Thursday, February 18, 2010

Attitude and Negativity-By-Association

WARNING: These photos are much cuter than the topic of today's post.

My 10-year-old CC is killing me lately.... He is still desperately unhappy with school most days and though I want to help and try to help him*, I also just flat-out want to lock him in his room some days because of his miserable, no-good, rotten attitude. An attitude that emanates from him and then washes over everyone in the vicinity.

We are an emotional lot in this house (hard to believe, right?) and some days it just seems like I am helpless against the onslaught of negativity and am instantly transformed into Mean Mommy, the one who yells and bosses and sighs and then throws her hands up in the air and retreats to her computer, hoping to fade into the plaster and not be seen or bothered. This is not, for many obvious reasons, a good way to deal with the problem.

His attitude manifests itself through smart-alecky comments, defiant disobedience, constant criticism or commentary on everything around him, i.e. dinner is served and is greeted with a grimace and barely stifled "Ew.", "I don't want to.", "Why do I have to?", "That's stupid.", "You're an idiot." and his personal favorite, "SHUT UP!"

These are all minor aggravations, however, when compared to his latest outlet for all his simmering rage and aggression and desire for control: He has assumed the role of mini-Daddy while Daddy-007 is out of the house and the role of his lieutenant when he is home. He is aggressive and bossy with his younger siblings and often downright mean-spirited. For example, I might ask the Animal if he will please go wash his hands, if he were to trot off and then sneak upstairs? CC would follow him and then strong arm into the bathroom yelling at him that he needs to wash his hands. The Animal starts to scream and cry because CC is hurting him and then I start yelling at CC to leave him alone. At which point, CC's brow lowers, his bottom lip goes out and he scowls his way around the house or to his room, complaining loudly that he hates his life. (Alright, he doesn't always say that, but he has said it, and definitely exudes that feeling through his glaring.) It gets even better when all this happens while 007 is home and he starts yelling, too, and then Destructo joins in, trying to explain why Theodore did what he did.

And the Animal uses this automated-family-chaos response to his advantage on a regular basis. And is also capable of turning it around and dishing out CC's moves to Destructo.

As they say, cuss rolls downhill.

So my new tact with CC has been to take him quietly aside when he starts to go into Enforcer-mode and tell him kindly that I love him for being my eldest son. I love him for being his sweet, silly self. I love him for a thousand reasons that make me honestly happy and proud that he is my son. And that I don't want him to be anything other than my eldest son. I don't need another daddy in the house, I don't need a policeman, I don't need or want him to worry about whether or not his brothers are doing as they are told. I only want him to worry about himself and whether or not he is doing what he can to be a good son. His father and I will take care of the other two boys.

So far, it kind of seems to be working. He is also working with an "emotional literacy" counselor at school, which is a great way for him to vent some of his frustrations about school to a school insider, rather than coming home and breaking down in rages, tears, and rants which make everyone upset for different reasons, depending on how they manifest.

Oddly enough, his new haircut (which prompted the mugging and posing above) seems to have made him happier. I also bought this ridiculously expensive Adidas sweat suit for him recently that makes him feel sportier and more happening.

It's odd that I've completely forgotten the feeling, as a child, of how good clothes can make you feel! I guess the feeling has been with me so long and is so ingrained in my personality that I am too consumed with my own current adult feelings on the subject that I just never thought that a boy would care about what he wore! (I just re-read that sentence and saw a Las Vegas-sized sign flashing:

Ahem. Yes....

Perhaps the apples don't fall far from the tree.

Well.... I see the error in my ways now, so we can move forward from here, right?

I've been muddling through the issues for years, asking for advice along the way, often and sincerely. So I am asking for help again: Does anyone else have a kid that was miserable at school and is STILL miserable? Or did they finally grow out of it? If you have a kid that has continued to dislike school, what have you done to counteract the constant battles? Is bribery the only answer? (So far, for us, it is the only thing that consistently gets results.)

*Thank you, twitter, for all your great suggestions on ways to help engage him in other activities and boost his self-esteem. Karate is going really well & hang-out times are being scheduled!


