L: James, you mentioned accountability. Creating a culture of accountability. What does that mean? Can you explain that and how, what it means to parents and kids.
J: First of all, when we start with accountability, one of the things that I talk to teachers and parents about is creating a culture of accountability. And that culture of accountability occurs between two people. So when we talk about what’s on TV, what they’re learning in the movies, what their video games is, that, that’s fine. But the culture of accountability comes with, this is how I’m gonna talk to you and this is how you have to talk to me. This is what I’m gonna expect of you and this is what you can expect of me. That’s very clearly learned out. That you’re accountable for the way you talk to me and treat me. You’re accountable for your responsibilities and you can expect me to take responsibility to be accountable for my responsibilities. I’m gonna pay the rent, I’m gonna have food on the table, I’m gonna make sure that we have a place to live. You have to talk to me appropriately, you have to do your schoolwork and you have to learn how to solve life’s problems without hurting other people.
MG: I think it’s important to note James that a culture of accountability isn’t just a parent child thing. We even as adults need to be accountable; we are accountable every day to someone.
J: That’s right, well, I don’t think people are accountable to a culture. I think that that develops between people. Between individual people and groups. So even personal relationships and work relationships.
J: Work. I’m accountable to that job. I’m accountable to my role in that business. I’m accountable to that business. They’re gonna pay me, that’s what I expect of them, they expect me to do the role that they defined for me. They also expect me to do it with some quality and some efficiency.
MG: So as a parent, what you’re setting your child up for by expecting him to be accountable to you is the whole mindset that you will always be accountable to someone. This is a coping skill. This is a problem solving skill you have to learn.
J: Absolutely. Look, when you hold your child accountable, when you develop that culture of accountability, you as a parent have a responsibility to teach that child to acquire the skills he’s gonna need to be able to be accountable. People who can’t be accountable for their homework disrespect other people. People who can’t be accountable for their behavior turn it around and challenge you and act out. So when you’re having a culture of accountability, there’s a two–way thing. I expect you to do the right thing and you can expect me to teach you how to do the right thing.
MG: So my job as a parent then is to set specific standards, to set specific goals, to set attainable landmarks that a child can say, if I do this, I become accountable. If I do this, I’m behaving responsibly.
J: Yeah, it’s not only setting goals. It’s giving the skills to reach the goal. So let’s say I’m a parent and my goal is that you’re gonna sink five throws from the free throw line in basketball out of ten. Well I just can’t put you up there with a ball and tell you do it, that’s my goal. I’ve gotta show you how to do it. I’ve gotta show you how you place your feet, how you place your arms. How you propel the ball. I’ve gotta spend some time practicing with you. I’ve gotta show you how to do these things and I’ve gotta practice them. So it’s not setting the goals, it’s giving the kid the skills. Acquiring the skills yourself for an understanding of what it takes. Using the tools and using the skills.
James Lehman had a very personal understanding of kids with behavior problems. He displayed severe oppositional, defiant behaviors as a child and teenager, and became a Behavioral Therapist specializing in helping troubled children, teens and their families for 30 years.
Janet Lehman, MSW Child Behavior Therapist
Janet Lehman has over three decades of clinical experience working with out–of–control children and teens and their parents. Working in group homes and residential treatment centers, Janet helped children with serious behavioral disorders learn to get their behavior under control.
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“I’m not allowed to bring Ben to play group anymore,” said Sarah, whose son is now five years old. “The last time we went, he bit another boy who was playing with a truck Ben wanted. And the time before that, he hit a little girl across the face. I try to tell him 'no' but he just doesn’t listen, so I just end up apologizing for him. I’m starting to feel like the world’s worst parent because I can’t control him when he acts out.”
"It’s easy to respond to your child's aggression with yelling or anger, but remember, your child is looking to you for cues on how to control his impulses and have good behavior."
As parents, few situations are more difficult to deal with than having a child who is aggressive toward other children. It can be embarrassing as well as frightening when your child bites, hits, scratches or kicks to get his or her way. It’s not uncommon for younger children to engage in this type of behavior at various points in their development and in a variety of settings. However, when it becomes very frequent or seems to be their consistent way of reacting to something they don’t like, it’s time to step in and help them change their behavior. The first step is understanding the underlying reasons why your child is choosing to act out this way. The more you understand what’s happening, the better you’ll be able to help them find other, non-aggressive ways to solve their problems.
Initially, between the ages of 18 months to 2 years, children find it extremely hard to communicate their needs to their parents, caregivers, and other children. Negative behaviors are one way they may choose to get their point across. For older children between the ages of three and six, such behaviors may be the result of never having learned appropriate, non-aggressive ways of communicating when they were faced with a difficult situation. The cause of aggressive behaviors may be due to any or all of the following:
Being placed in a stressful situation
Lack of routine
Extreme frustration or anger
Inadequate speech development
Lack of adult supervision
Mirroring the aggressive behaviors of other children around them
One place to begin is to watch your child for cues to see if any of the situations described above brings about aggressive behavior. Learning as much as you can about the factors that trigger bad behavior is the best way to combat it when it occurs next time. Some questions you should ask yourself:
Who does my child hit, bite or kick? Does he do it to one friend in particular? Does he only do it to me? Or does he tend to be aggressive with whomever he is with? If it’s one person in particular, try to find out if there’s a reason why he’s attacking that child such as engaging in overly aggressive play, a poor match of temperaments or a lack of clear cut rules before play begins.
Also, what seems to cause your child to act out in an aggressive fashion? Is it triggered by frustration, anger, or excitement? Notice if there are patterns. Does he act this way when toys are involved, and he’s frustrated about sharing? Or does he become aggressive when there is too much going on and he’s over-stimulated? If you observe the situations carefully, you will likely notice patterns.
Finally, how is his aggressiveness expressed? Is it through angry words or through angry behaviors? Does he become verbally aggressive first and then physically aggressive, or is his first response to strike out and hit?
By answering these questions, you are on your way to successfully limiting your child’s aggressive behavior in the future. In this article, I’ll outline some ways that you can help your child become more aware of his aggressive feelings and teach him to calm himself down, or find alternative ways to solve his problems. We’ll also talk about giving consequences to kids when they do lash out and hurt someone. In my experience, consequences are imperative to ending aggressive behavior in young children. They teach your child that all behaviors have a consequence, whether good or bad, and will help him make better choices in the future when he is with his friends. Once you’ve narrowed down the reasons why your child is behaving aggressively, it’s time to intervene.
At the first sign that your child is about to become aggressive, immediately step in and remove him from the situation. Be careful not to give too much attention to your child so that you do not give any negative reinforcement for the bad behavior. Too much attention can include trying to “talk through” the problem. Young children are not able to hear long explanations of why their behavior was offensive. A simple yet firm statement such as, “We don’t bite” should suffice while you turn your attention to the victim. Other examples of too much attention include yelling at your child while attending to the victim, forcing your child to apologize immediately or continuing to talk to the other parents around you about how embarrassed or angry you are. Make a point of consoling the victim and ignoring the aggressor. If your child cannot calm down, remove him or her from the situation without getting angry yourself. When they are calm and ready to talk, you can discuss what happened. If it’s physically impossible to remove your child, you will have to remove yourself and the victim from the situation. By walking an age-appropriate distance away from your child after he has acted out, you are sending the message that you will attend to him when he can calm down. In doing so, you are teaching your child that it is his responsibility to learn to calm himself and act appropriately.
Lower Your Voice—Don’t Raise It
As parents, we need to show self-control and use gentle words if we want our kids to do the same. It’s easy to respond with yelling or anger, but remember, your child is looking to you for cues on how to control his impulses and have good behavior. While it can be terribly embarrassing to have a child that continues to act out towards their friends, keep in mind that their negative behavior is most likely happening because they are still navigating their way through their social circles. This can be very difficult for some kids, so try not to over-react or personalize it.
One technique that works very well for some children is to change the tone and volume of your voice.You can help your child stay calm by immediately lowering your voice when attending to the victim as well as to your child. If he is unable to calm down, before helping the victim, turn to him and say quietly, “I need you to calm down now. I am going to help Josh and when I am done I want you to be done screaming.” For some kids this will work, and when your child returns to you, calm and collected, feel free to quietly praise him, saying, “Thank you for calming yourself down. We don’t bite. It hurt Josh and he is sad.” Repeat the phrase “We don’t bite” and inform your child that if it happens again, the consequence is that you will leave. If this does not work for your child and he simply cannot calm down, leave him where he is (again, at an age-appropriate distance) and ignore the tantrum. Most young children will not continue to act out if they no longer have an audience.
Practice Ways to De-fuse your Child’s Anger
For younger kids, help them recognize their anger by stating, “I know you're mad, but we don’t hit. No hitting!” For children aged 3-7, talk about anger as an important feeling. You can practice ways to de-fuse your child's anger during calmer moments. You can say, “Sometimes I get angry too. When that happens, I say ‘I’m angry’ and I leave the room.” You can also teach your child how to count to ten until he is less angry, how to do deep breathing in order to calm down, or how to use his words by making statements such as “I am really, really angry right now!” All of these methods help take the immediate focus off of your child’s anger and teach them to recognize this important emotion. Before you enter into a potentially difficult social situation, review the consequences with your child about what will happen if he cannot control his anger. Tell your child, “I feel you can handle your anger, but if you can’t, we will have to leave the park and not come back until next week. Do you understand?” Make certain that you follow through with whatever consequences you pose to your child.
Teach Kids that Aggression is Wrong
It’s also important to talk to your children about aggression during a calm moment. In a steady voice, explain to your child that hitting, biting, kicking, and other aggressive behaviors are wrong. For younger children, those between 18 months and 2 years, keep it simple. Hold them and explain, “No hitting. It is wrong.” Remember that you may have to repeat this rule numerous times, using the same words, until your child gets it. Be firm and consistent each time your child becomes aggressive. Have a plan in place for consequences if aggressive behavior starts. At home, this can include a time-out chair away from the rest of the family where your child can stay until he can calm down. If you are away from home, pick a safe place, such as a time-out in a car seat or another place where your child is removed from the fun. This reinforces that you are not tolerating aggression in any form.
For older children, those between 3 and 7, remember that they may be experimenting with cause and effect. In other words, they want to see what you will do when they act out. It’s your job to provide the consequences for the "effect" to work. Since older children are more verbal, you can use a variety of phrases when they misbehave. Examples include, “Biting is not OK,” or “Hitting hurts others. You need to stop.” It is okay to tell your little biter/hitter/kicker that once he misbehaves, he’s lost a privilege for the day. Consequences can include leaving a play date immediately or losing video time.
Tell Your Child to “Use Your Words”
Many times kids who display aggressive behaviors simply lack the communication skills necessary to help them through a stressful situation. For a young child, biting or hitting someone is a whole lot easier! Plus, aggressive behaviors often give children a false sense of power over their peers. It’s up to you to work diligently with your child so that he or she can practice the art of diplomacy in a tough situation. Help your child find their voice when they feel like acting out. By explaining and then practicing using their words, you are helping them to trade off aggressive behavior in favor of more socially acceptable behavior. Some examples are:
Teach your child to say “No!” to their peers instead of acting aggressively. Too often a child reacts negatively to a friend or sibling instead of asserting themselves. By using the simple word “no,” you are helping your child to get his point across verbally, not aggressively.
Give your child a series of phrases to use with their friends when they are feeling angry or frustrated. Some examples are, “No, that’s mine,” “I don’t like that!” or “Stop! That hurts.” This helps your child substitute words for striking out.
Before you enter a situation that you know may cause your child to act aggressively (i.e., a play date or daycare) remind your child to “Use your words.” Repeat this to your child throughout the course of the week when you feel they are getting frustrated.
