DS misunderstood(52 Posts)
I have a gorgeous, beautiful little 4 and a half year old boy.
But I have a problem with the way his behaviour changes (for the worse) whenever we are with friends/family.
When he's just with me, or with me/husband(daddy)/little sister, either at home or out and about, he's an angel. He's talkative, engaging, funny, delightful, caring, sharing, affectionate, he does everything he's told or asked to do, frequently tells us he loves us and freely gives us hugs and kisses, he's adorable with his 2 year old sister.....he's just lovely. He's intelligent, sensitive, insightful and extremely observant.
However..........whenever I get together with friends, whether it be friends with no children or friends with their own children, his behaviour changes dramatically and I can't work out why. He suddenly becomes badly behaved, shouts, screams, cries, acts up, tantrums. Then as soon as we leave them and we're back on our own again he goes back to his normal calm and peaceful self.
I've asked him why this happens but he says he doesn't know. It happens with all different friends in all different types of settings. He also does it with my husband's family who live hundreds of miles away so we only see them twice a year, so they just think he's awful! So much so that my SIL phoned my DH to tell him our DS obviously has 'problems'.
What upsets me is that he's truly the most lovely boy, but none of my friends/extended family see this. They all think he's a badly behaved hard work child, and I can see by the expressions on their faces what they're thinking about him when he acts up in front of them every time we meet. Their tone of voice is quite clipped when they talk to him and they don't display any affection towards him (whereas they do to each other's children). None of them ever see the way he is that me and my husband see him being. This applies to all my different friends and their children. My best friend has two 11 year old boys and I overheard them telling her they dread seeing us because they don't like my DS. Another close friend has an 8 year old and a 6 year old boy and they say the same thing to her - she explained to me that her boys don't like 'lots of noise' and she has kept play dates to a bare minimum as a result.
If they saw how my DS is when he's just with me, or me and immediate family, they would all see how nice he is, but because he changes so much in other people's company no-one sees how he really is.
He's always been well socialised, we've always attended playgroups, gone to parks and other children's activity places, he goes to nursery twice a week. Nursery staff say he is a joy to have with them and is amongst the best behaved children there, never any outbursts in behaviour.
My husband and I come away from every social situation saying ''did you see the looks on everyone's faces?! How embarrassing!" after yet another bad behaviour display. It makes us look like we have an unruly ill-disciplined child, when in fact the reverse is true.
Does anyone have any experience of this or could offer any advice?
I could be wrong but it sounds to me, he is reacting to the way they all are, he is sensing they're on guard and acting accordingly. With regards to the friends who all greet each other's children but not your son, as an adult I'd find that upsetting let alone a little boy. My children have an array of friends, some which I prefer to others ( like adults I guess) but I treat them all the same as it would be so unfair not to. Your sil has no right to do that, I doubt very much that he'd parenting is perfect, no ones is. I feel for you as I felt like an outsider as a child a lot due to being so reserved but I have a nice life with plenty of friends as an adult. It sounds like your son is perhaps overwhelmed with these particular people, and they aren't helping by getting to know him.
I sympathise - my boy (now nearly 6) was similar - he wouldn't shout and tantrum as such, but would ignore friends and neighbours and their kids, or give them the 'death stare'. I could tell they didn't like him and it hurt!
After lots of chats along the lines of 'you need to smile at people and be polite even if you find them annoying' and a bit of bribery for every successful interaction 😄 it slowly got better and now he behaves pretty average for his age! It did make neighborhood coffees/mum meet ups very uncomfortable at the time..... but it passed and I hope it will for you too 🙂
But as the PP says it could well be a viscous circle now - the others treat him coldly and are not friendly to him, so it makes him play up more....
Thank you Toocold.
Yes I think he gets overwhelmed in social situations too but can't verbalise this to me because of his age so he acts up instead, but why?
I know I shouldn't care what other people think of him, as long as I know what he's really like, but actually I really do care what my friends/family think of him. I want him to be well liked and well received by people. If I installed CCTV to our home or took video footage of what he's like when just with us, they'd see a completely different boy to the one they see when we meet up.
