Maudlin and Associates ™
Karen Maudlin
Psy.D., CPCC
Kenneth Davison
Cindy Takiguchi
Manette Galván Turner
Robert Gregory
Daniel Doebler
Trevor Simpson

"I'm the mother of an 8-year-old boy. He's strong-willed and my husband and I often end up in power struggles with him. Even in our church, my son is viewed as "hyper." To make matters worse, he has a friend at church who is viewed by many as the "golden boy" who can do no wrong. This friend will often dare my son to act up, and then my son gets in trouble. We all end our time at church feeling frustrated and tense. What can we do?"

A. Parenting a child who tests limits demands a lot of awareness. At any given time, there are all kinds of factors influencing your son. The next time you sense a power struggle coming on, think about whether your son might be hungry, tired, overstimulated or bored. If any of these are occurring, what you have isn't so much a power struggle as a child who has a need he can't articulate. If these factors aren't part of the problem at hand, or if the behavior - say acting out in church - continues, take some time during the week to sit your son down in a quiet place, share a snack, and talk through your expectations.

You might say, "Johnny, when we're at church, I'd like you to play quietly during the service. You may be with friends during coffee hour, but if you want to run around, you need to go out to the playground."

You can then gently explain to your son that his behavior is frustrating for you. He's old enough to see that his actions have ramifications for people other than himself. Once you've done that, ask your son to repeat your expectations back to you.

The next step is essential. Together, think up a reward for good behavior at church. Maybe you can agree to play a favorite game together, watch a special video or do a fun project.

The next Sunday, review your expectations and the reward for good behavior. Let your son know you believe he can obey you. Your positive attitude will help him believe he can behave as well.

As for the attitudes of other people at your church, my advice is to ignore their negative perceptions of your son. Every church community has its own culture. It seems that in yours, the "golden boy," his family and their extended parts are the dominant group. It sounds like you're putting a lot of energy into getting along with them and getting them to like you and your child. You need to ask yourself if these are the people you most enjoy in the church. They seem a little too willing to label your son as "hyper" and make him the bad guy in some situations. I encourage you to look around the congregation and decide who best represents God's nurturing family to you. Who will support you as you parent your child? Who will show him love and care, no matter how he behaves? Invest in those relationships instead. God created your son and loves him just as he is. You'll both benefit from keeping that in mind.