10 year old boy chokes 7 year old girl

Reply Mon 18 Oct, 2010 05:19 pm
I am in a situation where I am living with a mother and her two children. We love each other and discuss a great deal of tactics and strategies to smooth our daily lives, especially where the children are concerned.
Coming from an, at the very least, mentally and emotionally abusive, marriage from which the divorce is not yet final, the state that the children are in is, in this single man's opinion, frightful.
In addition to the normal daily "problems" one might experience, things like poking each other in the car then trying to get the other into trouble, etc., which ISNT a big deal, I, twice in two days, saw the young boy actually choke the young girl. The first time was standing and from behind with one arm, and the second was on top, thumbs on the windpipe, and it left red marks which remained for a few hours afterward.
Now, this always starts with the children wrestling around and such, with laughing and squealing and general happiness, then, and usually when they aren't DIRECTLY supervised, like when they are watching TV and we are up in the bathroom/bedroom, it escalates into a situation where he physically hurts the girl. I'm not saying the young girl is not complicit in this behaviour, because she does sometimes torment her brother quietly until he gets loud and becomes angry enough to cause her some sort of physical pain.
Our discipline is non-physical in nature. I have only seen the mother swat either of the children firmly but lightly on the behind a handful of times in about 2.5 years. They are timed-out in a corner, but have to be constantly supervised or the discipline isn't taken seriously. In fact, right after we were done talking with the boy about how terribly awful choking someone is or other equally "bad" behavior, and how dangerous fatal events could accidentally happen, he calmly will ask, "What's for lunch" or something equally as dismissive.
In order to help illustrate, the girl does say she loves her brother when they say goodbye at school, but he usually just says goodbye nicely. They do sweet things too like drawing pictures just for Mom or me, complimenting the chef on a good meal, taking the dog outside when asked, and generally showing that they have good hearts and are still sweet little children. However Both children do not habitually clean up and will throw food on the floor or spit it out on the floor, staining carpet.
Food waste is out of control, with each child habitually returning around 50% of their plates if they aren't satisfied with the meal selection, sometimes 100%, then ask for other things to eat. Mom does a good job handling this, and I have taken to giving them smaller portions but allowing seconds, thirds, or more without denying them food or allowing them to go hungry. We feed them home-cooked quality food varying through beef and chicken dishes with rice, vegetables, and fruit for breakfast and snacking, so it's not like it's Hamburger Helper every night, or Any night for that matter! They also leave cereal boxes open, peanut butter jars open, frozen and refrigerated things out on the counter, etc.
The young girl will walk around the house and turn on every light switch including the porch, garage, etc.
The young boy constantly dominates his sister by giving orders, dominating situations, making her do things that he was asked to do and then attempting to take credit for it himself, lying profusely frequently, giving orders and inappropriate suggestions to adults, "isn't it about time you bought a new car? This one is old and you need a new one", finishing peoples sentences, and generally saying very distasteful things the vast majority of the time.

So, my question to all of you experienced people out there:
Is this a normal thing, this craziness, from the little things all the way down to the choking?
How in Hades are we going to get this under control without turning my house into a prison camp?
I have lost my temper a few times, which only amounts to a raised voice and some drill-sergeant like commands, never any physical touching or insults or the like, just expressions of frustration which I overemphasize, and is also my biggest mistake.
I have tried to politely and firmly "set rules", using patient frequent daily repetition, getting down on one knee equal with the children or below their eye level and speaking a short sentence calmly and plainly, and have also asked the What's wrong with this Picture type of questions, and they DO know what to do, to identify the dirty dish on the couch from popcorn, etc. I'm not asking them to be little soldiers, just the basics is all I want: trash in the trashcan, toys picked up when asked, food not all over the floor or thrown in the trash nearly uneaten. Etc. I want to give the Boy less Slack than the girl because he truly understands these things now, and both children are reasonably intelligent. When it comes to play, we let them have free reign as long as activity levels and volumes are kept to a reasonable level and don't "turn ugly" so to speak.
Anyone? Can you shed some light on this situation for Us please? I am a 40 year old man and she is a 31 year old woman.

I'll listen to whatever anyone has to say! Thank you in advance!!!!
Reply Mon 18 Oct, 2010 10:44 pm
How old are these children?

Before anything else, you must put a stop to the choking behavior. That is very serious, and very dangerous. A choke hold from behind can easily damage the windpipe of the other child, or cut off the oxygen supply to her brain, and this can be fatal. Even professionals, when trying to subdue someone who is agitated, are taught that you never grab the person from behind with the arm across the throat. And trying to strangle her is certainly equally dangerous, and equally disturbing. He cannot be allowed to behave in this way either toward his sister or toward any other child. And, quite honestly, when he chokes her so hard that he has left red marks on her neck, she is being subjected to legally abusive behavior, in addition to being endangered, and you and her mother must put an immediate stop to it because you are responsible for her welfare.

