Challenging Authority at Home

When your child challenges your authority, there are ways to handle the conflict without damaging his independent thinking.
My seven-year-old son is very bright, but has difficulty coping with authority figures at home. He questions why and argues when asked to do something. His IQ score is 120 and he's in second grade. He has no problems at school with his teachers. How can we handle this conflict without damaging his independent thinking and abilities?
It is not unusual for gifted children to use their advanced verbal skills in "debates" at home against parents. When you mention your child behaving well in school, I take this as a good sign that your son is able to adapt to structure and limits. Free speech certainly has its place, but certain things things -- why he needs to clean his bedroom, or why a pet needs to be cared for -- are not forums for debate!

I suggest you have a family meeting to outline what tasks your kids are capable of doing. Decide how often certain tasks are to be done. Make a contract, and get your son to sign it. Successful completion of tasks or homework earns him privileges (like watching TV or using the computer). It's essential to have a "work first, reward second" concept in place when kids are young. It's very difficult to suddenly get a middle-schooler interested in compliance after years of open debate. If your young lawyer has a complaint with the way something is being handled, he can write it down and bring it up at the next family meeting.

Some verbally gifted kids are taken with listening to themselves talk. They are good at it and may not realize when they are over-stepping bounds or interrupting. I have had good results with developing a private (nonverbal) signal with a child that means it's time to be quiet. The signal says: "It's time to be quiet and listen. You will have your chance to speak again soon." If your son complies with the signal, reward him verbally. If he complies often, then he might earn points to redeem towards not having to do a certain chore (occasionally).

Always try to model consideration in dialogues between all family members. Our behavior is still the best example for our kids.

Noreen Joslyn is a licensed independent social worker in the state of Ohio and is a member of the Academy of Certified Social Workers. She has a master's degree in Social Work, specializing in family and children, from the University of Pittsburgh. She is a psychiatric social worker in private practice with Ken DeLuca, Ph.D. & Associates, where she counsels parents and children.

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