My best friend's husband, who we've been close to for 20 years, genuinely dislikes my DS because of how he behaves in front of him, to the point where it's affecting the frequency of our contact with them as a family. I pick up on this so my DS must do too.
What's really heart breaking is that recently he has started saying ''no-one likes me; every one thinks I'm no-good''. Obviously I console him and tell him this isn't true, but it brings a physical pain to my stomach to hear him say this because whilst he's the best boy in the world as far as I'm concerned, actually I know that other people ARE thinking they don't like his behaviour. But I don't know what to do about it.
Thank you bellsofsaintclements too, I was typing my response at the same time you were typing to me.
How is he if a mum and little one come to.your house? Mine can really.show his good side if a baby around his sisters age comes to us, could you try that?
Does it show that your best friends husband doesn't like him? Because he is the adult in this and needs to make exceptions and try. I get overwhelmed even now and sometimes want to cry in big groups, even if it's my celebration, I have no idea why! But obviously I can control this but I'm not four, I think if others reacted more positively towards him, he'd bE more positive towards them. My son has a friend who used to lash out at every party and eventually all of the kids were scared of him, but we preserved because we could see why, he can still be a pickle but has grown out of it, it is really unfair of the adults in this case as it's clearly affecting his confidence and then that leads to him not being himself but those adults need to make an effort.
How do you react when he misbehaves in public? Do you discipline him quickly and consistently? It sounds like he is playing up for your attention- being sweet gets your attention at home, but in public you are talking to others, so he plays up- I would ignore him more at home, and I would remove him and punish him (gently, eg naughty step) when he is horrid.
To some extent, I was this child at your child's age. For me, it was -- this will probably sound very odd -- a way of "showing off." I thought being loud and brash was totally the right way to impress older children, especially. I have no idea why! This especially occurred in situations where I was only with significantly older children and no one around my age or younger.
It still embarrasses me to think of some of it now, and I was only four at the time. Ouch! Have you tried having an older child explain to your kid what actually impresses older kids? I remember disbelieving my parents, since of course adults were always trying to get you to "be good," but I somehow had convinced myself that older kids thought you were the coolest when you were "being bad".
Thanks all of you.
The thing is though, he does this irrespective of the age of the other children. I know I gave examples of older children, but even if they're the same age as him, or younger, or older (my friends have a wide age range of children) it still happens. Also he does it if no children are around too and I'm with other adults.
He is great on a 1-1 basis. In fact that is where he thrives. Trouble is, when we get together with friends there's always a group of people. Even if I only see 1 friend, if she's got 2 children and I've got my 2 that's already 6 people in the group. I think he gets overwhelmed in groups, even small groups, maybe it's the noise, the different conversations, the busy activities taking place....but how will he cope in life if this is the case?
If he's only ever ok on a 1-1, or with the 4 of us as his family who he feels relaxed and comfortable with, then how will I ever be able to meet groups of friends and join in with activities or accept social invites when I know there will be a group of people there?
In fact when we do get social invites and I know lots of people have been invited, my heart sinks as I know what lays ahead of us when we attend!
I certainly wouldn't try ignoring him more at home, as suggested.
The thing is, he's not really misunderstood. They are basing their opinion on how he behaves in front of them. And it sounds like, by your own admission, he is behaving extremely badly indeed. I'm not sure it's terribly helpful to have a narrative about him being misunderstood. It sort of takes the emphasis of him or you guys changing behaviour and makes it all about trying to change everyone else's views.
I think the only way people will get a better opinion of him is if he starts to behave better. And it will be helpful to try to work out why he does behave so badly. Is he trying to get your attention? If so, does it work? Does he have any idea what is appropriate behaviour in a larger group setting? Does he get overwhelmed by emotion (anxiety / anger) and the inappropriate behaviour is his way of showing it? Depending on what the triggers are, you will need to try a different approach. If you are feeling brave, it might be worth asking one of your friends who you know finds your ds difficult what they think the issue is. It might be a bit bruising, but ultimately revealing. Frankly, the situation sounds very painful to you now. Unless you do something different, the pain is likely to continue.
