If your child doesn’t want to go to school, resists getting dressed, has behavior problems in school and at home, and is threatening you and being verbally abusive, know that his whole level of functioning is off. Being abusive to his siblings or to you is only one piece of it.
Before we discuss ways to stop verbal abuse, threats, and intimidation, I want to say that these are very difficult issues to deal with. This type of behavior is generally a manifestation of a much bigger problem that is going on with your child.
While I’m going to try to focus attention on these individual behaviors in this article, I can’t stress enough that parents need to have a systematic way of dealing with these problems so that they don’t simply move from crisis to crisis with their child.
Parents need a comprehensive structure, a set of guidelines and procedures from which they can draw guidance and strength in order to deal with these very serious things as they occur.
There is no excuse for abuse, physical or otherwise. That rule should be written on an index card with a black magic marker and posted on your refrigerator. The message to your child is:
“If you’re abusive, there’s no excuse. I don’t want to hear what the reason was. There’s no justification for it. There’s nobody you can blame. You are responsible and accountable for your abusive behavior. And by ‘responsible,’ I mean it’s nobody else’s fault, and by ‘accountable’ I mean there will be consequences.”
Many siblings will tease each other excessively from time to time and even have physical fights with each other. This is normal sibling rivalry. What’s not normal and not acceptable is the situation where one sibling is picking on, demoralizing, and targeting a younger or weaker sibling. This is abuse and should not be taken lightly. And when you see a situation where there’s clearly a perpetrator and clearly a victim, it has to be dealt with in the strictest, sternest ways.
Remember this: if you have an older child who’s abusive, and you let that child get away with this kind of behavior, your younger child will start to realize that his sibling is more powerful than you are as a parent.
The younger child will begin to think that you can’t keep him safe from his older sibling. Once he realizes that, the next thing he’ll start to do is give in to his older sibling. You’ll hear the oldest sibling say abusive and foul things and then you’ll hear the younger kid say, “I’m sorry.”
These are very powerful, damaging things to be happening in the family and should not be taken lightly. As far as the nature of the consequences or the nature of the limits set in this situation, again, that belongs to a more comprehensive discussion about how families should run and how parents should manage their families using a comprehensive structure.
When your child abuses anyone in your family, tell him:
“There’s no excuse for abuse. You’re not allowed to abuse people. Go to your room.”
Be prepared for him to blame the victim because that’s what abusive people do. It’s an easy way out. Abusive people say, “I wouldn’t have abused you but you…” and fill in the blank.
So your child might say:
What they’re really saying is, “I’m sorry, but it was your fault.” And it means that they are not actually sorry. It means, “I’m sorry, but it’s not my responsibility.” And when kids don’t take responsibility for their behavior, they see no reason to change it.
They’ve just learned to mimic the words “I’m sorry,” but they are not sorry at all. It becomes another false social construct that comes out of their mouths without any meaning or understanding behind it whatsoever. And if you buy into it, you’re allowing that child to continue his abusive behavior and excuses.
Kids use abusive behavior to solve problems and to get what they want. Therefore, it’s important that kids learn to replace abusive behavior with healthier and acceptable problem-solving skills.
It’s just not enough to point out and give consequences for abusive behavior. You also have to help your child replace their inappropriate behavior with something that will help him solve his problems without getting into trouble or hurting others.
Here’s the bottom line: if we don’t help kids replace their inappropriate behavior with something healthier, they’re going keep using the inappropriate behavior. Because that’s all they know.
This is why parents need to have problem-solving conversations with their kids, so the next time their child is faced with a similar situation, their child can ask themselves what they can do to solve the problem differently. Their child will begin to consider options besides hurting someone’s feelings, being abusive, or threatening.
For instance, the next time your verbally abusive daughter calls her younger brother names and threatens him, you should not only correct her, but also have a conversation with her when things calm down. That conversation should be:
“The next time you’re frustrated, what can you do differently so you don’t get into trouble and get more consequences. What can you do to get more rewards?”
Notice that the focus of the conversation is on avoiding consequences and getting rewards. Also, notice what the conversation is not about. It’s not about why hurting her brother is wrong. And it’s not about how badly it makes her brother feel. Parents need to understand that it doesn’t work to appeal to a sense of empathy or humanity if those traits have not yet been developed. After all, abusive people don’t really care about their victims.
