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This Parent Analyses the Problem
so that is Cannot be Solved

Many parents
(especially if their children are bright and have a good vocabulary)
act as if they believe that children are not immature.
This parent actually says this about a 2-year-old.


                Client's Letter........                              ........Our Reply

Dear Mr Dyer,

My name is Samantha Fletcher and I have a girl aged 3 and a boy aged 2.   My little girl is fantastic, she is polite, well behaved and a pleasure to be around.   My little boy however is completely opposite.   He is nasty, mean, violent and has horrendous tantrums.   His tantrums are not child like, they are like a violent adult tantrums.   He is not bothered about being screamed at or smacked or about praise or being played with.   I have explored every avenue to try and keep him in line and stop him being so nasty but nothing works.

I have watched countless programs about getting children to behave and occasionally they put off the inevitable for a short period but nothing is long lasting.   I am at the end of my tether because this nastiness is seemingly built in to him and his sister is constantly being abused by him.

He pulls big clumps of hair out of her head, nips her until she bleeds, bites and scratches her as well as lying to me even when I have seen what he has done.

I know that all children go through fazes but my child resists any discipline.   I am very worried about how is behaviour is going to affect his life.   At present my family and I think he is going to turn out in to a mass murderer he is that nasty.

Please can you offer some kind of solution to this problem because if it goes on much longer I am not sure how I am going to cope.

Please believe me when I say I have tried everything to change his behaviour but you can see his nastiness in his eyes.

your sincerely

Samantha Fletcher

Dear Warwick Dyer

First of all let me thank you for getting back to me.   However I was horrified at your response, you couldn't be more wrong in your analysis of our family.   We are a very laid back and relaxed family who do not shout, scream, smack our children on any kind of basis.   We have tried these avenues on occasions when our son has done something terrible and I mean terrible, pulling a very big clump of hair from our daughters head whilst biting her until she bled was one of these occasions and have done it a few more times since but as this seemed to be having no impact at we stopped we are not horrible, awful parents and our daughter certainly doesn't receive any more love and affection from us than our son.

We tell our children on a daily basis that we love them and always have cuddles and kisses, we play constantly and their father is also the same.   We do NOT presume that our son is evil, we don't want him to be like he is and he certainly hasn't learned any of his behaviour from myself or any of our close family.   As I said I was exploring possibilities of other ways to help.   We consider ourselves to have exhausted all of ways and means we have found up until now and did not want to take him to the doctors because we did think that we could sort it out ourselves.

Nasty, is the only word that can describe his actions and I do not say it with ease, despite the amount of times I have said it.   It is difficult to describe my child's actions via an e-mail and I was describing his daily actions.   You can, in fact, see it in his eyes.

Don't get me wrong, we love our son more than anything (except his sister of course who we love equally) and when we are trying to make him aware of his bad actions we sit down and talk to him (we don't get angry with him and have never had until health care professionals said to try and see what happens) unfortunately it doesn't work.   My son is not depressed, he does not feel unloved or a failure or despised, as parents we know this for a fact.

I do however think you are completely wrong here though.   Calling a 2-year-old a baby immature, I am not sure you really know what you are talking about or whether my children are actually super intelligent my children have known exactly what they are doing for a long time and from my experience so do all children.

If a child is left to do exactly what they want they often turn out abusive if they can't get their own way as they are used to it.

Children are not immature, children's functions and abilities grow as they do.
Children are child like because we let them be.   6-year-olds readily look after ill parents and do a fantastic job (I do not think this should happen but it is a good example) subsequently losing their child hood.   It is a ridiculous notion to even describe a child as immature.

I do not want sympathy and my child is not lost.   Furthermore the mass murderer comment it was intended as a light hearted way of saying we are concerned for his future.

A visit to the doctors yesterday confirmed that there is definitely something amiss.   He is being referred to a specialist as the doctor had large concerns of him having Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder linked with Oppositional Defiant Disorder.   Now, in all honesty I would have preferred to have been a bad parent and changed my ways than my son have this condition.   I know I am not the most perfect parent but I do my damn best and my children are the most important thing in the world to me.   I do not want my son on drugs if this condition is in fact confirmed and I will try and find other methods to combat the problem just as I have tried contacting you and all the other methods I have mentioned.   I never believe I have exhausted all possible methods only the methods that I have come across or have been available to us.   My children get everything they need and I intend to provide them with the very best just as I always have.

