Dear Dr. Bill,
We have a wonderful 7-year-old son. He’s charming, funny, smart and energetic. But he can also be very possessive and territorial when he’s around other kids. This behavior has led to fights with other kids in the neighborhood — and I feel torn about the best way to handle this. Should I intervene each time and try to work out the problems these kids are having? Or would it be better to let him learn the hard way — that his behavior will soon leave him friend-less?
You ask an excellent question—should we let our kids face the natural consequences of their actions or should we intervene before they really get hurt and try to steer them in the right direction?
Given the age of your son, I think the answer is “both.” At seven years old, you may need to “connect the dots” for him. In other words, help him see the direct connection between his selfish behavior and the way kids respond to him.
I’d suggest you sit down with your son and tell him you’re concerned about how is interacting with other kids. Point out some specific examples of his possessive, selfish behavior, and let him know that if he doesn’t make some changes, no one will want to play with him or be his friend.
Let him know that you are going to help him learn by implementing consequences when he acts selfishly or treats other kids with disrespect. Then follow through, and take away toys or privileges when he acts mean or doesn’t share. In addition, praise him when he demonstrates kindness and is generous with other kids.
A great book that will help you in this process is “Respectful Kids,” by psychologist Dr. Todd Cartmell.
Thanks for writing Maria. If you have a question for me about family issues or Christian living, click the “Questions” link on the Culture Connection page.