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When children and teens use violence to get what they want—whether it’s punching a parent, a sibling, or a hole in the wall—it usually involves a situation where they’re being told “no” to something they want to do.

Or, similarly, they’re being told they have to do something they don’t want to do.

In both cases, the child gets frustrated and angry, and the only way he or she knows how to deal with these feelings is to strike out at someone or something.

And yes, perpetrators of violence can be any gender. So even though I may reference “he” or “him” in this article, know that this discussion pertains to all genders.

Violence is Used to Solve Problems

Kids often use violence to deal with frustration, disappointment, and anger. It’s how they solve these problems. And they do it because it actually works. Their violence and threats of violence actually get them what they want. And it’s how they gain power in the home.

When the violent child hears the word “no” and feels frustrated and powerless, he hits someone or something. To diffuse the situation, or out of fear, the parents give in and don’t require him to comply. Striking out gives the child a sense of power and control in a world where, as a young adult, he has little of either.

The Power of Violence Needs to be Taken Away

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. Violence is a seductive shortcut to power. And once it works, it’s hard to get kids to accept more productive ways of gaining influence, such as through working, learning, and building life skills.

Many times, parents need a comprehensive behavioral program to manage this problem. And they may need the help of professionals.

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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.

There’s No Excuse for Abuse

Accept no excuse for abuse in your home. 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 her violent behavior no matter what the justification. And remember, being verbally provoked is not an excuse for abuse and does not justify a violent response. I’ll say it one more time—there’s no excuse for abuse. Ever.

Hold Kids Accountable and Give Consequences

When kids are violent or abusive, you must hold them accountable every time. You need to ensure that there are consequences for their actions. And make sure those consequences are set up as learning experiences. You want the consequence to teach your child what to do differently next time.

Know the difference between a punishment and a consequence. A punishment is retribution (or vengeance) for a wrongful act. Consequences are usually natural or logical outcomes that result from one’s behavior. You can’t punish your child into good behavior, but you can get him to want to behave better through effective consequences.

A consequence is typically the loss of a privilege until your child completes a task or behaves acceptably for a specified period of time. This isn’t a punishment, although it may feel like one to your child. A good consequence is tied to the behavior in such a way that if the behavior improves, the consequence goes away as a result.

I urge you to read my article on consequences below for more information on what a good consequence is, what it isn’t, and how to give kids consequences that work.

Related content: How to Give Kids Consequences That Work

Monitor the Media in Your Home

Monitoring and excluding violent media, including TV, videos, music, and computer games, gives the whole family the message that violence is not going to be glamorized in your home.

There’s a lot of debate about whether or not violent media is harmful and parents should do what they think is best. But if violence or abuse is a problem in your home then I say get rid of the violent media as a way to help create a non-violent culture 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 child mimics you.

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Kids watch parents for a living. It’s their job. It’s what they do. If parents model violence and poor problem-solving, it’s natural for the kids to do the same.

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—there’s no excuse for abuse in your household. No one should be allowed to abuse anyone else.

This is my nice way of saying that 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 cross the line into violence because they’re frustrated and angry with their child’s constant behavior problems. But that’s still no excuse for abuse. 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 before things get any worse.

Also, parents should understand that if you lose your cool and hit your child because he is unmanageable or out of control, it is still against the law. And understand that you will be blamed for your child’s bad behavior even if your child has a history of violence and you only crossed the line once. It may not seem fair, but that’s the way it is and parents need to understand that.

Unfortunately, violence in the home is an all too common problem. It’s complex and dangerous. If you think that you are in danger and need help, please contact one of the organizations below:

For our full list of resources: Empowering Parents Resources Page

Violence in Younger Kids

If you have a younger child who is displaying violent or destructive behavior, think of it as a warning sign. Kids who are violent at age five, six, and seven 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.

Don’t ignore the problem. Don’t assume he will grow out of it and it will go away on its own. Having 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 teaching, structure, and patience to learn these skills.

Abuse Masquerading as Play: Where to Draw the Line

Parents should not tolerate physical or verbal abuse masquerading as play. Many parents have good instincts when it comes to recognizing the difference between normal roughhousing and physical aggression. These parents can also recognize the difference between playful teasing and verbal abuse. For these parents, my advice is simple: trust your instincts. If it doesn’t feel right to you, don’t let them do it.

Remember, our job as parents is to teach our kids which behaviors are acceptable and which are not. Kids are excessive and require adults to set limits on both the intensity and frequency of physical roughhousing or verbal teasing.