Samantha Fletcher

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U.K.   Ireland   and   E.U

Email BCC

Dear Ms Fletcher,

I would need to speak to you further to be sure but I have a strong suspicion that the real problem here is that firstly you have convinced yourself that you have exhausted all the technical things you could do in response to your son's behaviour when I am sure you haven't.   You also don't seem to be aware how your own attitude and tone when you implement the responses you try influence their effectiveness.

The fact that you write at all does suggest that you still have hope that your son can be changed but at the same time you sound as if you want me to confirm that you have indeed done all you can, say that there is nothing remaining that can be done.   I cannot do that.   I am sure that together there is a good chance we could reverse this problem.

You say that you have "watched countless programs" "explored every avenue"   the inference being that you have already done everything possible.   Yet it is clear that you have missed some crucial information in your research since you analyse the problem in a way that makes it impossible for you to solve it.

For you this is not a 2-year-old baby that needs warm and loving training he is "not child like", "has adult tantrums", "is mean", his bad behaviour "is inevitable", "built into him" so much that "you can see his nastiness in his eyes".

If all this is true then it is not surprising that you feel he will resists any discipline and you are "not sure how I am going to cope".

You have analysed away all of your own and your families culpability.   If you analyse like this the last thing you are going to do is look at what you need to do differently.   You will never cope or change behaviour that is, in your view, entirely internal to your child, completely his fault because of some internal flaw or nastiness inside him.

In this short email you say that you think your son (a baby of 2 years) is   "nasty"   5 times.   I know it is said semi-jokingly but you say your family currently, because of his nastiness, "think he is going to turn out in to a mass murderer".

Please step back a moment and listen to yourself.   You have a two-year-old baby who is already a mass murderer.

The fact that your feelings (and your families apparently) about your son are so strong does not make them right.   In fact it is the very strength of feeling that you have that tells me you are not, and have not been, objective in your response to him.   He is 2 years old. Where has he learnt his nastiness except from you and the rest of your family?   You are clearly nasty to him.   You have screamed at him.   You smack him.

You have watched "countless programs about getting children to behave" and some of these have "put off the inevitable for a short period but nothing is long lasting".

You completely miss the significance of this.   Why did his behaviour change at all is he is the terrible person that you think he is?   This change in his behaviour, even though it was temporary, shows that changing  your responses has an effect on his behaviour.   It is typical of your attitude to your toddler that you assume that when the improvement is not maintained it is his fault.  For you any responsibility that you take for his behaviour will not work and just  "puts off"  what you consider to be  "the inevitable".

These programmes were hopefully telling you that you needed to be reasonable and calm while you attempt the changes.   Did you manage to keep this up even when the bad behaviour started to reappear?   He will not change if you are not acting in a positive way towards him.  You have to use positive responses and positive sanctioning no matter how  "nasty"  he is.

I do believe you.   I do believe you think you have tried everything.   But is clear that you have not consistently tried to change your own behaviour.

You have discovered that being reasonable and calm will work for a while but is usually not sufficient to change behaviour.   But you have not realised that it is always necessary.   No changes will occur without it.   Are you always reasonable and calm?   I know from your email you are not.

Whatever the problem that your son has it is made 10 times worse by your attitude and your responses.   I would be very surprised to find, if you were to work with me, that these problems were not sorted out within a few weeks.   But you, and your family, would have to stop blaming and take responsibility.

It is clear that none of you realise how young and immature a two-year-old is.   Your description of him would be laughable for a teenager.

All of you seem to see this problem only from the effect on yourselves and your 3-year-old you do not seem to think what living in your home is like for your 2-year-old.

Every day he is a failure, everyday he sees how much he is despised.   Each day he sees all the warmth and love and protection that he lacks being given to his sister.   At no time do any of you stop to think why one baby should be consistently spiteful to another.

If you were able to show him that you loved him in spite of his behaviour then your sanctions would begin to work.   If you were to work with me the spitefulness would probably stop within days.

