Written by Genevieve Simperingham and originally published in The Natural Parent Magazine.
When one’s child goes through a phase of being defiant, rebellious and aggressive, this understandably pushes a parent’s patience and tolerance to the limit! Parents are often baffled to see their otherwise bright, happy and caring child lashing out verbally or physically, to see them pushing or hitting, perhaps purposely and angrily throwing or breaking items or defiantly shouting at their parent and storming off.
Developing impulse control and emotional self-regulation skills is big work for children and takes a few years. It’s normal for young children to be anti-social, rebellious, defiant and even verbally aggressive at times and for neurotypical children up to the age of about six to also be physically aggressive at times. You can particularly expect an increase in defiance or aggression at times of extra stress relating to changes like a new sibling, moving house, change of caregiver, increased conflict amongst parents or starting school. But when a child’s defiant, destructive or aggressive behaviour becomes an ongoing issue, it’s important to look deeper into the difficult feelings and unmet needs that are likely driving their behaviour.
Children don’t need us to accept all of their behaviour, healthy or unhealthy. They don’t need to enrage us or overpower us, (that’s scary for a child of any age). They don’t need us to tiptoe around them avoiding the limits that might upset them. They need the limits that help to keep everyone safe. And they also need for us to accept and care about all of their feelings, the good and the bad, whether they’re happy, sad or mad. This is what allows them to feel safe and secure, to move through the difficult feelings that life brings. This is what enables them to care for other people’s feelings.
Children feel secure when we can maintain connection, warmth, empathy and support especially when we’re correcting them, setting limits or responding to situations where they act out aggressively.
Rather than just trying to stop them acting aggressively regardless of how they feel, ultimately we need to help them so that the urge to be aggressive decreases. Children act out in rage when their feelings overwhelm them. Unexpressed fear, insecurity and frustration tend to drive a child’s urge to be destructive or aggressive. Children don’t want to be violent; it’s scary for them when they lash out. But they struggle to self-regulate without our help. Sometimes this means physical intervention, while responding with as much calm confidence and empathy as we can muster when they do lash out. This is easier said than done, but once a parent sees the value of this approach, they are much more likely to be successful in managing their own anger and urge to be aggressive to their child in return.
Parents who practice intervening in a way that shows the child that they are being cared for EVEN when they lose control of their emotions and urges report that as their child learns to trust that their frustrations and struggles will be met with empathy, their tendency to be aggressive diminishes greatly and they start to seek their parent’s support rather than lash out. A big step!
When a child goes through a phase of hitting, you can say to her at a calm time, for instance; “it’s normal to feel like hurting when you’re angry. I know you know it’s not okay to hit. I want to help you when you get really frustrated.” It’s our understanding of how hard it is for them that’s going to help them dissolve their urge to hurt. They already know it’s not okay to hit. That’s not the information that helps them stop hitting or acting out. But showing our understanding of why they feel like hitting is the piece that reaches a child; that alleviates the feelings of shame, aloneness and fear of rejection that overwhelm them.
Many parents I’ve helped to gain control of their own tendency to hit or verbally attack their child have admitted that when they start to spin out, hitting or verbally attacking their child gives them some relief from their rising tide of rage, and that this relief can be quite addictive. Even though they feel awful for doing it, lashing out often snaps them out of total overwhelm. They know it’s wrong. Children usually know it’s wrong. Invariably, the adults who struggle with lashing out were themselves treated harshly as a child when they became upset. What adults and children need in developing healthier habits is support, empathy and understanding; as well as learning some healthy alternatives that will also bring them relief from their intense feelings.
”When children feel understood, their loneliness and hurt diminish. When children are understood, their love for their parent is deepened. A parent’s sympathy serves as emotional first aid for bruised feelings. When we genuinely acknowledge a child’s plight and voice her disappointment, she often gathers the strength to face reality.” ~ Haim Ginott, author of “Between Parent and Child”
Trust that your child’s doing their best. Assuming medical concerns and special needs are ruled out, you can be fairly certain that driving the anti-social behaviour are some uncomfortable feelings that the child’s unable to contain, probably unable to identify and clearly unable to express in a healthy way. Despite the best parenting in the world, children become overwhelmed and scared at times and sometimes those fears get stuck inside them. The moments when your child’s behaviour is at its worst are also the times when their most vulnerable sore feelings are closest to the surface.
Village Members Resource: Meeting Aggression with Connection Resource Kit contains videos, audios, text and more to guide parents in putting these theories into practice in a range of different situations.
When a child carries a backlog of unresolved emotions, they tend to have a low tolerance to stress and even small requests, challenges or obstacles can feel overwhelming to them. They may be happily playing one minute and suddenly a small disappointment sparks a strong reaction. The feelings beneath a particular act of aggression may stem from past experiences and may be completely unrelated to the current situation that triggered the reaction. As difficult as it is for parents, it’s exactly this tendency to over-react that is the external indicator of a child’s internal conflict that needs to be addressed. Ultimately, they need to see that we’re genuinely willing to remain patient as they work to offload all the big feelings that have previously built up.
Your child needs you to help them change rather than demand they change. An aggressive child is a stressed child. Aggression is the behaviour that generally elicits the least care and empathy from adults, but sadly it’s when they need our sensitivity the most. If we could respond to very out of balance behaviour with some of the same qualities that we respond to physical illness, we’d live in a society where emotional instability in families is much less of a problem.