Recognize Your Child’s Limitations
This means knowing when to leave a potentially volatile situation or choosing to engage your child in a different activity to avoid aggressive confrontations. If you know that your child targets a particular child at play group, you may have to hold off going to play group for a few weeks until he learns to control himself. Or, if certain videos, games, or activities frustrate your child, remove them from your daily routine to see if this has a placating effect on your child’s behavior. Finally, if your child is exhausted, hungry, or over-stimulated, respect that and engage in low-key, slow-paced activities that will make aggression less likely. With your older, more verbal child, talk openly about situations that make him angry and work together to come up with solutions to help him through the problem next time.
Be Appreciative of their Efforts
When you catch your child being good, be sure to praise their hard work and efforts. For instance, if you observe your children in a power struggle over a toy that ends in them working it out peacefully with their friend, tell them how proud you are that they chose to use their words instead of resorting to aggression to get their way. Look for and continue to praise good behavior as a way to motivate your children to do better next time.
What Not to Do
Never bite or hit back. It can be tempting to want to teach your child a lesson in how it feels to be the victim of aggression, but when you succumb to a childlike form of communication, you are teaching your child that aggression is the answer to resolving a conflict. Even though it’s difficult, try your best to maintain your composure.
Do not expose your child to violent television or video games. Too often TV and videos portray the most violent character as the hero, which sends the message that violence is a means to an end for problem-solving. This message can easily be avoided if you are on top of their viewing habits. While TV or video violence may not affect some kids, it may greatly influence others who have a tendency to act out aggressively with their friends. By knowing your child’s temperament and what he or she can withstand, you are helping them on their way towards their best behavior possible.
Do not personalize your child’s bad behavior. All too often parents get frustrated and angry at their child when they are aggressive, because many times we feel that our child’s poor behavior is a reflection of our parenting skills. If you have an aggressive child, switch your focus towards helping them express themselves in a more appropriate way and follow through when an incident occurs.
When Aggression is Extreme
While aggression can be normal in many children, you should be aware of when your child’s behavior has gone beyond the scope of what is considered within the normal boundaries for their developmental level. Look for the following signs in your child:
A pattern of defiant, disobedient, or hostile behavior towards you or other authority figures such as teachers or day care providers. A pattern means behavior that is not fleeting, but is chronic and does not respond to the above interventions.
Loses their temper easily
Constantly argues with adults
Deliberately engages in activities that knowingly annoy others
Acts annoyed or is chronically touchy
Exhibits ongoing anger
Acts spiteful or vindictive
It is important to recognize that all young children may exhibit any or all of the above problems at some point during their development. However, if your child persistently displays these behaviors and it affects their daily functioning, such as their ability to behave at school or maintain friendships, contact your pediatrician, as it may indicate that they have other psychological problems that need attention. In this case, you will need to have your child evaluated by a mental health professional.
Parenting an aggressive child can be one of the greatest challenges you will face as you weave your way through the maze of his or her development. Even though it may seem like it at times, it’s not impossible to teach your child new and appropriate ways to interact with other children and the adults around them. The key is developing a clear, uncomplicated, consistent plan and following it in a composed manner. Remember: the best example of appropriate behavior is you, and your young child is watching.
Dr. Joan Simeo Munson earned her Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from the University of Denver. She has worked with incarcerated individuals, families, adolescents, and college students in a variety of settings, including county and city jails, community mental health centers, university counseling centers, and hospitals. She also has a background in individual, group, and couples counseling. Dr. Munson lives in Colorado with her husband and three energetic children. She currently has a private practice in Boulder where she sees adults, couples and adolescents.
I couldn't get the star voting thing to work for me but I wanted to give it five stars!!! Excellent article. Wish we had had that when our youngest son was in diapers. He's fifteen now and altho' we have been able to help him a lot, the information shared in this article would have saved us much confusion and frustration, mistakes and years of work!
Comment By : still learning
A great remainder for all of us too learn to calm ourselves and focus on the child rather than get frustrated living us powerless. GREAT! information. Bless you all.
Comment By : A grandmother raising her grandchild
I'm frustrated with my 7 yr old who's vocal, and acts out towards his parents, but then is a darling with our friends -- i want to clobber him.
to be reminded to maintain my composure when my kid is aggressing me is hard b/c sometimes it's just not realistic.
i'm tired of fighting with him and every time a see someone with a baby, i'm trying to figure out how my beautiful darling went from that to this...
Comment By : mommy dearest
I was concerned about a grand child and this helped understand the situation much better. I still do not understand why my granddaughter is scratching faces and pulling anyones hair but I now know how to handle it better. I didn't have these problems with my own children. Thank you for the information, I appreciate the time and thought to this web site.
Comment By : Grandmother Sue
My son has ADHD and ODD. I've recently purchased your program 'The Total Transformation' and is working wonders for my 5 yr old. This article helps by actually explaining in detail (quick and to the point) so I can use it right away. I read all of your articles and this is by far the best for me so far.
Thanks....A loving parent
Comment By : a loving parent
This was very helpful and reminded me to stop reacting to my son's negative behaviors and taking them personally. How can I expect him to control himself if I cannot control my own emotions? He is right when he says I have a double standard sometimes since I say I am an adult and adults have provileges that children don't. Is that wrong to say? Or is it ME not being accountable for my poor response?
My son and I would benefit from having additional strategies for teenagers with ADHD/ODD. Does it make sense to have written rules and consequences of breaking those rules (i.e., a negative reinforcement approach) in addition to the strategies outlined in this article? Or, does it make sense to have a supplemental positive reinforcement approach that rewards consistently good behavior (i.e., a points system similar to what's used in special needs schools for ADD/ADHD/ODD)?
Thank you so much for any additional guidance!
Comment By : Susan M.Y. in NJ
* Dear Mommie Dearest: You have a classic problem that is not uncommon for many parents: the child who behaves well in public but has less than desirable behavior at home! The first thing you need to immediately do is stop fighting with your child. I know this is hard, challenging and at times seems unrealistic, but you have to stop doing it. A child will fight with anyone who is willing to keep the argument up. Your job is to deflate the aggression as it begins and respond in a neutral tone, even if that means walking away from your little instigator. The way to begin this is to make a statement the next time your child begins fighting with you: "I love talking with you, but I will not talk to you at all when you use that tone with me. If you cannot stop, you need to sit by yourself". Pick a place in your house that your child will be isolated and explain to him when the aggression or sassy talk begins, if he cannot stop it, he is going to sit there until he can stop. Second, review the rules
of what you expect of him behaviorally. For instance, you can say, "I am making a list of things that are no longer allowed at our house. Let's go over them together". Then, create a list of all the behaviors you want to see end and write down what the consequences will be if they occur. At our house these include extra chores for name calling, video privileges lost for any aggression (hitting, shoving, etc.), and time-outs for anything that even resembles bullying. I would also strongly urge you to read up on ways to control your own anger when his aggression begins. Some examples are closing your eyes and counting to ten, walking in another room and sitting until you find yourself calmer, or learning ways to control what you say. This is not an easy task and I fully understand how difficult it can be to raise an aggressive child. However, remember that your child is looking to you to learn ways to be calm. You can help him do that! When you catch him acting nicely, either outside your home, with others, or with you, comment how well he is behaving. Saying something like: "I really like how you asked me for the milk with such a nice voice" or "I appreciate that you are listening to me when I tell you to pick up your toys". A little praise goes a long way with our kids. You obviously care about your child or you wouldn't be asking such good questions. Good luck!
PS I'd also like to recommend the following book: "Taming The Dragon in Your Child" by Meg Eastman and Sydney Craft Rozen.
Comment By : Dr. Joan Munson
Giving your child a script (e.g., 'Stop! I don't like that!) is a very helpful idea--better than just saying "use your words". However, the article addresses more what a parent can do when they are with their child--what do you do (besides teaching/reinforcing a script) when your child is away from you at school or camp? You cannot rely on other people to handle things they way you would, and it does get extremely frustrating to hear that your kid is the one doing the hitting. Things don't sink in so quickly when they're not properly reinforced--and too often the other people aren't on the same page as you are.
Comment By : midwest mom
* Dear Susan M.Y. in New York: I think it is perfectly okay for any parent to tell their child that they have certain privileges that their children do not have because they are adults. There are many examples of this in our culture, including driving, drinking alcohol, voting, etc. So yes, you can say to your son, "When you are an adult, you can do these things too." However, if you are talking about not being able to control your temper or are displaying other poor behavior and then using the excuse, "I can do this because I'm an adult," it's time to re-think this approach. All people living in a house should be displaying the best behavior they can and it is up to parents to model this for our children. If this is your issue, I recommend sitting down with your son and declaring a halt to all emotional melt-downs and put out a consequence for him as well as yourself if you find someone is heading towards a meltdown. I believe the approach of having written rules and consequences for breaking them is the best approach for handling poor behavior. If you want to have a positive behavior reinforcement chart, I think that is great too. Kids love having something to look forward to. Sounds like you are doing a great job--good luck!
Comment By : Dr. Joan Munson
I really appreciate this article because I am a 33 year old adult and I am still learning how to control my own emotions. I really expect more from my children than I do from myself. I am constantly praying for the strenght to not lose my temper and to be an example to my children as well as others.
Comment By : Nina
I see a lot of writings which reiterate the fact that my kids behaviors are normal and they are really good kids however I often wonder if I am not the craziest mom in the world bc my natural reaction is to to scream & yell and I allow them to make me crazy so many times a day. It is so good to hear that I am not alone in MY struggle to be good.
Comment By : Mom of 3 in Michigan
I have a 5 year old son who just started Pre-K. I thought everything was going fine until one day the principle called and said he has been acting out. We then started getting calls every other day or so to let us know that he is still being very rude and disrespectfull. He has been hitting and and spitting at the other kids and his teacher. I am so fustrated i just want to cry. I am amazed at how much this article describes him. I am just getting started in the Total Transformation Program but i am hopefull and i really believe this will help him! Thanks
Comment By : casey
* Dear Casey: It's frustrating when your child is acting out at school, especially when it’s just the beginning of his school career! Young children react to the stress of a new environment in different ways – some get shy, others bossy, and some, like your son, become aggressive. Working together, you can help him address the challenges he faces at school in more appropriate ways. The Total Transformation program will help you teach your child the skills he needs to behave appropriately with peers and teachers. As a Total Transformation customer, you have access to the Parental Support Line. Support line specialists can help you customize the tools in the program to your situation. You aren’t alone in this. If you haven’t already signed up for the Support Line, call the customer service phone number found in your program package. Good luck, and keep in touch!
Comment By : Megan Devine, Parental Support Line Advisor
My 4 year old daughter hits/pinches/scratches her younger sisters on a daily basis. This happens so fast that I usually have no warning and can not intervene before it is too late. She does it especially when she thinks I'm not watching. It usually occurs when they have a toy that she wants, but sometimes she does it for no reason whatsoever. She is supposed to start kindergarten in 5 months, and I am just scared to death that there will be problems. We have talked repeatedly about not hurting others, and she always has time-out when it happens. She agrees with me that she is doing wrong, but just is not able to control her impulses. I just don't know what to do when her behavior is so impulsive and illogical. Any help??
Comment By : Lori
* Dear Lori,
It is always disconcerting when our kids do things like hit/bite/hurt other kids, particularly their siblings! You are right in saying that it is impulsive and illogical —- to us adults. But bear in mind that for a 4-5 year old, it’s all in a day’s work of normal behavior. I have yet to meet a 4-5 year old that doesn’t act impulsively or do some illogical deeds now and again! That doesn’t mean, however, that your little hitter can get away with it. The time is ripe to nip this behavior in the bud before she gets to school.
