Our 4-year-old son is a minefield of destructive and inappropriate behavior. He throws things, picks paint off the walls and pounds toys and other things on the ground. When he gets mad at us, he pees on the floor, yells at us, eats the cat food and steals treats when he thinks we aren't looking. Due to a physical disability, I have a hard time getting up and down and moving around quick enough to keep up with him during these situations, and he knows it. How can we get him more under control?
At 4, many children become more of a handful, even if their behaviors up to that time have been, for the most part, manageable. They test everything to see what they can get away with, where the boundaries are and how far they can push them. Here are a few suggestions that may help get your son headed in the right behavioral direction:
- Give him structure. Sometimes, increased structure, such as what’s provided in a preschool setting, can help a child get his behavior under control. If you’re not sure where to start when looking for a preschool, contact the school he will be attending for kindergarten and ask if someone can recommend a preschool that can provide the structure he needs in order to prepare for kindergarten. Then work with your son on skills and behaviors he will need when he gets to preschool. The first and most important one is controlling his bodily functions.
- Take him to the doctor. Some of your son’s behaviors, such as peeing on the floor and eating cat food, fall outside normal misbehaviors. You may want to schedule an appointment with his pediatrician to make sure there are no medical causes for these behaviors. Let the doctor know what you are observing and ask for suggestions. On a practical level, after you feed the cat, put its food away so your son can’t reach it.
- Put dangerous items up high. Move breakable, heavy and glass items out of his reach so that he can’t hurt himself or damage them when he is angry.
- Reserve treats for rewards. Use treats to reward his good behavior. Or, consider not having them in the house at all. If you do that, you can give him a coupon for good behavior that he can use to “buy” a treat when you go to the store.
Be consistent and firm, yet loving with your son. With a little structure and a lot of patience, you can help him turn his behavior around and learn how to express his emotions in a more positive, peaceful and healthy way.
I have an out-of-control 11-year-old who refuses to do what we ask and always seems to do the opposite of what we tell him. He frequently argues, screams, yells and throws fits. How can we help him get his behavior under control?
It’s never too late to help a child change his behavior and gain control of his emotions. Expressing thoughts, feelings and ideas in a calm, controlled manner is an important social skill that all children need help learning. The key to helping an out-of-control child learn self control is providing clear and concise expectations and consistently enforcing those expectations every day. Sometimes, kids are dealing with a wide range of emotions and the only way they know how to express themselves is verbally, through yelling and screaming.
Children need to be raised with expectations, rules and consequences. It is natural for kids to test limits, which is why it is important to teach them right from wrong. It is never too late to set boundaries with children of any age. Here are four simple steps for establishing positive boundaries in your home:
- Come up with three to five basic household rules everyone (including parents) must abide by. These rules should be written down and everyone should sign the paper to indicate they understand and agree with them.
- Create a list of privileges that can be used as both positive and negative consequences (time outs or loss of privileges as negative consequences; a later bedtime or a special treat for positive consequences).
- Refuse to reason with your child when he is out of control. Don’t argue, stay calm and simply tell him he needs to go to the room that you have designated as his “calm down” place. Save the explanation of why his behavior is inappropriate for a later time, when he is calm and able to listen to you.
- Praise, praise, praise! Compliment your child when you catch him doing something good. Say things like "Good job!" or "I knew you could do it!" Praise guides kids to self-reliance and independence.
Remember, it will take time and a lot of patience before you see a change in your child's behavior, but your investment will be well worth it for everyone.
My 14-year-old son has recently developed a very troublesome attitude, which is new for him. For example, he recently called a female student bad names at school and refuses to follow instructions at home. How do I address this and discipline him in a positive way?
