Parenting Dilemmas: Jammie and Rick

Parenting Dilemmas: Jammie and Rick
Dr. Phil talks to a woman who wants to lose 50 pounds before her wedding.
"I've lost control of my two boys because they fight all the time," says Jammie. "From the minute I wake up in the morning to the minute I go to bed at night, I'm very stressed. Sometimes I just want to hide in a corner. I feel like I run a zoo, a madhouse."

Her 3-year-old, Will, is the one who often takes on his 5-year-old brother, Ryan. "He loves to bite. He hits, pinches, pulls hair, and kicks," she says. Ryan fights right back, tackling his little brother and doing karate moves.

She and her husband, Rick, say their efforts to discpline the boys are futile. "Will has said, 'I wish you were dead,'" she says. Rick adds, "No matter what we do to punish them, within five minutes they're back fighting again."

Jammie turns to Dr. Phil: "My boys are fighting constantly. Nothing I do seems to work. What can I do to gain control of my kids?"
Dr. Phil asks, "My first question to you guys is, do you think you have done things that contribute to that behavior, and if so, what?"

Jammie admits, "I think a lot of the reason why Will, our 3-year-old, is the way he is is because the first thing I do to punish him is scream and yell at him."

"You spank him some, right?" Dr. Phil presses.

"Yes, we do spank him," Jammie answers.

Rick says he responds to the boys in the same way. Dr. Phil shows the symmetry: "So you get physical and you show volatility and reactivity and physical aggression. And he shows volatility and reactivity and physical aggression."

Rick and Jammie also try to discipline the boys by taking things away from them, but they often end up giving in. Dr. Phil sums up their parenting approach as reactive, chaotic and inconsistent. He assures them, "Parents do the best they can with what they know at the time. You are absolutely well-intentioned, you have unconditional love in your heart for your children, I know that. You sacrifice, you love, you give to them, you have the patience of Job ... but I do want you to understand if there is a contribution that you are making."
Dr. Phil also notes that Will behaves when he's in pre-school, so the problem is situation specific. He tells them, "The situation that it's specific to is the one that involves the two of you. When you're not there, he's fine. When you are there, he shows this behavior." He comments about another factor that may be at play. "This began about the time you moved into a new apartment and about the time that he got a little baby in the home," Dr. Phil says.

Dr. Phil suggests to Jammie and Rick:
  • Don't mirror the behavior they want the boys to stop.
  • Be unified.
  • Find their sons' currency and withhold it for punishment. Say, "When you fight with your brother, you don't get to do the things you want to do."
  • Be consistent. The boys need to predict with 100 percent accuracy what the consequences of bad behavior will be.
  • Punishments need to be immediate and short term.

    Dr. Phil sums up: "Listen, I think we should avoid confrontations with our children at all costs, but when we have them, don't lose ... What do you think his behavior is going to be like when he's 12, 13, 16, 17? The cops won't go, 'OK, nevermind. You're upset, we'll just go on.' You've got to plug in, and consistency is the key. He's pushing you, he's testing you and you need to pass the test."