First, when the two of you are engaged in a pleasant activity, like working on a puzzle together, begin the discussion of her bad behavior. You can say: “I noticed that sometimes you hurt your sister by hitting her. This is not something we do in our house and it’s going to stop. I want you to have a lot of friends when you get to school next year, and if you hit people that will be hard. Here’s what we’re going to do.” Then you can discuss what will happen if she shows aggressive behavior. One pitfall I would encourage you not to make is to engage your 4-year-old in a discussion about why she hits or try to understand her motivations for her aggression. As you noticed, hitting is illogical and I can’t think of many 4-year-olds who would be able to articulate why they are beating up on their sibling! It’s just an impulsive act that they find hard to control.
The next step is to lay down the law of what will happen when she hits. In our house, I have said to all 3 of my kids: “If you hit/bite/kick/scratch your brother/sister while playing, the toy automatically becomes theirs for the day and not only do you have to sit in time out, but you lose _______" (fill in the blank here, preferably something they enjoy. Examples can be a video, a play date, dessert, drawing with markers, etc.) The key then is to follow through with the consequence each and every time she acts out. She may beg, “Please, I won’t do it again! Please don’t take away my Polly Pockets!” Don’t budge. It will be hard to hear her crying and she will make a convincing argument that she won’t do it again, but you can then say, “Sorry, this is what happens when you hit. I’m sure next time you won’t hit because you know what will happen”. And then walk away from the situation.
It may take a few times, and she will most likely backslide, but at some point your little hitter will learn that the consequences for disruptive behavior are too great to risk hitting anymore. With maturation on her part and following through with consequences on your part, her aggressive behavior will eventually extinguish itself. Good luck!
Comment By : Dr. Joan
Great article! I have a 3 year old son who tends to act fairly well with us at home. When he does act out we immediately take him out of the situation and talk about what he did (ie hitting, pushing) was wrong. The problem is that he is becoming increasingly aggressive at school. When he doesn't get his way he will push over a chair, or, as of lately, hit another child to get the toy he wants, or even throw sand on another child in the sandbox if that child won't hand over the toy that my son wants. Initially the teachers thought that it was because he wasn't communicating effectively. But, I'm telling you from experience (my older son went through speech therapy), that I don't see it! I'm really at a loss. I am so nervous my son is going to be "that child" that the mom's don't want their kids to play with because he's too aggressive. What do I do?
Comment By : JED's Mom
I am so glad to read this article and know I am doing a good job raising my daughters 3 1/2 years and 10 months old. But, one of the hardest things I'm dealing with is when my older one will be playing so nice with her little sister and all of a sudden she'll feel the need to hit her or scratch or even head butt a little bit and I immediately put her in time-out for it and tell her why she's in time out and that we don't hurt people, also, today at the Zoo she was doing so well communicating with all the children talking about the animals all day until we all sat down at the bench to take a little break and all of a sudden, this one girl that was just walking past us, with an Adult and maybe 6 other girls, and she walked over to the girl and tried to hit her on the back and and missed but immediately she tried it again as the girl walked past and I took her back over to the bench and put her in a little time-out (before she tried to hit the girl again) and told her that we don't hurt people and if she did it again to someone else we were going to go straight home, but she did great the rest of the time.. so I'm just wondering it's been awhile now she's been trying to hurt her Sister and she still does it. I really hope it's just a phase and it will stop soon. But I don't understand why she just does it to her Sister and to the one inparticular girl that was just walking by?
Comment By : LoveMyGirls
I have 3 year old twins and we are consistant with just about every thing this article suggested, but one of our boys takes things beyond the normal biting, hiting, scratching, etc..(for example he asked if we were having rolls with dinner and I said no so he threw every toy he could find at whoever was near and then the next hour he continued to tantrum about it trying to hit, bite and scratch as I removed him from his siblings). If he doesn't get the answer he wants or see's something he wants he attacks. He also just walks past perfect strangers and hit them or for no reasons hits one of his family members as they walk past. This happens pretty much every day all day long. We have left the park, disneyland and other fun places due to his behavior. It's hard for his brother and sister when this happens. Some days with him are so exhausting I think what's it going to be like when he is 5 or 10.
Comment By : Momofthree
I have read all of the information above and I must say, Kudos to all of you. I am a father of two children ages 7 and 5, and it is my 5 year old who exhibits the same behavior. He was recently expelled from his daycare after his "3rd strike" with hitting one of his peers. His mother and I divorced almost 3 years ago, and since then there has been very little stability for them. I try to make it as routine as possible for them when they are with me, but, unfortunately, cannot control what happens when they are with her. They have been subjected to a brutal divorce, and their mother's acquiring male roommates shortly after our separation after my request that her roommate be female for their sakes. It is my opinion that this lack of stability has done most of the damage. I'm no angel by any means, but I am more stern and discipline the children when the moment calls for it, and even before reading this article, have implemented most of the techniques discussed. I do praise and reward the "good behavior" as best as I see fit. However, my 5 year old still acts out, I believe, because of the difference in parenting styles. I know that she tries to "bribe/reward" our son with expensive toys for good behavior, but all out yells and screams when he misbehaves. This has been the third daycare since the age of two that he has been expelled from for the so-called "behavior problems." She has sought a child psychologist but only attended a few sessions since, I believe, no immediate conclusion could be determined. The daycare he attended also has changed and rotated staff so that my child does not have one regular daycare person. Would this also contribute to his behavior? Now my ex has our youngest enrolled in a daycare that "deals with children with behavioral problems" for more than twice the rate as the previous. I don't believe he has "issues" so to speak, but am aware that his episodes are unwarranted. I don't feel another daycare is feasible, because they cannot care for and nurture him like his parents can. He has confided in me that he does not like his daycare, and I believe that also has attributed to his behavior. He is supposed to begin Kindergarten in September, but will not be going due to his mother's choice to enroll him in the daycare for behavioral issued children. I am at a point in my life where I can leave work early enough throughout the week to pick them up after school and still maintain my 40 hour schedule. Any advice on how to handle that? I know for a fact I can help him by providing him with the stability he needs to achieve his development. The children do show different patterns of behavior between both homes, specifically a improvement in their behavior when they are with me, at least that's what I notice and have been told by others who know us both. When my two children fight over a toy, I take it away from both of them and no one gets to play with it. Is that ok? I am frustrated because I have no control over what his mother does in his life, and feel I have to make up for her actions. Is there any advice on how to handle this?
Comment By : George
* Dear georgieboy30:
In large part, I think your post shows what many parents do when they’re dealing with a child who’s acting out—they try to figure out why the child is misbehaving. James Lehman is much more concerned with what rather than why. Meaning that if the child can’t solve the problem of anger for instance, we need to teach him the skills to handle that anger appropriately instead of focusing on why he’s angry. So from James Lehman’s perspective focusing on the why won’t help to change the behavior. It can be frustrating when there are differences in parenting styles and it can require a lot of communication to come to an agreement even on one small thing sometimes. It sounds like you understand that you can’t force your ex-wife to change or convince her to have different ideas about parenting. So you’re left with continuing to do the best you can as far as getting on the same page with your ex-wife and focusing on what the boys need from you specifically. You mentioned the boys having trouble sharing briefly and I’d like to include an article on how to help them get along better. I wish you well and let us know how you’re doing.
Comment By : Tina Wakefield, Parental Support Line Advisor
My son was kicked out of his preschool yesterday for hitting kicking and biting kids and teachers. He is four, and very smart. He does not seem to feel remorse at the time, only later. My father had a violent temperment and committed suicide. I wanted to think my I could give my son something different than what I went through and I have but he has some real serious issues and I have tried everything to save him and I will continue to do that. The teacher there told me he was probably going to end up in jail, and that I should never give up. It's my kid, what do you think, that I think giving up is an option? I do not. I do not know what I will do it seems there are few who are on our side. They say they don't want him to slip through the cracks and then tell me they don't have the (whatever it is) to help me deal with him, "good luck" I've heard from grown ups who treat me like crap over my kid who I'm trying to help. I could just cry and lay down and never get up, but I am still searching for a way to save my son. He is only four and I need to save him. Does anyone actually want help me or just shake their head and tell me to get out, like the director did yesterday...they made me feel so bad and treated me quite badly as well. I fight an invisible fight to keep our spirits intact.
Comment By : walkerbetweenworlds
* First, let me say that you have my admiration for reaching out for help and for NOT giving up. Clearly you love your son enough to recognize that he needs help and you are doing a great job asking for it. Now it is time to reach out once more to a mental health professional and learn some tools to help your son get through this stage in his development. You should pick up your phone today and call your pediatrician to find out the best place to make an appointment with a counselor that specializes in child development. Most counselors have a sliding fee, meaning that if you are struggling financially they will still see you for a reduced rate.
I also want to assure you that while acting out at four and getting kicked out of preschool is serious, it does not seal your son's future as a criminal who will wind up in jail. That is an inappropriate and unhelpful thing to say to a parent who is searching for answers. There is no way for me to understand fully what your son's background is like or what his current behaviors are that are getting him into so much trouble. Your letter is a great way to start the process in helping him, but the problems you are experiencing need to be spelled out to a professional over a period of visits. I often tell parents that there are times to be concerned mildly about a child's problem and then there is the crisis mode. Getting kicked out of preschool and your own family history and current depression indicates to me that you are in crisis mode. You need to pick up the phone today and get started on getting both of you some help. This may seem time consuming to do, but you will benefit from getting help in the long run. You would also benefit from a parenting class in addition to therapy as a way to meet and talk to other families who are experiencing issues similar to yours. Talk to the therapist about this as well.
Parenting can be extremely frustrating and difficult. You are taking the first step though to helping your son and helping yourself get better. Good luck to you.
Comment By : Dr. Joan
I read this over an over again cause i am trying to find ways to deal with my 4 year old step son with the way he has been acting with me an his sisters. he gets mean to the point to were i want to leave an not come home. i get some tips from what i just read so i will try them an see if they help out at all with my son. right now i will try anything just to have some peace in my home.
Comment By : jessie
i am still having problem in handling a teenage girl who comes down to hitting and shouting back if somebody even moves her things. she is in orphanage since 9 years and refuses to cooperate with a counsellor.she is 16 now. not much of her background is known except her mothar cannot support her
Comment By : gunjan
James Lehman says, “Find where your child is at and coach them forward.” In other words, determine your child’s current capacities and set reasonable goals for improvement. Since you mention the child was in an orphanage until age 9, I assume you feel that this experience had some impact on her and could be related to her getting emotionally upset when her possessions are handled. It is good that you are working with a counselor to help her identify her “triggers”—the things that cause her to over-react emotionally. Perhaps touching her things is one of those emotional hot buttons. Share what you have observed with her counselor to see what he would recommend. And share the Total Transformation program with her counselor to see how the program can be incorporated in the counseling work. You can use the parenting roles discussed in Lesson 3. For example, you can use the Limit Setting role to state that hitting other people is never okay, the Problem Solving role to help her think of tools she could use when she gets upset, such as some deep breathing techniques or time alone. The next time she becomes upset, use the Coaching Role to challenge her to use those tools to calm herself.And call us here on the Support Line for encouragement and ideas for using James Lehman’s techniques.
Comment By : Carole Banks, Parental Support Line Advisor
I am a bit concerned about my three year old son soon to be four in two months he is a bit aggressive when playing he is bitting, hitting and throwing things both at school and home. I thought was the terrible two;s and threes but I had the preschool teacher tell me ttoday that in three years she has not seen such an agressive child he is the only child and loves to play with any kids but he gets over excited and that is with anything if he goes to his uncle house or his aunts he gets so excited and yells throws things just axts plan silly to the point where he will run around in excitment. I am a yeller I know this and I have spanked you dont have to say i am making it worse but I loose my patients today is the last day I yell and since the teacher told me in front of my son his consequences are no tv or firemen how long should I ground him and is this the sign of ADHD
Comment By : Loving Mom
* Dear Loving Mom:
First, I think it is great that you are reaching out and looking for answers to your son’s misbehaving. It’s always hard to have the child who bites, but bear in mind that some kids are more excitable than others. Your job is to place boundaries around your son so he feels safe and secure.
