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.
My 4-year-old gets very upset when I correct her. She asks, "Are you mad?" I answer with "Yes." Then she says, "Do you still love me?" I reassure her I love her and will always love her, but she has trouble separating love and discipline.
It’s easy to give up on enforcing your expectations and boundaries when a toddler questions your love. But you can correct and encourage positive behavior and maintain a healthy loving relationship with your child. Here are some simple guidelines:
- Frequently tell your daughter you love her throughout the day.
- Instead of telling her you are "mad" when she misbehaves, specifically describe the problem behavior and specifically describe the positive behavior that you want her to use. This is a teaching response rather than a personal response to her behavior. By simply describing behaviors (positive and negative), you avoid making the situation one that is personal. When you tell your daughter you are angry, it makes the situation personal and this is why she may question whether you love her.
- Let your daughter know that you love her, but that you do not like her behavior.
- When she displays acceptable behavior, lavish her with praise.
By consistently practicing these strategies, you can help your child understand that discipline, and not the absence of it, is a solid sign of your love for her
My 3-year-old is driving me nuts and breaking my heart! If he doesn't get his way, he becomes extremely fussy and very clingy. When I tell him to do something he doesn’t like to do, he tells me he hates me and that he’s not my friend anymore. How can I get him to respect me and treat me better?
They call them the “terrible twos,” but bad behaviors are frequently displayed by 3-year-olds and 4-year-olds, too. At these ages, children whine, ignore and throw tantrums for a variety of reasons. Here are a few:
- They are over-tired. Approach: At this age, most children still are taking a nap during the day. If you’ve already dropped naptime or your child is simply not a napper, consider setting an earlier bedtime. A 3- to 4-year-old still needs about 12 hours of sleep each night. Everyone gets grumpy or groggy when they are tired or sleep deprived.
- They do not want to stop the activity they are doing. Approach: Sometimes, youngsters just do not want to put down a fun activity or stop what they are doing. Give your child a one-minute warning when you know he will need to put away toys or stop what he is doing. Have him stop and look you in the eye when you give the warning. Then have him repeat your request; for example, "Yes, I will pick up the toys." He gets fair warning, and you know he heard your request.
- They want attention and will misbehave to get it. Approach: Some kids will purposely act out or disobey just to get a parent's attention, even if they get a stern look or raised voice. They just want to remind you that they are there, too. Try picking a time of day when just you and your 3-year-old can do a fun activity together.
- They have not been taught or disciplined on how to act or react to a parental request. Approach: Discipline is more than just giving a consequence; it also involves teaching your child what behaviors you expect from him. For example, teach him how to get your attention appropriately by saying, "Excuse me mom," tapping you on the leg and waiting quietly until you can stop what you’re doing and listen to him. Practice this and other skills with him and make it a game. When he uses a skill, give him positive praise. When he doesn’t, say, "You need to use the words we talked about and not whine so I can hear you." Again, you are teaching him what you expect and not caving into whining.
- Issue: They are sick. Approach: When your child is acting out of sorts, it could be that he is coming down with something. Check him out physically or consult with a physician if necessary.
Being calm and consistent will go a long way toward changing your child’s behavior. If you show your anger, your son’s negative behavior will most likely escalate. Getting angry will send the message that if you can “throw a fit” when you are frustrated, he can too. Also, as your son gets older and develops more language skills, he will be more likely to use words than actions to express himself.
If you are looking for more advice on dealing with the “terrible twos” (and threes), check out Help! There’s a Toddler in The House! from Boys Town.
All my 7-year-old son wants to do is play his Wii or play on our Smartphones. When his allotted playing time is over and I try to make him do something else, he melts down. How can I limit his time with electronic games and gadgets and help him understand why I’m doing it?
As a parent, you should establish consistent, specific rules and time limits that govern how your children interact with technology, especially video games, Smartphones, computers and TVs. Technology is good but can be harmful to children if they are allowed to overuse it. Setting limits on the time and places your children can use technology for pure entertainment or pleasure is one of the most loving things you can do as a parent. Since your son is throwing temper tantrums whenever you take the Wii away from him, you should continue to consistently enforce the limits you set and explain to him why they are necessary. Over time, you should see his tantrums become less frequent and less intense. Here are a few limits we recommend:
- Cell phone games can be played only when a parent does not need the Smartphone
- One hour of TV per weekday and two hours of TV per weekend day
- No Wii at all during the school week and two hours of Wii per weekend day
- Computer is used only for school work during the week and can be used to play computer games for one hour per weekend day
Model reasonable use of technology for your son by making sure you’re not constantly plugged in to something, too. You can also plan family activities such as playing a board game together or going on an outing. When kids spend too much time with technology, it cuts in to the physical activity they need, interferes with conversation time, discourages reading time, encourages a demand for material possessions and can affect schoolwork.
If your son begins telling you that he’s bored when he can’t play Wii, create a “bored” jar filled with slips of paper that have small tasks or activities written on them. Each time your son says he is bored, have him take a slip of paper from the jar. Tasks or activities can include reading for 20 minutes, taking out the trash, drawing a picture, playing outside and others.
Remember to set limits that make sense for your family and be consistent. As your family does more things together and fewer things individually, you’ll find your relationships growing stronger than your Internet signal has ever been.
How do I teach and discipline my hyperactive 4-year-old son without breaking his spirit or making him resent me?
