Saturday, September 15, 2012

Our 5 year old is acting out terribly!

Dear Kay,

My wife and I have a daughter, 9, a son, 7, and a son, 5. The 5 year old is very angry, has a bad temper, hits and kicks walls, screams when he gets frustrated, is very rebellious, wants no part of discipline. He is very good in school, and does not seem aggressive towards other kids.

The problem is only with the family. We are loving parents (not perfect), but really care and are having trouble figuring the best methods of discipline. We were hoping he would outgrow it, but there's no sign of that. We use timeouts, have spanked at times, but prefer other methods.

Timeouts are only somewhat effective, and only temporarily effective, and work when he we have the time to let them work. However, at bedtime, or out in public, or when he is going to hurt someone or get hurt, we have no control. I could become a drill seargant, spank consistently, and win the battle of wills, but I don't think this is the best method.

The extreme nature of his tantrums is unacceptable. Please let me know if you know how any parents in a similar position were able to be effective. Right now as I write this, my wife is trying to put him to bed, and he is yelling at her "you are not in charge of me, this is my room, I can do whatever I want. You'll never be in charge of my life."

Thank you for your answer
Sean
Dear Sean:

You are not going to appreciate my response. I am continuously surprised when parents write me and say they have spanked a child and yet do not know what they are doing wrong. Exactly what was your child suppose to learn when you spanked him for acting out? Don't get me started on violence against children, www.nospank.net.

Okay let's get on with this and move you to a successful outcome. From what you wrote it sounds to me that your child is screaming out for some control over his own life. If he behaves everywhere but at home then that means their is a problem in how he is being handled. Do you provide him with choices wherever you can over his own world? Is he allowed to choose what he wears, or what foods he likes or dislikes? I am a strong advocate of offering children at a minimum, two choices wherever you can do so. For instance, two sets of clothes, do you want to wear the blue or the brown etc.... If this is the case and you do offer choices then lets try to get to the bottom of why he is sooo angry.

Have you done the obvious? Ask him why he is sooo angry and be prepared to listen, listen, listen and listen some more without judgement or defensive talking. YOU need to get to the bottom of this anger no matter what the cause. If you don't his teen years are going to be a warzone.

Is he being picked on by the older siblings, by his peers, or does he feel like your parenting is unfair in someway? Does he have the emotional vocabulary to express his anger, frustration, irratation etc... there are children's books you can buy to help him identify his feelings. Teaching him to express his angry feelings with as many words as he can relate to is the best way to diffuse any angry person, young or old.

In the meantime this is how to handle a child exhibiting tantrums. If he is not hurting himself or someone else IGNORE HIM. No eye contact, no talking to him, no showing any recognition that you see or hear what he is doing. Reinforcement is reinforcement whether it is negative reinforcement or positive reinforcement. Engaging with him when he is out of control provides reinforcement of his behavior.

Yes, this is hard because parents want to assume the responsibility for embarrassment of their child's behavior. They also assume everyone thinks they are bad parents. Other people's opinions are only opinions and need not be more important than parenting your child effectively.

Let him know that you will engage with him when he is behaving like a big boy and not until he does. When he does notice his "good" behavior immediately. Tell him how much you enjoy his company when he is behaving like a young man.

Also, check his daily routines. Some children are deeply affected by a change in routines (not to be confused with schedules). Routines are the security children need to understand what is happening in their lives. Most children do not understand the concept of time until they are about 8 years of age, hence, the importance of routines to cue them as to what comes next. Sometimes children act out when they are feeling insecure and anxious.

Lastly and MOST importantly. Realize that what you do has to remain consistent. Anytime you change your behavior (and what you have been doing is not working so this needs to work) he will increase his inappropriate behavior, so EXPECT him too increase his tantrums. Do not give up, be consistent and give it about a month (3-6 weeks) before the behavior will dramatically drop off. This is a test of your ability to be consistent in how you handle him. He needs you to outlast him. What he is doing is working for him somehow so lets change that.

You mention at the time you wrote this your wife was powerstruggling with him to go to bed. Let's change these bedtime routines. Read every prior posting on bedtime routines and see if you are doing what I have repeatedly suggested to parents to do at bedtime.

Turn down the noise in the environment, lower the lights, play with the children (quiet games) reading etc...then move towards bathing, massages, and mild soothing music. (I can't stay awake when my grand-daughters heartbeat cd is playing. It knocks me out almost immediately.)

I know you can do this because you wrote me which means you want something different. Concerned parents write me, unconcerned parents do not come to these sites. You can turn this around now and avoid the problem of the teens years. I know you can!

If you need more daily support to get you through this set up a time and call me. It is confidential and anonymous.

Best Wishes!

M Kay Keller