Here is what you can do:
Your son is old enough, at almost four, to sit down with you when you are both calm and say: “You are almost four years old. You need to stop biting and hitting others. I made this chart and each day you can go without biting at school you will get a smiley face. At the end of the week, if you can go without biting, you will get (fill in the blank here: a trip to the ice cream store, 15 minutes extra at bed time, a special visit to the library or park, etc.)” Have his teacher fill out her own little booklet that keeps you aware of his behavior each day at school. You can then tell your son that if his teacher reports that he is still biting, he gets something taken away that he cares about such as video/television time or a play date. When your son comes home and reports that he hasn’t bitten, praise him and tell him how proud you are. If he comes home with a negative report from his teacher, don’t make a big deal of it. Say, “It looks like you had a rough day. Remember, our consequence for biting was _____________ .” and leave it at that.
You also need to make sure that you are providing good boundaries for your son. When he starts to wind up and spin out of control, stop him and say, “You are getting too excited. Let’s sit down and read a book for 5 minutes”. You could also offer him crayons and coloring materials, Legos, Play-doh, anything that will help him to sit and relax for a few minutes. If he is belligerent or difficult you will need to place him in a safe environment for a time out until he can calm himself. When he does remain calm, praise him by saying, “I really like how you are staying calm and being so nice. Let’s keep reading (or whatever it is you are doing)”. Be consistent in your praise and consequences.
Lastly, and this is very important to an excitable kid, make sure you are doing the following: set a regular bed time for each and every night. Sometimes kids get hyper when they are overly exhausted. If he is four years old he should go to bed around 7:30 or 8:00 and sleep through the night. Make sure he is eating healthy foods and not drinking caffeinated beverages at all. Too much caffeine and or sugar makes kids act crazy! Make sure he has healthy snacks throughout the day also. Finally, limit television, dvd’s, and video games. A boy his age should not be watching more than 30 – 60 minutes of television/dvd’s a day and he is too young to play video games. Monitor what he watches as kids often try to imitate what they see on TV. Make sure he is not being exposed to violence on TV.
I hope this is helpful for you! Please keep in touch and let us know how it's going.
You are wise to acknowledge that spanking will get you nowhere with your son. It will increase his anger and make him more belligerent with you. Give yourself a time out when you feel your own patience waning and don’t come back until you are calm and can set firm boundaries with him. Let his teachers know all you are doing at home so that they are aware how hard you are trying. Good luck!
Comment By : Dr. Joan Simeo Munson
Thanks Loving Mom for sharing your story and thank you Dr. Munson for a really supportive answer. As a mom of a biter I know how guilty and helpless one can feel. Detailing just how to do the sticker chart is really helpful and the other ideas are important to hear as well.
Comment By : caring mom
My best friend's son is so aggressive towards my daughter. Everytime we hang out, it's like my best friend and I can't just seat down and let the kids play because her little boy is always hitting her, throwing things at her, and hurting. One time at a cook out,both my daughter and him were playing in the kiddy pool, he pushes my daughter head to drown her and kept holding her head down and thankfully we saw that and took him out of the pool immidiately. I feel bad for my best friend but again It is so stressful hanging out with her and her son because that is all I do is make sure my daughter is safe around him. He is only 3 years old and he is terrible and distructive and aggressive. I feel like my best friend and I are going to drift apart because of this.
Comment By : sugamama
* Dear Sugamama:
You need to sit down with your best friend and have a frank discussion about her son. This boy is putting your daughter in danger. Think about it this way: How would you feel if something happened where your daughter was seriously hurt? You would wonder why you hadn't set some boundaries sooner. You can say something like this: "I really value our friendship but I'm concerned about how our kids play together. I am thinking that the next time we get together, if Johnny starts to act aggressively toward my daughter we will have to leave. I will also tell Johnny that we are leaving because he is not playing nice. I am really concerned about my daughter getting hurt. I feel badly that it has to be this way, but I think since we are such good friends we can handle this together, don't you think?" Clearly this boy's mother needs to hear from her best friend that her son is out of control. You don't give any indication about what she does when this aggression occurs, but it sounds like she (as well as Johnny) needs someone to set some boundaries. Do not give in on this. Your daughter's welfare should be your first concern and if your friend cannot abide by your rules, she isn't much of a friend.
Comment By : Dr. Joan Simeo Munson
my son will be 4 in September and we are having a hard time disciplining him. He is a good boy at school but when he is with his sister (7 years old) or other family members he has temper tantrums and begins to kick and hit. he is very defiant when we put him in time out and continues to scream he blows a fit or moans over everything. But then there are times where is nice and plays very well with his sister and we always tell him what a good boy he his when he plays nice. Both my husband and I lose our patience but try very hard to take deep breaths and speak to him calmly. When is he in time out, I keep him in time out until he calms down and stops screaming and then I speak to him about what he did wrong and then he snaps out of hit for a while. At tiimes is very demanding and wants everything when he wants it and also doesn't like to be told what to do. I try to let him do things on his own but most of the time he refuses to do it and then the tantrum begins. we tried time out and also spanking but don't want to continue that. need advice on the best way to handle it and hoping this is just another phase.
Comment By : mom of two NJ
* Dear Mom of Two:
I commend you for the things you have tried with your energetic 7 year old! You are on the right track with putting him in time out, ignoring his tantrums, praising him when he is good and keeping your calm. I also think that spanking probably won’t help. Kids like this make us want to spank because they are so difficult at times, but it seems that the spanking is borne out of parents frustration more than any disciplinary tool that will bring about long term change.
I think there's a good chance this is just a phase. I would however begin a good behavior chart for your son. Hang it in a place where he has access to it. For each day that he can go without hitting his sister, having a tantrum, or screaming he gets a star (or a sticker). At the end of the week, if he has collected a certain number of stars (you can judge how many) he gets a special surprise. Hanging next to the chart should be a list of things he can choose from. Examples might be: 15 minutes extra video time, a trip to the ice cream shop, a play date, an extra story at bed time, special time with mom or dad before bed, etc. Incentive charts are very useful for kids this age.
You may already do this, but I would limit his access to television or video games that promote violent behavior. Boys in particular seem to gravitate towards these types of activities, but you can help him by declaring violent shows/games off limits. Give him plenty of time to run off steam outside, encourage him to ride his bike, or play at the park. Keep up the praise when you catch him being good.
Comment By : Dr. Joan Simeo Munson
my daughter just turned 5, we just moved into my mom's house until we get finances together to buy a home, and she just started k1. she has gotten to where she throws these fits, she's punching and hitting and screaming. I don't know how to handle her. she wants nothing to do with me anymore. i know it's conflicting when me and her dad tell her something, and MY mother going behind me to contradict what we tell her. 2 days ago, she threw her first fit in public. she doesn't get spanked, but i did tap her butt (barely) when i couldn't get her out to the car. we just left the store, as she is pulling y shirt down, punching me, hitting me, screaming at me, just because i wouldn't buy her this rediculous bathroom tooth paste dispenser. i didn't break down until we got in the car. i don't know what i've done so wrong to make her be the way she is. getting her up for school is like pulling teeth. as soon as she wakes up, she's yelling and screaming she isn't going. she won't let me get her clothes for her, she prefers another family member. today, she was taken into school late because she didn't want to go. i feel lost and i don't know what to do. do i take her to see someone?? i don't want my child on medicine that will "dope" her up, per-say. i know moving and being at my moms and school starting is probably the main reasons, because she was great before we moved back, but we have to deal with that until we can get situated. what am i to do?? she also wakes up in the middle of the night throwing fits, and the next morning, doesn't remember. please, any thoughts would help!! am i the only one?! am i such a bad parent that my daughter hates me?!
Comment By : why
My daughter just started Pre-K in August and she is very aggressive. When someone takes a toy from her she bites them, or hits them. I have told her to tell the teacher, but she just won't. She is fixing to get suspended if she doesn't quit. I am at my whits end, I don't know what to do anymore. I have put her in time out and taken away her favorite things, but she just don't care. Grant you she is the middle child and I know there is a thing called the middle child syndrome but it can't be this bad ALL the time.
Comment By : Belle
* To Belle:
It seems that what’s missing here is some proactive work on your part. When your daughter is calm and you are doing something nice together, talk to her about hitting. Be very clear: “The school is upset and so am I that you continue to hit and bite. This has to stop.” Re-read the article for some pointers on how to help your daughter react. Practice reacting at home by role playing. Pretend you are someone that is taking her toy and ask her what she does at school. This may make her laugh or think you are silly, but that’s okay! If she says “I bite them,” help her come up with ideas about what to do instead. If there is another person in the house, have them pretend to be the teacher and encourage her to go talk to them.
Also, create a “good behavior” chart and let her decorate it. Hang it at child’s eye level, somewhere where she will have access to it. Explain to her that each time she doesn’t bite, kick, scream, etc. she will get a star on her chart. After so many stars, talk about what her reward will be. Make the rewards things she loves, like more time with mom or dad, 15 minutes extra at bedtime, an extra story, a trip to the library or whatever you think will motive her. Time-outs and punishments work, but only for so long. A child this age has to be motivated by a rewards system if you are ever to see her behavior change. I would also recommend talking with her teachers and explain to them what you are doing at home so they know you are being pro-active about helping your daughter change her behavior. Good luck, and I hope this is helpful.
Comment By : Dr. Joan Simeo Munson
Thank you for your article above which has been very helpful. I was hoping however if you could respond to our particular problem. Our son is 27 months old. He is generally a happy and very energetiv little boy. He does tend to get agressive towards younger children. His usualy reaction upon seeing a child his age/size or younger will be to go up to them and push them or throw a toy at them. He does not tend to exhibit this behaviour towards older children and is generally quite happy to play with them. He goes to nursery a few days a week (3 hours per day), I have asked the teachers many times who always tell me he is very good and does what he is told. The aggressive behaviour it seems is only stored up for hime time. This behavour is particularly exhibited towards my niece who is one year younger than him. I know you have advised that where a child is aggressive towards any one child in particular parents should avoid interaction with that child. However this is impossible for us to do since our families are very close. We tend to meet up a few times a week at family events and our son ends up pushing or hitting our niece each time. we have tried time out, it works for a while but about 10 or 15 minutes later he will resort to pushing or hitting again. This could be stemming from jealousy given that she is younger and gets alot of attention from grandparents and other relatives. Would be grateful for any advise you may have. My main concern is that if i keep punishing him he may become immune to it and begin to resent my niece which i want to avoid at all costs. Many thanks
Mom in distress.
Comment By : Mom in distress
my son has turned 2 years in November he is a good boy and clever for his age. But he gets sometimes so cross that he starts to hit, bite, slap and kick me. He is in creche full day i'm a stay at home mom, when he wakes up in the morning he cries and complains. When i go and fetch him from the creche he starts to cry and he does not stop until he goes to bed. That's when i just want to loose it I love my son very much but sometimes i want to go mad. He can explaine to me what he wants and he helps me sometimes just out of him self but it's like he can turn just like that in minutes and he is a diff person. Is it me, because I can bend over for him and try and do everything for him even if my husband gets cross with me but he still will turn on me and hurt me.What do I need do do I thought of getting him something to calm him down from the doctor but I do not believe in medication for him at this age. That can I do diff in his and my live to help me and him a bit better. I have asked his teacher at the school how he is during the day and she told me that he does not cry he does what is been told to him, he playes nice and he is her favourite child in her class. And when I told her how he is at home she would not believe me he is 2 diff persons in diff places. Please would you help me.
