Q&A: We Moved to a New Home and My Child is Acting Out

blockquote_bgMy 6 year old is literally out of control. You tell him not to do something and he does it anyways; you yell at him for something and he still does it. He keeps running and jumping onto our new $1,500 living room set; he leaves trash laying around; he is always being loud and he has peed on the wall/floor 6 times since moving into our house a month ago. I just spoke to him yesterday about his behavior and said if he keeps it up, we are going to end up out of this house with no place to go and he cannot bring any of his toys along or his dog and I was hoping that would have some effect on him but I woke up this morning to find he peed in his room.

My boyfriend is at his wits end; he said if my son does not start behaving, he is going to have to ask us to leave because he cannot have him peeing all over the house like an animal. My son has had a behavior problem for some time now but he has gotten worse since moving here and before this he had not peed on the floor/wall. My boyfriend does not want to hear anything I have to say about why he is misbehaving. I am thinking it may be because he is missing my parents. Up until now, we have lived with them his whole life or that he is lonely because he has nobody to play with or spend time with but my boyfriend refuses to consider any of that and says it is because my son thinks he runs the house and thinks he can get away with everything. I just took everything accept his bed and TV out of his room which I feel horrible about but what am I suppose to do and why is he acting like this?

It sounds like you have some realistic ideas as to why your son may be behaving the way he is right now. Moving for any young child is a MAJOR life transition and if your son lived with your parents for 6 years this is an even bigger transition for him than for other children going through the same ordeal. Keep in mind this little guy is 6, not 10 or 12 and a 6 year old does not have the coping mechanisms that older children or adults do, nor does he have the cognitive abilities or expressive speech abilities to tell you exactly how he feels right now so he is acting out his anger, frustration and perhaps even depression/loss. He may not even know exactly why he is behaving the way he is, other than it’s a way for him to cry out “I miss my grandparents, miss my old house, I miss my old room, I miss my old daily routine, this is all new and very confusing to me!”. I am sure you know how stressful moving is for you, so imagine how a 6 year old would feel? Moving is listed as one of the top life stressors for adults. Did you prepare your son beginning several months ahead of time for this move, or did you one day just suddenly move and uproot him from all he has known his entire life? Ideally, for such a transition you would have wanted to have begun with easing him into this transition in advance, reading books about moving, talking about moving, actively including him in the process of packing up his belongings and maybe making a few visits with him to the new house to show him where his room would be, etc.

Toileting accidents are one of the number one stress induced behaviors of moving for young children. Also, an increase in aggression, insomnia, not eating, thumb sucking, clinginess, headaches and belly aches, even lying and stealing can be side effects of a move. It can take a young child as long as 6 weeks to acclimate to a new home and/or school. Some behavior changes are expected in children no matter what the age, preschool through high school, when a move occurs.

My advice to you and especially your boyfriend is to have some patience and instead of yelling at your son, offer him extra support, extra individual attention and try to keep your daily routine as close to his old one as possible. Whenever he is doing what is expected of him, behaving well or not acting out lavish on the praise and tell him what a great job he is doing. You want him to be getting attention for anything positive he is doing and learn that he gets attention for good behaviors not for misbehaviors. This link talks about positive reinforcement.

Be sure he is definitely getting enough sleep and enough to eat, as tiredness and hunger will make his behaviors worse as well.

Right now, you and your boyfriend may be busy with unpacking boxes and getting your move completed and so much of your attention is going to things other than your son…he has learned that peeing on the wall & jumping on the furniture and yelling surely gets both of your attention..and even if you are yelling at him for these behaviors or taking things away from him, he’ll still go for this negative attention over none at all.

He may not need that TV in his room, but his toys are probably his only familiar security items at this time, so I wouldn’t recommend taking all those away. You can take a toy away if he throws it, that is a natural consequence of his action, but taking away a toy for other purposes probably will not have much meaning to him. Another logical consequence would be, if he spills his milk, you give him a rag and he cleans it up. So, also, if/when he pees on the floor, he can also help clean it up.

You might want to create a corner with pillows and soft cushions where he is allowed to jump (he may need to expend this energy), but reinforce that it is not acceptable to jump on the couches.

Since he is only 6, you probably have some idea of his toileting routine and he may still need reminded to go at times, so I would encourage thinking back to your days of potty training and start using a reward system for him. If a sticker chart will work use that (I don’t recommend using food), and go to the store with him and let him pick what kind of stickers he wants and explain to him gently that he is a big boy and needs to go in the potty like before and that it is not acceptable to pee on the wall or floor, but it is ok if he has an accident sometimes, it can happen. Make sure he is not afraid of your new bathroom or toilet at the new house, as you would surprised how many kids have fears of new or different toilets or ones that flush differently. He may even need to wear a pull up at night to avoid night accidents. Start by giving him a sticker each time he pees on the potty and you can decide how many stickers he needs to collect to receive a special reward or prize of your choosing (it has to be some reinforcing to HIM). You can also make behavior token jar, every time you catch him doing something good he can drop a token into his jar (but, if he does not complete a task or misbehaves a token is removed from his jar) and when he collects a set amount of tokens each week he gets a special reward. You can start him off with a few tokens for good measure.

Also, take time to talk to your son gently without judging him or scolding him. Validate his feelings by saying “You miss your grandparents don’t you? I do too, let’s plan to visit them on Saturday” or “This must be scary for you moving to a brand new house, tell me what you think about it”. Also calmly go over the rules for your new house, even writing them down and posting them on the fridge, perhaps referring back to the old house “Remember at grandma’s house you were not allowed to jump on the furniture? Well, you are not allowed to do that here either, each time you jump on the furniture I will have to take one token out of your jar.”

If your son is in kindergarten also speak to his teacher about ways to help him cope. If he is not in school, I would suggest finding a local playground to take him to so he can make new friends, attend story time at the local library or enroll him in a class that builds his self-esteem such as karate or a sport like soccer.

Remember, behaviors do not change overnight, so even if you implement these reward systems & changes you may not see a change overnight or even in a week. The key to changing behavior is consistency. Behaviors sometimes get worse before they get better when a new plan is put in place to deal with them.

If after a month you still have concerns about your son’s behavior and he is not settling into his new routine or his behaviors have become worse, you can look into visiting with a child psychologist for an evaluation to rule out any underlying behavioral issues.