Thank you so much to the Fraught Mommy who presides over her young boys and pathologically hungry dog in her Brits In Bosnia blog: She awarded me with my choice of the Sunshine Award or the Cake Award yesterday and, being the greedy girl that I am and it being the darkest, dreariest part of winter right now, I am accepting BOTH. Thank you!


  1. Moving is really hard and moving internationally is even harder. Fitting in is hard, fitting in in a new country VERY hard. I am sure age has a lot to do with it as well. Take a deep breath and just keep remembering to breath.

  2. I'm sorry (and OMG, they are adorable). I was miserable in school and now I'm some kind of genius in my own mind.

  3. i have a son that i'm struggling with as well. actually, i have 3 boys (and 2 girls). i find that the boys are WAY more difficult, emotional and temperamental. my oldest son is almost 14 and i'm holding my breath in hopes of this stuff to calm down.
    i TOTALLY get this post. i'm living it. i'm so sorry. i hope it gets easier (for both of us!)

  4. I agree with Marinka. I had a horrific time at school (lots of moves... maybe a theme?) but it spawned awesomeness, eventually. I'm the coolest grown up ever.

    (Helpful? I'm thinking not so much...)

  5. I know the move has been rough on him and I try to be understanding of that, but I feel like I can only be understanding to a point and not at the expense of his little brothers' enjoyment of life. And he was like this way before we moved here, so it is just an extenuation and intensification of what was already happening.

    It is a weird mix of feelings for me.... I was the baby to three older sibs, so I identify more with the younger ones, I do feel guilty that he is having an even rougher time b/c of the move, and I wonder all the time what else could I or should I have done or be doing.

  6. Oh, those babies are cute. And you're one fine mama! Sucks to be gong through this - that unconditional love is what needs to stay strong.

  7. First of all he is ADORABLE! Now that I've gotten that out of my system.

    My younger brother hated school. Still does at 17, our parents are less than desirable and thus he fell into the wrong things BUT I have noticed that when he has activities outside of school that he's working towards, such as sports when he was younger and now when he has a job he does soo much better in the whole school thing.

  8. I think we have the same 10 year old except mines a girl. H is miserable everywhere, and all the things you've explained above. She even ran away after school with brought the biggest scare of our lives.
    Something we've done with her (and all of our kids now) is to give them an outlet, every day they write in a journal. When they're upset about something they write in that journal, they can write what they want when they want.
    They won't be judged or in trouble for what they say and no ones feelings will get hurt. The only reader to their journals is me. This helps me understand what they are feeling and we have talks now quite often. I don't know if it will work for you but we've been doing this for 3 weeks now.
    Her attitude about everything has pretty much turned around. It's been amazing.
    Good luck to you!

  9. I love how you are thinking this through so carefully and your new way of dealing with him (taking him aside) is brilliant. I'm going to keep that in mind. Sometimes you have to state the obvious. I'm the mom. I'll do the enforcing. Thank you. I forget that.

  10. first of all, very good idea talking to him about your loving him as the eldest son and that you don't need another dad around. Also, I would see what is going on at school and see if he is being picked on. I know for me, it was hard to talk about it. Lastly, being in an activity that I felt that I was good at went a long way in helping my self esteem, that I can say for sure

  11. I don't have kids so I'm afraid I can't give you any advice here. But I do want to tell you that it sure sounds to me that you are saying all the right things, and your son HAS to feel loved by you, how could he not?

    I know I'm no help, but I wanted to tell you I hope it gets better, and to not give up!!

  12. They grow out of it and start to like school when they do well, get good grades, or when they form a close friendship at school. The parents aren't the problem.

  13. I've really got nothing of value to add, I have yet to traverse this particular ugly path of parenthood. But it sounds like you're making the right moves to my completely untrained self.

    And yeah, you can comfort yourself with the fact that I was also a complete shit when I was his age but I *did* eventually come around and now I'm awesome, too.

  14. Can I offer a suggestion? Given the things that made him happier, and that your reinforcement of his good-will and the lack of need for him to be older (and therefore under more pressure to maintain the house, maybe?) I think the dood probably could use a little more feeling of control. I'm wagering that he's taken a lot on himself, he's feeling overwhelmed AND under-polled, and like he just needs some help, while also not being treated as a 'kid' as much as before.