Comment By : Antoinette Nel
I am seeing my 5 yr old daughter tends to be touchy and in bad mood most of the time.
She used to be a happy child till 2 or so but suddenly the tantrums have increased. Anything different from routine tends to tick her off. She does not like to be around anyone new. Screaming and hitting is becoming more and more common. I start off acting calmly but end up raising my voice which is the only way to stop this behavior. Would appreciate your advice.
Comment By : Frustrated mom
* Dear Antoinette:
Your child is most likely entering into a difficult stage known as the “terrible two’s.” During this time most kids are getting ready to master new developmental tasks and it can be a stressful period for them (and parents!) because everything around them is new and probably a bit scary. I am glad that he is doing well at school. This is a good sign that his teacher likes him and that he plays nice with the other students. I think it is time to focus on what is going on at home.
First, kids this young need as much consistency in their lives as possible. Ask yourself the following questions: Is my son going to bed close to the same time each night? Is he getting enough sleep? Kids this age should be going to bed around 7:30/8:00 at night and getting up early in the morning. Is he eating breakfast, lunch and dinner around the same time each day? Is he eating healthy? And lastly, when he is at home are you and your husband setting appropriate limits with him? This last one can make a huge impact on your life as well as his.
Setting limits means you tell your son what you expect of him and following through. An example may be this: when he is calm you say to him, “We don’t hit. If you hit Mommy, you are sitting by yourself for a few minutes until you can calm yourself.” I highly recommend a safe place where he can be by himself, away from you. Do not go and get him if he cries; ignore him if he starts kicking the wall or screaming. When his time-out is over, go to him and repeat the rule: “We don’t hit Mommy” and let him go off and play. You can use this type of limit setting with him whenever he does anything that is against the rules. The key here is to follow through each and every time he does something. You are right in saying he does not need any medication at this age. Acting out is a normal phase for many small children but your job is to teach your child how to behave and what your expectations are for him.
Comment By : Dr. Joan Simeo Munson
* Dear Mom in Distress:
What you are describing sounds perfectly normal for most little boys your son’s age. It is especially common when children are not yet fully verbal and cannot articulate their needs. I am glad your son does well in school and that his teachers like him. This is a good sign.
Your job for your son’s entire development will be to teach him social skills, and now is the perfect time to start! Tell your child you are going to learn a better way to meet kids. You can pretend to be a child and walk up to him and say, “Hi, my name is Mary. Do you want to play?” Your son may think this is hysterical and laugh at you. That’s okay. Explain to him that when people meet one another they are kind, they smile, they look at the other person. Then, talk about what you do not do. Lay down the rules by saying, “When we meet people, we don’t push, hit, or throw. If you do that you will sit by yourself until you can act better.” Before he gets together with his cousin, review the rules just a few minutes before they are together (kids this age have extremely short attention spans, so doing it any sooner won’t be effective). If your son greets his cousin with a shove, he goes directly to time-out. If he greets her with a hug or just doesn’t hit her he gets a big hug from you and lots of praise about what a big boy he is. You may even want to tell him that if he can greet his cousin nicely 4 times in a row he will get something special (more movie time, extra play time, etc.)
I agree that you cannot separate cousins because they see each other so much. Bear in mind, though, that because of this familiarity, cousins sometimes fight just as much as siblings. By teaching him now what your expectations are and following through with a consequence you are giving him the tools he needs to be a nicer, kinder friend.
Comment By : Dr. Joan Simeo Munson
* Dear Frustrated Mom,
I guess the big question here is did anything happen after age two that could have impacted your daughter? Many times family situations like divorce, unemployment, moving, etc. can cause a child to change. Then again, some kids just begin a phase of development that allows us as parents to gain a deeper insight into their temperament, which may not always be pleasant. Lastly, this onset of changing behavior may be indicative of something more that is rooted in a psychiatric issue that may require professional assistance. I would recommend the following:
First, make an appointment with your pediatrician and have your daughter checked out, both for physical and psychological reasons. Make a list prior to your appointment of all the changes you have witnessed and, if possible, a time frame of when the onset of these symptoms began. This will provide your doctor with a more complete understanding of your daughter’s development. My hope here is that your doctor will lead you in the right path of where to go next (if anywhere) to help your daughter.
At home you can begin some behavioral techniques that may help you help your daughter. If you know you are entering into a new and difficult situation, prepare your daughter well in advance. You can say, “We’re going to visit Grandma today. I know you don’t always like to go new places, but how about if we pack up a bag of your favorite things that make you happy and you can keep it close by so you feel good when we are there.” Some kids just really hate change (I have a child who is like this myself) so any change is perceived as threatening and anxiety-provoking. By preparing your child you are giving her the opportunity to soothe herself and find ways to control her anxiety when she is placed in an unfamiliar situation. If she does a good job transitioning to something new, heap on the praise and tell her how proud you are.
In terms of the aggressive behavior, make a chart with her that states your family rules. She can color it if she wants. Go over the rules together, which can include the following: No hitting, no biting, no kicking, no yelling, no bad words, etc. Tell her you will be following the same rules. Hang it on a wall at her height so she can see it. If she breaks a rule, swiftly and firmly tell her, “We don’t hit” and put her in time-out. Let her know what the consequence will be each and every time she breaks a rule and make sure to follow through. If she can make it through a day with no aggressive behavior, let her have a chart where she puts up a sticker and give her something special if she can go 5 days (or whatever you think is good) without breaking any rules. This can include going for ice cream, extra video time, playing a game with her or whatever you think she’ll like. Kids this age respond well to positive reinforcement so make sure you are positive when she is positive.
Comment By : Dr. Joan Simeo Munson
I've begun watching my boyfriends 4 year old son. I've known him and his son for a while, but only in the last few months have I started watching his son by myself for a few hours at a time. He has always been pretty good for me, aside from random outbursts that seem to be typical of a child. Recently, though, he's gone from sweet to scary! He's kicking and screaming, running and jumping off things, he's biting and hitting. He does these things any time you ask him to do something he doesn't want too (Such as ...please put on your clothes) No matter how nicely you ask. He doesn't seem to care if you remove his perks (such as his toys or videos). He laughs when he hurts you, and bites if you try to stop him from doing anything. He started this after his mother moved into a new house, she's moved several times in the last few months. Could this be the cause of all this misbehavior? And how do we put a stop to it! He's started leaving bruises all over my arms from the biting. I try to just let him "work it out" and ignore his behavior but he does things that could cause physical harm to himself. I've tried talking to him about it and he just screams at me. I am not his parent, but as his sometimes watcher I feel I still need to know how to react to this behavior while keeping him from harming himself.
His parents seem to be at a bit of a loss to as this behavior is out of the ordinary for him.
Any help please!
Comment By : Frustrated but just the girlfriend
* Dear Frustrated but just the girlfriend:
We’re sorry to hear this child is having such a difficult time. Because he could cause physical harm to himself when he acts out, tell his parents that they can call crisis services in their area if they cannot calm him down, and encourage the parents to talk to the child’s pediatrician about this behavior and work closely with any professionals the physician may recommend.
Comment By : Carole Banks, Parental Support Line Advisor
When my 5 year old "flips" I cannot talk to him because he screams at the top of his voice... I cannot ignore him because I end up with things being thrown at me or he runs at me and attacks me. I have tried leaving the room, but he follows, I have shut myself in a room but he kicks the door, and punches it. My oldest son who is 16 has experienced him flip and so have my mum and dad, and husband, but generally he is more agressive to me. It usually takes him over an hour to calm down when he gets angry. socially he is not very good and at school he complains about people not playing with him, but it is because he doesnt want to play their games, only his own. He is one of the youngest in his class and so has been put on an IEP to try and help him catch up. You can take a toy or remove a dvd and he doesnt care at all. He reacts to certain foods I know, as he was ill with milk as a baby. He has a restricted diet and refuses to try anything new. I feel such a failure
Comment By : windyfish
I am having an issue with my 3 year old biting himself. As a toddler he started biting others (children and adults) and we were able to stop that behavior over time. But he has reverted to biting himself when he is angery, does not get his way or something happens that he cannot verbally communicate to us. I have read numerous articles and nothing is working. I can identify some situations ( not getting what he wants usually) that will cause a self biting reaction but others occur at random. Emotionally he is much more aggressive than my older son and this is uncharted territory for me.
Comment By : gdsblv
My son is almost 33 months old and I’m concerned about his behavior with other children. He has become increasingly aggressive towards children his age or younger than him. He’s hasn’t yet attended preschool, but I have always provided social outlets for him through Gymboree, play groups and The Little Gym. In almost every social situation, he becomes aggressive – grabbing toys, pushing, hitting, grabbing children’s hands and squeezing them. He plays very well with older children and with adults, but seems to be aggressive with the smaller children for no particular reason. When he pushes or hits or grabs toys, it all seems unprovoked. He doesn’t seem frustrated or angry when doing this; it’s as if he does it just to do it. As an example, at gym class the children run in a circle to warm up and as he runs he brushes up against them or holds his hand out to slightly hit them as he runs by them and he’s even knocked them over. He also seems super competitive, even at this young age. He pushes his way to the front of a line or rushes to get to the slide first. I am at his side constantly trying to correct the behavior or teach him the proper way of acting in a situation, but all to no avail. I don’t know what to do. I wanted to start him in preschool in the fall, but am terrified that he will hurt another child and be asked to leave. He can be very sweet with children his age or younger and he can share very well, but this seems to be when there is only one or two children around. It’s seems to be in larger groups that he’s aggressive. He plays very well with adults as well. He doesn’t hit me or my husband or older children either. He actually shows a lot more interest in playing with older children than children his age. But, the aggression towards younger children has escalated. It used to be just grabbing toys, but now he pushes and hits. When the other child cries, he does seem affected by it. He states out loud that the other child is crying and I explain to him that he caused that child to cry. I tend to belabor the point in hopes of instilling empathy, but I don’t know if I’m belaboring the point too much. I don’t know if this behavior is developmentally normal or if there’s something more I should worry about. All the articles I’ve read tend to associate aggression with anger or frustration, but I don’t feel my son’s aggression is triggered by either. I also don’t want to set him up for failure by sending him to preschool with a large group of children if being in a large group is triggering the behavior. Please help. Any advice is appreciated.
Comment By : Mom Who Needs Advice
* Dear Mom Who Needs Advice:
First, your son’s behavior is perfectly normal. So take a deep breath and get ready to dig in with some consequences for your little hitter. Children this age often feel overwhelmed by the world around them and one way to manage these feelings is to act out. Pushing, shoving, biting, swatting, etc. are all behaviors that almost all 3-year-old children engage in on a regular basis. However, as you have already acknowledged, it doesn’t mean that he should be allowed to continue doing it.
Next time you are going to be out with other kids, get down to eye level and say to your son (at the moment before you enter the activity--because little kids have little attention spans) “We don’t hit. We don’t shove. We don’t whack people when they are running by us. If I see you do this, you will sit by yourself in this corner of the gym (show him where) by yourself for five minutes until you learn how to play nice. If you do it again, we are leaving. I want to make sure you understand me: if you do this you will sit by yourself the first time, but the second time WE ARE LEAVING. Do you understand Mommy?” Then, follow through. You will most likely have to leave some place at some time. Your son may scream. He may cry. You may feel horribly embarrassed and judged by others. Ignore everything and everyone (including your son's outburst) and follow through. The key to handling an almost 3-year-old's behavior is to ALWAYS follow through. I can almost guarantee that if you are consistent, your son’s misbehavior will eventually stop. Have a chart at home where he can see it and let him put a sticker on the chart each time he listens and does not hit. Praise him when he can make it through an entire gym session without hitting. At the end of the week if he has 3 days in a row (or however many you wish) without hitting, he gets a reward. This can include a trip to the library, the ice cream shop, a special video time, etc.
