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When Kids Get Violent: “There’s No Excuse for Abuse”

by James Lehman, MSW
When Kids Get Violent: “There’s No Excuse for Abuse”

Violence is the extreme end of aggression. Remember that not all kids who are aggressive become violent. When children and teens use violence to get what they want—whether it’s punching a sibling in the stomach or punching a hole in the wall—it usually involves a scenario where they’re being told “no” to something they want to do, or they’re being told they have to do something they don’t want to do. What actually happens is that the child gets frustrated and angry and hasn’t learned any other way to deal with these feelings than to strike out—often at the adults involved.

One way of looking at this issue is that your child’s frustration, disappointment and anger are problems that he solves by being violent.

One way of looking at this is that your child’s frustration, disappointment and anger are problems that he solves by being violent. Another way of looking at this is that the kid’s use of aggression and violence has worked successfully so far. It’s become his primary problem-solving technique and a means for gaining power in the home. When he hears the word “no” and feels frustrated and powerless, he hits someone or something and the adults in the situation back off, give in and don’t require him to comply. Striking out gives him back a sense of power.

If kids are gaining power by being violent, the first thing that you have to do is take away the power by not tolerating the violence. Now, there are different levels of violence in people’s houses. And there’s different power that kids get from it. I can’t answer every level of violence in one article, but it should be understood that if it gains power in a family, that family is in a lot of trouble and may need outside help. Violence is a seductive shortcut to power. And once it works, it’s hard to get kids to accept alternative ways of getting power. Many times, parents need a comprehensive behavioral program to manage this problem.

As the parent, you have to teach kids problem-solving skills so that they have an alternative way of dealing with these situations and feelings. The following are steps you can take to help your child:

Set Limits. Accept no excuse for abuse. Write this on a piece of paper and put it on the refrigerator. Let “There’s no excuse for abuse” become the motto of your household. Hold your child responsible for his or her violent behavior no matter what the justification. Remember, being verbally provoked does not justify a violent response.

Hold Kids Accountable and Give Consequences: Make sure there are consequences attached to those limits that you set. And make sure those consequences are set up as learning experiences.

Monitor the Media in Your Home: Not all kids listen to violent rap or metal music and then come down and be nice at dinner. Monitoring and excluding violent media, including TV, videos, music and computer, gives the whole family the theme that violence is not going to be glamorized in your home.

Be a Role Model for Your Child: As a parent, you need to be a role model. If you and your spouse are hurting one another or hurting your children to get your way, don’t be surprised if your kids mimic that. Kids watch parents for a living—it’s their job, it’s what they do. If parents model shortcuts and poor problem-solving, it’s natural that the kids are going to follow suit.

Let me be very clear: if one parent is behaving violently, it’s the other parent’s job to protect that child. I’ll say it again—accept no excuse for abuse. This is my nice way of saying if you’re locked in a relationship where your partner is being violent with your children, it’s your job to protect your children no matter what the cost to that relationship. There are cases where parents will cross the line into violence when they’re frustrated and angry because the techniques they’re trying with their kids are not working. Sadly, that’s no excuse. Children who are treated violently often grow up to be violent adults.

If parents find themselves crossing the line, that’s a sure sign they need outside help. My advice to them is to seek it as soon as possible. Also, parents should understand that if they become violent because their child is unmanageable or out of control, it is still against the law. If there’s a child welfare investigation or they go into court, the parents are going to be blamed for all the kid’s problems whether their violence originally caused the issues or not.

Violence in Younger Kids
If you have a younger child who is displaying violent or destructive behavior, think of it as a warning sign. First of all, be very aware of violence in younger children, because kids who are five, six and seven who use violence to get their way have an extraordinarily high rate of being violent as teens and young adults. Violent behavior at this age would include hitting other kids, biting, and kicking on a consistent basis to get what they want. It’s very important to hold young children accountable and to teach them social problem-solving skills they can use to replace violence. With younger children, a system of consequences and rewards that you use consistently can be very helpful in curbing violence. Many kids are under-socialized and need extra patience and teaching to learn these skills.

The Threshold between Roughhousing and Violence: When to Draw the Line
Many parents know the line between normal roughhousing and physical aggression as well as they know the line between teasing and verbal abuse, and for those parents it’s very simple: listen to your gut reaction. Don’t forget, we’re not trying to figure out where your child thinks the line is, our job is to teach them where the adults think the line is. Kids are excessive and need adults to set limits on both the intensity and frequency of physical roughhousing or verbal teasing. So for those parents, the answer is really simple: If it doesn’t feel right to you, don’t let them do it. A lot of today’s entertainment seems to raise the level of tolerance for violence and abuse in our society, but I don’t think this is a good idea and I don’t think parents should be very tolerant of physical aggression or verbal abuse masquerading as play in their home. By the way, the issue of verbal abuse and threats is also very real, and I intend to address that in an upcoming article.

For parents who are uncertain about the threshold between roughhousing and violence, here are some guidelines: If one child wants it to stop, and the other child doesn’t stop, that has crossed the line. It’s not playing if both parties don’t have control over how far it goes. If someone gets hurt it has to stop, even if both parties want it to continue. If the physical roughhousing is in retaliation for something, it should be stopped. If the physical roughhousing is designed to dominate a younger, smaller child, it should be stopped. If the roughhousing is done at the wrong time or in the wrong place, it should be stopped. If parents sense that it crosses the line between playfulness and meanness they need to step in right away. Don’t forget, we’re not judging kids by their motives, we’re judging them by their actions. So if one kid says, “I didn’t mean to hurt my brother or sister,” that’s irrelevant to us as parents. You need to say, “You did hurt your brother, and it has to stop.” Hold them accountable and give them consequences for these behaviors.

