I used to contribute to Kidz Magazine, giving advice to readers on personal issues and I thought I would share some of this with you.

Q: What can you do with a child that won’t listen to you? I’ve tried to use the soft approach and backed it up with positive things like hugs and words of encouragement. I’ve also tried the hard approach, such as grounding him, scolding and caning when he seriously misbehaved. But nothing works! When I’m talking to him, he seems to understand what I’m saying. When I beat him, he would cry and seem to be remorseful. But the next day he’d be back to being a real tantrum monster! My son is already six years old, what can I do to teach him better?

— Tired and discouraged

My Response

Dear Energetic and Positive,

I changed your name because how you label yourself is often lived out by you. Instead of calling yourself Tired and Discouraged which you will end up justifying, here is a new name for you.

From your letter, there isn’t enough information for me to diagnose the situation. Some questions I have are:

1.     When you said you have tried, is it just trying or are you really wholeheartedly doing it? This is because trying tends to get trying results.

2.     Any words or deeds deemed positive by one may or may not be liked by others. Does he like the hugs and choice of words? I have come across people, in the spirit of encouraging, who have told a cancer patient to live his life. This sentence may or may not be encouraging.

3.     Not persisting enough in a method may create more confusion. The use of the stick and the carrot has to have clear boundaries so your son will know when the stick is coming and when the carrot is coming. That way, he can modify his behaviour. Explanations also help in getting him to understand your stand, your preference and your reasons for doing what you did.

4.     Oh boy! He is only six. Are we being a little impatient here when you said “already”?

5.     Examine your skills and techniques in communication. Are you saying the right thing to trigger the right result? Are you projecting negativity and inconsistencies that made him a “tantrum monster”?

6.     Focus on the behaviour. What, when, how did he do what he did? What about other environmental factors? What is home like? What is daddy doing about it?


Each behaviour has a positive intention and we should separate your son’s behaviour from him. The throwing of tantrums is an inaccurate projection of negative emotions but that does not make him a “Tantrum Monster”. Is there someone else in the family who is throwing tantrums? Where might he get the idea from? In the eyes of your son, your punishments may be deemed as tantrums on your part too.

Look beyond his behaviour, identify the purpose of him doing what he did. Calibrate him, observe him, there is always a trigger. Deal with the trigger and then correct the behaviour through questions and counseling. Getting him involved in developing desired actions and behaviour is better than prescribing what he should do from your perspective. After all, we are dealing with a huge age gap here between parent and a six-year-old boy. In the words of Stephen Covey, seek first to understand, then to be understood.