For parents who are uncertain about the threshold between roughhousing and violence, below are some guidelines for when to step in. Stop an activity immediately whenever any of the following occurs:

  • One child wants it to stop, and the other child doesn’t stop.
  • Someone gets hurt, even if both parties want it to continue.
  • The roughhousing is in retaliation for something.
  • The roughhousing is designed to dominate a younger or smaller child.
  • It’s done at the wrong time or in the wrong place.

And understand that we’re not judging kids by their motives, we’re judging them by their actions. Therefore, if one kid says, “I didn’t mean to hurt my brother or sister,” that’s irrelevant to us as parents. You just 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

Kids with learning disabilities and neurological problems may not develop the problem-solving skills they need to deal with anger appropriately. As a result, they may also use violence to solve problems. A kid with ADD or ADHD who struggles in academics may, for the same reasons, struggle in understanding how to accept limits, read social situations, and solve social problems.

Often, when an adult and a child look at a social situation, they don’t see the same picture. Children with a learning disability may see something completely different altogether. These kids may need extra structure and support to learn more effective problem-solving skills so that they don’t resort to abuse or violence.

Violent and Destructive Behavior at School

If your child is behaving violently at school, work with the school to find out as much about the situation as you can. Is there something that triggers your child’s violent or destructive behavior? Is it something that you can help him learn how to manage? This will help you decide how to respond to the behavior at home.

Misbehavior in school can be dealt with by just letting the school give consequences. I think that is a good approach in most instances. But when violence or destruction is involved, parents have to also hold the child accountable at home with effective consequences. Effective consequences could be to link privileges such as phone or electronics use with school behavior. In other words, your child would retain these privileges as long as there is no violent or destructive behavior in school that day.

Unfortunately, many kids who are violent in school are also violent at home. If this is the case, parents may need external help in the form of parental training or family therapy to get the support they need.

Should I Call the Police?

There are times when your authority as a parent isn’t enough. If your adolescent has escalated to the point of physical abuse and destruction of property then you already know you need help. Calling the police on your child poses a risk that you might not be willing to take, but it’s an option you should consider.

I personally would not hesitate to call the police when the crimes of property destruction and violence are committed in my home. I just don’t want to live under those circumstances in my own home.

If you are considering calling the police, I urge you to read the two articles referenced below.

Related content: When to Call the Police on Your Child

I think that many parents need to face two facts. The first is that violent and destructive behavior is a clear sign that the child cannot solve the problems appropriately and is not responding to parental authority.

The second is that violent behavior will eventually lead to legal problems and it is actually better for that to happen sooner rather than later. The system is much more tolerant of young offenders than it is of older ones. In other words, the earlier an intervention is made using outside authorities, the better the chance the child will save himself and others a lot of grief down the road.

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 is misguided.

Also, parents can hope all they want for their kids to change their behaviors. But, if parents don’t make changes in how they deal with their violent child, hope is fruitless.

If you have a child or a teen who is using violence to get their way, you need to learn how to handle it. Fortunately, help is available. There are behavioral management programs as well as therapists and parent coaches who can work with families.

I developed The Total Transformation® Program to deal with these parenting issues. But whether it’s from my program or some other place, there’s hope if parents get help.

Related Content:
Parental Abuse: What to Do When Your Child or Teen Hits You

About

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.

Comments (24)
  • Cant stop worrying

    My son is 8. He's amazing. He's funny, he's silly, he's kind, he's brave, he's sweet. I could go on & on for this whole comment and I could also go on & on about his Mr. Hyde. When he gets angry...boy oh boy does he get angry. Tonight he smashed our microwave, and it shattered. Thank god it was plastic, b/c he could be in the ER right now if it was glass. After he broke it, he stood there in total fear and said, " I want to die. I'm going to kill myself. I want to die."

    I'm not mother of the year by a long shot, but I don't beat my child when he does wrong, I don't abuse him. I of course get angry & yell and he gets a spanking when he's being out of control. But, other then that there is no violence. When he is out of this house...he's a great kid! He's respectful and kind to others. But, when in the house...oh my...he's nasty...F word this, F word that. I don't understand it. In April it will be a year that his father passed away. I don't know if this is anger that is stemming from that. His father and I were not together. He didn't see his father much. So, I feel there is anger & sadness b/c the opportunity for that to happen is completely gone. For a 7 year old to have to wrap their head around the fact that someone died and it was their father....I couldn't even imagine. But, it's tricky b/c again...he barely knew him (I'm not downplaying it all by saying that)...there's just so much going on. My heart breaks for him...to have so much anger and sadness inside such a young mind is heart wrenching.