Instead, I think we should be appealing to their self-interest, because self-interest is much more effective in stopping abuse. Look at it this way: if they had empathy or sympathy, they wouldn’t be doing it in the first place. Don’t get me wrong, we want our kids to learn empathy, but the goal is to stop the abusive behavior regardless of whether your child feels empathy.
If a parent is frightened about physically destructive behavior, destruction of property, or threats of violence, I want to be very clear about this: call the police. I know that this can be difficult for many parents, but it needs to be an option. Tell the police:
“He threatened to hurt me and I don’t feel safe with him here tonight.”
What will the police do? It’s hard to say because it depends on the officer and the department. But I’ll tell you, your child will now know that you’re not just going to sit around and be bullied. It’s not what the police do—it’s what your child will understand.
So call the police if you think you’re in danger. Call the police if you’re assaulted. And keep calling the police until they do something. Until your child stops hurting you or your property.
Related content: When to Call the Police on Your Child
If you’re frightened, make sure you don’t have weapons in the house. Make sure you don’t have violence in the house. Get rid of the violent music. If your child threatens violence or gets violent, that music should be gone, as well as video games that promote violence.
If you have an abusive child in the house, then movies, video games, and music that glorify or glamorize violence should be banned. That’s one of the things your child should lose the right to immediately. And you can say:
“You no longer have the right to listen to that kind of music because you weren’t able to manage it.”
You should also call your state’s Department of Child Services and say:
“My son is threatening me,” or “My son hit me.”
Don’t be afraid they’re going to take your child. They don’t want to take financial or legal responsibility for him unless he’s in danger. The idea is that you’re making noise. You’re creating a paper trail. And you’re letting people know that these things are happening from an early age. You are doing all this because if the day comes when your child hurts somebody, your goal is that he will be held accountable.
Parents who are afraid of their kids getting locked up for this kind of behavior do not understand the juvenile justice system. The wheels of justice turn excruciatingly slowly. Nobody wants to lock your child up.
In fact, if your child has severe behavior problems and behaves criminally at home, you’ll be lucky if somebody decides to lock him up. If he’s so out of control that the authorities hold him responsible by locking him up, so be it.
The juvenile justice system and the child welfare system are overwhelmed and under-funded. But we use them because if your kid does change, fine. If the child doesn’t change, then there’s a body of evidence that says, “This kid has been out of control for a long time.” And you’re going to want that evidence because if you’re talking to your child’s probation officer when he’s 15 or 16, you’ll be glad you have three years where you’ve documented what this kid has put you through.
If your child is starting to threaten you or abuse you verbally, is there still hope to turn his or her behavior around, even if he’s a teen? There’s always hope. But hope without action and change is pointless.
If you want your child to turn their behavior around without them making some very fundamental changes right away, I don’t hold out much hope for that. If you have a middle- to older-aged teen and they’re threatening you, being verbally abusive, and intimidating, and you’re not able or willing to take some risks, I personally don’t think there will be any turning around.
Nothing changes if nothing changes. The sooner you start, the better chance you have of changing this behavior. But it will mean changing your whole family dynamic.
In other words, if you want to change the way your child is doing things, you’re going to have to change the way your whole family is doing things.
When Kids Get Violent: “There’s No Excuse for Abuse”
The Lost Children: When Behavior Problems Traumatize Siblings
Empowering Parents Podcast: Apple, Spotify, Google, Stitcher
James Lehman, who dedicated his life to behaviorally troubled youth, created The Total Transformation®, The Complete Guide to Consequences™, Getting Through To Your Child™, and Two Parents One Plan™, from a place of professional and personal experience. Having had severe behavioral problems himself as a child, he was inspired to focus on behavioral management professionally. Together with his wife, Janet Lehman, he developed an approach to managing children and teens that challenges them to solve their own problems without hiding behind disrespectful, obnoxious or abusive behavior. Empowering Parents now brings this insightful and impactful program directly to homes around the globe.
You must log in to leave a comment. Don't have an account? Create one for free!
I did it. I called the police on my 18-yr old child twice a year ago. It was emotionally excruciating. The second time, the police took my son out of our house in handcuffs. I pressed charges against him. The only time I saw my child after that was via Zoom at court dates. What gave me comfort throughout this heart wrenching ordeal was unwavering faith in God, the articles on this site, and hope my child would get the help he needed.
