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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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:
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
Parental Abuse: What to Do When Your Child or Teen Hits You
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.
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My daughter is 15. We either have good days or really bad days, there is no in-between. The good days seem to be lasting longer but when the bad days come they are worse than ever. On her good days she is the most crazy, funny, full of life, loving child you could meet but on the bad days the language she comes out with shocks me and the names she calls me is disgusting. She hates being told no so when this happens she becomes so abusive. She has ADHD so I have always had to be strict with boundaries, she has always fought against them but I have always stuck to what I have said, if I have said no it has stayed as no how ever much she has created.
When days are bad she will tell me how much she hates me, tells me to hurry up and die, when I leave the house she tells me she hopes I crash the car and lie in pain till I slowly die, I'm a s**t mum, I've ruined her life, I don't deserve to be a parent. It kills me when she's like this, as much as I tell myself that deep down she doesn't mean it, its hard to not take it personally. Im a single mum with 3 children, one older and one younger (teenagers), their dad hasn't bothered with them for around 8 years and I know this affects her and this is where a lot of her anger comes from. I work 2 jobs but struggle to afford things and she resents me so much for this, I literally give them my last penny but am still made to feel worthless. People say that kids want your time not the things you can buy them, I give them all my spare time but they don't want that, its all about what I can't give her because I can't afford it. I hate being made to feel worthless but constantly being told to die and how much of an embarrassment you are starts to have an affect.
she has these rages and will hurt her siblings punching,kicking etc, she does it to me too. I have learnt that when things are getting too much for me I will go for a drive to take myself out of the situation to give us both time to calm down. Things just don't seem to get any better and I'm lost on what to do
At least once a day, I have to tell my 12 year old to treat his brothers better. Every time something is noticed, something is said, but it isn't stopping him.
He treats his brothers horribly, and that's not the only problem. He purposely tried to ruin my day. Seriously. He is always in a bad mood until he has upset me so bad my day is ruined, then suddenly he's happy and acts like he didn't just do everything he did for the last few hours. He also lies a ton, I always tell him when I know he is lying and have told him to stop blaming everything on everyone else d to start accepting responsibility for his actions.. Again, I go through this speech every single time he does something. But he doesn't stop. I can't control him by asking him to stop. I need something else, proven to make them stop. Don't just say "as a parent you have to stop it".. Well duh, but HOW?
Thanks for reaching out. It sounds like you have a lot going on with your son. I can understand your frustration. One thing that may help is focusing on just one behavior at a time. Trying to address all of these issues at once probably won't lead to change in any of them. It can be tough to decide where to start. You may find this article helpful: https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/my-childs-behavior-is-so-bad-where-do-i-begin-how-to-coach-your-child-forward/
We appreciate you being part of our Empowering Parents community. Be sure to check back and let us know how things are going. Take care.
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.
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
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!
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.
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!!!
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.
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
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.
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?
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.
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.