Parenting Headaches: Zach

Parenting Headaches: Zach
Dr. Phil talks to parents whose 9-year-old cries about everything!
Adam and Anna say that their 9-year-old son, Zach, cries about everything " from taking a bath and brushing his teeth to cleaning up. Anna says that their parenting styles may be to blame. "I get impatient really quickly. I'm the abrasive mother. Dad's the fun dad," she points out.

When Zach or his younger brother, Seth, won't stop crying, Adam gets the "spanking stick." Holding up a fishing pole, he says, "We use it as a last resort. If they're not listening, all we have to do is give it a good whack next to them, and then they start listening. It's a good threatening psychological tool."

Adam knows that fighting in front of the kids is a problem, but he points the finger at Anna. "I think my wife needs more help than my kids do," he says.

Anna admits that she used to favor Seth, but says that's no longer the case. She's worried about Zach. "My greatest fears is that Zach's not going to reach his full potential when he grows up," she says, turning to Dr. Phil. "How do I get my son, Zach, to stop acting like a 2-year-old and start acting like the 9-year-old he is?"Addressing Anna, Dr. Phil says, "First, stop telling him he's acting like a 2-year-old. That's very demeaning and it puts him in a low self-esteem, frustration position." To Adam, Dr. Phil questions, "The second thing I want to be clear about is, you don't hit these kids with a fishing pole?"

"No. Definitely not. I never have," Adam stresses.

Dr. Phil takes him to task. "You described it as 'a good psychological tool'? I missed that class about threatening kids with a fishing pole and hitting it beside them. Tell me how that works," he asks.

"You tell them they're going to get spanked with the stick if they don't start listening, and you just make a real loud noise right next to them and they just think it's coming," Adam explains.

"He's 9, and you've hit him with the stick how many times in nine years?"

"Zero."

Dr. Phil is incredulous. "Don't you think he's figured out in nine years that you're not going to hit him with the fishing pole?" he asks. "Is that really the level at which you want to define your relationship with your son?" Dr. Phil says, suggesting that Adam stop using the pole as a teaching tool. "He either doesn't believe you're going to hit him, or he does believe that sometime you might."
"Why do you think he's crying all the time?" Dr. Phil asks Anna.

Hesitantly, she replies, "That's his way of getting attention."

"Of course it's the way he gets attention! ... He cries because it works. It doesn't work some of the time; it works all of the time," Dr. Phil points out. "This is a bright young man, and he can be so delightful. He's got a great sense of humor ... We've just got to require him to go to the next level, and this can be over literally in a week."

Dr. Phil asks Adam why he blames his wife.

Adam clarifies, "She does a lot of yelling, and I know that's not right ... Another thing that happens all the time is that she waits until the last minute to do things, and it just stresses everybody out just a little bit more."
Dr. Phil wants Anna to see how she could be contributing to Zach's behavior. "You do engage your son at a combative level. You mock him and then he cries, and then you threaten him," he notes. "You do demean him. The two of you argue in front of him about who's right and who's wrong about parenting. You do show frustration. You do yell and scream."

Anna replies, "You're right. I do."

Calling her outbursts a "parent tantrum," Dr. Phil says, "You see that mirrored and reflected in him. You have also said that you tend to favor the younger child."

"I used to. I'm trying to change," Anna admits.

When Adam points out that their younger son Seth's behavior has been getting worse, Dr. Phil says, "He's got lots of modeling. He's got modeling from his brother. He's got modeling from you. He sees you guys arguing."Adam and Anna need to calm down and come up with a plan and get unified in their parenting. They also need to understand Zach's currency. When Anna says that her son values his PlayStation, Dr. Phil explains, "He understands that there are certain requirements that he has to meet before he has access to the PlayStation and those are rigidly in place. If he can predict the consequences to his actions with 100 percent accuracy, then I can promise you that he is smart enough that he will figure that out."

The best way for Adam and Anna to deal with their son's crying is to completely ignore it. "Pretty soon he'll go, 'I'm getting no reaction out of these people for this,'" Dr. Phil tells them. "As soon as he sees it no longer has any effect, he will stop doing it. But he has to be able to predict the consequences of his actions with 100 percent accuracy, and you have to stop modeling this yelling, screaming, frustration and argument." Adam and Anna have not been consistent or unified, and that needs to change. If they stop reacting to the crying and don't disagree in front of the kids, Dr. Phil says, "I predict that in less than a week, this behavior will disappear."