The teenage years are some of the most difficult to navigate. Keep communication open and talk with your teenager on a regular basis. We always encourage families to eat dinners together each night if possible; this time together is critical to good communication and healthy parent-child relationships. It's also a perfect time to reflect on the day, confront certain issues and discuss positive events. Your son has made some poor choices, but it's not uncommon for kids his age to test the limits and boundaries of others around them. It's also quite common for freshmen to try to fit in at school, and sometimes go to great lengths to be accepted or gain respect from upper classmen. Talk with your son about positive values like respecting others and how they shouldn’t be compromised just to fit in. Discuss what it means to be a follower and the strength it takes to be a leader.
Strongly encourage your son to make a personal apology to the girl he called bad names, either in person or in a letter. This will make him take accountability for his actions and help him understand how his actions affect others.
If he refuses to apologize, then take away his privileges until he does so. If his negative attitude and behavior continues, have him start working as a volunteer in your community. This is a good way to instill empathy, acceptance and giving back.
My 6- year-old son started first grade recently and is making bad choices when it comes to his friends. He’s started cursing because his new “friends” curse. How can we help him make good choices?
Start by giving your son consequences like time-out or losing certain privileges if he curses or uses other inappropriate behaviors at home. Then talk to your son’s teacher about a plan of action for when he displays unacceptable behaviors at school. Part of the plan may include:
- Having the teacher send home a daily note about his behavior (positive and negative) and any consequences he received.
- Giving him a consequence at home if he received one at school .
- Asking the teacher to have your son sit apart from negative peers and near the teacher in the classroom.
If your son is very energetic, make sure he is gets a lot of time to burn off that energy after school. Working hard to stay on task all day can be extremely tiring for little ones. He may not look tired when he is running around, but his mind is. Also try helping him practice good behavior at home. He'll probably think it is silly, but that's okay. For example, help him practice standing quietly in line and show him how to ignore others when they start talking. Role-plays like this will teach him how to use good behaviors and avoid bad ones.
My 12-year-old daughter has become very defiant. She refuses to do her homework or help out around the house and often screams at me. How can I get my daughter to listen to me and stop fighting with me?
Your daughter is testing you, and from what you have shared, she is winning.
There are times when parents need to go back to "square one." When you have some time alone, sit down and list your expectations for your daughter. Expectations could include doing chores around the house and using good social skills like asking for permission before making plans with friends. Another expectation could be calling to tell you where she is if she goes to a new place while she’s away from home.
Next, list privileges she can access by meeting your expectations. Privileges could be using the phone or computer, watching TV, playing video games or spending time with friends. If she does not meet your expectations, she will lose these privileges, perhaps one at a time. She cannot regain access to them until she demonstrates she can meet those very expectations that caused her to lose them.
If your daughter is behaving the way you described, she should have NO privileges until her behavior changes. If you feel this is something you can’t handle on your own, a professional counselor can help you implement this process in your home. Unless you take action now, your daughter’s behavior will most likely only get worse as she gets older.
My 6-year-old daughter is impossible to control. We’ve done all we can to try to manage her behaviors but nothing seems to work. She uses very bad language and states that she wants to kill herself. How can we get her under control?
When correcting harmful behavior in a child, it’s important to have very clear expectations and consistent and meaningful consequences when those expectations are not met. Addressing problem behavior early on is critical; while it takes more time up front, it will pay off in less resistance against established expectations as the child grows up.
That being said, your daughter’s comments about wanting to kill herself are very concerning and should not be ignored. At this young age, she should be monitored at all times. Even if she is in her room, you should check on her at least every 15 minutes. Even at age 6, she could put herself in danger if not monitored.
Communicate clear boundaries to your daughter and patiently yet firmly correct her when she crosses those boundaries. You also should seek help from a professional counselor to find out why your daughter is expressing a desire to harm herself.
My 7-year-old granddaughter refuses to use the bathroom. If my son or I ask her to go use the bathroom, she refuses and regularly messes herself. What can we do to help her?
When an older child suddenly struggles with potty issues, the first thing you should do is take the child to the pediatrician. A physical issue may be the reason for a change in bathroom habits. If the child continues to refuse to use the bathroom and continues to have accidents once any physiological issues have been addressed and treated, it’s possible that an emotional cause may be driving the physical behavior.