Kids with Learning Disabilities or Disorders
It also happens that kids with learning disabilities and neurological problems don’t develop the problem-solving skills they need and may also become violent. Remember this: if someone has a disorder such as ADD, ADHD or ODD and manifests trouble dealing with educational material such as math and English, the same learning disability affects their ability to take in non-educational information such as how to accept limits read social situations and solve social problems. Parents should understand that when kids are diagnosed with a learning disability, that same learning disability affects that kid globally, not only academically. What that means is that kids who can’t learn academics because of a learning disability will have trouble dealing with more complex topics like social problem-solving, getting along with others and reading social situations. Keep this important fact in mind: Often, when an adult and a child look at a social scenario, they don’t see the same picture. Children with a learning disability or with behavioral disorders react differently to a situation than adults do, because they perceive and experience that situation very differently.

Violent and Destructive Behavior at School
When your child is behaving violently at school, it’s very important to work with the school to find out as much about the situation with your child as you can. This will help you decide how to respond to the behavior at home. Is there something that triggers your child’s violent or destructive behavior that you can help him learn how to manage? Next, set limits. If your child is violent or destructive in school, there have to be consequences at home. A lot of school misbehavior can be dealt with by just letting the school give consequences, but if violence or destruction is involved, parents have to also hold the child accountable at home. Teach problem-solving skills and connect using those skills with access to privileges. What this means is that the things your child enjoys, like television, video, computer, or cell phone, should all be connected to his or her violent or destructive behavior that day in school. Unfortunately, many kids who are violent in school are also violent at home. So parents may have a double-edged sword that they have to face. If this is the case, parents will need external help in the form of parental training or family therapy to get the support they need.

Should I Call the Police?
My experience is that the police are most helpful when dealing with pre-teens and teens. Parents may also need to call the police for younger children because the situation has become physically unmanageable. Know that with much younger children, calling the police will not have the impact that it has on older children. The police should be called when parents do not feel they can manage the violence or property destruction that is occurring in the home. I personally would not hesitate to call the police when the crimes of property destruction and violence are committed in my home.

I think that services outside the home, such as the police or therapy or social services, will be needed when kids reach the stage of violence. Parents hear horror stories about kids involved with the juvenile justice system and are often afraid to contact them. I’ve found that the wheels of justice turn really slowly. Getting the police involved and pressing charges for violent or destructive behavior is a slow process before the child gets to court. In that time, if that child wants to demonstrate change, he’ll have plenty of opportunity.

My experience is the courts do not want to remove kids from their homes. The government simply does not want to pay for the care and treatment of children who can be managed in their homes, and they will look for any viable alternative. Sometimes this can mean that services which the family cannot afford are provided through the courts or social services. A colleague of mine encourages parents to call police when things are calm to get an idea of what the authorities will do if they’re called into a violent situation. I think this is a good idea. Also, parents must understand two things: first, violence and destructive behavior is a blatant sign that the child cannot solve the problem appropriately, and is not responding to parental authority. At this point, a more powerful authority may be needed to maintain appropriate behavioral limits. Secondly, violent and destructive behavior becomes criminalized and gets teens and adults into severe legal trouble. The earlier a successful intervention is made, whether using outside authorities, treatment or education, the more it enhances the chance that the child will change and save himself and others a lot of grief.

“Is There Hope for My Violent Child?”
Of course there is hope. But hope is a tricky word. I believe hope without an observable change in behavior or action is misguided. Parents can hope for change in all kids, but if change doesn’t happen in the home, my experience is that that hope is fruitless. If you have a child or a teen who is using violence to get their way, you need help to learn how to do something about it. There are behavioral management programs which are available to parents, as well as cognitive behaviorally-oriented therapists who can work with families. I developed the Total Transformation Program to deal with these parenting issues, so I’m biased, but whether it’s from my program or some other outlet, it’s not hopeless if the parents get help. Without outside help or intervention, my experience is that excessive hope is unfounded.


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James Lehman, MSW was a renowned child behavioral therapist who worked with struggling teens and children for three decades. He created the Total Transformation Program to help people parent more effectively. James' foremost goal was to help kids and to "empower parents."

READER'S COMMENTS

This article was very interesting but I would like to learn more about violent behavior in young children. I have a 6 year old that has been displaying violent behavior since I can remember. As a baby she always seemed aggravated and cried and screamed a lot, often to the point of being hoarse. That behavior eventually turned into violence. Just recently she was mad at me for taking away her TV. She went to her room and I could hear her screaming and hitting things. After she calmed down and I checked on her I found that she had somehow managed to strip down her bed completely (sheet & fitted sheet) and move the mattress across the room. The box spring must have been too much for her because it was still on the bed but was turned almost sideways. Her explosions have sometimes lasted up to an hour. My situation is probably too specific to be handled in one article, but anything about violent behavior in young children would be helpful.

Comment By : Toni

Very good article and I can use all the information I can get with my teens and younger children. They are all growing up and their problems are different but the same. I need all the help I can get to help them. Thank you!

Comment By : hsharkey

You touched on the topic of children with learning/neurological disorders. More info on how to handle anger situations with these children would be helpful. My son has minor ASD, and typical methods as outlined here just don't work. I cannot understand what is going on in his head and he cannot explain (he is 7)except to say "too much is going on." I don't know how to handle his anger (yelling/hitting) when he feels too much is going on.