But do not think you will be able to work with me?

Do you want to hear an effective analysis or are you too convinced of your own?

Do you want sympathy for your faultless struggle with a bad and evil child or help to respond effectively to a lost child who is just behaving badly? I wish you well which ever it is.

Warwick Dyer
Behaviour Change Consultancy

Dear Ms Fletcher,

You seem to think that what I said was that you behave badly to you son.   I did not say that.

What I suggested was that your lack of understanding of the motivations driving a 2-year-old child was probably making your responses counter-productive and that you were blaming him for behaviour that you are probably making it impossible for him to change.

You also seem to think that by saying that it is probably you who needs to change I am supporting your son's bad behaviour.

This could not be further from the truth.   What I was trying to get you to understand is that bad behaviour is interactional and is never solely the child's problem.   Not only does the parent have to change as well but usually the parent need to change FIRST.

I suggested that the hostility towards your son because of his behaviour was getting in the way of change.   You are now pretending that the language in your first email did not indicated that you had grown frustrated and angry with him.   I have been doing this job for 25 years and have read many such accounts.   Read your first email again and, if I am wrong, you will certainly understand my mistake.   You see even here in your latest email you say by

"pulling a very big clump of hair from our daughters head whilst biting her until she bled"

your two-year-old has

"done something terrible and I mean terrible".

Well yes, this is terrible for the distress and pain it causes your daughter but this is
entirely normal behaviour for a two-year-old who has become jealous because his bad behaviour is being handled using "interpersonal sanctions"   or   punishments.

I believe you when you say that   "I do my damn best and my children are the most important thing in the world to me"   But this does not continue to be true if you are not able to put your own self-esteem on the back burner and really look at what I am saying.   At least accept the POSSIBILITY that I might be right.   Your analysis of the problem with your son does not include your own responses to his behaviour.   Yes, you are able to accept that what you do is ineffective, but you are not able to accept the possibility that what you do in response to his behaviour is a major part of the problem.

For instance you do not understand that all the talking and moralising that you do to try to persuade your child that his actions are inappropriate act as attention and simply reward those actions.   This is a very ineffective response even for a 10-year-old but your son is simply too young for this to have any chance of being remembered long enough or strongly enough to change what he does when presented with unchanged challenges.

Since you do not accept that he is immature your dissatisfaction with his inability to take on board your lessons will then have a negative effect on his self-esteem and make his behaviour worse.

If you do not think two-year-olds are immature it becomes impossible for you to respond to your son effectively.   This belief takes away all possibility of your analysing the causes of his behaviour accurately.   While you believe this you will continue to blame your child for not being able to understand (or emotionally able to carry out) your instructions.

You believe that your    "children have known exactly what they are doing for a long time and from my experience so do all children"

You also believe that without this belief of yours they will be    "left to do exactly what they want they often turn out abusive if they can't get their own way as they are used to it"

But this is exactly what your foolish belief is causing for your son right now.   Your first email was full of precisely this behaviour.   Can you not see that thinking you understand very young children when it is glaringly obvious that you don't is actually harming your son?   I am surprised how you can be so certain you are right based on so little information.   You will not find a single book, and there are hundreds, that agrees with your view.   Don't you think you should read a little and get some other opinions before becoming so certain?

You are now going down the   "diagnosis"   route and, of course, there is a possibility that your son is autistic or has some other behaviour disorder.   If he does you will have even less right to blame him for his behaviour and even more need to improve your responses to it.   If, on the other hand, he doesn't have a behaviour disorder I fear that you may condemned yourself to years of search to cure a problem in your son that you do not have the humility to accept may lie within your own skill and assumptions.

It is never satisfying to hear a parent speak such complete nonsense with such conviction.   All I can say is that I wish you and your children well.   I hope that their mother can gain the insight she lacks soon enough to help her children obtain theirs.

I will always make myself available to help train you to use appropriate and effective responses to your son's behaviour, that is if, at any point in the future, you can accept that you need to.

The very first thing we would look at was whether your son is just getting over-tired.

Warwick Dyer
Behaviour Change Consultancy


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