My son is 8 1/2 and started 3rd grade on Monday. We have been having a number of problems with discipline and keeping his stuff neat (most of which have been intermittent problems since he was 3 to 5 years old) so we started planning a few weeks before school started to get off on the right foot. When I say "we" I mean that my son and I talked about what he can do now that he is a big 3rd grader and at what times of day he likes to do things, my partner (his father) and I talked about what we'd like to have him do on a daily basis and how best to approach it, the 3 of us talked together and agreed pretty easily on the general outline, and then my son and I worked out the specifics and made 3 neat, colorful lists: What to do in the morning, What to do in the afternoon, and Chore for each weekday. I had told him how I followed lists like these each school year and each summer when I was a kid and I really liked them (true) and he seemed enthusiastic. He took down some of his drawings from the dining room wall to hang the lists in a place of honor.
Background: He is attending the same school as the previous 3 years. Most weeks of the summer he went to day camp and was away from home 8:30-6:00 every weekday, so the 8:10-2:50 school day (plus about 20 minutes walking each way) actually gives him more time at home than before and more time with his dad, who works from home; I work in an office and get home at 6:00. He does have to get going about 45 minutes earlier in the morning than he did in the summer; he's slept through his alarm some mornings, but once I wake him he gets up just fine. His bedtime has been 8:30pm since first grade, and most nights we do get him to bed on time and he goes to sleep easily. Everything he says about school so far is positive. He's getting to see his friends more than he did in the summer and very happy about that. His diet has not changed. In some ways he's becoming very responsible and independent; for example, we recently expanded the small area of neighborhood in which he's allowed to take a walk alone, and he's been very diligent about learning the street names, telling us where he went, coming home promptly, etc.
Our big, persistent issues with him have been that he speaks disrespectfully to us, he sometimes refuses to do what we tell him, he leaves his stuff lying around all over the house, and he leaps at the slightest provocation into really lengthy arguments which will go on one-sided if he can't provoke us into arguing with him.
Another problem has been that he wants a lot of screen-time but often asks for it very rudely, resists turning it off when time's up, and behaves badly afterward especially if he watched a long time. Occasionally he wants to play on my iPad or do something at the computer, and on weekdays he likes to watch PBS Kids shows, but much of the time what he wants to do is watch the same taped episodes of "The Simpsons" over and over again. Since kindergarten we've had a limit of 90 minutes of screen-time per day and none before school, which he used to accept. This summer he was constantly pushing it, nagging about wanting to watch, trying to bargain for more time. His TV-related behavior has seemed increasingly irrational and desperate. Often he's left the TV on while he follows a parent from room to room arguing for extra screen-time, actually missing his show while trying to get another! And there was this incident last weekend that I described in the thread about time-outs:
I was able to resolve that particular situation, but he does something like this several times a week. It's often connected to asking for TV, but we're thinking it's not really about TV, but what is the real problem??? Several times in the past, his consequence for persistent really bad behavior has been a period of time with no screen-time at all, and every time we've found that his behavior improved somewhat. We have considered getting rid of the TV altogether...but it is fun to watch sometimes, and we don't want to turn it into "forbidden fruit" that he'll be eager to get wherever he can.
Anyway, because of the recent TV-related problems and past experiences, this is what we all agreed: For the first week of school, he could have 30 minutes of screen-time per day and could choose which show he wanted to watch (between getting home and getting ready for bed), while also making sure to do all the other things he needs to do. If he did all the things each day, the next week he could have 60 minutes per day. If not, we'd need to stick with 30.
His morning list of responsibilities is just getting dressed, eating breakfast, and brushing teeth. In the afternoons before dinner, he is supposed to:
- take his lunchbox out of his backpack and put it in the kitchen. This is a new thing. I asked for it because I was sick of his dad (who packs his lunch) waiting until the next morning to look in the lunchbox and then complaining that it was difficult to clean because food had dried onto it or that there was leftover food that was no longer in edible condition. Now I clean out the lunchbox in the evening.
- do his homework. This first week, of course, homework has been light, but there has been some every day.
- do one chore. There is one for each weekday, things like "pick up your things in the living room" and "sweep the floor in your room". All of these are things he knows how to do and has done independently before; only the scheduling of a specific chore for each day is new.
As I said, he cheerfully agreed that these were reasonable expectations and that he would decide in which order to do things and make sure they all got done. He also informed his dad that he would walk himself home Monday-Thursday (it's a short and familiar walk; he did it alone many days in the spring) and then minimize interruptions of his dad's work after he gets home, but on Fridays he wanted his dad to meet him at school and come with him (and friends and their parents) to the park; his dad agreed.
Well, here's how it's worked out: Monday, he did his homework and chore. When his dad started making dinner, he asked about the lunchbox, and our son got it then. That was fine. But the next 3 days, I came home from work at dinnertime to find that his lunchbox was still in his backpack and his chore was not done whatsoever. His dad says that when he reminded our son to do these things, our son claimed he was "just about to" but didn't, and on subsequent reminders he yelled that his dad shouldn't nag him.