Comment By : confused mother

Again Mr Lehman, your articles are so "common snese" but yet very profound. They also seem to be so timely for our family. We purchased the total transformation program a few years back after I was again feeling deep despair over the situation that was recurring in our family. We had one older daughter at that time (16) that we had "tried everything" with, and had little results, and we were beginning to see some issues develop in our younger son (7). The Total Transformation program was probably the best resource we had come accross. It was the stimulus for the beginning of "real" changes within our family. So I want to offer that hope for others. Our daughter was a very agressive child. She was abiter as a toddler, would throw such screaming fits as a pre-schooler where I would at times have to "hold her" while backed against a wall to stop the fit. As she entered Kindergarten and elementary school the agressive hitting began. In 4th grade she was diagnosed with possibly having ADHD, but the doctors said that children with that issue did not have issues with agression...hmmm. Anyway,Her " wether verbal or physical abuse" has continued to be an ongoing issue for our family. One that as a parent that has gotten outside help, taken responsibility and changed myself first; can say just as you stated, the situation is NOT Hopeless! Even now, as we have just followed thru with a legal no contact order against our daughter (the most difficult action I have ever taken as a mother)I feel hopeful. I am hopeful because our younger children are seeing and learning the correct ways to act and treat others. They have responded so amazingly to love with correct bounderies. We have given them our guide based on our spiritual beliefs and many of the "common sense" values you teach in the Total transformation program. There are no excuses or justifications for misbehavior, physical abuse disguised as 'roughhousing or 'accidental', or for verbal abuse disguised as 'sarcasm'. They have and continue to learn that we each are responsible for ourselves...even small children have power to choose and be held responsible where appropriete. I heard once, long ago now, that sarcasm could be defined as the ripping and tearing of flesh. When you think about that...WOW..that is what it does. It is a bit of disguised 'truth' about something or someone with all sorts of hidden bad feelings in it. it is a weapon of mass destruction that has become an acceptable form of terrorism..."I'm just kidding"...no, they really were not! So, we as parents who have lived within a self destructing family environment, and parents who are living in a constructive family environment have learned to build on the strongest foundation for our family thru all of this "stuff". we build on individual humility Love, honor, mutual respect,truth and forgiveness. As for our daughter who has not lived in our home for over a year (at her choice)but has managed to continue with a victim mentality and agressive unacceptable behavior towards us no matter the changes in her environment....it is her choice. hen she is ready for something different, appropriet and loving, we will be here and we will always love her and have hope for her life and future. Thanks for your part in this families total transformation!

Comment By : heartofamom

I found this helpful. My daughter gets so angry she broke the mirror in the bedroom and then she called 911 and she is only 9?

Comment By : Janet

I found this article very good, however, being a single mother with two teanagers who have been abusive verbaly and physically, I would like to know how one can help these children if the other parent is the one instagating this behaviour and the children are in accordance with that behaviour. My 15 year old is now living with his father and it is perfectly normal to him to swear at his father when his upset because his father does the same thing to him and now my daughter is the same way as well. I, however, cannot tolerate this behaviour but I don't know what to do to stop it when they seem to favour his way of raising them as opposed to my way. They tell me that they like the fact that "Daddy and I get into it and he doesn't care what I say, he says those words to and then leave me be till I'm calm and says somthing to make me laugh and it's forgotten." Is this not the wrong way to raise your children. I have had your cd's but it did not help because when I started using them, they would go their dad's house whenever things did not go their way here. He was not willing to meet me half way and listen to the cd's. I feel very hopeless when it comes to my children and now I believe that my daughter might go live with him as well because she says he is more understanding. Please advise me, is there other parents in my situation?

Comment By : Melissange

* Dear Melissange: Thanks for your comment. What you describe is a really difficult and common problem for divorced couples: One parent sets limits, and the other doesn't seem to have any whatsoever. I would like to recommend that you read an upcoming article in EP, entitled, "The Dos and Don'ts of Divorce for Parents". (It will be appearing later this week.) Also, we have another informative article for parents in your situation called "Disneyland Daddy". I think it also might be helpful for you. Take care, and hang in there!

