My ten-year-old son has always shown signs of opposition, he loves to argue. He can be hateful at times and says nasty, hurtful things. He can also be very loving and feels bad if he hurts someone’s feelings. I feel sometimes he has no control over his emotions. I have looked up oppositional defiance disorder, but I am unclear if he has it or not. He has gone to a psychologist before for testing because he sometimes makes unnecessary noises in class. She had stated that he could be borderline ADD and a possibility of Tourette’s, but I don’t believe the later. He is an extremely smart boy. He loves to learn and does really well in school. I want to nip this in the bud as I don’t know if I will be able to handle him as a teenager if he continues to be so hateful. What steps do you think I should take in rectifying this situation?
Your son has several things going for him. First of all, you have identified a specific problem and want to help him correct it. Second, he is genuinely caring and feels bad when he hurts others’ feelings. Third, he is smart and does well in school. Fourth, he has good verbal skills.
It is likely that his impulsiveness and his verbal skill trigger the hateful things. He may be quite clever at saying witty, nasty things and other kids may laugh and thus encourage it. If he becomes a standup comedian, this skill may be useful in dealing with hecklers.
Now you rightly want to help him be a good citizen and nice to others. There are three steps that may help.
First of all, set the clear expectation that he is not to be hurtful to others.
Second, use his abilities to help him. Chat with him about his behaviour. Acknowledge that he is talented with words but he has to use this talent for good. Use less threatening terms such as “his zingers”. I bet he lets them go before he thinks about the impact. Identify some situations when he tends to zing people. Practice with him how he can “Stop”, “Think” and only then “Speak”. Rehearse this 4-5 times in a session. Have several sessions so he learns to stop and think before letting a zinger go. Make the practice fun if you can.
Finally, impose a consequence when he says mean, nasty things. If the consequence can fit the crime, so much the better. So if he is rude, he may have to write and send an apology letter. Make sure you read it and have him correct it if it is not quite right.