How to Deliver a Consequence with a Belligerent Child

Dear Kid Whisperer,
My husband and I came from Yellow Springs to hear you speak at one of your most recent workshops and it was a great presentation: you’re funny, animated, and make a lot of sense. I’m writing because, as I start to learn more about Love and Logic, I am still left stumped by certain situations. Something happened to our nine-year-old son today at school, and rather than talk about it, he came home full of the most hurtful invectives ever (“f@#k you” was the most frequent one), and only stopped swearing at us (mom, dad and six-year-old sister) long enough to complain: the food sucks, we suck, he’s bored, his sister is ugly, etc. We tried asking him to go away and come back when he’s good company, and that worked to a certain extent, but all of the swearing and insulting is not tenable. I told him there would be a consequence for his rudeness, but am really stumped regarding what would “fit the crime.” He loves soccer like nothing else, so my first thought is to make him miss practice, but that’s just punitive. Any thoughts?
Lara, Yellow Springs, Ohio
Thanks for the positive feedback! It always feels great when people appreciate what I’m doing! As for your specific issue, you are on the right track on several fronts:
1) He should be around you for as many seconds as he can be pleasant
2) He should be away from you at all other times
3) You delayed the consequence when you didn’t know what to do
4) Arbitrarily taking away soccer would be a classic example of a punishment and therefore wholly ineffective (in fact, it would be counterproducive and hurtful) unless done the way that we are about to do it
5) There needs to be a really great consequence
Here we go.
(Kid enters the house, looking as if he has been wronged by the world)
Kid: I hate this &^%$ing house and I hate my %^$#ing parents and my sister is an ugly %^$&*. School is even worse! I hate every one of those &^%$^&$%&&%$#ers and I still seriously think my &*&^ing sister is seriously ^&^#ing ugly.
Kid Whisperer: (Not looking up from my book) Oh, man. This is sad. I’m going to have to do something about this. But not now, later. Try not to worry about it.
Kid: This is total bull^$#&!
Kid Whisperer: Thanks for sharing. Please go to your room and close the door. Feel free to come back when you can calmly use appropriate language.
Kid:$&#@ you and &%$# this place. I don’t care. I’ll go to that stupid room. It’s the only place in this house that doesn’t have any #$%holes in it anyway!!!!
Kidgoes to his room, slamming the door so hard that the glasses shake in the cabinets. I fight the urge to challenge his assessement that there are no $#%holes currently in his room. When he comes out 45 minutes later he still is angry but silent. After finishing my book, yawning and getting a soda out of the refrigerator, I take a deep, calm breath.
Kid Whisperer: Oh, man (pause). That was quite something. When you use those words, it hurts my feelings and it makes me worry that you are going to use them out in public. That would be really embarrasing for our entire family. I just don’t want to subject myself to that.
Kid: So?
Kid Whisperer: Well, I’m glad you asked. So… I would be happy to go out in public with you when I can be sure that you’re not going to embarrass our family with those kinds of words.
Kid: I don’t %$!^ing care.
Kid Whisperer: Oh, man. Thanks for sharing. Please go to your room and close the door. Feel free to come back when you can calmly use appropriate language.
He goes to his room, slamming the door again.
The next day he comes downstairs dressed for soccer practice.
Kid: Time for soccer.
Kid Whisperer: Oh, man. I only go out in public with kids who I am sure won’t embarass me with horrible language.
Kid Whisperer: I don’t know.
Kid: But if I don’t go to practice, Coach won’t let me play in the game Saturday!
Kid Whisperer: Probably so.
Kid yells and goes back into his room.
Over the next week I occasionally let him know that I notice and appreciate his appropriate, kind words. However, every time he wants to go somewhere, I tell him about my rules for myself as they relate to going in public with people who may use terrible language. As next week’s soccer practice nears, there is a very good chance that Junior’s language will drastically improve. This can be dragged out as long as you feel it is necessary. All of this is done with sincere empathy and without anger, warnings, lectures, or threats.
BTW, I also take his bedroom door off the hinges until he has shown a better understanding of the proper way to operate doorways without causing a problem.
I hope this helps. Let me know how it goes!
-The Kid Whisperer