One year later, I stand by the decision to call the police. The decision had enormous emotional cost. It severed our close family. I haven’t seen or spoken to my child in a year. My child wants nothing to do with me. Still, I persevere with reading articles on this site and praying. I have faith the story of the Prodigal Son will manifest in my family one day.
Can I just say thank you for sharing so much. Probably don't need to say this, but it's supportive to hear of other people's Experiences with similar scenarios and their children. I wonder is there some sort of free online get together where we can all get together, share our experiences, what's working, what's not etc. and maybe just give eachother a bit of moral support. I love my kids to bits and just want them both to be happy and when my children exhibit hurtful behaviour towards themselves, others or me, it makes me feel like I'm failing big time.
I try to be as calm as possible mostly, but anyone will shout and rail if put under enough pressure. I've tried calming techniques for me so I can try and to simply weather the storm when it hits, but that doesn't get us to school on time, or reduce the amount of time it takes to get my daughter to sleep. I also have to take the constant put downs from my daughter's Dad, but then when I hear those same words he says to me, but coming out of my little girls mouth, I feel so bad for her, because it means she's clearly having to hear these things about her own Mum. Last night she stood there hands on hips and told me my life was nothing, that I don't do anything, I'm a mess and really need to sort myself out (because I was trying to get her to bed) and then this morning I got you're just like your mother after asking her to stop screaming. She came back from her Dad's yesterday and granted had had an amazing time. They'd been to a concert, to the cinema etc. but when she got home she just kept crying and saying it's not her fault, like she was about to be told off for something that hadn't even happened yet and assumed her brother who was making cookies with her and had just walked her to the shop to get the ingredients when she had asked, was being mean to her in some way. He wasn't, he was trying to do something nice with her. I've read articles, psychology papers, I know remaining calm is the best approach, but not always feasible. A chat with other parents who are dealing with similar would be awesome if anyone is up for it?
Thanks and hope you have a good day.
Hi, Liz. Thank you for reaching out. Your granddaughter is very lucky to have you. I can hear how distressing her behavior is and can understand why you reached out for help. Because getting started can feel overwhelming to many parents and care givers, I often recommend making a prioritized list of all the behaviors you are dealing with, and then focusing on just 1-2 of the most disruptive behaviors at a time. This allows you to be consistent with limit setting and accountability, without becoming overwhelmed. For more helpful tools, please check out this article: How to Create a Culture of Accountability in Your Home (https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/how-to-create-a-culture-of-accountability-in-your-home/).
It may also be beneficial to see what types of local supports are available to help you and your family. If you are located in the US or Canada, you can contact the National 211 Helpline at 211.org (US) or 211.cs (Canada) to find out about support services in your area.
We appreciate you reaching out and wish you all the best moving forward. Take care.
Hi, Catherine. We have several articles that give more specific suggestions for dealing with verbal abuse. One in particular you may find helpful is this one by Sara Bean: https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/i-hate-you-mom-i-wish-you-were-dead-when-kids-say-hurtful-things/.
We appreciate you being part of our Empowering Parents community.
So this is hard, my son is turning 8(or is it 9), he has been diagnosed with ADHD, and we are having him tested for a couple other things as well(I have Adult ADHD, borderline personality disorder and general anxiety, his mother has general anxiety disorder as well).
We have been dealing with his outbursts in strides....his bed is falling apart due to him kicking it, we've told him if he breaks it we won't get him another one(its a solid wood bed frame). His little sister and him do get physical, and he has gotten physical with my wife and I as well as his older stepsister.
Lately his language has exploded with tons of F-you and well tonight he actually called his little sister(age 6) a little Bi***. He also threatened our older daughter telling her "how would you like it if I broke your neck..this is new..
Like always my first response is to yell at him...I stress out and my BPD ouroboros cycle starts...my wife will usually tell me to go to the other room, but I can't take it when he starts kicking her when she tries to settle him down...
Im lost...if I try to grab him and just pull him into a hug...just wrap him up and try to love on him and prevent him from hurting himself, others or property he screams and yells...like I am hurting him...it hurts inside...
I can't quit on him...but sometimes I just want to run away...
With reference to & I quote "Nothing changes if nothing changes. The sooner you start, the better chance you have of changing this behavior. But it will mean changing your whole family dynamic.