    Just needed to vent..I know it's a long read and if you made it this far....Thank You.

  • Lost and concerned
    My almost 6 year old daughter has such violent outbursts to the point where I have been kicked, bitten, punched, slapped, things thrown at me, she also goes after my 3 year old and husband. Everywhere but home she is an angel but at home is where everything happens. IMore dont know what to do with her anymore. I have tried doctors, nobody wants to hear me out. Everyone seems to feel like I am just making it up. They will not diagnose her with anything. She is a type 1 diabetic but that is not the reason for it. At school there are never any problems. Help me please!
  • Running out of time...
    I have a 17 yo son who is ADHD and ODD. I never see a difference with medication and we have tried many. In the last 4 years he has become more and more violent, especially towards me. It has become worse and more frequent. It used to beMore only when very large out of control fights and fits happened that he would get violent. Now it's really almost anytime he is mad at me or I say something he doesn't like. I'm not good at not saying mean things after he has berated me for a while. Example, yesterday I made a mean comment after he spent 20 minutes calling me very name in the book and while I was walking away he ran up behind me and pushed me down. He will be 18 this summer. I haven't called the police, although I have threatened it, because domestic violence calls here guarantee at least one arrest, charged and never being allowed to own a firearm. He wants to join the army and be a police officer so I don't want to destroy his future. How can I help him? Is it too late?
  • Beat down mom
    I am in desperate need for help. My 11 year old son is extremely aggresive and violent aince he was 3. He has been expelled from two school districts. Has physically assaultes everyone in our family including his 5 yr old sister, grandparents and animals. He has been destroying classroomsMore and home since kindergarten. He uas Aspergers, ODD, ADHD, explosive mood disorder. He is in the highest level available help they will give him both at school and home. He has a home based therapist that comes to see him 3 times a week and is on medication. He has been in a hospital for two weeka after strangling his dad in the car. Nothing is working. I have done anything ad everything. And he is just getting bigger, stronger and more angry. I am afraid of my 11 year old son and I cant handle him anymore. Please Help!
    • Rebecca Wolfenden, Parent Coach
      I’m so sorry to hear about the increasing violence and aggression you are witnessing from your son, and I’m glad that you’re reaching out for help, both here as well as in your community. I encourage you to continue using available local support to develop a safety planMore you can follow to keep everyone safe in your home when your son becomes violent. Part of this might be contacting the police if your son is becoming abusive and/or destructive during his outbursts. While I realize that this is not a choice to be made lightly, it could be an option for you to maintain everyone’s safety in your home. If this is something you might consider, I encourage you to call your local police department during a calm time and get information on what you could expect if you were to call them during your son’s outbursts. We have a free downloadable worksheet which can help to guide this conversation, which you can get HERE. I can only imagine what a challenging time this must be for you, and I wish you and your family all the best moving forward. Take care.
  • Worried mum
    I need help with my nearly 13 year old son. He has always been a little difficult and demanded more attention than his siblings. But recently it's gone to another level. He gets very angry so quick it's hard to calm him down. He finds it veryMore difficult to calm himself and can take so long. He has become destructive with the house. And today has punched me in my legs. I don't know how to move forward, where to go to get us help ??? Any advice will be great fully revived.
    • Rebecca Wolfenden, Parent Coach
      I’m sorry to hear about the escalated behavior you are experiencing right now with your son, and I’m glad that you’re here reaching out for support. While getting angry is normal, it’s not OK for him to become destructive or abusive toward you. As outlined in the articleMore above, there is no excuse for abuse. You might find some helpful next steps in Is Your Defiant Child Damaging or Destroying Property? as well as Signs of Parental Abuse: What to Do When Your Child or Teen Hits You. If you are looking for support available in your area to work directly with you and your family, try contacting Family Lives at 0808 800 2222. I can only imagine what a difficult time this must be for you right now, and I wish you all the best moving forward. Take care.
  • julia
    The article had a few salient points. What I strongly take issue with is the articles' premise that if one parent is acting violently, then it is the other parents responsibility to keep the child safe. Domestic violence is itself a parenting choice. Always the perpetrator should be held accountableMore for the safety of the child. To make a sweeping statement that places responsibility on a victim of family violence will enable the perpetrators to keep doing what they are doing as they are not accountable for the child's safety.The article also does not take into account the complex cycle that is domestic violence. Victims of family violence show a number of strengths and safety measures for themselves and children until there is a point when they can safely leave.
  • Dale Mallet
    I looked up this article because because i am having trouble with my daughter and a high level of aggression/and violence to her siblings... I am gobsmacked to find a misandrist article, perpetuating the myth that only males are violent... very upset about this :(
  • RebeccaW_ParentalSupport
    Stressedmama I hear you, and I understand your concern and fear surrounding your stepson’s aggressive behavior.  I’m glad that you are here reaching out for support.  While it is developmentally appropriate for https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/hitting-biting-and-kicking-how-to-stop-aggressive-behavior-in-young-children/toward others, it might be a good idea to share your concerns with his doctor as well.  BecauseMore his doctor has the ability to directly observe and interact with your son, s/he will be in a better position to assess what might be contributing to his aggression, as well as rule out any underlying issues which might present.  I recognize how challenging this must be for you and your family, and I wish you all the best moving forward.  Take care.
  • jonsy

