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Sunday, 25 March 2001

Four-Year-Old Acts Up with Single Dad

Written by  Sylvia B. Rimm, PhD

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QDear Dr. Sylvia,

My brother is raising his four-and-a-half year old son on his own. The boy sees his mother and sister every other weekend. My brother loves his son and is struggling with patience to deal with a child of this age. My parents do what they can to help. My nephew is in Head Start every day, and then, stays with my parents until his dad gets home from work. My brother's job is very frustrating, and many times when he gets home, he is not in the best frame of mind. It is hard for him to be "mom" and dad, but he tries really hard.

My nephew is fine with my parents, but when his dad picks him up, he misbehaves. He loves his dad and is excited to see him. What causes him to begin acting out? My brother then has to discipline him (verbally,) which results in much crying. The situation is very traumatic for everyone.

I live out of town, but my mother says that my brother is very "picky" and too strict with his son. She has enough sense to stay out of it, though it is tearing her up to see this happen every day. She fears the boy will stop loving his dad and will at some point decide he wants to live with his mother (where he gets away with everything.) My mother doesn't understand why he begins to act badly once his dad arrives. Before his dad comes home, she tells my nephew to be good. When asked if he likes to be yelled at, he responds "no." She tells him that if he is good, everything will be smooth. When asked if he loves his daddy, he responds "yes," and he says he will be good, but then isn't. Is this pep talk part of the problem? I love all the parties involved here, and from long-distance, I can't do much. My nephew is a sweetie pie, but I suspect he may be confused by the situation with his parents. Any insight into this behavior would be appreciated.

-- Long-Distance Aunt --

ADear Long-Distance Aunt,

It's helpful to know that your nephew does well with his grandmother. He may only be acting out when his dad comes because he misses him so much and he is impatient to see him. It may not be your brother's fault at all.

Although too much conversation about the issue within the child's hearing may actually cause worse behavior, a secret plan between grandma and grandson could help. She could reassure him that she knows he can be good, and that she'll put a smiley face or star on the calendar for each day he goes to his dad nicely. The "being good" could even be structured a little by encouraging the boy to run to his dad and hug him. That would charm almost any father returning from a hard day's work.

Your brother may also need some help in structuring their father-son time together positively so they can build a permanent closeness. There are actually quite a few single fathers who bring up their children. Like with single mothers, it is harder to do it alone, but it certainly is doable.

Dr. Sylvia

Last modified on Tuesday, 01 November 2011 07:25
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Sylvia B. Rimm, PhD

Sylvia B. Rimm, PhD

Dr. Sylvia Rimm is a psychologist and best-selling author with a national following. She is the director of the Family Achievement Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio, and is a clinical professor at Case Western Reserve School of Medicine.

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