As far as belaboring the point, you need to stop doing this. The saying, “actions speak louder than words” is applicable here. When you act on your son’s aggressiveness by providing him with some consequences, he will listen to that far more than to you giving him speeches. As for pre-school: bring it on! Your son is the perfect candidate for being with other kids, learning how to follow the rules, listening to the teacher, and reaping the natural consequences if he ignores the rules. Pre-school would be the very best thing for him. So start now by teaching him what your expectations are for him and by the time he gets to pre-school he will be ready. And if he’s not, I guarantee the other students and his teachers will motivate him.
Thanks for writing in and please let us know how it goes.
Comment By : Dr. Joan Simeo Munson
* Dear gdsblv:
Some kids do odd things to soothe themselves. I think of kids who bang their heads against their cribs to help themselves go to sleep. It certainly doesn’t seem normal, but most children outgrow these types of behaviors. My first question is: Is your son hurting himself? By this I mean, does he draw blood or have scabs/scars? If so, I would call your pediatrician. If not, your goal is going to be to give him an alternative to helping himself cope. Since your son is three, I am guessing he is old enough to understand you. You can say, “I am giving you this (fill in the blank here) to help you when you are angry. I know you have been biting yourself when you are mad, but we need to stop doing this. You have done a great job of not biting other kids anymore, so I know you can do this.” Examples of what you can use are pillows to punch, a bean bag to jump on, soft balls to bounce or throw in your basement, or any other tool you can think of that allows him to get rid of aggression.
Have a chart hanging at eye level for your son and each time he is angry and chooses his other option instead of biting himself he gets a sticker. Praise him by saying, “I am really proud of how well you are doing hitting your pillows when you are angry instead of biting yourself.” After so many stickers (say 4, for example) he gets a special reward. This can be something as easy as a new box of crayons to draw with, a trip to the library, a new book, etc. Keep praising him and offering him his other options when he is angry and he should outgrow this habit sooner rather than later.
Comment By : Dr. Joan Simeo Munson
I really like your article and I think I will be reading it a few times to get as much out of it as possible. I also have a son who can be aggressive. He will use his body ( to kick, hit, punch pinch, spit) at children incliuding his older sister when he is angry. He can be such a soft and sweet boy most of the time. I find that my son usually acts out with poor behaviour when he is frustrated and feels like he is not being heard, or when he is angry at his sister, also if another child is doing any of these behaviours to him. I have tried to be calm ( I will have to try harder bnecause I do find myself yelling at him when he does this). I like what you say about walking away from the aggressor and being attentive to the victim. Such a simple concept that I think most of us forget. I usually think to handle the situation with the agressor first and then give the attention to the victim ( of course I ask the victim if they are okay and if they are I start with talking to my son). So how do we punish a child who is aggressive. I have done time outs, go to your room, no treats, you name it. I have also said to "use your words". Recently I started explaining that touch should never feel bad, and we should never use our touch to hurt others, touch needs to be nice and the other person should feel good ( i.e hug, kiss, hold hands) I think he is understanding more when I put it that way. I think it has become habit for him to react first and think later.
Comment By : Pandie
* Pandie: Thank you for the compliment. It sounds like you are really eager to learn some new parenting skills—we call that being an empowered parent—way to go! Regarding punishment, James Lehman once said, “A consequence is something that follows naturally from a person’s action, inaction or poor decision. It differs from a punishment in that a punishment is retribution. Punishment is “getting back” at someone, to hurt them back for a hurt they did.” James did not believe that punishment is an effective approach to acting out behavior. He also felt that consequences do not change behavior on their own; they provide accountability, a cost to your child for his behavior. That said, it’s going to be most effective for you to continue focusing on teaching your child; teaching him how to use his words, teaching him what to do when other children are aggressive toward him, etc. It sounds like you are already moving in the right direction here. Examples of consequences you might use with a younger child are leaving the playground or play date early or putting a toy in time out for 15-30 minutes. You might also consider incentives for your little one to use his words and play nicely. For example, you could talk to him before a play date about what your expectations are and one thing he can do or say that will help him. Let him know that if he tries really hard not to hit or kick other kids, he’ll get a reward when you get home such as extra one-on-one time with you. Incentives are often far more motivating for younger kids and are definitely worth a try. Here is a short blog by Carole Banks, MSW, that will give you some more ideas: Giving Consequences to Young Kids and Toddlers. We wish you luck as you continue to work on this. Keep up the good work.
Comment By : Sara A. Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor
I have a 6 year old boy, who on the whole is good at home. However, school is a different matter. He is now in year 1, he is very bright and enjoys reading and learning, his problem is that he kicks and smacks on a daily basis, usually the same 3 children and also has started swearing in front of these same 3 children. (something he has not got from home) I have asked school to keep him away from these 3 children, but as much as he hurts them, they like to play with him, until something happens! He likes to play physical games such as tiggy and fighting games which usually ends up in my son hurting someone. When he swears the kids laugh at him and then tell the teacher. School have tried to tell the other kids not to react, but I guess this is hard for 6 year olds. I am just mortified that my son does this. I feel like everyone at school is talking about me and my son, it's heartbreaking. Please help.
Comment By : at my wits end
My oldest son is coming up to 2 1/2yrs old and I have been struggling with his biting for 5 months now. (I have another son who is 18 months old) - I have read this article hundreds of times and have found its contents really useful, however nothing I do seems to be stopping him from biting. On observation he tends to bite when (a) someone has taken something hes been playing with (b) when he is frustrated/angry when we say he cant have/do something (c) when he is in a large group and not getting one to one attention all the time. The biting initially started at daycare and now he is biting at home too. He only goes to daycare twice a week for 5hrs in the morning. He is very advanced for his age with speech and grammar and can articulate himself extremely well. He is more than capable of telling others when he is angry/upset or not to take his toys and he knows that biting is wrong and that it hurts other people although he has never been bitten himself. I do a lot of work with him at home on using his words and roleplaying sharing and taking turns, but this does not seem to work as he is continuing to bite. I have tried the naughty step, distraction and ignoring the biting but nothing works.
I am wondering whether I should take him out of daycare? On one morning he bit 3 different children. He has never bitten so hard so as to draw blood, however the biting is occuring on a daily basis now and I have no idea how to stop it, I feel like it is all getting out of control. He has a very stable home life, I am a stay at home mum and spend all my time with my boys. Daycare are not happy about the biting and I am beginning to get the feeling that they no longer want to deal with him and want him out. My son can be such a gentle and caring boy and this behaviour of his is really upsetting me. I really do not want to bite him back or smack him as I do not agree with retaliating in such a way but I just
do not know what to do. At home he bites me and his little brother daily and
I am really worried that my other son will start biting too. He also pushes and hits and is seems to go hand in hand with the biting. I do not shout at the boys and I really try and stay calm and positive with them all the time, but I am so close to breaking right now.
Any advice you could give would be greatly appreciated, I just want my kind gentle little boy back and not to have to follow him around every minute of every day. I feel like I am failing him as a parent.
Comment By : London
I loved this article my six year old is so aggressive all the time, I get to the point where I want to cry, I have made sure my whole life is my children and so has my husband and out of three children he is our first child whom is this angry. I feel like such a failure some days, I have raised three kids and I don't know how to help my littlest child....He does fantastic at school he is a great kid but when he is home look out. Some days I have panic attacks over it. This article really gave me some good ideas and I will be reading more often... Thank you
Comment By : old mom at a loss
My son just turned five and we just moved out of a bad sistuation,I seperated from his father.he is showing me lots of anger isues..I just enrolled him into Kindergardan and he is having problems at school..Today i had to go get him from school because he spit in a kids face and hit anouther kid .I just dont know what to do anymore, I've tried putting him in the corner and slapping of the hand and having long continuose talks with him, but it just seems like its not working..He is a very bright kid and he seems like he injoys being around other kids, its just when I'm not there he just acts out in the wrong way or when i have my back turned he dose something that he knows that he is not supposed to ...I dont now what to do ..i really need some advise,besides going to a psychriatrist.Because I want that to be my last option.
Comment By : Momma needs help
* To ‘Momma needs help’: It sounds like you are pretty frustrated by your son’s behavior in school. I really like that you are talking with him about what is going on and what your expectations are. One thing for you to think about is that his attention span is not suited for a long, drawn-out conversation. Try something short and to the point instead that follows these steps: 1) Ask what happened right before he spit on the other child or slapped him; do not ask why. 2) Tell him it is never okay to spit on another person or hit them. 3) Talk very briefly about your rules and the school’s rules related to this behavior—do not lecture. 4) Talk to him about what he can do differently next time to handle the problem without getting physical. You could have him write an apology to the other student as a consequence. Having a discussion like this and requiring your son to make amends to the other child is going to be far more effective than having him “do time” in the corner or slapping his hand. The Total Transformation program does not support these techniques as they do not teach your child the skills he needs to improve his behavior. This is an example of problem-solving, one of the three effective parenting roles James Lehman highlighted in the program. It will take lots of repetition for your child to learn so try to be patient and recognize that he is lacking some skills. Also keep in mind that big changes in a kid’s life, like a separation, can cause kids’ problem solving skills to break down. Stick with these suggestions and try to stay calm and businesslike about the behavior. If this spitting behavior continues you might also share your concerns with your son’s pediatrician for more ideas. We wish you luck.
Comment By : Sara Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor
My daughter is 4 years old, and willnto listen to me no matter how nice i am she will just not listen to me. The other day her school teacher called me at work and siad that my daughter is biting and its getting out of hand, i have spoken to my daughter and she just seems as if she was ot listening to me...
I have no idea wher to start or where to finish, i work till 8pm in the evening every 3rd week, and sometimes week ends from 8am to 5 pm. For me as a mother this is very hard and i don't think any mother likes to hear things abou the child at school. CAn you please help me ???
Comment By : DaughterHelp.
* To ‘DaughterHelp’: It sounds like you are feeling at a loss about how to handle this. It’s hard for me to know why you think your daughter isn’t listening, but try not to worry about whether or not she is making eye contact. Ask your daughter what happened right before she bit the other child—did the other child do something to her? Did she want something the other child wouldn’t share? You can let your daughter know that if she does not tell you, you will have to ask the teacher to find out. Once you figure out what happened right before she bit the other child, you will have an idea of what triggered the biting. Talk about what she can do differently next time—this might be as simple as giving her some words to use. You can do some role plays on the weekends to act out the scenarios that are occurring in the classroom using the new skill you taught her. This is a great way for her to get some practice. You can also set up a daily reward. Each day that she does not bite another child in school, she gets a small reward such as 10 minutes playing a game with you or an extra story read to her at bedtime. We wish you luck as you continue to work on this. Take care.
Comment By : Sara Bean. M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor
I have to admit--this is the most frustrated feeling I've ever experienced. I am a mommy to a wonderfully, vivacious 3-year old boy who I feel like gives me normal three year old behavior at home. Although I know he is high strung, he gets this honestly (case in point, ME), and his father and I can deal with this by ensuring that our home operates in a structured environment. We have recently experienced his first three months at preschool (and after a change in teachers), we are having a very, very rough go of it. He has bitten, hit, and kicked his new teacher repeatedly. Although he is rough with friends, I'm told this is more impulsive and after much discussion with his pediatrician, feel like that is more of an excitability issue. The teacher aggression however, is a major concern. We have tried the sticker system, punishments, positive reinforcement, but I can't seem to get much support from his teachers given that they are adimant that he is ADHD, an issue that his pediatrician will not merit at this point. Do I change classes for my child who I know is a product of complete consistency...behavioral specialist? What do I do?