Comment By : Elisabeth Wilkins, Editor

I've had this same problem for over 2 years now. My almost 17 year old son has ADHD with Bipolar tendancies. He's been in a l/2 way house due to the fact he was hurting me, breaking things in the home and the last straw was that he threw a pair of sissors at me. He is very abusive and I'm afraid one of us will get hurt. I'm a single parent with no man around for back up and his Dad lives in another state and just says things like, "I know what it's like son, I was married to her for 14 years!" I've asked him several times to take him to AZ with him and he says yes then changes his mind and decides, "It's not a good time for him?" I'm at my wits ends with him, he cusses, yells, throws things, lies, is verbally abusive (not so much physically anymore), but could be. We both go to counseling (he says it doesn't help), and I go alone to mine. He's been at the half way house since February and I see it slowly coming back to the way it was before he went in the half way house. He wants total attention 24-7, has NO friends, hangs around the house and harrasses me, he's very nosey, listens to my phone calls and the only way to get away from him is to lock myself in my bedroom at night, it's sad and sick and I hate my life the way it is. He's taken classes at the l/2 way house and had counseling, but he's the same way he was before, the only difference is that the physical abuse isn't there like it was but could be, I do see it trying to come out, he has taken a few swings at me and I told him I will call the police. I got him a job thinking that might help, but he's still the same. I've done EVERYTHING for this boy his entire life and given him everything I could to try to make up for the fact that his Dad hasn't seen him in over 3 years, (his choice) and really not involved in his life, he does call him monthly, but that's about it, he talks badly about me to him and my son agrees with him. I don't know how much longer I can take this, he's broken so many things in my home and 9 doors, he broke my bedroom door again because he wants access to every room in the house and wants to snoop in my room and read things on my dest and go in my closet, I have no life, no happiness, haven't dated at all because I know he will chase anyone away, he's no fun to be around, he's embarrasing and doesn't think before he opens his mouth! He is worse now than he was as a little boy, he's very angry and won't open up to anyone, even all the counseling he's had. He's mean, nasty and disrespectful and I don't know how much longer I can have him live here, my health is going down due to ALL the stress he's put upon me. I've made my mistakes, but I do everything for him and help him all the time and according to him, I do nothing, am a lousy Mom (which everyone tells me different) and now he's constantly calling me names, cussing me out and threatening me, I'm sick of it and want to know what else (other than the justice system which is useless) I can do to avoid it, he listens to men and thinks women are less than men, he's learned this from his Dad, he's Macho! But I just have a feeling that something bad is going to happen if this doesn't change, I can't take much more of this daily abuse, even my counselor has said that she is surprised that I haven't cracked, I'm about there now. I don't want him to lose his new job that I basically got him nor do I want him to leave here again, but I don't want to live like this anymore. I know he will NEVER leave this house, he wants/thinks he runs it and at times he does, but I can't have this continue anymore, I'm fed up and about to lose it. Any suggestions? he just doesn't leave the house and follows me around like a puppy. He also got kicked out of one high school, but he ended up in the half way house and went to another school. Other than his behavior, he's basically a very smart kid and usually honor roll, that's the thing that the counselors can't figure out, he has always been a great student, very bright, book smart, street down, he's VERY immature, naive, and will NOT take responsibility for ANY of his actions, blames EVERYONE for everything. I have been trying to teach him how to be a responsible person, but he has quit listening to me. His motor skills are horrible (due to the ADHD) and his mouth has got to go, don't know how much longer before I have a major heart attack or stroke, I'm not a young parent, I'm in my 50's and I think I deserve a better life than I have and yet I feel stuck, abused and tired of crying myself to sleep. Please advise, thank you!

Comment By : At my wits end..........Suzette

Very good article - like all I've read so far on this site. I only wish I had discovered the site before. My son is not violent although he has equally undesirable behaviours. Although some days things seem to be getting worse instead of better, I am still hopeful. My real reason for writing, though, is to respond to "At my wits' end...Suzette". My heart goes out to you. I saw/heard myself in your agony. I would like to suggest to you that if you are not already doing so, begin to find your spiritual strength - it is what has kept, and keeps me from going over the edge. Also, as I read your article I couldn't help noticing the "plusses" you have (that I wish I had) that maybe you are overlooking and not praising or rejoicing about them to help you find hope in the good things and to help balance the bad (somewhat - I know sometimes nothing does). Here are the plusses: You found your son a job (my son refuses to find one and refuses to accept my help to find him one). So far your son has been arriving and performing at that job (since he hasn't been fired like my son was). Don't take going to school and getting good grades for granted - it means that he's got to school perhaps mostly on time, stayed at school, done home-work and projects, been respectful to teachers, perhaps not got into too many fracases with other students, and made the honour roll, etc. It has never seemed to me that my son cares whether he gets an A or an F. He's proud of the fact that he's never done home-work. He's just got himself kicked out of school and doesn't seem to care about that either. I hope this is helpful - its not meant to whine about my own son or to negatively compare but sometimes a counsellor has had to remind me to see one thing that my son has done ok (its very difficult)if only to give me some hope to keep going. Also, I took my son to a shelter for teens - I thought they were religious-based and shared my values, etc (they had not been really honest about what happens at the shelter). Instead, he is now back home after 8 months of shelters and the street, and he has acquired behaviours that he never had before - smoking, drinking, drugs, women, perhaps stealing, etc. If I had to do it again, I would have tried even harder to find some real help. My advice is get more help but please keep him at home or find an aunt or someone who shares your values and expectations to keep him and give you a short break. I'm still struggling, but my heart sees the light at the end of the tunnel. So I want to send you blessings and hope - let's hang in there. Cynthia

Comment By : cynthia

* Dear Suzette - It certainly sounds like you have your hands full. The first place to start might be some of the articles on Empowering Parents, specifically James Lehman's 3 part article, Rules, Boundaries and Older Children. You might also check out the articles titled "When Kids Get Violent: “There’s No Excuse for Abuse”" and "The Do's and Don'ts of Divorce for Parents." I'm glad to hear that both you and your son are in counseling. It's not unusual for teens to claim that therapy isn't helping, so keep going. That professional support is important for both of you! You might also check out your local chapter of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) for resources pertaining to ADHD and Bipolar. Although you said your son's physical violence has lessened, it's very important that you do what you can to keep both you and your son safe. We often encourage parents to call their local police department (the non-emergency number, not 911) to find out how they might be able to assist you if your son's behavior becomes dangerous, destructive, or physically abusive. Abuse is completely unacceptable, and we encourage you to send a very strong message to your son that this behavior will not be tolerated. You might find the Total Transformation Program exceptionally useful. As a TTP customer, you would also have access to the Parent Support Line. The Support Line is staffed by experienced parenting advisors offering unlimited advice and guidance on the program tools. They will help you customize the program to your family's needs, and give you the support and encouragement you need to make it through this tough time. Take care -

Comment By : Megan Devine, Parental Support Line Advisor

My daughter 13 often hurts her sister 11 under the guise of "just playing". She is very strong and very pyhsical by nature, aggressive, competitive, and is intimate only with me and her 1 best friend (who she recently left bruises on when "playing". Her sister has admitted to fake cryng to get sister in trouble. Little sister often starts the pestering but older sister finishes it with agressive retaliation. I made up the rule "no laying hands on each other" and for rough housing when one stays "please stop" that is the end. I think I just answered my question which was: Should both girls have consequences when the younger was "just playing" with a nudge and the younger comes to me crying that the older hurt her (which the older says she barely touched her and that she is faking) I think yes, they should both have the same consequence. What do you think?

