How Do You Handle a Mean Son?

Guys, welcome to another Five Minute Fatherhood. So how do you handle having a mean son? Or a firstborn who’s really rough on the family? We had a great question from David in our Five Minute Fatherhood group. He said, “I would like some advice on a son who is constantly mean with his siblings. How do you reach the heart to help them change and realize that how they’re acting is going to make them end up with no relationships when they are older?” So David, it’s a great question. This is a huge thing to address, particularly when they’re the oldest and if they’re mean with their younger siblings, this is something that is really important to nip in the bud.

So there’s a couple of things that I find really important to do when one your kids is just creating that mean and rude culture. So I love what you said the first time, reaching their heart. That is huge. And so it’s really important that they respect you, that you cultivated a place in which, when your voice … That’s something that they really respect. We talk a lot about that in the skill of fatherhood, just different ways of elevating the weight of your voice in the ears of your children. But a big part of that process is to make sure that you are keeping your word and that when you’re disciplining your children, that you create this large gap between being the fun dad and being the coach and disciplinary dad.

Sometimes you have to dial up both of those at the same time. We’ve talked through how that really increases the volume and the heaviness, or weight, of your voice. Critical, especially with a son who is really aggressive with their siblings or with your wife. We have a whole talk we did about what do you do when your son tries to overthrow your wife? Similar struggle. Another thing that I think is really critical here is that you train your son to repent from the heart. What this means is that you don’t want, with a mean child in the home, you don’t want to have the quick, say you’re sorry, say you’re sorry.

Yeah, totally.

That’s not going to cut it. They have to grieve what they’ve created in the home. And so that involves serious and consistent consequences, and then really causing them to understand the implications of what they’re creating in the home, and repenting through that process. And so what I want to make sure is that is being done to a soft heart. The way I do that is to make sure that the consequence really reaches their heart. Some of these kids really are hard to discipline. They will resist it a lot. And so you really have to dial up those consequences so that they do … Even if they’re not empathetic towards their siblings or empathetic towards themselves. That actually helps.

There was a big study done on empathy and children, and one of the things that it said was that our intuition for creating empathy in children is to say, “See how badly you hurt Sally? She’s really hurt right now.” That’s our intuition. But with certain personalities, kids that are really aggressive, that doesn’t give them empathy. That just continues to help them figure out their power game. What actually creates empathy, which is counterintuitive, is when they suffer for what they did to other people. In other words, a good discipline structure that they respect. And so this was done with prisoners, there a lot of good evidence for this.

And so when you’re trying to create empathy with a child, make sure they really feel the consequences and that over time, then you direct that frustration they have with having to absorb the consequences for their behavior. And that’s the good time to say, “Okay, let me show you the reason why you lost that privilege, or the reason why you’re suffering under this consequence is because you created that for your siblings.” And that takes a lot of work. When you have a kid who’s struggling with this, the first thing I would tell you guys is, you cannot be passive. And this is going to be a lot of work. Do not give up, do not go passive, you have to win this one. And it’s going to take time and consistency and creativity, but those are a couple of things that you have to really lean into. But, yeah, how would you talk about this?

No, I would agree. And the only thing I would add, too, is just even drilling down that more practically, that we’ve tried to do, is exactly what you said. You have to make the consequence. I want to show our kids that being rude or being mean or being hurtful or having that … And I even do this sometimes if they’re getting really intense with their, “No, that’s mine, don’t touch it. I don’t want you to play with me,” or whatever, is I want them to see that that breaks relationship. You’re isolating yourself in a bad way that’s not going to reap good benefits. Kind of like what he even says, in the thing where he says, they may end up with no relationships when they’re older. So one way we try to show that consequence is, I try to make it where … Maybe it’s timeout or whatever, but usually I’ll just have them sit inside or just sit with me or whatever. Wow, the other kids are having fun. Or wow, the other kids are outside scootering, or whatever.

Yeah, show them that-

Exactly. You’re missing out on this relational, communal joy that everyone’s having because of the way you are choosing to act. And the language we always used in our family too is saying you’re entitled or saying it’s yours or being mean or whatever, it’s this trick. I would say, it’s this trick that like, it’s not going to do what you think it’s going to do in that moment. And your heart will feel better and love will feel better if you extend yourself to that person. And so, yeah, so I think showing that … Doing a consequence where they’re realizing they’re missing out on the orbit of flourishing, you know what I mean? The orbit of joy.

Because a lot of times people are being mean or stealing or whatever, kids are thinking, because I’m going to take that orbit. I’m going to take the center of joy and party and fun and I’m going to have it for myself. It’s like, no, no, that’s out here and you are now outside that orbit. And I think that’s a helpful way to try to communicate. And if you do that over and over again, I think they start to realize, oh yeah, this is a … What’s it? You’re not even putting a harsh consequence, it’s just the consequences is … How it starts playing out is the consequence. Yeah, it’s a natural consequence. So that’s what I would say.

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