My son, an only child, is five years old. I run my own business, while my wife works in an office. Since my working hours are more flexible, I have been the dominant parent in our child’s developmental years. I therefore share a much closer relationship with my son than my wife does. While he is very obedient with my wife (her child-rearing approach is no-nonsense, while mine is emotional), nowadays I find him very stubborn when I interact with him. Also, he tries to needle me and get a reaction out of me. For example, he will write the alphabet correctly with my wife and deliberately do it wrong when I’m sitting with him for his homework. Ditto with his reading—with my wife, he reads perfectly; with me, he acts as if he does not recognize the letter. Why is this? Occasionally, I have spanked him, too. Please help and advice.
The spanking, as you already know, will make no difference, and will work negatively to encourage him to bug you more, since there seems to be some attention-getting issue being played out here. Moreover, when you spank a child, you end up feeling lousy, and the child feels humiliated but militant. Not a good place to be for either of you. A five-year-old I know, makes a defiant face and shouts out when he is spanked: “Aur maro mujhe, mujhe thappad khane hain aur” (Beat me more. Give me more slaps). Which leaves the parent wondering what to do—she has tried actually giving him a couple more, which has ended in tears on both sides, with the originally intended lesson hijacked and forgotten in this drama.
As you describe it, your interactions with your son seem to be more intense than what he has with his mother. You have also been a hands-on father. Somewhere along the line, your son has become accustomed to single-minded focus at all times from you, which his mother (rightly) does not provide.
Perhaps you need to give him special attention only at a designated time, when you listen to him, play with him, talk to him. Just an hour, when he is back from playschool, or before bed, or whenever you choose. The rest of the time you need to be a little more casual, even offhand maybe, engaging yourself in other activity, and not necessarily interacting with him in the “undivided attention, I-am-all-yours” mode. It’s clear that he has learnt to accept and work with this kind of “get-on-with-it” approach from his mother, but is manipulating you for high-octane interaction all the time. Which is an unreal state, and does him or your relationship with him no good.
The next time he does something like writing a letter of the alphabet wrong on purpose, become “unavailable” to him. Which means, either laugh it off and wander away to do something else, or completely ignore it and let him write it wrong. Let the correction come from his teacher, if it has to. You’re likely to find that after a few such interactions, he will drop this game. However, do remember to give him that special time that I mentioned; something that he consistently gets from you, but in a bracketed way—not all day, at all times.
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