"Children learn whatever you teach them, whether you've intended for them to learn it or not. "

"Anything for Attention and The Most Annoying Thing Ever"

Question

I have a seven year old boy who is a copycat. There are adults around him who clear their throat, so now he is clearing his throat. It has become a habit and when he gets mad, he exaggerates it sevenfold up to and including gagging. I told him today he must be sick and couldn't go go camp. He started crying saying he wasn't sick and he toned it down, but didn't stop (I sent him to camp for me). He does it in church because the preacher has dry mouth and he does it. I have to take him back in the baby room at times so he's not disruptive. I tell him to knock it off and he says he can't help it. I took him to the doctor--just to rule out tonsils and such and they said he is fine. It's anything for attention and the most annoying thing ever and I need it to stop. Please Help!

Answer

Thanks for reaching out to Parent Guru. You nailed my description of bad habits in your last sentence. “It’s anything for attention and the most annoying thing ever”. Additionally, you have pointed out another important facet when it comes to eliminating bad habits by stating “I need it to stop.” Right now, you are operating from the perspective of needing this to stop because you find it annoying. Your son, on the other hand, does not find it annoying and even though the attention he is getting from you for the constant clearing of his throat may seem negative, in his eyes he is still getting your attention and therefore, does not need it to stop. Bad attention is still attention. It’s time to up your game! You must change your response to motivate him to stop doing this.

First, it’s important for you to understand that YOU can’t make your son stop clearing his throat. In fact, it’s likely that the more you try to stop him or pay any amount of attention to him when he is clearing his throat the more he will do it. Upping your game in this situation means you must ignore; ignore; ignore! This is easier said than done but it’s what it is going to take. Whenever you hear your son clear his throat the first time, I would start with simply asking “Are you OK? Assuming he says yes and continues with this annoying noise then ignore it and give no further attention. If you find yourself tempted to verbally respond, which is not ignoring, the next step is to send him to the bathroom with a glass of water. Tell him it’s not good manners to make this noise in the presence of others and that “the doctor” said anytime you do this you must go to the bathroom with a glass of water until he stops. You can also send him to his room, but the bathroom is far less entertaining of a place to hang out. I also like the bathroom because you can continue to do this when at church or out in public since there is generally a bathroom just about everywhere you go. Be it the bathroom or his room, the whole point of this is to remove any and all attention he is getting for clearing his throat. When he stops, he can come out but as soon as he starts up again, send him right back to his room or the bathroom. No second chances or counting 1, 2, 3. Immediately tell him or quietly walk him back to the room of your choice and remind him this is where the doctor says he must stay until he is finished clearing his throat. Keep calm and cool and keep your emotions out of it. Refrain from making threats of any kind either. If you know that you need him to go to camp for your own sanity, then don’t threaten to not let him go. However, it’s noteworthy to point out that he was motivated by the idea of not going to camp so if you wanted to use that as a motivator then you would need to be able to follow through, keep him home, and I suggest having him spend the day in his room.

Kids crave attention and will do anything for it. Kids are also weird and are natural-born copycats. After all, copying parents, grandparents, teachers, and others is how they learn and sometimes it leads to learning bad habits. Right now, your son is getting tons of attention for copying a normal behavior he sees many adults doing, but he is doing it in a way that is causing him to display bad manners and be unpleasant to be around. Raising well-mannered kids who are pleasant to be around is fundamentally the most important job we have as parents. I suspect once your son realizes clearing his throat is no longer getting him extra attention and he is having to miss out on things by being sent to his room or the bathroom he will be motivated to stop. Let us know how it goes!

Lisa Woodman
Certified Leadership Parenting Coach
coachingbythecup@gmail.com

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