My four year-old son hits others. When I tell him to stop he yells at me saying that he doesn’t have to do what I tell him to do. Sometimes, he will run away from me into his uncle’s room. How can I help him change his behavior?
There's reason behind every behavior. At four years-old, your son is still testing boundaries and exploring his surroundings. When he hits it's important that you act on the unwanted behavior immediately after it happens. For example, take his hand and say "no, we don't hit" and then explain that hitting is wrong because it hurts others. It may take several repetitions before he actually understands what you are trying to teach him. His ability to comprehend and make sense of things is much different compared to that of a teenager or an adult.
Effectively utilizing consequences can be a helpful way to change unwanted behavior. Consequences can be positive and negative. A positive consequence, like more playtime or a treat, increases the chances of a behavior happening. A negative consequence, like a time out, decreases the chances of a behavior happening again.
When administering consequences it's important to keep four things in mind:
- Keep it important to the child (a special toy or book)
- Make it immediate (directly following the unwanted/wanted behavior)
- Keep it appropriate (not too big and not too small)
- Make it relate to your child's behavior (if he hits with a toy, take the toy away)
It sounds like just telling him isn't working, so now is the time to try something new. If he is not supposed to talk back and if he's not supposed to go into his uncle's room then those are both unwanted behaviors and appropriate consequences need to be applied. Be consistent. If you stick with your new routine, his behavior should change.
My four year-old has slapped his teacher, kicked her, doesn't listen when she instructs him to pick up his toys, and has even called her stupid. He is a sweet little boy half of the time, but the other half of the time you never know what you are going to get. I have tried tactics for positive and negative behavior. I feel completely lost with him. What can I do to change his behavior?
Parenting young children can be the most frustrating thing you ever do in your life. However, it also is the most important thing you will ever do. Helping them form their behaviors, their boundaries and their ability to get along in this world is invaluable. All of our children have unique and individual emotional makeup that forms their personalities.
If you have not had his pediatrician check him over with the specific goal in mind of ruling out physical issues that might be affecting his behavior, do so to make sure there is not a contributing medical cause. If that is eliminated, then we encourage you to look into some possible programs that work specifically with young children who have continued to fail in spite of different approaches to modify their behaviors. Your frustration level, his and his teacher's are not making things better. In fact it is more difficult for all of us to control our behaviors when we are frustrated.
My 1-year-old boy is getting very aggressive. He hits, bites, head-butts, throws things and pulls hair. He also throws food to the dog when eating. He yells a lot when he talks. He gets in to everything even after you tell him not to touch something. I try diverting him with a toy, but he’s right back messing with what he shouldn’t be. He also throws himself on the floor when he can’t do what he wants. I’ve tried timeouts, distracting, showing how it should be and ignoring him in certain situations. I really need some advice.
Once we learn how to do something, it can be hard to think back to when we didn't know how to do it. When you were a little person, did you instinctively know how to ride a bike or write in cursive? No, we are taught how to do it, and this same principal needs to be in place with your 1-year-old.
Your son is beginning to realize that his is an actual person. His language is developing, and he’s starting to walk which leads to wanting more independence. He’s also entering a phase of exploring the world around him. Your son's behaviors are normal. We might see them as aggressive, but this is part of his development. He may be discovering he can have an impact on things around him. What an amazing revelation! It's all new to him, and the only way he’ll learn if a behavior is good or bad depends on you to constantly remind him.
When it comes to "disciplining" or teaching a one-year-old, it's difficult because they don't understand what you're trying to do. Timeout is not appropriate for his level of development. Instead, when he hits, take his hand and firmly tell him "no." When he bites, grab the place he bit and tell him "ow, no." Instead of thinking of your response as "distracting" him, try to think of it as redirecting him to a more positive behavior. If he takes a toy and hits someone with it, tell him "no" and show him how to use the toy appropriately. If he repeats this behavior, tell him "no" and try putting the toy in timeout and then let him try again. You may have to repeat this several times.
Continue this so he can start to piece together the sequence of events. Understand that it may take him more than one day to understand that he's not supposed to do this. Stay consistent and only show praise and attention when you want the chances of a behavior to increase.
I am having a very hard time with my 6-year-old son. He is very defiant, throws huge tantrums and can get very physical over simple things. One of my biggest struggles is trying to get him to go to school. It is such a battle, and it exhausts me. He yells, screams, cries, refuses to get dressed, refuses to leave the house and has refused to get out of the car. He is doing very well in his class and gets along with everyone. I have tried grounding, spanking, timeouts, taking things away, threats, you name it. I have given in, given up, yelled, begged, pleaded, prayed. We will have a few good days, and then it is back to the bad again. My husband is in the Army, so he is not always able to come home to help me. We have talked to a counselor who gave some advice that just did not work. I feel like this will never end. I don't know what to do anymore.