Comment By : Trying to Maintain consistency
* To ‘Trying to Maintain consistency’: You ask a tough question here. Starting preschool and getting a new teacher are both pretty big changes for such a little guy. Transitions can be really hard for kids of any age. While it is completely up to you whether or not you put your son into a different class, there is one thing that stands out to me: you indicate that your son’s behavior changed after he got a new teacher, and it sounds like he is only aggressive toward this new teacher, though I could be wrong. We recommend that you continue to talk with your son’s teachers and pediatrician to determine what is best for him in this situation. It might also be helpful to talk to the current teacher and share with her some strategies and techniques that work well for your son when he is at home. We wish you luck as you continue to work through this.
Comment By : Sara Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor
I am a father of a lovely 3year old boy, who is sociable, energetic, already types the ABC on my laptop, has a caring sweet mum, BUT...everytime he is mad at something or ME ONLY starts hitting me in the eye. He never raises a hand to ANY other member of the family, just me. Once he hit me hard in the eye with one of his model toys and I spanked him lightly on the face, just to show him how irritating this is...my bad...now he attacks me constantly. I'm depressed. Any suggestions? Themi, Greece. XX
Comment By : Themi
* To Themi: This sounds like an incredibly frustrating situation! I hope you find comfort in knowing that changing your own reaction can really help to modify this behavior. The first thing to keep in mind as you move forward is role modeling. We suggest that you refrain from using spanking or other types of physical discipline. As James Lehman says, it’s important to behave the way you want your children to behave. Instead, it will be helpful for you to calmly and quietly set a limit with your son the next time he hits you, such as “We don’t hit. That’s not okay.” Tell your son he needs to calm down and suggest an activity for him to do that might be soothing such as playing with blocks or hugging a teddy bear. If a tantrum breaks out, move an age appropriate distance away, such as across the room, and keep your engagement very minimal until he calms down. It’s very important that you remember throughout this process that your son is lacking the skills to effectively communicate and manage his emotions. Though it may feel like a personal attack, try not to take it personally. Take care of yourself when you’re feeling down and frustrated. We wish you luck as you continue to work through this. Take care.
Comment By : Sara Bean. M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor
i need so help i have a five yr old that is pleseant and very clever he is warm and great with other kids and his brother no problems at kinder or when we go out but at home when its just him his brother (2yr) and me has behaviour that i cant explain why or makes him do it but he kick punches and bit throws things (i get covered in bruises) ive tried getting him to use his words, time out, taking toys or missing out on outings, i at the sage where i phyiscal bear hug him to stop him but as soon as i do he strated again and my 2yr is starting to copy him. i need some advise or different techniquea i worried ill have two kids i cant controll. i love my kids more then the whole world and im pulling my hair out and feel like im a bad mum.
Comment By : tisf
* To 'tisf': It’s challenging when you have a child who acts out physically at home, and a younger sibling who is following in his footsteps. As frustrating as it seems, it is actually a good sign that he does not act out in public, as that shows that he does know appropriate ways to behave in certain settings. We recommend talking with him before he gets upset about what he is thinking, or what you see happening right before he starts to become aggressive, and then doing some planning for what he can do the next time he feels like kicking, punching or throwing things. We advise coaching him on this new technique when you see him becoming upset the next time; for example, “Remember to take those deep breaths we talked about earlier.” If he does attempt to calm himself down, he should be rewarded for his efforts; if not, talk about what he can do differently next time, and give a consequence or have him make amends as necessary. Something that can be helpful in changing younger kid’s behavior is using behavior charts, and I am including a link to an article that might be helpful for you: Child Behavior Charts: How to Use Behavior Charts Effectively. Good luck to you and your sons as you continue to work through this.
Comment By : Rebecca Wolfenden, Parental Support Advisor
What do you do with verbally aggressive child? My 6 year old is aggressive in one situation only: when we are in a play group and other child takes his toys (usually a younger child who is innocently trying to interact by taking the toy) or again a younger child (even as young as 1-2 year old) hits him. His response is to yell, stomp, make mean faces, and berate the young child (whose parents are intervening appropriately) by shouting things like 'I hate that baby. He is so RUDE. Why do babies have to come here!' It is truely frightening and I do not say or do any of this. Usually the advice I get is 'well, you must be modeling it' or he's learning from his older (teen) brother or father. Please believe he is not. My younger son gets so upset and seems to have no tolerance for younger children hitting or grabbing toys off him--he expects them to play cooperatively and be 'reasonable' in deciding on how to share. If he tells a 2 year old that he can have a turn and the kid doesn't give him back a turn he will do the same sort of angry tirade. It takes him 10-20 minutes to calm down and in that time he might 'accept' an apology by saying it is OK but then rejects any interaction with ANY kids (say at park or play group). He will just sit and pout or angrily play with toys (by crashing two cars together or wrestling to men, possibly by doing something totally embarrassing and shocking like saying this is the babies car and BAM BAM BAM the baby is dead, haha!). He has never hit or hit back in my prescence or teachers or in the 5 years of full daycare, but the anger is bad enough and many people who've never met him before assume he will...I've seem many worried parents move their kids away from him/distract their kids from him after (and I think that could be his motivation).
Comment By : verbal aggression in young child
* To 'verbal aggression in young child': Young children can be confusing, and even embarrassing, in their responses to others. It is normal for younger children not to understand that other children may not know how to share, or how to appropriately interact with others. This is not to say that what he is doing is OK, or should be tolerated. We recommend talking with him before you go to a play group about what he can do if a young child tries to take his toy, or doesn’t take turns. You might say, for example, “I can see that you get angry when a little kid tries to take your toy, or doesn’t want to share. When I get angry, I go sit by myself and count until I can calm down and be polite again. Do you think you can try that? Let’s practice.” Then when you go to a play group, or the park, remind him of the rules for playing with others. If he chooses to try his new strategy for calming himself down, give him a small reward for that. If he chooses to pout, then let him. You can choose to bring along a magazine to look through so you’re able to watch him for safety, but not engage with this behavior. If he chooses to have an angry outburst, coach him on calming down while you try to remove him from the situation (for example, going to sit in the car until he calms down and can talk with you about this). I am including a link to an article I think you might find helpful: Managing the Meltdown. Good luck to you and your family as you continue to work through this.
Comment By : Rebecca Wolfenden, Parental Support Advisor
I have a 5 1/2 yr.old who hits us( mom and dad) sometimes when he doesn't get his way or gets mad about something. For example: when he was in the bathroom downstairs and I needed to use the b/r upstairs, he came up chasing after me with his pants still down, asking me to wipe him(" wipe me now!") and then proceeded to hit me quite hard, feeling frustrated that I did not help him in the b/r before heading upstairs. He often has to follow me up the stairs during the course of the day and if I go up without him, he has to come and find me immediately. Has some other (minor "OC" behaviors, like having to always wave goodbye to his daddy at the window, and if he doesn't get to, he will often have a meltdown. He has become quite needy of me and is very attached to me, more so than before he started full day school. (Was in 1/2 day last year). In general, he has been a very independent, well -adjusted happy child. So this neediness of me has thrown me off a little. I wonder if having started full day K has triggered some of this. He does not hit outside of the home that I know of, and has always been a very sweet and loving child.(Many comments from others at school and elsewhere about how he is so sweet). He is very well-behaved at school and learns very well. When his aggression crops up at home I am having a hard time controlling my anger and impulse to yell at him for hitting me. I have the book "Positive Discipline" for the pre-school years. Maybe it is time for the school age child-version? The book was very helpful when he was three. I read the above article and plan to implement some of the tools for dealing with aggression. I am always tempted to do the "long talk" with him about why he hits and I see now that that is not effective. We do take video privileges away, but it is usually not effective and the hitting continues. We talk to him about how hitting is wrong and he will tell us he understands it's not right, but I'm left thinking he really has a hard time controlling his anger. Too many times I have reacted badly by losing it myself, and sometimes yelling, and we both end up in tears(I do not EVER hit my child and am fiercely against hitting or hurting a child in any way) and I feel it may be exacerbating the problem. It is harder to maintain my own composure when the hitting is done to me(or my husband).
Comment By : mom looking for answers
Help me please! My four year old, who is generally a wonderful bright little spark, gets suddenly aggressive and hits his little sister who is 18mths or sometimes his friends. He has just started kindy and he just bit one of the children at school who happens to be a friend of his from his day care. He bit him because they had an argument over a puzzle. He has bitten his best friend before once or twice while playing and i really want to help my son out.
He also has been of late has become very argumentative and doesnt seem to be paying much attention on doing things which he used to in the past. Please help me help my little boy.
Comment By : Pinksherbet
* To Pinksherbet: It is confusing when young children appear to suddenly start acting out. It is a big change to start school, and children have different responses to dramatic changes in their routine. This does not mean, however, that it is OK to hit and bite people. We advise being very clear and direct with him about this limit; for example, “No hitting. Hitting hurts.” If this happens at home, tend to the one that was hit, and then talk with your son about what happened. Tell him what you saw happening, and that hitting is not OK. Then tell him what he can do instead. For example, you might say “Right before you hit your sister, I saw that she took your truck away. I understand that you feel angry when she does this; hitting her is not OK. Next time she takes your toy away from you, tell her ‘That’s mine’. Let’s practice this.” You can also do some problem solving with him about when this happens at school. It might be helpful to consult with his doctor to make sure that everything is OK with your son as well. Good luck to you and your family as you continue to work through this.
Comment By : Rebecca Wolfenden, Parental Support Advisor
Comment By : m_shahadeh
my son is turning 18 months on the 8th and he is starting to hit an bite his mother says. He is my first child an I wanna do it right with all the help I can get.
Comment By : sugashane
I thought this was a good article as I am doing research regarding a little girl in my daughters preschool class who is quite aggresive. What you did fail to mention in the list of possible reasons "why the aggresion" would be diet. I am in grad school for nutrition and the food that most of the parents (that I come across) feed their toddlers and preschoolers is shocking. Namely we could start with sugar. Sugar is more addictive than cocaine, and has just about as many health implications, just in a cheaper, nicer packaged format. We are becoming a nation (and a planet) who makes poor food choices for our children (and ourselves each day) I plea with every parent out there--cut out all the sugar and watch a potential transformation in your child!
Comment By : garden girl
I have a 4 almost 5 year old that likes to hit,bite,pull hair and cusses at her older sister that's almost 7 years old and me... she has also hit her little baby brother in the face I have tried it seems like everything I'm also in a program called Turning Point Fit that's working with her behaver but there are still times where her older sister would be just watching TV not even bothering her little sister then my 4 year old would just get up and start beating on her for no reason at all... she would hit me when I tell her no on ice cream or anything else she wants she would scream and call me names and hit me when she doesn't get what she wants right then and there! it's hard to be taking care of my son that's 12months when she would come up and almost pull him right from my arms. I need help I'm a single mother of 3 little ones and really need her to be helpful not harmful. she good in school but at home she out of control.
Comment By : blueangel79
This article has given me so much hope that i can change not only my child's behavior but also mine. I have 3 year old who will be turning 4 in a couple of months. he is very tall and strong for his age making him look more like 5 or 6 year old. he is very aggressive towards others and me. I've gotten to the point of crying out of my frustration of not being able to control his behavior in public many times. I feel like he does not listen to me and has no respect for me. My parents take care of him also and will sometimes undermine my authority. i think that this adds on to my not being able to control him and to my frustration. I've begun telling him to use his words when ever he starts to yell and get physical. Recently he has been punching other classmates in his daycare. When ever he does act out of control or throws a temper tantrum it's very hard for me to control him or try to get him out of the situation because of his size and strength. On top of all this i feel like i should get him tested for ADHD. It's all a bit overwhelming sometimes but this article does give me hope, thank you.
