seven year old son.
I’ll describe his behaviour with an example.
Today was his first communion. We went to a restaurant after the service. He ordered a drink that used a licorice stick as a straw. The restaurant had run out of licorice sticks and instead used two red straws. Our son immediately started to cry. He tried to find a way to vent his frustration such a banging utensils, tearing napkins, breaking nacho chips etc. The crying intensified as we try to talk to him.
“Can we get you another drink?”
“Can we buy you licorice after?”
We also tried ignoring the behaviour.
After several minutes we had to remove him from the restaurant where he continued to cry uncontrollably. He resists any attempts to comfort him both verbally and physically.
He eventually calmed down a little as I changed the subject as we started to look for bugs in the patio stones. When we returned inside he started crying again over a different issue. Eventually we threatened to take him home and he calmed down enough to finish his meal.

This is a regular behaviour for him. It happens at least once a day. It causes his teachers great aggravation because they do not know how to deal with him. He is alienating himself from his friends because they do not want be around him.
He says that he cannot control himself and that his eyes “water easy”.
He has alway been sensitive but in the last few months it has been getting worse. At this time, his mother and I have been separated but living in the same house. He is definitely internalizing his frustrations and anger.
I am asking for any suggestions on this because we want to do the right thing.

Please move this if this is not the correct forum.


First off, does this seem ‘real’ or is it likely he’s trying to get attention? If it’s real (maybe even if it’s not), I was going to suggest a therapist. Then I read the part about the separation, now I’m really thinking some sort of family therapy might be in order.
Otherwise, my suggestion is for ignorning it, but I only have a 2 year old.

… I probably deserve a brick to the head, but it sounds to me like (perhaps trying to overcompensate for the “non-separation”, having you “separated” but living in the same house sounds even worse than having you really separated) you’re putting him in charge of everything. Which is terribly scary, if you think about it. Why should he be in charge and not you guys? He’s only a kid! You’re grown-ups! You’re supposed to be in charge, not to be asking him for solutions! :cry:

“Can we buy you another drink?” “Can we… fix things any way…?” I dunnow, can you… tell him you’re sorry the store was out of licorice and so’s the waiter but that’s the way it is and crying won’t fix it?

Well, that, only sooner. And it can’t be an empty threat - if you say it, you must be prepared to ask the waiter to pack up your meal and take it home.

All your well intentioned efforts at fixing it or helping him manage his feelings are doing two negative things: first, they’re telling him that this really is a big deal. If it wasn’t such a big deal, it wouldn’t need to be fixed, and so therefore it is a big deal and he’s justified in making a fuss over it. Second, because he doesn’t like any of the options you’re giving him, you’re showing him that no one is in control here - not him, not the restaurant, and not you. And that’s an awfully scary thought to a 7 year old. Someone has to be able to make it better, but in this case, making it better means telling him that it’s not a big deal, and if he chooses to make it a big deal in an inappropriate way, you’re going to take him somewhere where his behavior is more appropriate. That is, home. Puts him in control of his behavior, but you’re in control of HIM (which means he’s safe).

Poor poppet. My son was an easy crier, too. I know how hard it is to deal with as a parent. There was part of me that wanted to slap him and say “Be a man!”. Only, of course, in my unfrustrated reality, I think that crying is perfectly appropriate for men, and I’d NEVER say that to a kid. Really, while you can suggest strategies for him to deal with his emotions, the crying thing will only truly lessen with age and experience. Above all, try not to make things escalate because you’re frustrated.

Does he have a trusted adult he can talk to during this rough family transition? A favorite teacher or school counselor? Might be worth looking into. Everyone needs someone to talk to that isn’t directly involved in the drama, including kids.

Trying to reason with a child that is having a tantrum is never going to work. I was a nanny for a little girl that exhibitied the same exact behavior. She even had a tantrum once because her mother bought her some lifesavers, and she didn’t want them. She was four years old.

I found the best technique was, not to ignore or try to reason, but to punish. That kind of behavior in public is simply not excepatable not matter what kind of issues you son might be having. First I would have said “Fine if you are going to act like that, then you can have water.” and taken the drink away. Then if the screaming persisted, we would have left the restaurant. For good, not just to go outside and cool off. Seven is much to old for that kind of behavior. Something I used to say to the little girl that I watched was “Do you really think that that is the best way to get what you want?” Ninety percent of the time, she would stop screaming. She still didn’t get whatever it was that she wanted.