Instead of dreading the next act of aggression or destruction, be ready to embrace the opportunity to help relieve your child of some of the underlying feelings that are making things feel so hard for them. Yes I realize this may be a complete 180 degree turnaround in attitude, but it’s one that can lift you out of feeling powerless and at the mercy of your child’s outbursts while relieving your child of feeling like she’s all alone with her big feelings.
The next time your child goes to lash out, rather than calling out verbal instructions from across the room, swoop in as fast as you can with the awareness and acceptance that he’s unable to stop when you ask him to stop. A child lashing out is caught in the grip of a rising tide of intense feelings that they simply can’t contain or control. Come down to his level, help him to stop lashing out verbally or physically by expressing your limit as gently as you can, while placing your hands on his body in a warm and affectionate way and truly connect, aiming to diffuse his anger and fear. You might need to take his hands, restraining him as gently as possible and say “I’m not going to let you break anything”, or “I can’t let you hurt your little brother.” This kind of expression is much less threatening than words like “don’t you dare”, “stop doing that right now.”
If they don’t get it out, they will act it out. You can tell your child that you want to help her get her frustrations out of her body. Talking to young children about feelings “in their body” helps them identify and name those feelings. As well as encouraging cries, you might offer her an alternative like tearing up an old magazine or stomping her feet or growling or screaming into a cushion. What you say isn’t as important as how you say it. When our children interpret our limits and guidance as loving leadership, care and support, it’s much easier for them to assimilate the limits and the positive expectations and much easier to calm down, return to reason and willingly cooperate.
There’s much that you can do to diminish the pressure on an already stressed child:
- Develop self-regulation, mindfulness and self-care skills that enable you to hold strong and steady during emotional storms, hence modelling the same.
- Increase moments of connection, warmth and humour to deepen their sense of safety and security and alleviate fears of disconnection.
- Give reassurances, choices, advance warnings and explanations to help them deal with the stress that limits bring.
- Listen in a way that invites them to talk, share, vent and cry; showing that you value them pouring out the upsets that otherwise weigh them down. Aggression is a cry out to offload tensions and feel heard.
- Commit to not lose your cool when your child loses theirs. Expecting a child to calm down while we criticism them is like sending them outside to play while restraining them.
Be assured that when their difficult feelings start to dissipate, your child can again feel comfortable and at peace in their own body, mind and heart.
One day when my daughter was five, she arrived at the dinner table and despite the fact that she loved her food, before I knew it, she hit the plate with full force sending it flying. The plate smashed to the floor, food went everywhere and my daughter flung herself onto the floor enraged and out of control. I was shocked and had no idea what had caused the upset but her actions were clear evidence that she was intensely distressed. I moved towards her expressing my sympathy for her distress with my arms outstretched. She initially growled at me “NO!” to which I responded, “it’s okay honey, I’m looking after you, everything’s just all too hard for you right now isn’t it.” She cried and raged a bit more, then jumped into my arms collapsing into big deep releasing cries. I could feel her tensions melting away. “That’s it my girl, have a big cry.”
It’s time enough to talk with a child about what they could do differently next time when they’ve returned to a calm state and can reason again. It’s also time enough to deal with the destruction when a child’s emotional state is again regulated (yes I know this can be very hard, but if you can do this, you’re much less likely to have more of the same behaviour). Launching into talking about cleaning up while a child is still distressed is premature and would show that the parent is more concerned about the state of the floor than the child’s state of being. When caused accidently, it’s totally appropriate to say “oh dear, that’s a big mess, come on I’ll help you clean it up now”. But when a problem is the result of upset feelings, it’s best, if at all possible, to prioritize caring for those feelings.
Later that day, it all came out about how scared and overwhelmed my girl had been feeling in her class, how she’d felt like running out of the class. Yet, had I asked her in the heat of the moment about what was causing her upset, it’s unlikely she would have been unable to identify or express and the pressure to reason and explain would have likely escalated her distress.
The last thing that a child who is unable to contain their anger needs is to feel shamed, scorned or rejected. These tend to be the feelings that overwhelm the child in the first place. Some classic statements to avoid that further intensify a child’s negative feelings about themselves and their world and result in increased aggression: “you should be ashamed of yourself”, “I’m so disappointed in you”, “you should know better than to act like that”, “the world doesn’t revolve around you, you know”, “you’re not going to get away with acting like that in this family”, “are you happy now that you’ve made your sister cry”, “why can’t you be more like your sister”, “go to your room and come back when you’re ready to be a part of this family”.
Warm connection, quality time together, play and laughter are great ways to help children resolve and dissolve difficult feelings. When a child goes through a phase of defiance and aggression, tensions and power struggles can dominate the parent child relationship. Turning up the dial on fun and humour can be hugely relieving and fun!
It’s very challenging for parents to stay in their calm confident adult (as opposed to their hurt child state) when their child becomes reactive. Parents feel powerless, embarrassed, they can feel like they’re failing or their child is failing, they often become enraged. Adopting this approach of maintaining empathy when expressing limits or responding to aggression is the most effective way of addressing the problem at it’s source. When a parent supports their child to release their pent up fears and frustrations through talking, crying or harmlessly venting, they help to dissipate their urge to be aggressive. Especially, if ruptures (emotional disconnection) have happened during times of conflict, the child needs to regain feelings of acceptance and unconditional love during times of conflict.