He is great on a 1-1 basis.
He doesn't like sharing your attention.
Have to told he just before you go somewhere what you expect?
Then explain what will happen if his behaviour is bad. I'd suggest time out as I think this is about your attention
My dd can get overwhelmed in situations where there's a lot of people she doesn't know well or if she's approached by strangers (someone friendly at a bus stop, that type of thing). She used to do this thing where if we saw a friend from nursery when we were out or whatever, they'd say hi and DD would put on this sulky angry face and turn away abruptly. It was awful as it was so rude and unfriendly. At the time I didn't know the reason but as she got older (about 4 and a half) she told me she felt shy. She'd started school by this age and I told her "you can't act like that, it is SO RUDE and people will think you don't like them. It is not kind at all." If I saw her doing it I would act extremely dismayed, similar to if she'd hit someone. (I sympathise with shyness, I was shy as a child, but not with rudeness). I told her she didn't have to do or say a lot, even just a smile would be fine. Now she will merrily wave and shout Hi to school friends and she said to me the other day, "if you don't say hi to people, they might think you don't like them and they might feel sad."
Anyway, I really think you need to clamp down on his behaviour while at the same time empathising with any shyness or ways in which he feels overwhelmed. When you're meeting up with people, clearly explain to him your expectations but don't make them too high. He needs to say hello for example but doesn't need to even play with them, he can play quietly by himself. He can't shout and scream but he can come sit with you and look at a book if he's overwhelmed with all the busyness.
But if you view it as just the way he is, Or if you view it as a split personality thing (like the way he is with your friends isn't the real him) then it won't ever be addressed. You almost need to find a way of helping him to cope in those situations. I think it will become easier as he gets older and he can articulate to you what he's thinking in those situations. But if I were you I'd be making it clear to him that his behaviour is not acceptable, and show your friends and family you're being strict with him about it - whether you need to put him in time out or whatever.
Also i like the ideas about expectations that u read in Why French children don't throw food - you say things beforehand like, "there will be no screaming at the park". You tell them what behaviours will or will not happen. Also I heard a good story of a man who went on a plane with his family, they have 5 kids. The kids all behaved really well because they explained to them beforehand what it would be like and what their expectations were. They said it was a place for quiet games not running around etc. Really went over it again and again.
Maybe good to spend a lot of time talking over with your son what you expect in these situations and what you will not accept. And tell him what the consequences will be if he does certain things - whether it's that you'll go straight home without going to the playground or that he won't have his ice cream treat - whatever you think it should be. And make sure you stick to it.
anyway good luck - it's not an easy situation... Could be that he's an introvert happier with smaller groups and known situations. My dd is, and is much better at handling things now that she's that bit older.
When he says things like, "no one likes me", I would honestly say, gently, "honey [or other term of endearment], you scream and shout when you're with them. it's so loud and not nice for their ears. It's not kind. Then people can't play with you or talk to you." Don't even address the issue of whether people like him but skip to the issue of whether he is behaving in a caring manner towards them.
Thanks for sending such a detailed response.
I think it's a good idea about explaining to him about expected behaviour.
The thing is I have purposely not told him off or reprimanded him in front of friends/family when he's acted like this because I feel so worried about them thinking badly of him that I don't want to re-inforce their view of him by telling him off in front of them. I fear they will think ''there she is telling him off again, she must need to tell him off a lot, that must mean he's such a naughty boy''. I do know from experience that what people see when they're with someone is what they assume happens all of the time. I've been trying to protect him and his reputation because I believe he can't actually control his outbursts because he gets severely overwhelmed and stressed in these situations, for some reason.
Nooooo! If you don't tell him off you are encouraging it, AND the other adults and children will wonder why! You will contribute to him being a naughty boy. He is 4, he will be starting school- you must!teach him how to behave, or you are being really really cruel to him, as people won't be able to like him.
But if he's behaving badly and you are not telling him off how is he meant to know that he is doing wrong iyswim?