Comment By : Wendi

I have custody of my three nieces, Two have been diagnosed with learning disabilities. The oldest who is thirteen is currently showing signs of having some mental health issues.She is suspended from school at least once a week for fighting to being verbally abusive to teachers. I was told by the case worker that she has already been tested and nothing is wrong mentally or physically.This article has been helpful in helping me identify how to seek help. Thanks

Comment By : Geri

I had trouble with my son since (believe it or not) he was age 5. We would go to the store and he would go along doing whatever he could to create havoc and if I tried to correct him he would dive down to the floor and make it look like I hit him. Others would look at me and he would get away with it. He had nothing but trouble at school, church, neighborhood, and wherever he went. I did disipline him and it seemed I tried everything I could but to no avail. He was taught however, the difference between right and wrong. Some children, and very young adults are extremely difficult for parents to handle. James Lehman really knows what he is talking about from first hand experince and he brings results for seemingly impossible situations. Any advice to you all would be this: do whatever you have to do that is right to correct the child's behavior while you still can! The unpleasant surprise that comes if you do not is they will probably end up in the prison systems (I work for this government). The jails and prisons are full of now fully grown men and woman, once small children that could have been helped. Parents DO NOT GIVE UP TRYING TO DISIPLINE AND LEARNING TO HELP YOUR CHILD- STICK TO IT AND YOU WILL NOT BE SORRY.

Comment By : Butterfly

My son is 12 years old, yesterday he punched his sister (11) in the face. He has never hit her before, but he is completely unremorseful, he feels she deserves it. We talked about being angry and feeling your anger is valid and translating that anger into violent action, which is not tolerated. He said, he understands it was wrong, he's willing to accpet the punishment, and he would do it again. I really don't know where to go with the consequence, how do I make that fit the situation? He has had a history of not being able to control himself, but he has worked so hard on that in the last couple of years and has doesn't have temper tantrums anymore, doesn't have behavioral problems at school, he is, overall, a good kid. He does harrass his sister, they pick at each other, have degrees of disrespect to each other. She frequently lies to get him trouble and will accuse him of things that end up not being true. And where I don't like their antagonistic interactions, I have some tolerance for it, they bug each other. But this isn't that. This is abuse. I am looking for advise on appropriate consequences that fit the severity of the situation but taking into account it is a singular episode.

Comment By : Kathleen

* Dear Kathleen: You ask a really good question. I also want to say that it seems to me you have a very good sense of what’s going on between the kids. I also appreciate how you know when the line is crossed between sibling rivalry and abuse, and how you are not tolerating abuse in your home. People often ask us your question, “What is the correct consequence?” The truth is there isn’t one. You’ll hear James Lehman say that it’s not the consequence or punishment that changes behavior. A consequence is only one part of a larger system of problem solving that does change behavior. Punishment does not require the child to actively think about and tell you what they have learned from this experience and will not help the child develop new skills. Instead, use the material from Lesson 6, which James calls "The Alternative Response Process" to learn how to have a successful problem-solving discussion with your child. You may need to use consequences to require your child to participate in this discussion. At the end of the discussion you will let your child know what consequence there will be for his behavior. When someone is harmed or property is destroyed it’s important to also have your child make amends. You might have him write a note that says he was wrong to hit his sister in anger. Also have him write in that note the things he will do differently the next time he is angry. Consider having him do one of his sister’s chores as an amends. Don’t forget that you can always call the trained specialists on the Support Line who will help you to apply program techniques to the behaviors you’re working to change. Keep in touch. We’re here to help.

Comment By : Carole Banks, Parental Support Line Advisor

I've had custody of 3 grandsons. All with ADD. Two with violent outbursts and the other very manipulative and plotting. It's been a nightmare. Their meds don't help enough. Calling police doesn't help around my town. They won't come, but will ridicule the parent and tell you to try to get them to hit you, then they'll come. I think mine are all sociopaths instead of just ADD.

Comment By : runningcrazygrandma

My daughter and I have been close since she was tiny. Her father and I got divorced when she was 6 weeks old and he has seen her twice since. the last couple years (after my fiance' and I met, she has become emotionally abusive, then destructive to the house, now physically abusive to me. Not only is she 9" taller than me, she outweighs me by around 40 pounds. I'm not scared of her but I am scared FOR her and her 8 year old sister. Shes active in church, her grades are good and she has a great humor and personality. I'm totally at a loss, what happened to her? what did I do wrong?

Comment By : Officertaz

* Officertaz, Trying to understand the cause of inappropriate behavior is a normal reaction for parents to have. James Lehman encourages parents not to get stuck on trying to figure out why because he’d say that’s not going to be a useful component in getting the behavior to change. Instead of considering why she’s acting out it may be more effective to focus on what she can do differently when she’s angry. It may be tempting to feel guilty as a parent about the choices she’s making but try to avoid beating yourself up and look at how you can be most effective in teaching her better skills. Be very clear about the limit that there is no excuse for abuse in your family and make sure to hold her accountable. Part of holding her accountable is going to be requiring her to write about why it’s wrong to be abusive and instruct her to come up with a list of things she can do when she’s angry. If she damages something or hurts someone she can make that right by paying for or working off the damage or doing something nice for the person she’s hurt. In addition, you’ll want to make sure there’s a standard consequence that she’ll experience each time she gets abusive or destructive. Be kind to yourself and it’s going to be a lot more fruitful to come up with a plan for dealing with this than it will be to put yourself down as a parent. I wish you well.