    But that's just my two cents - being a 'recovering' (if that's possible) control freak.

  15. I would come home from school EVERY DAY and tell my parents, "I have GOT to get out of this stupid boring town."

    I left home at 17. In my case, I just wanted more out of life than I was getting. I was bored. People were boring.

    In the 4th grade I told the kids working on a mural with me that they were doing it wrong and to let me finish it. They did. How do 4th graders paint wrong?

    If he does want more control in the house, he may not be feeling 'heard.' So taking him aside and addressing him was a great idea. I think you might try giving him something to control that doesn't involve the younger children but would help you around the house. (not housework)

    Maybe he could build a patio?

    j/k but you get where I'm going here.

  16. Yeah, I'm with Marinka: I didn't like school but now i'm an amazing genius successful beyond belief!

  17. Well. I don't have a kid his age, but I can offer you this perspective: I was moved across the world when I was exactly his age sucked. A lot. I made friends, but they weren't MY friends, the ones I'd left behind. 10 years old is often when you're making friends that you'll keep right through high school, so it seemed like it hurt extra. I remember crying in my room for hours.

    Having said that, it got better. My teacher the first year I was there was terrible - my teacher the second year was an amazing, inclusive woman, and made all the difference. My friendships grew more solid and by the time we left (after almost 3 years there), I was despondent at the thought of going BACK. (Luckily, fitting back in was much easier.) So - this too shall pass. Or something.

  18. I am so glad that I posted on this subject.... once again you all have left me some really golden advice and perspective that I can use to be a better, more empathetic parent.

    Truly, thank you so much.

  19. I think 10 is a really awkward age these days. Kids are really starting to develop earlier and they are coming out of their shell, realising the world around them isn't wrapped in cotton wool. I can't offer any advice because I'm not an expert and I only have one child. But you sound like you're on the right track to me. Lovely photos too!

    CJ xx

  20. Can Daddy 007 make a weekly date with him? Just one on one?

    Or is that out of the question with his school?

    Like Stacey said, I love your insights and loving consideration.

    I, too, am blown away by the awesomeness of your commentors.


    p.s. I tried to comment days ago, but Max kept hibernating me. ;)

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  22. OH My! I agree with Suzy, he sounds bored. Perhaps teaching him how to play chess will allow him to use all of his extraordinary intellect. Then you can start with tournaments between he, you, and dad. An activity he will share with only you guys and not his bros.

    When my 20 year old was young I volunteer at school a couple of days a week. (Ok Im not going to lie, I worked there to spy)
    Not necessarily in his classroom, perhaps in the library or cafeteria or playground. That way he will know you are aware of his surroundings, and you and he can create a dialog between each other regarding his daily events. For example, "Hey son what's up with that one teacher with the crazy hair???" He will be able to relate to you knowing that you are hip to the scene. My 6 year old is quite defiant and verbally aggressive when she is bored.Thats when I include her in some more mature activities than her young bro and sister, (like bake bread, or paint a wall in her room,) she seems more content in knowing that she is being trusted to do something other than the rest of them because she is the oldest.
    Perhaps you can give him one of your old camera's and tell him to snap away.. Share with him how much joy it brings you and see if he follows in your footsteps!! Sounds like he needs a creative outlet mommy!! Sorry your pulling your hair out. Best wishes!

  23. Oh, pre-teens are fun, aren't they? Mine just turned 11 and he can be the sweetest kid one minute and the most evil, hateful person the next. Good times. Good times...

  24. Those really are cute photos! Sibling rivalry eh? Annoying, but I think your loving attitude to CC is really doing the trick!

  25. this is why lions eat their young.......xp

  26. OK you are speaking my language here!~ I have a 12 and 8 year old boy....all I can say is PUBERTY sucks! that is my sons answer for everything these days, Mom I am going thru long I want to know. Oh and he totally thinks he is a parent and loves to boss around his little is a trying time, my throat hurts from yelling...I will try your approach:)


Thoughts appreciated. Advice welcome. Douche-baggery scoffed at then deleted.