    hello my kid is 2.5 years , but i can notice him being a little violent he hits other children, father and mother , nannies at the nursery, he uses his hands and hitting as an expressive way if he is not satisfied,

    also he was talking very good but he starts to stammer while talking which i can't understand

  • lost mom

    Hi there, I am in need of help! My 7 year old daughter is violent with her siblings (3, 1.5) she punches them in the stomach, spits on them, hits them with objects, etc. I have tried everything I can to teach her this is not ok but she still contiues to act out! I have tried more one on one it doesnt help! Im at my wits end!

    Please Help!!

    • RebeccaW_ParentalSupport

      @lost mom 

      It can be quite

      concerning when one child is violently attacking her siblings, and I’m glad

      that you are reaching out for support.  In addition to setting a limit that

      hitting, punching and spitting are not acceptable, it’s also important to teach

      your daughter more appropriate coping skills she can use instead of becoming

      violent.  You might find some additional tips in our article, https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/stop-aggressive-behavior-in-kids-and-tweens-is-your-child-screaming-pushing-and-hitting/  In addition, I encourage you to limit the amount of time

      your 7 year old is unsupervised with her younger siblings while she is working

      to develop these more appropriate skills.  I recognize how difficult this

      must be for you, and I hope you will write back and let us know how things are

      going for you and your family.  Take care.

  • WORRIED MOM

    I just received a call from my son's school about him being violent. This is his 2nd week in Kindergarten, and they're already talking about suspension!!! Today, he scratched 2 boys at school, and on the bus, he hit a couple kids! I'm not sure what to do!!!

    Worried Mom

    • RebeccaW_ParentalSupport

      @WORRIED MOM 

      Many parents dread

      getting a call from school about a child’s behavior issues; you are not

      alone.  In fact, it’s actually pretty common for younger children to act

      out aggressively or violently toward others because they tend to have a low

      frustration tolerance and few appropriate coping skills to use when they become

      upset.  This does not mean that you cannot address this behavior,

      though.  Something I recommend is working with the teachers and the school

      to help your son learn how to appropriately interact with his peers.  You

      might find additional tips in our articles, https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/hitting-biting-and-kicking-how-to-stop-aggressive-behavior-in-young-children/ and https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/how-to-start-the-school-year-off-right-top-4-issues-that-cause-a-rocky-start/. 

      Please be sure to write back and let us know how things are going for you and

      your son; take care.

  • shocked mum

    I m horrified what has my child done this morning...he is just 11..He had just sat down to have his breakfast, all his stuff were ready to on the school trip this morning... I said to him he shoukdnt take his Ipad twice and I said if he mentions it one more time he is going to loose it for a week, we had 45 min before we leave the house... he kept going on and on...warned him that enought I diddnt want to hear about it anymore..YOu have never heard such a noise, I couldnt believe my eyes my glass dining table ususally 3 man carries it, he picked it up and split from its legs with the breakfast on it, tossed it like a cardboard glass everwhere... I froze so did he ..I went upstairs shaking and he got into the car like nothing happened, we didnt speak to each other..at all took him to the drop off point and left.. We had dogs where he smashed the table... Havent got a clue who to call what to do... this is the child I kiss and hug everyday,all the time,where did this anger furry came from..Will it get worse? Please Help anyone... Should I report this to our doctor? or what ... Literally I m stunned... No, My husband doesnt do things like that, before you think, maybe he has learned it from him.. Absolutely shocked