Children who act aggressively need to be brought back into the family’s circle of love, belonging and security, they need and deserve to be reached in the heart, children always do. ~
Written by Genevieve Simperingham; founder of the Peaceful Parent Institute, parent coach, educator and holistic counsellor
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You might also find these resources to be helpful:
The audio download of the Teleseminar “Getting back on track – Why we explode and what to do” by Genevieve and Patty Wipfler of Hand in Hand Parenting.
The article on the same subject “Why we explode and how to prevent it?” which discusses why parents are inclines to lose their cool and ways to prevent yelling at their child.
Dealing with Anger in the family and in yourself
Genevieve’s Stress Relief for Parents CD (also available on MP3) is a great resource for parents aiming to reduce the stress levels for themselves and their child. It offers a simple guided relaxation, guaranteed to relieve some tension and great for children trying to settle at bedtime, as well as lots of useful information about the parent’s journey of self-healing and equips you with self-regulation skills to help you manage your own frustration and stress.
What Causes Violence? by Aletha Solter PhD, psychologist and author of four parenting books
Thank you, just what I needed and am feeling soo much better!
I almost wept when reading about the girl with the plate of food and her mother.
Thanks for the great read. My five year old can melt down fast at the sound of the word “No” and I often don’t know what to do in response. Just reading your article has helped me to find other ways of reacting to his outbursts as I know that he’s having a hard time with his emotions when they happen.
I was wondering, what if a child doesn’t recognize or reveal any deep-seated issues such as fear at school, insecurities, jealousy of a new sibling, a move to new surroundings and the usual situations that are likely to trigger aggressive outbursts? What about a child who just flat-out says he or she doesn’t want to do the things they need or should do? In such a case, wouldn’t that be along the lines of just seeing how far stubbornness and defiance will work in their favor?
Also, isn’t there a possibility that if a child’s outbursts and hurtful/harmful behavior are always met with positive things such as family activities (fun) or humor, hugs, etc., the child might act up to get the “reward”?
I don’t want to give the impression that I disagree with the practice of showing an upset child that their feelings are valid and offering them the opportunity to rid themselves of whatever it is that is bothering them. I totally agree with showing love and support and understanding, and realizing that in most cases, there are emotional issues behind the behavior. I am just not sure how any of it applies to a child who may not have any other issues other than the fact they just do not want to do the things they need to do and resent anyone’s efforts (loving or not) to get them to do these things.
Hi there Catalina, these are some very good questions. I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to respond. It’s much easier for parents to be more patient and supportive when they know that their child is being aggressive or defiant because the parents are going through a separation or their child is sick or anything else that makes the behaviour more understandable. Yet more often than not, the parent doesn’t know why their child’s behaviour is so out of balance. But out of balance behaviour really is symptomatic of a child not feeling good in themselves and needing extra connection or quality time with their parent or extra listening, or just more down time or more sleep, but unmet needs of some kind. One mum I’ve been helping whose 6y.o. child has been excessively aggressive and defiant for a long time and the mum couldn’t understand why has started putting these tools into action. The other day when her child was raging at her, instead of reacting defensively, the mum said “I’m so sad to see you hurting so much, I wish I could do more to help you”, at which point the child’s aggression changed into a huge outpouring of how she wished she didn’t have to go to school, that she wished she could be with her mum all day every day. This made a lot of sense to the mum and was so relieved to be finally starting to hear the deeper feelings beneath the rage. It’s more often than not that it’s only when the child sees that their parent is truly sympathetic towards them at such times that they can themselves identify and feel safe enough to show their real feelings. Some parents never find out what the more vulnerable insecure feelings are, but I still suggest assuming that the child is not acting well because they’re not feeling well if the issues are to be resolved.
In response to: “hurtful/harmful behavior are always met with positive things such as family activities (fun) or humor, hugs, etc., the child might act up to get the “reward”?” – The only instances where I believe there is any risk of caring responses leading to a child purposely acting aggressively just to gain the reward of the parent’s attention would be if this was the ONLY way that the child could gain positive attention and care from their parent. Children want to be happy, and have an insatiable desire for fun and laughter. Children don’t enjoy being in a distressed angry state. A child who is not in a highly frustrated state will seek positive attention from their parent by engaging their parent in activities like showing or talking about their current interest, be it an insect or a bike trick, they engage parents in silliness and laughter, they seek affection and hugs.
Children often don’t want to do the tasks that are being asked of them and often resist, complain, bargain and negotiate. These are normal challenges in families when the wants and the needs of parent and child differ. The same for all family members. But once again, if the child’s response to reasonable requests and limits are so extreme that they are expressed as aggression, then that to me signals that something is wrong. Children who are accessing the warmth, love and the connection that they need and who are feeling generally good do not react aggressively to reasonable requests and limits. Angry outbursts are an expression of big feelings and these feelings are real and need and deserve to be cared for before parent and child can get back on track with healthy cooperation. I hope this has made sense. Genevieve
Thank you for that reply. It was very helpful for me.
that’s really good to hear Steph 🙂
I love this article. If only more people would read and see the wisdom. Behavior is always a symptom or something else going on and an attempt at communication that a child/adult does not have the ability to use. My son has hydrocephalus and a seizure disorder, caused by meningitis at the age of 2 months. His behavior can be a signal to me that he is having medical problems. He is kind and loving most of the time. He does however, have melt downs for no or little apparent reason. He will also have issues with his ability to walk from time to time, usually momentary and want you to pick him up. He is 7 years old and doesn’t weight a whole lot, 38 pounds. He has excellent medical care. When he gets into a tantrum state, you just need to hold him so he can’t hurt himself or you until it passes. Generally he has a headache, but doesn’t like to tell us because in the past, he’s had to go to the hospital for surgery, many times. He also has migraines, now better controlled with medication, which has decreased by 90%, hence fewer out of control issues. When this behavior increases, we know we may be headed to the hospital or the very least a doctor apt. Look for a medical underlying causes as well as emotional distress. Ear infections, cutting teeth, coming down with something, etc. can all cause disruptive behavior. Behavior is never meant to harm you but to express something is wrong, whether it be medical or emotional dis-regulation.
