Ask Joanne - Too Selfish Ten Year Old

What's your question about life as a parent? Our experienced life coach Joanne Mallon is here to help. Send your email in here and say if you'd like your name changed.

Saz writes:

My 10-year-old son behaves in the most selfish ways. He refuses to take part in any activities that he did not suggest. He will not do anything when asked, always with a reason such as a minute or when I have finished my game, tv programme etc. Even at dinner times, when called to the table, he replies, "I'll come when it's cooled down". I see this as very controlling and find it more than difficult not to become angry. Very ordinary situations are becoming minefields. He is not an only child, nor are we push-overs with behaviour. What can you suggest, Any ideas would be welcome?

Here's our life coach's reply:

Dear Saz

In a lot of ways he sounds pretty normal. Infuriating, frustrating, but all in all totally normal. You're not alone in this, and I bet if you talk to some of your son's friends' parents you'll hear a similar story.

The challenge for you as a parent is to keep calm. You've already proved that getting angry with him isn't working, as he's still behaving in the same way. So stop shouting and look for another approach.

I think children of this age block out their parents' requests to a certain extent. It all becomes so much 'blah blah blah' to them. Think about what sanctions or rewards will have meaning to him. For my ten-year-old, if she's had a good week we take a trip to the sweet shop on a Friday, so threatening to withdraw this tends to have an effect. She also hates being sent to bed earlier, so I have this up my sleeve when required. What incentive would make a difference to your son?

It will help your son if you can explain specifically what he needs to do and why. From his perspective, waiting till his dinner's cooled down makes perfect sense, especially if he's engaged in something more fun. Don't do this when you're engaged in a tussle, but pick a time when you're all calm.

When our children are playing up like this, the temptation can be to push them away, and the older a child gets the more they are expected to be independent anyway. But often the best course is to actually pull them closer. So to improve your relationship with your son, and his relationship with the wider family, make a point of spending one-to-one time together. It won't hurt to let him choose an activity once in a while – perhaps you could take turns at this.

Good luck and best wishes,


Are you the parent of a ten-year-old? How do you cope with challenging behaviour? Leave a comment below.