Comment By : Tina Wakefield, Parental Support Line Advisor

My almost four year old has been physically attacking us when he becomes angry for about six months now. We have, like many of the others on her, 'tried everything' except beating him. We do not want to spank our child, we do not like raising our voices because I was raised this way and my husband was an abused child. We do not know what else to do so we have turned to a child psychologist for help. One minute our son is fine and the next he is screaming until he is maroon, his temperment changes like the wind. I love my son and I will do whatever it takes to help him. I don't think it is because he can not express his feelings. I don't know anymore. My husband and I have argued a few times but we have never, ever been physically abusive to eachother or to our son.

Comment By : seriouslytired

* Dear seriouslytired: Temper tantrums and some aggression can be typical in children around 4 years old. Developmentally, they are in such a tough spot - feeling like they should be able to have more freedom and power, but not having the skills (or the authority!) to achieve it. That frustration can result in the behavior you describe. You can help your son learn more appropriate skills for dealing with his frustration. In addition to helping your son learn those skills, you might also consult with your pediatrician to rule out any underlying causes of what you describe as rapid temperament changes. Once you've seen your doctor, work with your son on what we call "replacement behaviors" - what else can he do when he feels annoyed or frustrated instead of hitting? Identify a few things he can do, and then practice them together. Young children do especially well with role playing - be sure you spend some time imagining and practicing the new skills - before he needs them! When you see him getting upset, remind him to use what he has been practicing. You might also check out this article on aggressive behavior as well as the list of articles for younger children in the EP archives.

Comment By : Megan Devine, Parental Support Line Advisor

We have just completed the Total Transformation Program. It took us about 8 weeks. I am actually relistening to it again to refresh everything. About half way through our 17 year old daughter became very angry and violent. She punched and kicked me and I called the ploice. She was not happy that we were sticking to the program and her usual antics weren't working. When I tried to "disconnect" she went after me. The police were great, they were very firm with her and supportive to me. I also had a great support network of friends. I talked to the school counselor as well, who was very supportive. I let my daughter know that the next time I felt threatened (before she ever hit me again) I would have the police come and arrest her. We have been working on triggers and problem solving techniques to deal with anger in other ways. She is beginning to understand that she is no longer in charge. I am also no longer afraid of her, because I know my course of action. She knows I am in charge. She has lost many privilages and has had to earn them back slowly. The most important lesson we have learned is that we make rules, we keep rules, she understands the rules and the consequences. We all know now that we the parents are in charge - not her. We have a ways to go yet, but we know we are doing the right thing. I have also learned to deal with the behavior not the feelings. She has used emotional comments to hurt me, now I don't let emotion get in the way of the "job". If she leaves me a "mean" note I don't even read it. I date it, put it in a folder and I'm done with it. It can't hurt me. It was very hard at first, but it is getting easier and I am getting stronger. So good luck to you!

Comment By : Tough Road

I have a teen daughter who gets out of control sometimes. I only recently (sadly) learned she's been involved with drugs, so am not sure if this behaviour is drug inducted, or just that she has an anger and/or mental health problem (or both). I think it's mostly induced by her intense attempts to keep her drug activity private from me, so she tries to bar me from her room, or prevent me from coming or gets angry if I go in to talk or ask her something etc, and it escalates to violence. The first occasion this year was when she had been verbally and physically abusive to me (light shoving, not enough that I thought would warrant calling the police), so I attempt to take her cell phone and was going to put it away and lock it up, as I'd already laid out the rule that if she was being abusive, I'd need to take it for 24 hours. But this was the first time I tried to impose this rule, and she ran after me, trying to grab it and take it. back. I tried to go into my basement bedroom (which belonged to her sister), since it's the only room with a lock on it, and as I was trying to get in and lock the door, so I could lock up her cell phone, she actually broke down the door, and it came off the hinges. The yelling and noise upset the neighbour, who came to the front door, asking us to quiet down. I explained that daughter had had a temper tantrum, that I was sorry, and told them I had actually called police to try to get them to help us out. I was shocked and amazed at her behaviour. The police came, and noted what happened, but then simply tried talking to my daughter. She charmed and manipulated them into explaining she was sad she had to move so far away from our previous home (which I did because in our previous city, she had started using drugs, had been caught shoplifting and was cutting classes constantly), and that she just wanted a little space from me. They sided mostly with her. I tried to explain that there were frequent behaviour problems with her at home, that I was trying to get help with, including mental health and drug issues, with mental health being her inability to consistently follow a treatment plan for her depression. I told them it seemed odd enough that I sometimes thought she was using drugs, right in our home. They looked through her room and didn't see evidence of drugs. The next incident, a month or two later, was when shoved me and my finger got caught in the door. She is crafty and clever enough not to have physically swung at me, but the way she shoved me so I couldn't stay in her room (I was in there to try to see what she was doing as she spent hours and hours in there without coming out, and I wanted to get her off the computer, as I know she used it to stay in touch with her drug using friends), so I didn't think I could have her charged for harming me, but because my finger did get bruised, slightly (with a small flesh wound), I called the police. I told them over the phone that my daughter was out of control. They asked me what was wrong, and I explained she was behaving oddly and then slammed the door on my finger. They said they could come out and talk to her, and so they did that. When they did so, she pulled a very crafty manipulation trick she's excellent at, and that was a "Woe is me, my Mom is too strict" argument. She also got away with insisting I leave the room, while she talk to the police. I left but was on the stairwell and heard her spew her lies about how I'm too controlling and hover over her. The police then said they'd talk to me privately, as well. I explained that there's been a recent history of drug use, and she's acting oddlly. They went into her room and talked to her some more, but then concluded that to keep the peace in the house, I should give her more space! So that did very little, except make her feel more powerful, and she used that against me by saying, "Even the police think you should give me more space." This was during the summer, and she did absolutely nothing all summer except fool around on her computer, shower and do her nails and sleep and occasionally go out with friends. I remember thinking initially that I should just let her be, because we just moved across country and I know she was unhappy about moving. But then when I monitored her computer use (just once) and saw she was talking about drugs all the time, I realized I needed some way to limit her computer use. So I tried to set up an arrangement where she would get off it at a certain time in the evening, but when I'd approach her to get it (originally asked her to put it outside her door), she'd slam the door shut and not let me in, etc. I had tried to get her involved in various activities, such as volleyball, swimming, camps and summer school, but she vehemently opposed to doing any of those things, juust wanting to stay in her room and talk to people online--which I know is unhealthy. I remember when the police called, they asked if I wanted to place a charge, and I realize now I should have. But could I have charged her for slamming the door on my finger and shoving me out of her room? I can only imagine that she'd get away with saying I was invading her privacy, as she's 16... In the end, I decided to turn the Internet at the source off by a certain time each night, but truthfuly, I would much rather have removed her computer entirely from her, because she's run away and gone right back to the drug using crowd. And she made plans to see them using the computer and cell phone (both Internet enabled). But my point is that in calling the police, I now think it's probably important to lay a charge against her, except I was concerned if the injury was minor, they (police) would think it was a petty thing for me to do. Because there was no obvious injury, even though I was in pain. Would you say I should have laid a charge?