    Shocked mum

    • RebeccaW_ParentalSupport

      @shocked mum 

      It can be

      surprising and frightening when your child acts out anger in a destructive and

      potentially unsafe way.  You are not alone in dealing with this type of

      situation.  If you are concerned that there might be an underlying issue

      which might be contributing to your son’s behavior this morning, voicing your

      concerns to his doctor is one step you can take.  Another step you can

      take is to having a https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/the-surprising-reason-for-bad-child-behavior-i-cant-solve-problems/ with him about what happened, and other more appropriate

      choices he could have made instead.  I also recommend holding him

      accountable for the cost of replacing the table as outlined in https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/is-your-defiant-child-damaging-or-destroying-property/  I recognize how

      difficult this type of behavior can be, and I hope you will write back and let

      us know how things are going for you and your family.  Take care.

  • kathleenmryan333
    My son is five.  Throughout the day he is normally very well behaved, I receive many compliments from teachers and family on how "good" he is. At home, however, every single day he has a violent temper tantrum.  He will not listen to me or his father.  He breaks thingsMore throws things, punches and kicks.  We cannot do anything but wait for it to end since nothing calms him.  Once this is finally over, he is the sweetest child ever again, showing signs that he feels very bad, asking if we still love him, crying because his feelings are hurt.   It is the hardest thing I have ever had to deal with. I do not want him on any drugs but I do not want him hurting or hurting anyone else.
    • anji2576
      I have the same issue
    • Becky
      My 5 year is doing exactly the same thing. We don't know what to do? I'm going to have to go to the gp tomorrow because we are at a loss now
  • Jon

    I have a 7 year old son who is diagnosed with ADHD and very violent in school. At home he is generally the sweetest little boy and cares for everyone around him, but the complete opposite in his classes. It started off small (knocking over chairs, refusing to do work), but has now escalated to a point where he goes into a full rage (throwing chairs, hitting teachers, breaking equipment). It seems as though the teachers are all afraid of him and are walking on glass around him, and he knows it. It's gotten to the point where they will reward him with something every single time he completes a single task, which can generally just be answering a single question on an assignment. He is consistently being grounded at home, which involves being in his room with no TV, games, toys, etc, we've given spankings, set up a reward system for good behavior, and even have him enrolled in weekly counseling sessions...nothing seems to be working...in fact it only seems to be getting worse. As his father, he would never behave like this when I'm present, so sitting in on his classes wouldn't give me any additional insight. 

    What are we supposed to do when the problem is ONLY in the school when we aren't present?

    • DeniseR_ParentalSupport

      @Jon

      I hear you. This is a challenging dilemma many parents face.

      At 7, your son probably isn’t able to tolerate frustration very well and most

      likely lacks effective skills for dealing with that frustration appropriately.

      This can cause him to lash out when he gets upset or frustrated. Generally

      speaking, it’s usually best to allow school to handle the discipline aspect of

      your son’s behavior since the behavior is happening at school. This will allow

      you to focus on helping him develop better problem solving skills. Sara Bean

      explains how to have a problem solving conversation with your son in the

      article https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/the-surprising-reason-for-bad-child-behavior-i-cant-solve-problems/. Another

      article you may find helpful for your situation is https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/how-to-start-the-school-year-off-right-top-4-issues-that-cause-a-rocky-start/.

      I hope this information is useful for your situation. Be sure to check back if

      you have any further questions. Take care.

  • Sam
    My son is abusive and breaks property in our home when he can't get his own way what shall I do
    • RebeccaW_ParentalSupport

      @Sam 

      I speak with many

      parents who are overwhelmed and unsure of what to do when their child is

      behaving in abusive and destructive ways.  You are not alone. 

      Something I often recommend is setting a limit with your son during a calm time

      about his behavior when not getting his way.  What this might look like is

      saying something like “I want to let you know that it’s not OK to become

      abusive or break things when you are angry, and if you choose to do this, you

      will be responsible for replacing or repairing the items you break.”  You

      can find more information on addressing this type of behavior in our articles https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/is-your-defiant-child-damaging-or-destroying-property/ and https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/signs-of-parental-abuse-what-to-do-when-your-child-or-teen-hits-you/.  I

      appreciate your writing in for support, and I wish you and your family all the

      best moving forward.

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