This will not be a quick fix. He is most likely testing his boundries because he knows that you guys will be more flexible because of the sereration. It will take a while for him to get the picture. I also suggest telling him that he is not going to be able to go out anymore if he can’t control himself better.

Ignoring the tantrum will only make them scream louder. Trying to comfort him by offering to buy him licorice later will only encourage tantrums.

The problems he is having with the seperation are best dealt with by a therapist.

You definately take control. What worked for the child is addressing the issue:

“Why are you crying?”
“Because I didnt get any licorice”
“I understand you are upset you didnt get the licorice. That really is a bum deal and the restaraunt couldnt help they ran out. Would you like to stay here or go home?”
“Stay here”
“Then wipe your face and let’s talk about …”

Of course, there were times my kids wanted to leave so I would get my order to go. Chances are he’s acting out because of the situation and stray away from the “Can we (do this instead)?” only causes more probs. Counseling for everyone would be a good idea.

Since the OP wants factual opinions, let’s move this.

samclem General Questions Moderator

The response to acting up in public over stuff like that isn’t to coddle him or comfort him. You take his arm firmly, lean in close to his ear, and say through gritted teeth, “If you don’t tighten up right now, we’re going home and you’re going to get a rock for dinner. Do you want that?” I’m against physical violence, but I think fear is a good motivator when raising a child.

But if you think he wasn’t just acting up for attention, then get thee to a therapist. Regardless, though, I still wouldn’t accomodate his tantrums.

And then, if he doesn’t tighten up, you leave.

I can’t emphasize that enough. I think it’s even more damaging for a parent to make a idle threat than to coddle a tantrum. I see parents doing the “Do you want to leave?” “If you don’t knock it off, we’re leaving!” thing for the whole meal, and it makes me want to stab them with a salad fork.

I went through this type of thing myself when my parents separated, I was 6 at the time. I also saw a child my wife babysat go through it when his parents separated, he was 5 and his behaviour brought back a lot of memories for me. It may not be applicable in your situation but for me a lot of it was due to the fact I just didn’t understand what was going on. From 0 - 6 your world has an order then the thing you expected least happens, your parents role in your life feels like a sure thing at that age. If a therapist is available, it’s probably worth it, I don’t have any experience with that. It may be different for your son but, in my case, it was mostly related to the confusion of the situation (from my perspective).

What** WhyNot** and Shera said.
I don’t understand why parents don’t have the courage of their convictions.

I used to do this: tell them my expectations of them in public. If they don’t meet those expectations due to misbehavior (and the stuff described qualifies), then we either get a time out in the car (with mom or dad, if we are far from home and with family we don’t see much) or we go straight home and a privilege is denied. The last bit is because I have a hermit for a child and for him, home is the best place for him, always. He’d never leave, if it were up to him.

Personally, I think the kid had a long, hard day what with communion and all and was probably decompressing. It might have been better to just have done takeaway. Who knows.

Re this behavior in class-if it’s everyday, this is bigger problem. If you are separated, it might be related to that, so perhaps he needs to be seen by someone (and if you go that route, please know that child therapists can be hard to find–good ones, that is. Don’t be so intimidated that you just accept whatever the therapist says re your son or your parenting, but that’s another thread).

I agree with those who have said that the behavior is unacceptable at that age and that you need to take charge. Disappointment is part of life, and not getting a licorice stick in a drink needs to be put into perspective. A dramatic response to a small disappointment needs to be shut down immediately. A breach of your expectation of his behavior in public should not be tolerated unless there’s a damn good reason for it. Good luck. Kids is haaard work.

Thanks for all your suggestions.

The “hard line” where we remove him from the situation had been our standard practice for the many years we have been dealing with this. As I wrote, his behaviour improved until the beginning of the new year where it declined.
It breaks our heart to see him so out of control.
Our feeling it that perhaps amid all the confusion of our family situation, that he doesn’t feel loved. We are trying to be more comforting to him.
Maybe a return to the “hard line” is in order.

Quoted for truth; this is dead-on. I also agree that it’s hard to do when you have a sensitive kid because you love them so much you feel their every pain (thus I also agree with the ‘Poor Poppet…’ paragraph; but the above is what’s important for solving the problem here).