In other words, if you want to change the way your child is doing things, you’re going to have to change the way your whole family is doing things."
Please lead me to how i find out how to do this - where do i start - i am desperately in need of help ASAP Please I need help I am at my end with the abuse & want it to stop - mostly because I don't want my son to be this person, I do not want him to become more of this as a adult man.. Please tell me where to go - really appreciate it so much. Thank you
I am so sorry you are facing these challenges with your son. We have several articles that offer tools and techniques for managing abusive behavior you may find helpful: https://www.empoweringparents.com/article-categories/child-behavior-problems/abusive-violent-behavior/. You may also find it helpful to review our personal parenting plan - a set of our specially chosen and best articles and resources covering angry outbursts, consequences, disrespect, oppositional defiance disorder, physical abuse, and adult kids living at home. It is a great way to review our content and resources online. Here is the link: https://www.empoweringparents.com/personal-parenting-plan/.
WE appreciate you being part of our Empowering Parents community. Take care.
Wow, Seeing all of your comments makes me feel not alone.
I have an 8 year old who's been diagnostic with combined ADD/ADHD. Oh god we can't go to the store to get a loaf of bread without an outburst.. he was violent when he was younger and when we were trying different doses, times and medicines. Now it's Vyvanse and Intunvi in the morning and Intuniv in the evening with melatonin gummies to fall asleep. We still can't go to the store to shop really but some days are better than others. He isn't violent anymore, just threatens us, calls us horrible parents, says he wants a new mom and dad etc etc. As soon as those meds kick in he feels sorry and gets lovely dovely. Ugh
It's frustrating. And hurtful. And tbh it has driven hubs and I apart, but we are working on it. Emotionally drained. How do you all do it? When does it stop? I want him to be happy, but not spoiled.
YES, it is hard.
Sometime it is getting easier as they mature. Also working with professional teaching him new behaviours and proper rewards can help. Acting in improper way will have to be substituted by acting in proper way and he needs to learn those new ways.
Our son is 16 and has ADHD. He has been to counseling and we have called the police a couple of times in the past. He no longer takes his ADHD medication. We have tried vyvance and adderall and both caused severe angry outbursts in the afternoons. The outbursts have not stopped but are MUCH LESS often than when he was on the meds. He is currently failing most of his classes BUT when his vehicle was taken away, he was able to raise the grades in his core classes by over 20 points in just a few weeks. This tells me that he CAN do the work if he wants to.
I feel ya'lls pain and I don't have the answers but please protect yourself and your other children from abuse. CALL THE POLICE! Don't enable the abuser. Let them fail so they can hit rock bottom as a teenager instead of as an adult. When they are able to make better choices for themselves is when they learn self-esteem. Not when you enable or allow their attacks to happen.
I was a terribly unruly teenager and didn't care about my parents back then. Dropped out of high school several times until 1 day, something clicked. I don't know what it was, but I doubled up on classes and passed.
There is hope. Take care of you. Protect the innocent.
You are not alone. No excuse for abuse. Let them fall so they can pick themselves up.
p.s. My adult daughter whose career is in serving and protecting others actually got a tattoo that says "Fall down 7 times, get up 8" I actually didn't understand why that was so important to her until I just typed all this out.
Thank you, it has opened my eyes more and given me some unanswered questions answers for.
also cleared a lot of uncertainty up and also maybe where my faults were also.
kind regards Jason
Isabel, sorry to hear about your difficulties.
I understand you have boundaries however are there consequences attached when she doesn't respect the boundaries? Do you have plan how to respond?
I don't know how to discipline my oldest boy. He's 15. He back talks me and treats me like crap. I try to get on to him but then he gets my mother involved and she tells me I'm in the wrong every time. It is now causing problems in my relationship.
I’m sorry to hear
about the issues you are facing with your son, as well as how your mother is
responding when he gets her involved. With your son, it could be helpful
to talk during a calm time about the way you expect to be treated, and how he
will be held accountable if he is not treating you respectfully. You
might find some additional useful information in our article, https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/how-to-respond-to-disrespectful-children-and-teens/. With your mother, it
might be useful to talk during a calm time about how she can support you.
Debbie Pincus explains more about this in https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/grandparents-and-parents-disagreeing-11-tips-for-both-of-you/. Please be sure to
write back and let us know how things are going for you and your family.