Comment By : young_nycmom
* To 'blueangel79': It sounds like you are having a tough time with your younger daughter! We recommend talking with her when things are calm, and letting her know that hitting, biting, pulling hair and swearing are not OK. Then, you can talk about things she can do instead-for example, she might say, “I’m really, really mad right now!”, or go outside and bounce a ball until she is calm. You can also set up an incentive system for her, where if she chooses her new strategy, she can earn something extra that day. Some examples include watching a special movie, getting to choose what is for dinner, or some one-on-one time with you. It might be helpful to practice with her when she is calm, so she knows what she can do the next time she is told no. I am including a link to an article for more information about behavior charts: Child Behavior Charts: How to Use Behavior Charts Effectively. Good luck to you and your family as you continue to work through this.
Comment By : Rebecca Wolfenden, Parental Support Advisor
I have been sitting here reading stories about difficult children and it totally breaks my heart. My three year old is a hitter and recently has become a kicker. He is very impatient and wants things his way NOW! He is very bright (knows all preprimer dolch words, reads step 1 books, counts in english, spanish, and chinese) but has an aggression that worries me as we are getting ready to move into prek. I don't want him to be labeled or put into a special class for behavior. I am so at my wits end. He can be such a loving, compassionate child 75% of the time. The other 25% is pure hell! I think his teacher hates him (strong words) and he has recently stated that he doesn't want to go back to school....Help!!
Comment By : Momof2
* To 'Momof2': It is difficult when your child is showing a lot of aggressive behavior, such as hitting and kicking. It’s normal for three year-olds to be impatient and want what they want, immediately when they want it! At this stage in their development, they are still learning impulse control. That is not to say that it’s OK that he’s acting out aggressively, however. It might be helpful for you to talk with him about things he can do instead of hitting or kicking when he’s not getting his way. For example, you might say, “I know it was hard for you today when you couldn’t get a turn with the truck when you wanted to play with it. Hitting is not OK. Tomorrow if you don’t get a turn right away, why don’t you try this instead? Let’s practice this.” You might also try talking with his teacher and his doctor to get some local resources and tips to try as well. We find that doing a behavior chart can be very effective with children this age, where if he practices his new behavior without hitting or kicking, he receives a small reward. I’m including a link to an article about behavior charts that you might find useful: Child Behavior Charts: How to Use Behavior Charts Effectively. Good luck to you and your son as you continue to work through this.
Comment By : Sara Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor
I have a 6 y/o daughter who is very rude and says things like "I am not going to school and you can't make me," as well as things like "I hate you, I wish you were dead." About a week ago I was lying down and she was getting right in my face, saying things like "Get up and do this now." She wanted me to draw something. I told her her behavior was not okay and asked her to go to her room for a few minutes. She refused 2x and then kind of lunged at me....I went to redirect her off the bed and she ending up falling off. She was very angry with me. I immediately apologized and told me I was wrong to try to physically direct her like that, but she won't let it go. Everyday her behavior towards me has been awful, and when something is going okay, she will suddenly say, " oh, I forgot, I hate you" and then start saying rude things again.
I have tried being empathic with her, but if an adult were saying the things (and kicking hitting) the way she is toward me it would be considered abusive. At what point does patience and understanding become enabling?
I have consistently told her that it is not okay to hit, pull, punch or kick, and I give her direct feedback right away when she says things which are unacceptable. She just doesn;t seem to respond the way other kids too. she is a very difficult child, and what makes it worse is that when you have a tough kid, everyone assumes it is your fault. I feel like a failure as a parent, and can relaly relate to what another comment listed above, and seeing toddlers/babies and wondering how my sweet child became this nightmare. I am feeling very depressed about it. I am trying to get in to see someone about these parenting issues, but finding a child psychologist/parenting expert has proven to be very difficult. I think she may fit the criteria for ODD, although her worst behavior is at home.
Comment By : feeling like a failure
Hello my name is Genia . I have a five yr old son , he will be 6 in August . He had a stroke a birth, sensory processing disorder and some mild language deficits . We currently finished the Parent Child Interaction tx with his behavioral therapist . I have the tools to help him at home. But at school and day camp its totally different. He is throwing and pushing over chairs . Hitting the teacher , running around the room when he is suppose to be in time out. He is hitting his other class mates. It is happening frequently to the point , they call me to pick him up. Im so frustrated and its really affecting me . I did spank him for his behavior at day camp . I just dont know what to do at this point. His behavior at home is totally different. I tried telling him to respect his teachers . He also has attention seeking behaviors. Any advice would help
Comment By : Needs Immediate Help !!!!
* To “Needs immediate Help!”: We appreciate you taking the time to share your story with us. It can be so upsetting when you are able to work with your child to develop better skills but he’s struggling to globalize the behavior and use it in different situations. It’s understandable you would be frustrated. We wouldn’t suggest using physical punishment as a way to manage his behavior. It usually isn’t an effective means of helping children control their behavior nor is it going to help him learn other ways of behaving while he’s at school. What is probably going to be most effective is to work with his camp/school to come up with a plan for how they will address his behaviors while he is with them. We would suggest speaking with his behavioral therapist to see what sorts of suggestion he/she may be able to make for your situation. Perhaps there are some tools you could share with his camp counselors/teachers they could use to help manage his behavior while he is with them. I hope this has been helpful. We wish you the best as you continue to address these behaviors. Take care.
Comment By : D. Rowden, Parental Support Advisor
I am very concerned about my niece. Her behavior is a worry. She is constantly biting, slapping, kicking, crying and pretends she is baby. Her speech is lacking and she is about to enter preschool. She does not like crowds and does not like to share or being told on. She goes from laughter to slapping. She does not take kindly to No from any authority. She has been dismissed from daycare because of her behavior towards other children. Her sister who is six is so passive and fun loving. I don't understand it and so concerned about her entering school.
Comment By : concerned aunt
Thanks alot.. your post is really important and effective.
Comment By : Mrs Sam
What a great article! I just received a call from the school principle. My first grader just bit another girl. She has a temper but hasn't bit anyone since she was about 2. I also found out that she kicked and hit 2 other children this week. She's not usually violent. I'm not sure what is going on. It's still the first month of school, so I'm sure going to full day school after 1/2 day kindergarten is still an adjustment. I just am not sure how to deal with this. Thankfully your article has so many good suggestions.
Comment By : worried mama
So my son, which is 5 and just started full day kindergarden a couple months ago, has been hitting and kicking more frequently than normal. He did hit/kick before but it wasnt as often. I recently started college as well and I am doing everything in my power to keep things normal and structured, but I do work full time and go to school full time. My mother or sister watches the my two kids while im in school. There are two days out of the week when I hardly see the kids at all. Only long enough to drop my daughter off at daycare and my son at school, by the time I get out of college they are sleeping already. I know that it was going to be difficult for them to adjust to the different schedule, but I only thought it would take a couple of weeks. Its been almost two months already and it just seems to be getting worse with my son. When he is at school, if he doesnt get what he wants from another student he hits or kicks. Then when he gets into trouble by the teacher he hits or kicks them. This goes on not only at school but at daycare as well. He also hits his sister whenever she does something he doesnt like at home. Its getting really frustrating. Im not quite sure what to do, ive taken his toys away, not given him desert, put him in time out, had him stay in his room for a while..ect. Any helpful comment would be greatly appreciated
Comment By : Busy Mom
* Dear Busy Mom: It sounds like you are working really hard to create a better life for your kids and I applaud you for that. Keep in mind, though, that kids of this age require stability and consistency and this may be the reason your son is acting out. My main suggestion to you would be to gather your mom and sister for a meeting and make sure that you are all on the same page with regards to watching, caring for and disciplining your son. This might be difficult, I know, but it is really imperative that all his caregivers use as close as possible to the same methods of care in order for your son to succeed. Before you talk to your mom and sister, you may want to start with your son's teacher(s) to figure out what works best for them in regards to your son's behavior management. It would also be helpful for you to print out an outline for all the caregivers that lists all the ideas and methods that work for you and that you hope they will use. Some questions to ask yourself when creating this list are: What and when does my child eat? Does my child have consistent rest periods each day? Is his night time ritual, which includes bath, stories, dinner, play time, the same each night? How much television/video game time is he allowed? How does each caregiver handle his temper tantrums and how does each one discipline him? What activities can he do that are the same at each daycare he attends? What are his likes and dislikes? The point here is to work out all the details as a group so that your son can receive relatively the same level of care each day while you are away. I hope this helps. I know this isn't easy, but I believe it will help your son in the long run if everyone gets on the same page. Please let us know how it goes!
Comment By : Dr. Joan
My son is 2 1/2 year old. he is very aggressive. can say as Obstinate. he will insist for something and will cry and hit and then will start throwing things on me. Like at night he will say he want to wear jeans and sleep. I will try to make him understand saying , we should wear night dress by showing mine also. but he wont agree and will start crying and will hit and throw things on me. If I scold him also , nothing will happen. He will not stop doing all these until he gets that. this behavior is seen everywhere.Sometimes he will bite, pinch and hit me which really pains . I will try to calm him down by embracing him but that time also he will try to hit and bite or sometimes pulls my hair. I will feel so bad, sometimes I wil cry also. then he will come and says sorry. But after 5 min , he will do the same thing. Not sure what to do. I and my husband both are working, and in he goes to daycare. so thinking will send him to my in law's house for 6 months to see any changes. Really confused what to do. We are planning to go to native next month. appreciate reply at the earliest.
Comment By : Urgent help.. Ashlin
* Dear Ashlin: It sounds as if your 2 1/2 year old is acting like a typical kid for his age and his development, but the problem is that he is running your house. Your job as mom and dad is to set the tone in your household and inform your son what the rules are and what the consequences will be if he doesn't follow them. You say that the only time he stops acting out is when he gets what he wants, but I guarantee you that he is acting out because he continues to get his way each time. Kids this age need firm, yet loving discipline plus a lot of choices.
Starting today let your child know that there will be new rules when he asks for something. Here is an example: Let's say your son wants to eat candy before dinner and you say "No". If he starts to throw a tantrum or is aggressive, you go down to his level and say, "We don't hit. IF you hit, you will sit by yourself" and remove him from the room to a safe place where he can sit by himself until he calms down. Do not hug him or try to help him into a better mood. You are setting boundaries with him and it is his job to calm down and not hit you. Each time he hits or is aggressive, tell him again, "We don't hit" and remove him from his surroundings. Soon he will get the picture that throwing a tantrum will not help him get his way. Do not give in to him and give him what he wants! Kids are very smart and they learn very quickly to manipulate their parents if they think they will change their minds and give in to their demands. Be consistent each day, even if his behavior gets worse.
Give your son a lot of choices too throughout his day. For instance, if your son wants to wear pants to bed, let him! It won't hurt him or you if you allow him to make choices that are harmless. Think about it: Does it really matter what he sleeps in? The point here is to let him feel like he is in control over things that make no difference such as what he wears to bed, what shoes he wears to school, or whether he has bananas or oranges with his breakfast. Save your rules for things that ARE important to his well-being such as bedtime, wearing a seat belt while driving, or holding your hand while crossing the street. If you can give him choices on the little things ("Do you want to wear your blue coat or green coat today?") then he may feel less likely to want to control everything around him.
Talk to his day care provider to see how he acts when you are not around. If he is well behaved there, ask them what they are doing to control his behavior. If he acts poorly, work with his teacher to help your son's behavior get better. Most 2 1/2 year olds have tantrums and some bite, hit, or become aggressive, but it is imperative for you to help your son get control of his behavior now before he grows into a school aged child who cannot control his behavior.
Comment By : Dr. Joan
My son is 7 and up until recently he had no problems at school but in the last 8 weeks has hit 3 different people. The principal has suspended him from school. I really need some tools to help me guide him to controlling his temper. I do fear I am somewhat to blame because of my own temper so I need this program to help me as well as him.
Comment By : bjones
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