You need to nip his behaviour in the bud, he is trying to get your attention/show off. He may very well feel overwhelmed but you still have to tell him that his behaviour won't be tolerated.
I do explain to him very clearly afterwards. We leave and then I tell him very strictly that he cannot act like that and that I don't like it when he does it and that other people don't like it either. I just don't tell him off in front of other people. Then he gets really sad and says he's really sorry and that he doesn't know why he does it.
I'm sorry to say that your ds is not misunderstood, in public he is a naughty kid. However, by not telling him off, instead of protecting him, other adults see a kid running amok, and a mother who does nothing to discipline him. Your ds knows he can act up without reprimand. Maybe if he used to 1:1 attention, he acts up to get your attention.
You need to start changing how you are with him in public. Beforehand, explain that h has to behave, and if he misbehaves, tell him he will be reprimanded. Eg. Leaving the park early etc. if he misbehaves, carry out the reprimand, and ignore any tantrums he may gave has a result.
If you don't tell him straight - what are the other parents thinking of your parenting skills? Do you just let him play up and leave when you were going to - or do you just leave? How are you dealing with it in friends homes?
Ah okay, so I think you have your answer to the question. At home he gets more attention so there is no need to misbehave. In public it could be that he is shy (DS is/was a bit shy) and therefore overwhelmed (DS would find groups very overwhelming) and also wanting your attention. But what is happening is that when he acts out instead of showing that this is unacceptable, you don't reprimand him. If you did, and took him away, and you were then, in fact, a bit stern with him at home for his behaviour there, it would send the message that this was unacceptable. Otherwise he thinks he can behave as he wants, Mummy will rant a bit later, but this can be safely ignored because if I do it again nothing will happen.
Also, if I was your friends and family I would think you were a slightly ineffective parent. I know different children have different temperaments but I found it maddening when a child is misbehaving and the parent tries to explain it away or deal with it ineffectually. I never mind a kid having a tantrum (haven't we all been there?) as long as the parent is doing something to deal with it.
Is there a reason you don't tell him off in front of people? Might it reinforce the opinion that he's naughty and no one does anything about it? Might it also be that your best friend's husband is fed up with how he's dealt with, rather than with him? Sorry to be harsh about it, but I would find it very wearing if a kid was constantly acting up and the parents did little.
What you can do: a) lots of warning b) immediate consequences c) bare minimum expectations. So DS has to say 'hello' and 'bye'. The rest of the time he was allowed to sit on my lap. There was no expectation to socialise. If an adult asked him a question I expected that he would make an attempt to answer. If he did all three, i.e. say hello, bye and answer questions, then there was a LOTS of praise. Gradually he was socialised and today you wouldn't even know that he was once a shy boy.
You mention that nursery staff say he is well behaved. Is that bcause they set rules/boundaries, and ds has learnt what is acceptable or not in that situation.
In public, bcause you don't tell him off, he has learnt there are not any rules so he can do what he wants and get away with it. Telling him after the event is too late.
Unfortunately, you have mentioned several people who dislike your son. This should indicate that you need to make some changes, and fast.
By the way, I hope you are not finding these replies too harsh. Howver, it's easy to fall into the trap of parenting one way, and forums such as these suggest alternative methods, which maybe you hadn't even thought off.
Wishing you all the best.
He's ok at nursery though you say - so it can't be group size and noise alone.
Could it be to do with feeling out of control when his routine changes? Nursery is big groups and sometimes will be loud but likely to be very predictable due to routine. Socialising isn't predictable and might make him anxious. Can you make him aware of a safe zone to retreat to where guests aren't allowed, at leadt when socialising at your home (his bedroom or yours) and not insist he shares everything (ask him if he wants to put anything away before guests come, especially games in progress and absolute favourite thing)
Does he have nursery friends? Invite them around - one by one, parents needn't stay beyond a 10 minute coffee to check you out the first time.He should have his own friends over not only the ooffspring of your friends. If he does have nursery friends that should combat the idea nobody likes him.
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