A professional counselor can help uncover the emotional root of the issue and help the child overcome any fears or anxieties that may be driving the behavior. A counselor can also help parents and children establish healthy bathroom routines. For your granddaughter’s health and emotional well-being, it’s best to get her to the doctor and a counselor, if necessary, as soon as possible.
My ex-husband’s mother is my daughter’s day care provider. My former mother-in-law does not treat my daughter like the rest of the kids she cares for. She favors her, giving her everything that she wants. This concerns me, especially since she is becoming a certified preschool teacher so she can teach my daughter. I would rather my daughter be in a preschool with other children so she can learn independence. I don’t know how to approach the subject with my ex-husband without starting a fight.
My daughter has also been throwing major temper tantrums, sometimes to the point where I cannot get her to calm down. When I put her in time-out, she will stay there but acts like she is trying to leave.
If your mother-in-law becomes certified, she will have to follow a strict preschool curriculum. In this structured environment, she will be less likely to display favoritism toward your daughter. The best you can do is research your preschool options, make an informed decision on what program would be best for your daughter and present this information to your ex-husband in a calm manner.
As far as the tantrums go, they are not unusual but need to be addressed. Your daughter needs to be taught a more acceptable way to act when she is feeling angry or frustrated. Putting her in time-out perhaps is being used as a way for her to calm down or as a negative consequence for inappropriate behavior. The differences between the two can sometimes be confused.
If she has a tantrum and is put in time-out to calm down, then she should have a separate consequence for the tantrum. Or once she is calm, she can sit in time-out quietly for three minutes as a consequence before she is allowed to return to playing.
Teaching her calming techniques should be the focus right now. One well-received technique for children her age is to have her hold up as many fingers as she has had birthdays. When she is angry, she blows on each finger and folds it down. This is referred to as “blowing out her birthday candles.”
Regulating a person’s breathing helps with emotions and has a calming effect. Getting her favorite blanket or stuffed toy to hold close is another calming technique that is effective with children her age. Teach her these techniques when she is calm, and practice them so she is familiar with them when she is upset.
My granddaughter is 6 years old and she lies. Is this just a phase or a preview of things to come? Is she just seeking attention?
Whether it is just a phase or a habit she is forming, her lying needs to be addressed as a negative behavior so she will learn that it is not acceptable. You and her parents need to stop this behavior from happening just as you would any other negative behavior.
Address it immediately when you see it happening by describing specifically what she is doing. Then issue a consequence for her engaging in this behavior. Follow up by teaching her an alternative, more acceptable behavior that you would like to see instead.
Our 3-year-old daughter throws items when we try to take them away from her. She then gets very angry. Is this normal, and how do we stop it?
The behavior you describe is indeed very normal, but that does not mean that it should not be corrected. You need to implement a two-prong plan. First, you need to issue a consequence for the inappropriate behavior. Then you need to teach a more appropriate behavior to replace the negative one. Take into consideration her age and developmental level when issuing consequences and substituting behaviors.
An interaction with a 3-year-old might sound like this:
“You just threw your toy. We don’t throw toys.” (You are naming the negative behavior so she knows what she has done is wrong.)
“No more toy,” or “Your toy is in time-out.” (This is the consequence for her inappropriate behavior. It is simple enough for her to understand.)
“We put toys away nicely.” (While saying this, show her what this desired behavior looks like by putting the toy away nicely.)
After the toy has been in time-out for a few minutes, have her accompany you to retrieve it from time-out. Then ask her to put the toy away nicely like you have just shown her. You will keep her attention if this interaction takes only a few minutes. Though brief and simple, you will most likely have to repeat this several times before she understands or complies. This, too, is normal. Be consistent with her. It will pay off.
If something is happening prior to the toy being removed, address that issue separately. If she is not following instructions and is losing the privilege of playing with the toy, then you will need to teach her how to follow instructions using the simple steps listed above.