Parenting Q & A

Ellen Barrett, a parent educator at Heights Parent Center for the last 12 years, fields questions from parents about the daily ups and downs of parenting. The same issues affect many parents. If you have questions you would like Ellen to respond to in this column, please email her at

Q. My kindergartener is going through a major "test mom and push the limits" stage. When things get out of hand and he gets into trouble, he won't answer me, won't move, won't try to make things better. He won't apologize, won't even tell me why he's angry or what is going on. We’ve had a few weeks of small incidents. Then today, which had been going fairly well, he just refused to get out of the car we arrived at the store. My husband tried to get him to just look at us and then finally we simply drove home. I took away the movie he borrowed from the library and he lost his blue blanket. He just seems content to sit in his room brooding or sulking or something. I'm so angry at him! I don't know how we got to this point or what to do about the situation. Any suggestions? I feel like I’m just making things worse.

A. Hang in there. What your son is doing is normal. Frustrating, but normal. He's at a really big crossroads developmentally. He is just learning to see the perspective of others but hasn’t quite figured out how to concede to those different points of view. He doesn’t accept criticism or blame very well and uses stubbornness to deflect and avoid dealing with the situation.

First of all, back up a bit with your expectations. Make sure this isn’t about how it makes you feel. Try really hard to keep your emotions out of it—it’s not personal. Go back to basic strategies: use gentle firmness, clear and consistent rules, short timelines and good daily routines. Make sure he is getting enough sleep, and give him space. Let him stew if he needs to. In fact, under all that brooding, he’s probably embarrassed and feels bad, but doesn’t know how to admit it or what to do about it. Look for opportunities for noncompetitive activities, such as gardening or baking, that the whole family can enjoy. These activities will fill his need for encouragement and praise during this transition and can also show that it is O.K. to make mistakes. (Some plants die and sometimes we burn the brownies.) Once he learns how to express his own opinion and be open to the ideas of others, you can expect to see him become more cooperative.

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Volume 3, Issue 5, Posted 11:51 AM, 04.27.2010