Tuesday, his homework was done but scattered across the dining table. (We got him a desk last winter--and we put it in the dining room because he prefers to work near us instead of alone in his room--and he'd neatened it up before school started, so there's no reason not to do homework there.) He argued that it's parents' responsibility to get "paperwork" back to school and tried to shift the focus to my not yet having filled out all the school forms (which aren't due back for 3 weeks) but when I showed him his teacher's letter saying students are responsible for their homework, he crammed it into his folder.
Wednesday, he was doing homework when I got home, and his dad told me he'd asked if the afternoon tasks were done, and the kid said, "Well, I did my homework...no, wait, I'm not done...." and it seemed he hadn't even started. He demanded that I look over his homework, which was fine--I'm interested, and I had time then--but I didn't like his yelling about it as he shoved the pages between my face and my plate. I said, "This part is still blank." He claimed they could choose which side of the page to do. That could be true, so I decided to leave it up to his teacher. (I wonder, though, if he was making me look in hopes that I would make him actually complete his work?)
Yesterday afternoon, he interrupted his dad's work about every 10 minutes with questions about a craft project--not homework, just something he'd decided to do. When asked, he claimed he'd already done his other things, but he hadn't. His dad got him to do homework while dinner was being cooked. Some of the homework is not due until next week. During dinner I explained that this long-term homework cannot be left on the dining table; he can keep it in his folder or on his desk. He moved it off of the corner between his placemat and mine and said it was now out of my way and that was good enough. Before I could respond to that, he started nagging for extra screen-time after dinner. I said no because that wasn't our agreement, he hadn't done his chore, and also his teacher's letter said he should read at home 20 minutes a day so he needed to allow time for that. He quickly spiraled into a gigantic screaming tantrum about how he has RIGHTS as a member of this family, both parents HATE him and scream at him EVERY DAY, and I'm LYING about the 20 minutes of reading needing to be at home because he reads for at least 20 minutes at school and that counts. I said I would email his teacher right now for clarification. I went upstairs to get my iPad (yes, in the middle of dinner--I wanted to escape the screaming!) and he followed me, yelling in my face, blaming me and his dad for all kinds of unrelated almost incoherent things. I told him to get out of my room until I was done with the email, and then we would talk. He got louder, angrier, and more panicked-sounding, and kept trying to grab the iPad. I said, "Since you won't give me privacy in here, I'm going into the bathroom." He grabbed the bathroom door and literally would not let me close it--he's getting strong!--and I was afraid I or the iPad would get smashed. His dad intervened, and between the two of us (with some yelling, I'll admit) we got him into his room for a ten-minute time-out. I sent the email. He came out calmer but still glowering. We spent the rest of the evening trying to get him to do his chore or read (he wouldn't) while we did some other tasks.
He demanded (nasty voice; "You have to" instead of asking) that I read him a story on the porch; this is something we often do in the evening, but I told him I would not read until he was in bed with teeth brushed. This was partly because I just didn't want to, partly because he needed time to do his chore and read (which, as I said, he didn't), partly to invite him to go to bed early in case more sleep might be what he needed, and partly because I felt it was important not to cave to his demands but to state conditions and stick to them. He followed me around whining that a story on the porch would help him relax. This might have been true--I felt guilty and wondered if he was just asking for some love--but he has sometimes dragged out a pre-bedtime story into resisting bedtime, refusing to go inside, etc. and I didn't want to get into that.
If you're still reading, here's what I'd like help with:
Our inclination is to stick with the daily lists of responsibilities. If the teacher confirms that 20 minutes of daily reading is to be done at home, we'll add it to the list. (Otherwise we'll let it go for now, although we do want him to read more--we both enjoyed reading so much at his age!) We've told him that responsible behavior today will allow him to keep 30 minutes of screen-time next week, but we're not going to increase it, and if today goes badly we'll have no screen-time next week. Does that make sense? Are we being too easy on him for this week's behavior, or should we consider this normal rebellion as he adjusts to new expectations?
Do you think he needs some type of reminder other than the lists to get him to do the things? Is he truly forgetting, or is he testing us to see if we really mean it?
Do you have any sense of what is REALLY going on here? Is something wrong with my kid? Are his dad and I making some kind of huge mistake in the way we handle him?
Should there be any additional consequence for his refusal to leave me alone in my room or the bathroom and his struggling with the door in a way that could have hurt me (but didn't)?
What do you do in the moment, when a child who is big enough to physically interfere with your actions is doing so? His dad and I were genuinely afraid he was going to hurt me. I wanted to let go of the door suddenly and let him fall, but because this is what I always did to my little brother when we used to get into door struggles, I know a person can be seriously injured by that, and as an adult I don't feel I can justify purposely letting it happen. I don't like that my partner had to "rescue" me from this situation or that we ganged up on our kid and physically dragged him into his room; I don't want this kind of thing going on in our family! And I want to feel safe when I'm alone with the kid.
Do we need to get rid of TV? Is there a better way we might manage it?