Any ideas for ear-piercing screaming from a 3 year old? I have tried describing it as being like hitting with your voice (it is actually painful because of the volume and intensity), but other than removing myself from the room or situation, I cannot figure out how to “keep us all safe” while also not doing something that amounts to social isolation. Currently I suffer through it and try to prevent as much as possible by paying attention to earlier cues for stress. Thanks in advance!
This sounds incredibly challenging to deal with. It’s great that you’re tuning in to paying attention to the earlier cues, and it could be a good idea, if you haven’t already done so, to keep a journal over a couple of weeks and see if you can identify any patterns. It sounds like you haven’t yet identified the source of your little one’s distress, but there’s definitely some very intense feelings driving the screaming. It’s always worth investing in caring out some quiet days at home, some really good quality one on one time, which includes child led play, as these are great ways to help a child reset and come back into feeling more connected, secure and balanced.
It could also be good to get some ear plugs for these moments, pop them in to reduce the intensity to increase your ability to be present with your child at these times. Might they perhaps feel a sense of internal chaos at such times? If you could respond to the scream as you would if your child had just seriously hurt themselves (you don’t say if your child is a boy or girl), with really sincere empathy, focus, concern, support and be as soothing as you can be “come here sweetheart, sit on my knee, let me look after you, you’re safe, I’m helping you feel better, I’m right here looking after you”.
Sometimes a parent doesn’t get to the core of the big feelings that are driving the behaviour, but your child is literally screaming out for something, and generally responding by becoming very present, warm, caring, affectionate and reassuring generally really soothes the underlying distress.
OK so I am experiencing this with my son 4 1/2 years old, just a little back ground, I have been informed by his Pedi that he is already showing signs of ADHD (at age 3), but the behaviors he his showing,I do not feel have anything to do with that.. Other then maybe not being able to control himself. When he gets any form of emotion (happy, excited, angry, sad) it doesn’t matter what he immediately begins to push or hit. If he is in a negative behavior (sad/mad) then when you ask him to stop he blows out of control. Its like a little tornado or destruction is released. If I get him to calm down and sit in time out he then begins to hit himself or things around him. He will even break his favorite toy if he is mad enough. I have tried to ignore him and let him mellow out before I talk to him but it just does not seem to be working. He has now began taking his aggression out on his school teachers and even innocent children that are just near him. I feel so bad to hear my child punched another child who was just standing there (he is 4 and punching!! seems so unacceptable in so many ways) or kicking and hitting a teacher, he also will let out this ear breaking scream when he is mad. I do not know what to do with him, it seems punishing him for the aggression (whether it be spankings or time out or loosing toys) does not seem to work at all. It just makes him even more out of control, he has even began to lie. If i ask him how is day went he will tell me great, i didn’t get in trouble and had fun. Then I get stopped by his teachers and am told a totally different story. I want to help him, he was so sweet and loving and full of hugs and kisses. When I had or second son 2 years ago is when all of the aggression really got out of control. But that was two years ago and he loves his brother and wants to walk, hug and talk to him. He does push him and get rough at times but I just tell him he is a little guy you have to play softer (and take it as brother love)… Do you have any advice to help me?
what hugely intense feelings your little boy is dealing with. Did the article give you any insights into how you can start to help him? It’s not uncommon for a little child’s behaiour to change pretty dramatically when baby sibling is born and it’s all too easy for a power struggle to develop if the parent uses the traditional power over approach of trying to stop and control the child’s behaviour without relating to the underlying feelings and unmet needs driving the behaviour (usually insecurity, confusion, fear, frustration, sadness).
When you discover that he has been aggressive with another child and not told you, see it as a signal to give him extra reassurance that you want to help him manage the big feelings of frustration and that he won’t get in trouble with you. It could be good to study some of the articles on this website to gain a better picture of what this non-punitive approach can look like, and slowly start to move away from punishments like time out or ignoring him and replace with showing him that you’re here to help him manage his feelings and reassuring him of your love and care for him at times when he becomes overwhelmed with frustration.
Have you considered doing the peaceful parenting eCourse (there’s a link on the right side bar or the home page)? It would give you much more help in putting the theory into practice. It includes videos of me running seminars explaining the tools specific to that week’s material and also includes workbooks, summary sheets, worksheets and a private forum to bring your questions.