Sometimes we go through some really tough times and different tribulations before we find the right thing that works for us. You have given us lots of examples of things you have tried in the past, but we just need to find out what works for your son. When you went to see a counselor, what types of suggestions did they make? From what you described, you use negative consequences. Negative consequences are utilized to make a certain behavior decrease. This doesn't seem to be working on its own, and I'm sure it's only left you feeling more frustrated. In order to see change, you need to change the way that you are approaching this topic.
When it comes to consequences, there are negative and positive consequences. Unlike negative consequences, a positive consequence will increase the chance of a behavior happening. If you haven't tried so, we encourage you to switch focus and start to reward good behavior. To a child, any attention is better than no attention at all. If your son is making the connection that he gets attention from you only when he's bad, he’s likely to continue such behavior.
Examples of positive consequences could include story time with you, special projects that you two work on together, picking what is made for dinner, getting to play a favorite game or being in charge of selecting the movie for a family night. Start with small goals that give him more immediate reinforcement. If he has a good day, he receives a sticker. At the end of the week if he has the predetermined number of stickers agreed upon, he’ll be rewarded with something he wants. We want to avoid being redundant because we certainly don't want to increase your frustration with things you have already tried. Let us know how it goes.
My 12-year-old stepson and I are having trouble coming to terms over his interest in insects. His father’s work keeps him away for weeks at a time, and his biological mother is not involved in his life. I spend more time with him than anyone else. I despise most insects. He brings black widows, ants, termites and other bugs into the home all the time. I have grandchildren who visit frequently and don’t want someone to get bit. There are other behavioral issues going on with my stepson (problems in school, not listening, not following instructions, hitting other kids, anger management, talking back to adults and telling lies). Unfortunately, my husband and I have been unsuccessful getting help to deal with these issues. What can you recommend on how to deal with the insect issue immediately?
There are multiple issues going on with this young man as you described. First of all he is noncompliant as evidenced by his continuing to bring insects into your home after he has been asked not to. Have there been consequences as a result of his behaviors? If he can break rules and not experience any negative consequences, it will only reinforce the defiant behavior.
Behavioral therapists are very effective in helping young people learn to follow instructions, and may be able to help your stepson. You may want to talk with his father about accessing those services.
Now for an immediate resolution to the insect issue. Give your stepson at least two reasons why it is important to respect and follow your rule about not bringing bugs into the house. Then let him know what the negative consequences will be if this rule is broken, and perhaps what the positive consequence will be if he obeys the rule.
My 14-year-old son has many anger issues, has been diagnosed with ADHD and ODD, yells constantly, cuts himself and burns things in his room. He sees a psychiatrist monthly but still has deep anger issues with his father, whom I divorced years ago. I want to help my son. Where do I go for help?
We want to make sure you, your son, and everyone else in the home is safe at all times. The first thing you may want to do is create a safety plan with phone numbers and safe locations in the home. Due to your son's aggressive and dangerous behaviors, if you have other children, they will want to know exactly what to do if an unsafe situation occurs. Once you see a threat occurring, you should be able to say one word that initiates the safety plan.
If your son is unable to keep himself or anyone else safe in your home, you need to call the police immediately. We know this can be scary, and most parents don't want to have to do this, but you can't risk someone getting hurt. Unsafe behaviors such as cutting, suicidal statements or threats, aggressive behaviors towards others or property are not okay and should not be tolerated in your home.
Being diagnosed with ADHD and ODD is a difficult combination. These two disorders cause a lot of defiant behaviors. You mentioned your son sees a psychiatrist once a month which is great, but unfortunately it's probably not enough. Our guess is that your son is struggling applying basic social skills like following instructions, accepting decisions and showing respect. Find a therapist who will work with your son on a weekly (if not more) basis.
We can only imagine how difficult this situation must be for you. We want you to know that our counselors are available 24/7 if you have any questions or just need to vent. We talk to parents every day going through similar situations, and we are here to listen and help.
My 7-year-old son has had behavioral issues since he was about one-year-old. When he was a toddler, he was kicked out of seven daycares for biting, hitting and throwing things at others. My husband and I have two other small children under two years, and my son is generally very good with his siblings, but I am worried about having him around them after the events that took place a few days ago. He has been diagnosed with Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) and is on three different medications. He goes to an alternative school because he was suspended more than 20 times in kindergarten for hitting, throwing objects, swearing and punching people. Since moving to an alternative school in first grade, he has been doing better overall, but once in a while will ‘explode.’