Comment By : Bridget

* To Bridget: The fact that the police offered you the option of placing a charge on your daughter for her behavior tells me that they feel that your concern was valid. As James Lehman says, “There’s no excuse for abuse.” Shoving you at all , whether it’s “light” or whether she pushes you across the room, it’s the same thing. Pushing is pushing and abuse is abuse. Slamming the door on your finger is abuse. It’s not okay. Many parents whose kids abuse them do decide to press charges and find it to be helpful. After all, it’s the best way to hold kids accountable sometimes. However, pressing charges is always a personal decision. It’s important for parents considering pressing charges to consider what kind of message they want to send to their child and what they want their child to learn. Calling the police and pressing charges sends a clear message: “You are not allowed to abuse me.”

Comment By : Sara Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor

The challenges I have with my son began 4 years ago when his father passed away...actually a little bit longer than that. He had already been asked to leave one preschool for biting and we thought it was just a phase (he was only 10 months). After his dad died, he's been asked to leave 2 more preschools for hitting. The parents were complaining and expressing a concern - and rightly so - regarding the safety of their children. For several months he stayed home with me before starting Kindergarten. Starting school was a huge adjustment that hasn't gone well. He loves the social aspect but can't seem to keep his hands to himself. Up until the holidays, he had a very rough time. He had been sent to the office and been written up 3 times. Upon returning from the holiday break, he was doing remarkably well. No further instances occured. However, in this last month, he was suspended for hitting another child on the playground as it was his 4th incident this year. Just a little while ago, I received an email from his teacher stating that a mother had made a complaint against my son because he had tried to choke her child. Although he seems to have challenges with the physical part at school, this is not a problem I have at home. He can have a temper and a tantrum if he doesn't get his way but he usually knows the punishment, when it's coming. He is a child that seems to have a great deal of compassion but can be so aggressive. As a single mom, I am truly beside myself. I don't want my son to grow up having social problems nor do I want him to be a bully. I do not spank him as I believe it would just cause further confusion in a child that already has a problem with hitting. Since he is now facing complete expulsion from school, I am in desperate need of some guidance to keep this from continuing. I'm scared that I am raising another future inmate and obviously do not want that to happen. By the way, I have taken him to counseling, behavior therapists, had him observed by a psychologist, etc. His teacher believes he has ADD, which would not surprise me since it runs in the family. My brother has ADHD and as a child was very aggressive. He ended up doing drugs and spending time in jail. I don't want that for my son. I have tried to get him help and things might change temporarily, it just doesn't seem to last. My son is only 5 1/2. Any advice would be appreciated. I'm truly at a loss.

Comment By : BesideMyselfandLostforAnswers

* To ‘BesideMyselfandLostforAnswers’: It sounds like you have been through a lot with your son and you’ve tried some really helpful solutions like seeking advice from professionals in your area. I can hear how worried you are about your son’s behavior and what it means for his future. As hard as it may be, try to stay focused on the here and now. It’s going to be really helpful to find out what is happening right before your son gets aggressive. You can do this by talking to the teacher or even asking your son to tell you what was happening right before he hit the other child. This will help you get an idea of what problem your son was trying to solve with his aggression. For example, perhaps the other child cut him in line or said something he didn’t like. Once you understand what set your son off and led to his decision to strike out, you can talk about what he can do differently next time. For example, you might teach him some words to use instead to get his point across. Then, role-play this—take turns acting it out so that he can see and understand how it would be to actually use that new skill you gave him. You could also establish a daily reward for him to use his words instead of his hands with peers at school. This would help to motivate him to do the right thing going forward. I’m including a couple articles which will provide you with more information and ideas: Hitting, Biting and Kicking: How to Stop Aggressive Behavior in Young Children & Young Kids Acting Out in School: The Top 3 Issues Parents Worry about Most. We wish you and your son luck as you continue to work on this. Take care.

Comment By : Sara Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor

I have been with my fiance for 12 yrs we have 4 kids together 2 of them are from different relationships. His daughter who is 12 recently started to get physical with me. About 2 mnths ago she punched me in the face and gave me a black eye and bruises on my arms and stomach. We tried at that time to tell her viloence is not the answer. We thought she learned her lesson. Sadly a few days ago she got physical with me again and punch me in my face and gave me another black eye. This time her father didnt know what to do or say. I dont either. I dont want to call the police on her or give up on her Im just at a loss of what to do. She is an honor roll student and excells at everything. But she is also taller than me by 2 inches and out weighs me by 25 pounds. I have been in her life since she has been 9 mnths old and we share custody with her bilogical mother. Please help me to understand what I can do to teach her this isnt acceptable behavior no matter what..