This article really does give another insight to helping figure out the why’s in an outburst. My 6 yr. old son has many outburst almost daily and I have tried so many different approaches. I know there are some underlying reasons but getting him to calm down to be able to discuss and figure out what’s the matter is the hardest thing sometimes. He can say some of the most hurtful things to me when he is mad and its heartbreaking at times. I have been taking some of these approaches already and after reading this I can see I am on tract to being able to help him express his feelings better and in a less aggressive way. I can see a big difference in certain behaviors over the last year but others are coming about and are very challenging. the biggest thing lately has been getting him to leave his friends house when its time to. He has had complete melt downs and have made us chase him around to catch him all the while he kicks and screams all the way home. this is so embarrassing and really works the nerves, especially in the heat 🙂 He’s an only child and really enjoys playing with friends this I know but showing out that way doesn’t help the situation. This happened twice so far but last night before we went over for play time we had a talk with him about how to act when it was time to leave. We explained how he acted last time did not get the result he was looking for and that we know he LOVES to play with his friend but when it was time to go home it was just that because of our school/work week schedule and that behaving would allow more days for play time. It was so hard the 1st time he showed out like that not to be fuming when it was all over, he completely embarrassed us but finding out he just felt lonely was what was so heartbreaking to me. So we gave him another chance and he was 100% better when it was time to leave. 🙂 Baby steps for all! We learn something new everyday, we just have to breathe and have patience. Yes, I know this is much easier said than done face it we are all human, as parents we try to improve all the time 🙂 Not everything works for everyone. Finding the balance is the key.
Absolutely brilliant. Thank you for this.
That is a very interesting article, thank you. However my (almost) 2.5 year old can be very aggressive with me for no apparent reason. Today he pulled and pulled at my hair, hit and bit me. There was no argument beforehand it just happened and he was aware that he was hurting me, it really upset me. I tried reasoning with him, I tried being calm and firm, but he just wouldn’t stop.
Since the age of 18 months he has often lashed out at me and has shown a strong preference for his father. It is very hard to deal with and it doesn’t seem to matter how I react as he won’t stop. I am at my wits end with him as I find it impossible to always be calm and collected when he causes me such physical pain, he is surprisingly strong for such a young child. I am aware that when I loose my temper I am giving him a bad example however when I try being calm and loving it doesn’t seem to have a better effect on him either.
Your advice would be much appreciated, thank you.
very inspiring article -thank you- it is a very difficult thing to be loving and kind when your child is anything but that- i feel like i hate her – but i realize that that is not a permanent solution – hating and hitting back – better be loving and kind
I can’t seem to see this article.
Only the comments.
Can anyone help me out please?
Kylie, this is a glitch that I’ve been having with my website lately. If you put your cursor at the end of the address in the browser and click return it should work. Or copy the name into a new tab, or failing that a different browser. Good luck, it’s a great article.
Hi Genevieve, I have a 5 year old son (my second child) who is billingual. He started kindergarten last August and had a hard time trying to find his place. He has a close friend who we look after two afternoons a week but when the boys see each other my son starts to behave very silly and loud around him. At the beginning of Kinergarten the two of them were also very mean to the other children in the KG. They calmed down as the KG teacher was firm and consequent. But over the last couple of months our son has been losing his temper and getting frustrated when things dont go his way or he doesnt win a game or the other kids dont want to play with him then he is aggressive towards them throwing stones or pushing them over. He is very headstrong and can be quite bossy. We use timeouts when he breaks a rule or doesnt listen or hits his brother and follow through with a talk afterwards. But at the moment its hard to get him to listen. Can you give us some tips on how else to help him I feel really helpless and at a loss and we dont want to get cross with him. I think he is frustrated and he feels left out, so how do I help him feel more included? Thanks in advance, a very concerned Katie
I am at my whits end and dont know what else to do. My child has always been defiant and demanding. Now all of a sudden after the xmas break, he has been completely out of control. He is violent towaards the other kids and staff. Which is completely different from home behavior. It has continually escalated over the last month. I have volunteered in the school multiple times and I cant tell what particular thing sets him off. He told me that he feel like he needs to hit others . He goes from calm to mad so quickly. I know hes reacting to something but I DONT KNOW WHAT. When he goes off in a rage, he tears up stuff, throws things and hits. I took him to the psychiatrist and he said its not one specific disorder that he has. He has a few symptoms in ODD and intermittent explosive disorder but not enought in criteria to say he definitely has either or. I dont know what else to do. He is supposed to star ttherapy next week. I discipline him andd it helps at the moment but not long term.
How did the therapy go? Did it help your child with his anger issue? I am looking into someone to help mine too.
Thank you very much for a well written article that really spoke to my heart. I struggle with anger every day and can see the impact it’s having on my 4 year old. He has a social/emotional delay as well as motor planning difficulties, and he is really unable to express his emotions. We’ve been working on it since he was 18 months and I don’t see any improvement in self control. I get overwhelmed with frustration and feel like I’m stuck in a pattern of negativity. This information is helping me to look at things differently and is giving me concrete ways to adjust my mind set. I appreciate this!
It’s so good to hear that this information is really useful for you. Yes it’s a lot of work and takes huge dedication and commitment to put the hard yards into parenting, but it’s so so worth it. You might also like to read “why we explode and how to prevent it” and put anger into the search field and you’ll get a few more articles on the topic of helping parents manage their stress and frustration levels, which is a huge challenge for all parents (I think it’s true to say).
Also the eCourse is a great opportunity to really delve into learning and practicing the peaceful parenting skills and this is a great age and stage to establish the really positive communication skills like active listening, empathy, problem solving, loving limits, learning to centre yourself, I statements etc.
Your views and insights are so refreshing. Thank you! Do you offer any insights for single parents (women) with ‘fatherless boys’? Is there a different dynamic going on? From various cultural perspectives?
I really want to hear more from you!