The other night my son lost control completely. He stormed into his room and started throwing and breaking things. I went in there to talk to him, and he tackled me and started pulling my hair and kicking me. He then grabbed my phone that had fallen on the floor and began hitting me over the head with it. I sat on top of him and held down his hands to try to get him to calm down. He then began calling me terrible names. I called my husband to come home from work. My son continued yelling and hitting me. My neighbor came over after my husband had called her and took our two younger children to her house for a while. I went in to my son’s room to tell him to pick it up, and he took his shoes off and threw them at me and tackled me again, ripping at my hair and clawing at me. I walked out and called my dad to calm me down because I didn't know what to do or how to react. My son continued yelling saying that I should sell him, that he didn’t want to live with me anymore and that he wished someone would poison him and that he wanted to hang himself. I have never seen this extreme behavior from my son before. I don't know what to do. He needs help and fast! He can still learn new ways, but I am afraid for myself and other children.
Thank you for contacting us with your parenting concern. Parenting is never easy, especially when you have a child with very unique and difficult behaviors such as your son.
You are completely right in stating your son is able to learn new positive behaviors to replace the existing negative behaviors. It sounds like your son has a lot of things going on right now; however, the most alarming is his violent and aggressive behaviors toward you.
First of all, we really want to praise you in being able to momentarily remove yourself from the situation and call your husband and then your dad. In situations like this, it can be really hard to think clearly on what to do next. You did the right thing by giving yourself a timeout to reach for assistance in gathering your thoughts.
Whenever children become aggressive to others, we always encourage parents to call the police. Not only does this ensure the safety of others in the home, but also your son’s safety. Often police will come to the house and say there’s not much they can do, especially given his age. However, they will assist you in de-escalating in the situation and will give a stern talking to your son. Many children respect police officers and are more likely to comply in the future if they know you’re going to call the police again. In addition, this creates a paper trail and will record the amount of times that you’ve had to reach out for assistance due to your son’s out-of-control behaviors.
If you are unable to maintain your son’s safety and he is posing a threat to himself or anyone else in the home, we encourage you to take him to the closest emergency room. There he will be evaluated and his safety to himself and others will be assessed. If you can’t physically get him to the hospital because of his aggressiveness, the police can escort him to the hospital.
You mentioned that your son was prescribed with three different medications. Were they prescribed by his pediatrician or a psychiatrist? We recommend children on psychotropic medications be seen by a psychiatrist as they specialize in medication management and mental health disorders. Have you been able to identify any progress with these medications? It’s essential that you keep ongoing communication with the doctor who prescribed these medications. We would also suggest individual therapy and also family therapy. Medications work most effectively when they are paired with some form of therapy. Also, in therapy your son can learn new ways of dealing with his emotions (specifically his anger). Therapy can also help you can learn new ways to respond and parent to his specific behaviors.
We’d like to continue to offer you support in any way we can. If you need assistance locating a mental health professional in your area, let us know your city and state, and we can offer you referrals in your community. We’re only a phone call away if you’d like to discuss specific behaviors or just need someone to talk to. If you feel more comfortable with email, please continue emailing us.
Our 8-year old son is a good student and receives rave reviews at school, but at home he's extremely disrespectful and refuses to listen and follow directions. He has always been challenging, but lately he's become very disrespectful and throws tantrums when he doesn't get his way. During these tantrums, he will sometimes hit his sister, me, or the family cat. He also throws toys, slams doors and tears apart his bedroom. His father and I have been trying everything from taking away toys to spankings and timeouts. Last night we removed all the toys from his room, but he laughed at us and said that he would just get more for Christmas. My husband lost it and told him that no one would be giving him any presents and he emailed all of our family and told them to return any presents they bought for our son. I know we have to follow through, but I fear this is going to make for a terrible holiday and even more trouble to come. I fear we've ‘babied’ him too long, and now his behavior is getting completely out of hand. Do you have any advice? Should we take him to a counselor? We're very frustrated and tired of dealing with his outbursts.
Thanks for contacting us for help with your son's behaviors. Tantrums are often a result of a young child's inability to express his feelings of frustration or anger. It is closely connected to his verbal communication development.
When age and development are not the issue, and the tantrums become aggressive, resulting in injury or discomfort to another person, and include hitting, name-calling, yelling and damage to property, it is sometimes advisable to seek professional help. Pediatricians, therapists, counselors and psychologists are appropriate individuals to contact.
The situation you described with your husband losing his cool and deciding that your son would not receive any gifts at Christmas was a decision made out of anger; unfortunately your son was in control of his father's emotions at that point in time.
