“One of my sons (14yrs old) is using increasingly more and more aggressive behaviour to his mother and younger brother. I thought that everything was under control but my father told me yesterday that this week he was apparently threatening with an axe in his hand. When he’s with me he can be challenging but has never been dangerous. He arrives on Sunday and I was wondering if you could advise me on how to deal with the situation? I would appreciate very much your help.”
Firstly let me just say that I can hear how distressing this is for you. The fact that you feel so out of your depth and in need of external help tells me that you’re feeling extremely overwhelmed and are doubting your capabilities as a parent.
It is such a difficult role, being a parent. And I’m sure that this recent violence from your son angers and scares you.
But at the end of the day, you are all (you, his mother, your father) the adults and he is the child. He still needs what he’s always needed from you: love, acceptance, understanding, availability, discipline, guidance, etc.
When it comes to children, it is important to see their behaviour as a communication. What is his behaviour saying? What emotions are underlying it? What are his experiences? No doubt, it is difficult for all in involved that you don’t live with your children full-time and I don’t know the history but it is important to remember that children are deeply affected by everything that goes on in a marriage and are affected by the relationships that they see.
Think about all of this and think about your own emotions, your own reactions to his behaviour and try to see it working like a system, each part (each individual or subsystem like the parenting couple for example) affects every other part. Your reaction to him will affect him and thus shape future interactions. It is a very difficult thing to balance compassion, understanding and acceptance with the right amount of discipline that demonstrates your disapproval of what has occurred. Rule of thumb: always be clear that you are rejecting the behaviour and not the child. Punishment should only be used as a way of demonstrating your care and protection. In this way, your behaviour towards him should make him feel MORE safe in the world, not less safe.
The mantra to live by (which is taught in Circle of Security) is this:
Being bigger, stronger, wiser and kind is sometimes hard when emotions are strong or when you feel weak or helpless. Take this next day to breathe and let go of some anxiety so that when they arrive you feel ready and grounded. You need to maintain your belief in your abilities to handle these emotions better than he does.
Following the need means asking yourself what is needed from you as the parent. What are his emotional experiences and how does he need help from you now?
Taking charge is very important as a father. It’s not about scaring him into following the “rules” or punishing him with violence or abuse. It’s about giving him a clear, unambiguous message about boundaries.
Most importantly, always keep in mind that SAFETY and security is the most important thing. Your job is to make him feel more not less safe. Listen to him, show him you’re interested in him and his feelings before coming down on him with judgment and criticism.
And another thing, try and reach out to your support system a bit more. I hope that you have others to ask help from, like neighbours, family members or friends. Please make use of them. It takes a village to raise a child and part of that is getting the support you need from other members of the community.
I also recommend that you seek counselling if things continue in this way. Good luck.
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