Hi Sharon, I’m Genevieve. I’ve done some training with Dr Solter and she has her own website http://www.awareparenting.com Well the good news is that a child can really thrive with one attachment figure, and that a child with a single parent can be much more emotionally secure than a child who has two parents together but has to deal with unresolving parental conflict. And it’s good for boys to have male “father figures” in their lives, or even one solid male figure that they can look up to and feel cared for by them. Yes it is a very different dynamic when you’re a single parent, and like in all relationships, it’s a challenge to get the balance, but what your boy needs is a warm loving relationship with you and the experience of both of you being part of a community of connected caring people. This can be found through school or religious groups, special interests. I hope that helps.
My 6year old son had an outburst at his school. This is the second time this has happened the first time was when he was 4yr old in preschool and just recently in his kindergarden class. He got really upset and started throwing things in the classroom destroying everything he did hit school staff and was very angry and looked very upset when i got to the school. He had this outraged look and I had to hold him down because he wanted to hit the school staff. I took him to therapy and he said there was a boy bothering him in the classroom. Apparently the lil boy was a problem child i was not aware that he was transition to his classroom. Anyhow since they changed my son to the new classroom so far have no encountered any problems. What I did was talk to him and we came up with ideas that can help him control his anger when he gets stressed out for whatever the reason was. After reading this article I would say he has aggressive-destructive and this article is helpful. The way i handled my son was talking to him motivating him and if he didnt listen then i would take away the things he likes the most. Valuable things and talking helped him alot
Hi Sil, good to hear that you got to the root of the problem. When a child is being aggressive, it’s always important to look at their environments and whether their basic needs are being met. Perhaps he felt unsafe and overwhelmed with the big frustrations the conflicts with this other kid brought up in him. The approaches I suggest in this article (and you can also read “helping children when they hit, push and bite” on this site) – may be challenging because they involve the parent managing their own aggressive urges to become reactive and punitive with their child. But when the parent can take the approach of helping their child through a rough patch, lots of positive emotional and social development can result. Too often, a child who struggles to manage their emotions becomes punished and rejected and shamed, which lead to much bigger problems. It sounds like you have worked really hard to get to the root of the problem, great that you sought professional help and great that you’ve been able to help your boy by changing his class.
Just adding on to all this, I would recommend against taking away special things or “privileges” from him, as a child’s healthy behaviour rests on them feeling loved, cared for and secure and learning the social and emotional skills. Children bond strongly with their precious things like their toys, all they learn from this activity is that it’s okay to snatch away precious things from other people. Just keep teaching him with calm patience.
Genevieve, today was a very tough day for me emotionally as I found oit my 4 yesr old son sat on a female preschool mate inside the playhouse and hit her repeatedly. We’ve been working on the pushing/hitting in preschool since July 2014, I’m exhausted. Also he’s slightly delayed in receptive/expressive language so when I ask anout an agression incident he deflects, avoids or changes the subject. And I iften think he really doesnt understand why ge does certain things. I love what you wrote here, its so detailed and compassionate and really resonated for me. BUT the struggle is my son is in the phase of saying “Dont touch me dont touch me”, so Im now asking to be respectful of his boundaries “May I kiss you or hug you”? Hes a busy boy whis never been a swaddle, huggy type he’s always pulling away and in constant motion…So I really want to try this approach of total empathy but how do I do this with a hyper busy boy who doesnt melt into my arma snd iften rejects affectionate embraces?
Hi feeling overwhelmed at min my 15 year old daughter with down syndrome for past couple od f days has been doing a lot of silly things weeing on floor instead of toilet pouring shower gel on floor throwing herself around this never happened at home before has happened in school she understands everything but has no speech she uses signs to communicate she refuses point blank to say sorry and says she is happy to see me upset she cannot express what she is feeling. I don’t know what to do to help her so hoping you have some ideas please help
This sounds so very stressful! My first advice relates to what you can do to gain support for yourself. The more we need to hold and cope with, the more support we need, yet the less likely it is that we create time to do the things that help us feel better.
She’s clearly really struggling at the moment. It’s very hard to not become reactive when the situation is so very stressful, yet it’s so important to work hard to try and imagine what she might be feeling and to try to help her with those feelings – even if she can’t express those feelings, she’s showing that she’s not coping very well. I’m wondering what are the thing that really help improve your connection with her, that help her feel more secure? Maybe read the article again with these thoughts in mind and grab a pen and paper and do some brainstorming around what she might be feeling, and what she might be needing to feel more secure again. And the article “Empathy makes difficult feelings so much more difficult” might also help.
Hi my son has down syndrome and had similar issues i tried calmly to say i understand that your are frustrated and that i sometimes feel the same and maybe we could help each other. They know they are different but dont understand why so i found saying i felt the same validated how he felt he wanted to help me and that made him feel better about himself
Hiya, I was wondering if you had any advice to give me on my particular problem. I am a trained early childcare worker who has begun a new job in a very low socio economic area and we have many children who come from gang backgrounds. In particular we have a three year old and his older brother who is in the adjoining preschool room. Both boys display highly aggressive behaviour, have no boundaries whatsoever and when a teacher intervenes to deter them from hurting other children, they will respond with swearing and sheer aggressiveness. The younger boy in particular, will walk past his peers and if anyone looks at him the wrong way he will clench his hand into a fist and normally strike them. When his brother is with him, he will hurt other children and sit and laugh with his older brother as if it is the funniest thing he has ever seen. I have attempted to intervene a couple of times, in a gentle calm way and have had to gently hold his hands so that he can’t hit me and while doing so I am talking to him calmly. I then try and give him some space while he calms, while talking to him campy and saying things like; “I can see that you are angry, but we use our gentle hands here and don’t hurt each other”. He responds with swear words and shouts. I keep trying to reassure him and he then calms and may wander off to play. When we see him playing appropriately we will tell him how beautifully he is working and we do try to praise him in order to build up his self esteem. He also has a few children who are absolutely terrified of him and will scream when he goes near them due to numerous previous instances of hitting. we have tried to get outside support for both boys but their behaviour although extreme isn’t quite ‘bad enough’ to justify the help. Help?