If your son verbalizes that he is sorry for his behaviors and demonstrates that by being helpful, sensitive and respectful, you may want to consider providing him with a gift to reinforce the change in his behaviors. That gift should be a piece of clothing or something he could use to calm himself when he gets upset such as a journal that he could use to express his anger with words on paper.
While your son needs teaching in many areas, learning to control his anger is the most critical issue. At a neutral time when he is calm, talk with him about his out-of-control behaviors and what he should put in their place. Have him spend time practicing calming techniques at neutral times when he is not upset. Give him scenarios that in the past have set him off, but ask that he show you what he can do instead of the out-of-control behaviors he has used in the past.
Good luck and let us know if there is anything else we can do to help.
I have a 3-year-old and a 2-year old who are exact opposites. My 3-year-old screams all the time, never listens and only sleeps about six hours a night. It’s hard for me to get her to eat and all she seems to want to do is watch TV. My 2-year-old, on the other hand, does whatever she’s told and listens very well. You would never think they had the same parents. How do I get my 3-year-old to calm down and stop misbehaving? I have already tried everything my doctor suggested.
Thank you for reaching out to us. We're sorry to hear that you're having a hard time with your 3-year-old. You're not alone in dealing with these kinds of problems. Sometimes just knowing that other parents are experiencing similar struggles can provide some relief.
I'm not sure what your doctor has already suggested, but there are definite strategies you can try and specific things to look for when trying to redirect negative behavior.
Many times there are little red flags signaling that a child is about to throw a temper tantrum. These signs include being overtired and rubbing eyes, being hungry or even bored. If you spot these signs, you might be able to avoid the tantrum by redirecting her behavior before it erupts. Ask your daughter if she’s tired or hungry and praise her good behavior often (even if small). Give your daughter plenty of reminders and realize that children tend to learn best through repetition with a consistent parenting style.
It’s normal to feel overwhelmed when it comes to repeating yourself, but it’s a crucial part of your daughter’s development. One of the most important teaching opportunities for parents comes with modeling. During a tantrum, it's best to give her space and ignore her behavior completely. When delivering consequences to your child, make sure the consequence is effective, is applied immediately after the tantrum has stopped, is appropriate and relates to the child's behavior. If you use the same consequences all the time, eventually the consequence will become ineffective.
In addition to negative consequences like timeouts, enforce positive consequences like making your daughter "redo" her bad behavior in the appropriate manner. If she refuses to share, talk to her, and have her go back to her sister and share the toy. You will need to demonstrate and model the correct behavior for her, and allow her plenty of practice. Explain briefly to your daughter why it's important to do the correct behavior and not the bad one. After she practices it, give her lots of praise and affection.
You could even start a reward system that focuses on family time and fun activities like going to the zoo or park instead of toys or TV time. Your daughter’s behavior will improve with positive reinforcement, support and lots of practice.
For more ideas, read Common Sense Parenting of Toddlers and Pre Schoolers by Ray Burke and Bridget Barnes and 1-2-3 Magic: Effective Discipline for Children 2-12 (3rd Edition) by Thomas W. Phelan, Ph.D.
Good luck with this and please let us know if you need more help.
I am a single parent who desperately needs help for my son. Since he entered high school a year ago I have seen a decline in his academic performance. He stays out late and sometimes doesn't come home at all. He is smoking marijuana and is affiliated with a gang. He has stolen money from me and damaged property in our home. I have tried everything I know to try to help. I have a strong faith in God and I am praying for him but he needs intervention.
Thank you for reaching out to us for help with your son. Things get a lot more difficult once a child realizes that he can leave the home and survive without you.
Ultimately, this situation requires you to refuse to be a victim. You need to be just as tough and sharp as he is. Protect yourself from being stolen from or manipulated. Since he is still young you definitely have a chance to break him out of this pattern, but your will must be stronger than his.
While he is still living with you, start thinking about the things that you control that he wants. If you control a phone, an activity that he wants to do, money that he wants for entertainment, these things are all tools that you can use to manipulate him into cooperating. If he is a gang member, though, it's likely that he can get all of these things from the gang, so keep that in mind.
Enlist as much support from others as you can. Ask uncles, grandfathers, older cousins, school counselors, therapists, coaches and even other fathers to spend quality time with him. Time and communication are your greatest tools against his gang affiliation. Find ways to keep him spending time with healthy people, and do what you can to keep him from communicating with the gang. Think of the gang as the real addiction, not the drugs.
You'll need to replace the gang with a new support system of strong people. What he wants is to belong and to feel like he has some control in his life. You can't give him everything, but you can point him in the right direction.
If you contact us with specifics about your city and state, we can look for some local programs to help you out.