How to Handle a Kid You’re Afraid to Take on Vacation

Dear Kid Whisperer,

I have a twelve-year-old son. His mother (my ex-wife) and I made a lot of mistakes with him, especially when he was much younger. He has been really disruptive in the house and even violent with his younger step-brothers. We have a family vacation coming up in a couple of weeks and I’m thinking about not taking him. I would feel terrible to leave him because he loves going to the beach, but his mother is willing to keep him for the week (she’s very supportive). As of now, we think that if he does go on the vacation, he will just terrorize all of us. How should I handle this? -Scott, Columbus, Ohio


Your son has no idea how to be a person. He has not properly integrated aggression into his personality, and he seems to be someone who uses rude, violent, and antisocial behaviors to get what he wants. Whether or not he becomes able to engage with the world properly is a matter of life and death.

In the short term and from a practical standpoint, there is no way that he can go on vacation with your family or anyone else. With his current conduct level, he is obviously not able to participate without ruining the vacation for everyone. So, he can’t go, because he does not know how to be on vacation.

From a discipline level, he will never learn to engage with the world and be healthy and happy until he learns that acting this way does not get him what he wants in life.

Therefore, allowing him to go on vacation would:

  1. Ruin everyone’s vacation


2. Trick him into thinking that his behavior is OK.

So, I would set a limit with him now, two weeks from your departure date, as described below. It is likely that he will use a negative behavior immediately, in which case you can also enforce the limit immediately. Here’s how I would do it:

Kid Whisperer: Dude. You have been pretty out of control recently. We have some serious concerns about you going on our beach vacation with us in two weeks. So, here’s the deal: if you can show us that you can act like a kind, pleasant, respectful person with whom we would like to travel for the next fourteen days, you can come with us. Otherwise, you’ll be staying with your mother while we’re gone.

Kid: Whatever, Scott.

Kid Whisperer: Well, it’s stuff like that. Looks like you are staying with your mother when we go to the beach. We’ll miss you, and also, we need a break from you.

Kid: No, wait! I deserve a warning!

Kid Whisperer: Dude. I don’t argue.

Kid: No! Wait! I’ll be good.

Kid Whisperer: I know you will. I’ll have your mom prepare your room. I’ll love you no matter how long it takes you to learn to be pleasant and respectful.

If Kid is does not immediately use negative behaviors, don’t worry, he will. Enforce the limit at that time. You want him to test this limit, you want him to fail, and you want him to learn this hard lesson now. This way, he can start to live within the parameters of the family so he can live within the parameters of society.