Thank you for this article, Genevieve. Reading your article made me realize that I need to help my son open up and share what it is that’s bothering him. I have 3 kids: 7 yo, 4 yo and 18 month old. My oldest has always been rather short tempered and lately he’s been very aggressive (verbally and physically) towards his younger sister when she doesn’t do what he says and towards us (my husband and me). About 2 weeks ago he punched in the face causing a nosebleed. I was livid and said some really mean things. I lost it. This aggressive behavior is only observed at home. He’s good as gold when he’s at school, scouts meetings, friends’ place. I was considering seeking professional help. Do you think he’s too young for this? Thanks
Hi Jinsi, wow yes this does sound really hard. And yes I like that you’re feeling committed to helping him better identify and express his feelings. He’s clearly not coping with the big feelings that are swelling up inside of him. And it sounds like he’s been inclined to get overwhelmed and has carried a lot of big frustrations for quite some time. Have a read of “active listening improves communication in the parent child relationship”, “empathy makes difficult feelings much less difficult” and “setting limits with love”. These will also equip you with more tools to parent in a way that really helps him to better identify and learn to express and offload those big feelings in safer ways. Peaceful parenting equips children with skills and gives them the emotional support they need, whereas traditional parenting makes children who are already frustrated feel more and more frustrated.
If you’d like more specific one on one help, I offer parent coaching consultations by phone or skype (or face to face if you live locally in Whangarei New Zealand). You can read more under the services tab of this website. If you were to put some of these theories into practice for a while and you didn’t see any improvement, then it might be worth exploring taking him to a psychologist who does play therapy, but I’d start with learning and practicing peaceful parenting. Our next Step by Step guide to peaceful parenting eCourse starts on 25th September, which would equip you with all the basic tools and the support to implement them.
i liked your article.i hope this will help me.but what could we do if a child is only 2.5 years old and all the time she is aggressive and love hitting.i mean sometimes her level of aggression is very high and she started shouting like she used a word no no .i mean ordering bevaiour.im a brain cancer patient.sometimes i really have to control myself not to hit her but sometimes i start shouting in return.i know its bad but im a depressed mother due to my disease but really need help to change her behaviour-and she behaved well when she is alone but when she is with family she started hitting and shouting throwing things and feeling all this as a fun…..i dont know what to do????
thanx and waiting for the reply.
Hi there, oh boy! That’s just so so much that you’re dealing with. Parenting is challenging enough, but with such a battle on your hands and all the extra pressure that this adds physically, mentally, emotionally and financially, that’s just all so much. I hope the article helped you understand that your boy is showing you through the aggression a glimpse into his inner turmoil. When you say that he enjoys it, I guess because he laughs when he hits. Yes but it’s a nervous laughter. And an indication that he needs help in coping better with his frustrations. Contrary to the advice others around you may give, the last thing he will need is to be scorned, punished or rejected in any way. What he needs is extra reassurance that he is loved and that you are cherishing him and caring about all his feelings and needs. Yet this isn’t so easy is it when you’re in survival mode yourself. Not easy, but your more warm patient loving responses will get a bit easier to achieve when you really get very clear that increasing and strengthening the bond between you, and facilitating the warm bonding between him and other significant caregivers in his life – IS what he needs the most.
This is a good pdf to print out and to share with others around you. Brainstorm with whoever is close to you and supporting you how your boy’s emotional security can be best maintained throughout these difficult challenges. http://15039k3rrpti2dpriu3iof0z.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/Childs-feelings-and-needs-chart.pdf Access as much support as you can. Are you receiving counselling, and if not, can you organize that, I would say it’s pretty essential to gain as much emotional support as possible through all this.
Good luck and stay in touch with my facebook posts and reading my articles, as they will start to filter through as you read more of them. It will all start to make more sense and you’ll find that how you view your child will start to soften when he’s acting out. I hope that helps.
I tend to read a lot about children going through a hitting phase around age 3-4 years of age. But my son is 8 and for the past 6 months things have escalated from little fits in class to crying fits to now throwing and hitting. He is not just hurting others but himself as well. After calming down we would talk about what happen, what made him angry, and what could be done differently next time. He knows what he did wrong and what could be done differently but the same thing would happen next time.
When he gets angry there’s no getting through to him. And it’s always the smallest thing that sets him off. Someone tale telling on him or he didn’t get the blue cupcake but the green instead. He goes from 1-10 with every incident. It’s like he doesn’t know how to differentiate and apply the correct amount of anger, whether the situation is a level 2 or 9 and how to stop it before it gets out of hand. Even though we have tried numerous techniques.
We are currently seeking therapy for him but in the meantime HELP!!!!