Many young children are hyperactive and struggle with listening, staying on task and focusing. You can help your son most with focused, intentional conversation techniques.
Talk to him in a very specific way.
Whenever you speak to him:
- Make sure the two of you are looking at one another.
- Get on the same level.
- Use a normal voice tone.
- Remove any and all distractions (e.g., turn off the TV, put down the video game controller, move the food aside).
When you are asking your son to do something, make sure you are clear and specific. At some point, demonstrate for him what you want him to do and have him repeat the task so you know he is capable of doing it.
Look for opportunities to praise him.
This will get his attention and improve his listening skills. Look for praiseworthy actions in three areas:
- Things he already does well and you want him to continue.
- Small improvements in the right direction.
- Attempts to do something new.
When praising him, make sure you:
- Show your approval with encouraging phrases like “Great job!” and “You did it!”
- Describe what he did well.
- Give him a reason to continue to do it that way.
- Reward him with a hug, a high-five or even a smile.
Our child throws tantrums when it’s time to take a shower. The behavior escalates from whining and stomping to full-blown, on-the-floor kicking and screaming. Nothing we’ve tried has worked: time-outs, getting angry, giving a 5-minute warning that it’s shower time, praising him after he does shower, etc. We have asked our child to count to 10, take deep breaths and write in an "angry journal" whenever he gets upset, but the tantrums continue. How can we get our child to shower without throwing a tantrum?
Your child's behavior has to be very frustrating and concerning. The key is to stay calm and keep parenting. Here are a few tips on how to make shower time less painful and more productive for everyone.
Tip #1 – Talk to Your Child About It
Talk openly with your child about what he thinks is so unappealing about showering. Ask if your child would feel more comfortable taking a bath. Buy some colored soaps and bath toys to make bathing time more enjoyable. If you want to stay with showers, then it is important to establish a routine and stick to it.
Tip #2 – Establish a Bathing Routine
Personal cleanliness is an important habit every child should develop. Good habits start with consistent routines. Follow these steps to establish a bathing routine for your child:
- Give a verbal prompt that shower time is approaching.
- Tell your child EXACTLY what he or she needs to do in the shower (i.e., turn on the water, test the temperature and adjust if necessary, wash from head to toe, dry off completely, get dressed, brush hair and teeth, put away dirty clothes).
Tip #3 – Tell Your Child What’s Okay and What’s Not
Discuss with your child what he can and can’t do during bath/shower time. Tell him exactly what behaviors (like tantrums, screaming, kicking, ignoring, etc.) are not okay. Decide beforehand what consequences you’ll give for bad behavior and tell your child what they are. Be consistent and do not allow your child not to bathe.
Tip #4 – Create a “Behavior Chart” and Reward Good Behavior with a “Joy Jar”
This builds in some immediate consequences for positive behavior. If your child showers without any problems, you could let him stay up 15 minutes later that night. (If he throws a tantrum, he could go to bed right after showering.) Determine what positive reward works best for your child and use it immediately after the shower. Give positive praise when your child showers well. Be specific and praise your child often. In addition to immediate consequences, families like to use a chart to document positive behavior. You can also add other items, such as chores, to the chart. Your child can help create the chart by writing chores/behaviors on it. Let him pick out stickers for the chart, and give a larger reward when he has good behavior for a certain amount of time. Some families use a "Joy Jar" for positive consequences. Have your child write down a variety of rewards on pieces of paper and put them in a jar. Then, when he earns a positive consequence for good behavior, have him draw one piece of paper for his reward. Rewards don’t have to be expensive; they can include things like time with an adult, a trip to the library and choosing a favorite meal.
My 3- year-old daughter started playing “doctor” at pre-school and has gotten in trouble for taking her clothes off with another boy. She does this only at school and not at home. What can we do to teach her that this is inappropriate behavior?
At this age, your daughter's behaviors are likely modeling something she has seen on TV. Typically, a child her age does not "play doctor" unless someone else has introduced that to her.
Tell her that her "private parts" are anything her swim suit covers, and that "private" means no one is to touch or look at those parts but her, Mommy and Daddy, and the doctor. Most importantly, tell her that she should let you know immediately if anyone touches or tried to touch her private parts. She also should learn that is inappropriate to look at or touch someone else's "private parts." If that happens, she should tell you right away.
It is not enough to have this talk with your daughter once. It should occur daily, then happen weekly or monthly as she gets older. The world is full of sexual predators and it is your responsibility to do everything you can as a parent to protect your child and teach her how to stay safe.
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.
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.
My 3-year-old son is having difficulty adjusting to the birth of his baby sister, who is 3 weeks old. He is very physical and is having frequent tantrums. His preschool teachers say he is more aggressive at school and is engaging in attention-seeking behavior. What can we do as parents to help him?
Do not ignore his new behaviors – address them like you would have before his sister was born. To help him adjust to his new sibling, focus on his role as the big brother. Point out what is “cool” about being the big brother and engage him in tasks that involve caring for his little sister.
Perhaps he can hand you a diaper when needed or help tuck his sister in bed. Give him jobs that only a big brother can do. Make him feel needed and important to the family.
While it may be difficult, share some one-on-one time with your son. Can Grandma and Grandpa babysit your daughter for an hour so you and your son can do something together? This will help reinforce that you still love him. He needs your attention, as hard as that may be right now.