We appreciate you writing in to Empowering Parents and
sharing your story. I am sorry to hear about the way that your sister is
treating your youngest brother. Because we are a website aimed at helping
people become more effective parents, we are limited in the advice and
suggestions we can give to those outside of a direct parenting role.
Another resource which might be more useful to you is the Boys Town National
Hotline, which you can reach by calling 1-800-448-3000, 24/7. They have trained
counselors who talk with kids, teens and young adults everyday about issues
they are facing, and they can help you to look at your options and come up with
a plan. They also have options to communicate via text, email, and live
chat which you can find on their website, http://www.yourlifeyourvoice.org/ We wish you
the best going forward. Take care.
My son is nine and has severe ADHD and ODD. He has become increasingly violent over the years. I am constantly covered in bruises and scratches from him. I am now pregnant with my second child and I'm terrified of my son. He has hit me in the stomach three times since I've been pregnant, and screams at me that he hopes he killed the baby each time. I've tried so damn hard to get him help. All day, every day is a struggle with him. Everything is an argument. The counselors and psychiatrists only seem to care about his behavior in school, however. They seem to think that because he manages to get through school relatively well, that there is no problem. This is despite the fact that I've told them repeatedly that his grades have started falling and he has been violent with other students at school at times as well.
Even if he manages to get through the school day relatively well, he is not medicated at home, and they will not medicate him outside of school! When he gets home, I get the full brunt of all the anger and violence that he's held in all day. I get treated like it's my fault that he behaves this way, like I haven't tried EVERYTHING to help him. I had to drop out of college to take care of him full time because no one would watch him for me. He is too difficult to take care of. I can't keep a job because I'm always getting calls about his behavior. The psychiatrists and counselors all say the same thing, that I need to help him learn how to control his anger in a constructive way. They tell me to sit down with him when he gets angry and talk it out with him. Clearly they've never actually tried to talk to an irrationally angry child! There is no sitting down and having a constructive conversation with someone who is throwing things at your face and screaming at you! I'm tired of being treated like I'm just not doing enough to help him change his behavior. I honestly don't think I could do any more than I have! Helping him has become my whole life! It's all I do! People need to stop blaming the parents for the child's behavior because, honestly, sometimes it's just the child.
Hi komplez. I don't have any answers for you but all I can tell you is reading your comment is like someone looking into our lives. I deal with the EXACT Same thing with my 8 year old son, who also has ADHD. Like you he manages to get through school ok and the teachers think he's adorable and honesty I think they think I'm mad when I act surprised that they don't have more issues and they just don't believe me when I've told them about his violent outbursts both physical and verbal. I currentlyhave a 20 months old and also pregnant again. When I was pregnant with my second my Son got increasingly violent and would also punch my stomach on purpose. It was extremely hard, emotionally exhausting and isolating. No body wanted to help or believe us how bad things were/are. Unfortunately this is still true and even our close families have turned their backs on us refusing to acknowledge our daily struggles. We are currently paying privately for our son to have some child psychotherapy. It's expensive but it's the only thing we've not yet tried. It's too early to say if it's helping our son but at least the psychotherapist is starting to understand what we are having to deal with and most importantly believes me!
I'm sorry I couldn't be more help, I really do understand how awfully lonely and guilty it feels to have a daily horrible battle with your once beautiful baby/little boy that has been hijacked by this bundle of bad behaviour and the horrible emotional cycle of not understanding why they hate you so much, not thinking you can cope and sometimes thinking how much easier it would be without them, then mourning the lovely child you once had and then feeling over whelming sadness and guilt about even thinking of not having him in your life.
For us both I hope there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
Sharon Bush Klouser
Thank you for your question. Because the laws around
restraining or protective orders vary among communities, I am not able to give
you a specific answer. You might consider checking with your local clerk
of courts, or law enforcement, to see what the guidelines are in your
area. Take care.
I totally understand! I was verbally and emotionally abused by a younger sibbling!
I'm very sorry that you are going through this!
My son is on the Autism spectrum. Growing up his dad was verbally and physically violent toward me. We are now separated, however, my son is being verbally abusive to me and today threatened to hit me with his drum sticks. I had told him he needed to take a walk with me for physical exercise as he is overweight and refusing to do PE at school. I told him if he didn't take a walk then I would cancel his play date for the weekend. This ongoing situation is causing me and tremendous and I feel fatigued and depressed.