Dear Doctor, 

I never thought our two children were badly behaved until now. The oldest is 10, and he told me the other night to “shut up” when I said it was time for bed. It wasn’t a joke. He meant it. I was so upset I went into the bathroom because I didn’t want him to see me cry. We love our children and want them to grow up to be decent people. What are we doing wrong to have him talk to me like that?

Crushed

Dear Crushed,

You are tolerating it. The last thing you want to be is wounded to the extent you cry alone.

The problem is discipline. It is never too late to become a better disciplinarian, even during these difficult times. Begin by understanding the word means “pupil” in Latin. You are a teacher. The moment he told you to “shut up” was a teachable one.

Here are some hints to improve your discipline skills as a parent — all too few for a short column, but here goes.

Do not talk too much. Many parents drone on and on with editorials. Avoid saying things like, “Why, if I had ever said that to my mother ....”

Master the skill of logical consequences. For example, you might have given him two choices: “You may immediately apologize for that comment or go to your room until it occurs to you how unkind that was.” Google psychiatrist Rudolf Dreikurs, who wrote the best material I have ever known on the topic.

Be consistent. Without fail, respond to negative behavior and also reinforce the positive.

Learn to listen. There are times when your understanding of the situation is vital. Be available to hear what is happening.

Model the behavior yourself. If you are yelling and out of control, do not expect your children to be otherwise.

Shape the positive traits. For example, your son’s mouth betrays a lad who has grit and will develop into someone with values. Shape them. Try telling him, “I will listen to your opinion, but I will not respond to your rude comment.”

Remember, teach, teach, teach — or be prepared when he reaches 15, because you haven’t heard anything yet!

Dr. Larry Larsen is an Andover psychologist. If you would like to ask a question, or respond to one, email him at lrryllrsn@CS.com.

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