I’ll also add that the teachers do know what to do; they know to implement a response exactly comparable to the above. The reason they say they don’t know what to do is because teachers are not allowed to set limits anymore without a screaming parent responding; they don’t have the back up of administration to follow through. Please talk to the child’s teachers and tell them in no uncertain terms that they should execute a swift response that involves “taking the child out” in some way immediately, and that you will support them and give him a consequence at home [more mild, perhaps; but some token consequence to drive the point home, several hourse after the fact; age 7 is old enough to make the connection] in addition every day that it happens.

I will guarantee you that, done correctly, the problem will cure itself within 30 days. Use your head; be dispassionate and give the correct response. Again, hard to do, I know; but I would bet a million dollars this behavior can be healthily eradicated after about 4 consistently-handled incidents.

I agree w/WhyNot re: the power issue implicit in too many choices, and also agree with your general strategy of removing your son from situations where he can’t control himself.

But that’s under fairly normal circumstances, where “the problem” IS the kid.

I don’t think that’s what you have here – I agree with your instinct that problems in your marriage are being manifested in your son. Absolutely.

Kids are little emotional sponges.

Call a family therapist about this. You’re not the first ones to go through it, and you won’t be the last. Therapists work with these kinds of problems all the time and they’ll have a lot of suggestions for handling it.

Good luck!

eta - I’ve found the series of books on child development by this author to be immensely helpful and comforting. She speaks clearly about the normal range of behavior.

I have nephew that acts like this and his mother went through the same level of solicitousness “How about this?- How about that?” that you did almost word for word when her 7 year old started a restauranttenrt tantrum.

Accidentally posted before finished.

I have a nephew that acts just like this, and his mother went through the same level of solicitousness “How about this?- How about that?” that you did almost word for word when her 7 year old started a restaurant tantrum, and of course he got his way just as yours did. In the end I decided he was simply more strong willed than his mother or my brother, both of whom are successful professionals. His mother defers to him as a matter or course, and admonishes my brother when he attempts even the lightest physical discipline. The kid cues into this and starts screaming bloody ie “He’s hurting me” if my brother so much as takes him by the arm to take him up to his room.

This was witnessed in amazement by a roomful of adults, and then the mother shouted at my brother to stop hurting him. You could not have scripted a scene more surreal. This 7 year old was pulling the stings and he knew it.

The kid has no real boundaries and it’s a sad situation. Some children need firm and immediate discipline, and I think this is one of those scenarios. “Talking it out” only works if the kid is onboard with your agenda, and your child is most decidedly not. Your child wants to terrorize and control everyone around him into compliance with his whims and you are actively abetting that behavior. It’s not bad or good it’s just the reality of what you’re dealing with. Firm, fair physical discipline is the most appropriate approach.

I’m not a parent so take this with a grain of salt…

You say you’re trying to be more “loving” towards him recently because of your family situation, and that he doesn’t “feel loved.”

You can always, always explain later about how he is loved. Kids are so resilient! You just keep your hard stance in situations like these, get him the punishment he deserves (leaving the restaurant), let him hem and haw and stew and holler, and THEN, at home, once he’s worn himself out, you both sit down and tell him that mommy loves him and daddy loves him and they will always love him no matter what - but you will not tolerate that sort of behavior. Just because you left the restaurant doesn’t mean you do not love him, you were just not happy with how he acted and that’s why he got punished.

The middle of a tantrum is not the time or place for reasoning. He is absolutely not listening or thinking rationally at that point. There’s always time to smooth things over later.

We’ve physically lifted my daughter up, put her on her bed, shut her door and held it shut while she’s had tantrums. After a few of those, her behavior has been much more reasonable. Though there were YEARS of it. She is eight now and while she’s been pouty and unreasonable in the past year, I can’t remember a “pick her up and put her in her room” tantrum. She now has the teenage sort where she stomps off to her room herself.

I’m a father of three and I think this is quite well written, you said what I wanted to better than I was going to.

I’ve re-read the OP several times and this always stands out:

I think this is important considering the situation. People cry because they are conflicted more than anything else, ask around and find a “good” child therapist, I’m sure they can help.

Most of all I don’t think you should panic, if you stick to your guns during the tantrums and remain loving, he’ll be all right. Best of luck to you.