Comment By : motherof09

* To “motherof09”: We appreciate you taking the time to share your story with us. No one should have to deal with this type of behavior. I’m sorry you’re going through this. While we do strongly encourage parents to call the police when there is an issue of safety, deciding to call the police on your child or stepchild can be a difficult decision to make. You may consider calling the non-emergency number of your local police department to find out how they would respond if you were to call them. Sometimes, knowing what their response will be can be helpful when making your decision. Whether or not you call the police, we would still recommend you hold your stepdaughter accountable for her actions through consequences. It’s also important to problem solve with her other ways of dealing with her anger. As James points out in the article, some kids will use violence as a way to solve problems. You can help her overcome this challenge by helping her develop better problem-solving skills, as outlined in the article The Surprising Reason for Bad Child Behavior: "I Can't Solve Problems.” We would also encourage you to find some local resources to help you deal with what is going on. The 211 National Helpline is a great service that can connect you and your family to counselors, crisis support and other resources near you. The service is available 24 hours a day and can be reached by calling 1-800-273-6222 or by logging on to 211.org. We wish you and your family the best as you continue to work through this challenging situation. Take care.

Comment By : D. Rowden, Parental Support Advisor

My 12 year old son is intelligent, smart & good at studies & other curricular activities, but lately he has turned out to be disobedient, abusive & of assaulting nature and does not agree to take even his own duties & responsibilities.I have liked all the articles of yours. Please advise and oblige.

Comment By : sarbari

* To “sarbari”: It can be so frustrating when your previously respectful child starts being disrespectful and disobedient. As Janet Lehman points out in her article Disrespectful Kids and Teens: 5 Rules to Help You Handle Their Behavior, disrespectful behavior actually is a normal part of adolescent behavior. So, some of what you are seeing is possibly due to your son’s stage of development. It seems as if you are also having a difficult time motivating your son to complete his chores and other tasks. Another article that may be of benefit is "I'll Do It Later!"6 Ways to Get Kids to Do Chores Now. It’s important to keep in mind that it’s a more serious issue when the disrespectful and verbally abusive behavior crosses the line into physically abusive or assaultive behavior. As James Lehman points out in his article, there is no excuse for abuse. If your son’s behavior does become physically assaultive, we would suggest calling your local crisis support line. They will be able to help you come up with a plan to ensure everyone stays safe. You can call the 211 National Helpline to find out what local resources are available to help you manage this challenging behavior. This valuable service can be reached by calling 1-800-273-6222 or by logging onto 211.org. I hope this has been helpful. We wish you and your family the best as you continue to address this behavior. Take care.

Comment By : D. Rowden, Parental Support Advisor

The ADHD violence part is perplexing. Even mellow parents or care takers receive a compelling amount of physical outbursts from ADHD kids. Definetly uncalled for, yet a daily occurrence. If not contantly on guard, a 7 year old ADHD kid can easily pull a stunt that sends the parent, a nearby adult or another kid to the emergency room. Randomly thrown headbutts, elbows, fist in the face, kicks to the shin are the repertoire. Its like having a jail punk in your own home. Imagine that the punk is your own son or daughter. What todo? It will be another 10 years of constant uphill before reaching adolescense?

Comment By : Andre

* To “Andre”: Thank you for sharing your story. I’m sorry to hear you have to deal with this challenging situation. Parents can be hard pressed to know what the best response is to a violent outburst. An important thing to keep in mind is it’s probably not going to be possible to change the behavior in the moment. Instead, focus on setting a clear limit in the moment and then walk away. For example, you can say something like “Hitting isn’t going to solve your problem” and then stop interacting with your son. After things have calmed down, you would go back and problem solve with your son other ways he can deal with whatever problem is causing him to act out physically. It can also be helpful to determine what may be triggering the behavior and problem solving can help in that regard as well. Here is an article that you may find helpful when having a problem solving conversation with your child: The Surprising Reason for Bad Child Behavior: "I Can't Solve Problems". We would encourage you also to consider local supports. As James discusses in the article, cognitive-behavioral focused family therapy can help families develop more effective ways of interacting. The 211 National Helpline can help you find resources and services in your area, such as counselors or support groups. You can reach the 211 National Helpline by calling 1-800-273-6222 or by logging onto 211.org. We hope this information is beneficial for you and wish you and your family the best. Take care.

Comment By : D. Rowden, Parental Support Advisor

Hello all you 'youngies' I am reminded of my 13 year Grandson. He is driving my Daughter close to how 'at my wits end'Suzette is. He refuses to get up in the morning and it develops into a situation,screaming, upset breakfast, with orange juice on his computer. Snoops on her calls ,follows her around the house and leans on her -heavy boy. He stays with me some week-ends I am 75 and he is just so PERFECT. If I get cross with him he sits by me and says Oh Nana ! I completely agree with the advice given on this site. I remember issues from my childhood when my Mother (perfect otherwise) would continually shout up to me to get me out of the house and all it did was slow me down, I was always late. Some people cannot bear loud 'Mornings'. You have to be so strong and determined and keep it quiet. Hope this isn't smug sounding I know my Daughter has tried to be the perfect one parent Mum she has done too much,he has too much. I am sending my very best wishes to all who are having problems with a good luck wish, maxine,Liverpool U.K

Comment By : maxine

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