Regardless of the provocation from the girl, you have to make it very clear that the boy is not to put his hands on her or touch her, and she is not to touch him either. There is not to be any wrestling around, even in play. There has to be zero tolerance for this. You cannot trust either the boy's impulse control or his judgment, and you have to draw a firm line when it comes to physical contact or a physical reaction on his part. Give him other options--i.e. he can leave the room if she is bothering him, he can tell you or his mother about what is going on, he can respond verbally to his sister and tell her to stop annoying him, etc. But, under no circumstances can he put a hand on her until you have this situation well under control. If need be, either do not leave the children unsupervised when they are together, or have them in separate rooms if someone cannot keep an eye on them.

Most of the rest of what you describe sounds as though the children grew up in a chaotic household without consistent discipline, structure, or rules. Why are they throwing food on the floor, or spitting on the floor? Why has this been tolerated? Why don't they put things back in the fridge or freezer or put covers back on jars or close cereal boxes? Truthfully, this sounds like a lack of consistent proper parenting. These children are just doing whatever they feel like doing, without any adequate external parental controls to help them manage their impulsivity. They need to learn new habits about how to behave--family habits that will apply to everyone. As in, no one in this family spits or throws food on the floor, everyone must put food back in the refrigerator after taking some, lights are not to be turned on unnecessarily, trash belongs in the trash basket etc. and these things must be established as the rules of the house--for everyone. And let the children participate in a discussion for deciding on the penalties for breaking such rules, so they feel this is a joint family effort to make life better for everyone. You can't just set rules, you have to enforce them in some way, and consistently, using praise, rewards, penalties, whatever works.

Similarly, let the children help with the dinner preparation if you can, so they are eating something they helped to make, or had some say in planning. Let them help set the table and clear the table. Again, make it a family affair, with everyone pitching in. Talk to them about not wasting food, about how you can all save up for a special family treat of some kind, if you can cut down on the food and money that's being wasted. Again, try to enlist their cooperation and involvement so that meal times do not become a power struggle.

The behavior you describe from the boy-- domineering his sister, lying, saying inappropriate or distasteful things, sounds more problematic. Is this how his father acts, or acted--domineering? You said the mother's marriage had been mentally and emotionally abusive--were the children on the receiving end of this too, or did they just witness it? Is their father still involved in their lives?

Your desire to have some ground-rules for behavior in the home, and to expect these to be followed, is very appropriate, and it sounds as if the children sorely need these rules to help them learn some sense of self control, some sense of order, and some sense of responsibility. And it sounds as though you've already done everything you can to bring that about without much success. I don't think this is your failure, I think you walked into a situation that was already dysfunctional and it's very difficult to get a handle on it.

I think you're in a situation that needs some professional intervention because an awful lot of things seem to be going on that are already somewhat out of control, and some of the things you describe could escalate into very serious problems. I think you and the children's mother should make an appointment with a psychologist who specializes in both child and family therapy. Someone like that can be of enormous help to both of you in terms of simply advising you how to handle various types of behaviors that the children are displaying and how to correct behavior in the most effective way. In addition, that person can decide whether to see the family as a unit, or to see each of the children separately and then meet with you and their mother without them being present.

It does sound as if the boy might definitely be in need of therapy, given the behavior you describe, and the girl might also need therapy since she has been on the receiving end of her brother's abusive behavior. Both of these children may still be dealing with the residual problems of what went on between their parents during the marriage, and these emotional problems should be addressed now in order to prevent more lasting damage and more serious problems down the line. And, obviously, you and their mother can use some guidance in how best to handle the behaviors you find distressing.

Asking for help here was a good start. But I think you need some professional intervention to help get the home situation under control and to determine whether one or both of the children needs or would benefit from therapy. They apparently have lived through a difficult past situation, and their parents are now separated, and you are an additional presence in their lives. These are not easy things for children to process, nor are they easy things for you or their mother to help them handle. That's where therapists can be very helpful, to everyone concerned. See if you can find a good psychologist who specializes in child and family therapy, or simply a good child psychologist. I really think that's your best option, all things considered. You and their mother should probably meet with the therapist without the children for the first session, and talk about the sorts of things you've mentioned here, as well as what the situation was like for them during their parents' marriage, and how they have reacted to the separation.

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