Hi Bobbi, yes glad to hear that you’re seeking therapy, I really hope it’s more relationship focused than the behaviourist approach (in which case punishments/ imposed consequences and reward systems like star charts or earning privileges may be suggested). Hopefully you’re a step closer to gaining more insight into why your son is experiencing such very intense and painful feelings that lead him to lash out. He’s clearly being triggered into that fight flight stress response very easily. Other than the general advice in this article (did any of it resonate with you by the way?), it’s hard for me to help without having a much bigger picture and knowing more about the dynamics, the communication and discipline styles at home and his history. At the core of aggression is fear and insecurity, and part of the remedy is helping him feel more secure, safe and supported. He clearly is unable to contain those intense aggressive impulses that take a grip of him. If he’s feeling pressured to change without being helped to reduce/ release/ offload/ gain soothing empathy and understanding for these underlying feelings – then you’re likely to keep going around in circles, instead of making progress. Does he feel secure, cared for, seen, heard, understood, protected, cherished at home? Does he feel secure and liked and supported by his teacher? Does he have close bonds with at least one other kid in the class? Is he feeling overwhelmed and cornered at times, relating to being on the receiving end of painful criticisms, shaming or rejection in school or at home at times? Is there trauma from the past that is still in his system, and are some of the behaviours trauma/ anxiety symptoms? Does he have learning difficulties that are causing him intense frustration? Does he have a vocabulary for his feelings and does he know that it’s safe for him to express all his feelings, safe to complain and be taken seriously? Maybe read my article “The value of allowing children to complain”.
You can search on this site for my Child’s Feelings and Needs Chart, and you’ll see his behaviour in the top left hand box of the chart, and in the top middle and right boxes there are some clues to that which he might be feeling and might be needing.
Under services you’ll see that I do parent coaching with parents around the world via skype/ google hangouts. Perhaps that could be an option at some point.
My five year old son recently started a new school.He sometimes gets very upset because other kids in that class are not very friendly with him which I noticed.There are only five kids 2 girls and 3 boys. He recently started touring tantrums and cries helplessly please help me
Anna, this is so hard. He’s clearly becoming overloaded. Has he developed a bond with the teacher yet? Can you help to facilitate that? Maybe you could be selective about the days that he does or doesn’t go to school depending on whether you feel he’s in a good state to cope with the challenges. Other articles that might help are “Helping children adapt to change”, or this one: https://www.peacefulparent.com/helping-children-adapt-to-an-early-childhood-centre-or-carer/ and I’d recommend watching the video on that post and this one; https://www.peacefulparent.com/starting-school-new-class-excitement-dread/
Many children of this age are simply not ready for school yet, and yet it’s hard for parents to recognise this to be true because sending them to school at this age is just the done thing. Here in New Zealand, children don’t have to start school until they are 6, meaning the parent doesn’t have to apply for an exemption, but I don’t know if you have the choice. Certainly, being calm, patient, empathic and supportive while he has his big meltdowns can help him to get all that build up of frustration out of his system. Can you perhaps spent quality time with him in the mornings to help fill up his love tank, maybe put love notes in his lunch box, perhaps give him a special bracelet or item of yours to help him stay connected, or maybe he could draw you a picture when he’s at school (organized with the teacher). Anything that helps him maintain that nice secure feeling of connection with you can help. Maybe you could stay for a while in the mornings or visit at lunch time so he doesn’t have to stretch too long between times he sees you. Being apart from the parent can be very distressing for young children, but great that you’re listening to him and caring for him while he lets it all out back at home.
Oh gosh where do I start- my 5 year old has been having meltdowns for a few years at different stages of her life. At first about 3 we put this down to troublesome 3 year old finding her feet, at 5 she became aggressive at the removal of TVs or iPad and before this is questioned we have a healthy balance of all activities sports, horse riding, clubs, tennis, swimming, family dinners etc of which I go an watch them all. Husband and I both work but have no child care as we share between us so she always has one of us. On a paper she has everything and is very much loved – I adore nothing more than spending time with her. We cook together we go for tea and cake and chat together. We have always talked about her daily routine at school and if she wants to talk to me about tough things. As a 40 year old mum when was she was born I found I had more patience that than I would of had as a younger mum. I’ve tried my very best to bring healthy routines to her with also choices to make, does she want red or green etc to allows her to make decisions. Her meltdowns are now very aggressive mainly over a no decision and normally at morning or night – never at school. Does it with me and dad and has shOwn this once to grandad. She attacks me kicking slapping pulling hair pulling glasses off anything, she has trashed her room. I’ve done everything I don’t shout back I stay calm and I’m told my voice is to nice’ I’ve walked away and she runs after me to attack me more s she wants a reaction. I’ve cried, I’ve restrained her when things got dangerous for her and me. It breaks my heart to see this frustration in one so small when life should be so happy for her. I’ve tried to talk to her after but she is so embarrassed she doesn’t want to. I’ve never judged her and encouraged her to talk but she won’t about her meltdowns. She always burns out I tears sobbing herself to sleep leaving me distraught that my precious girl can feel so stressed and angry. We discussed an idea of when she felt angry of thinking of some happy thought or her favourite song – this want pear shaped tonight!!
Recently husband and I have separated but this was happening before and there is no difference at home as he is at home just as before as much as he used to have to sleep away with work. We still do all the family stuff together and we are best friends so there is no link to this. She gets so tired after and this impacts on her behaviour tomorrow – like a vicious circle. I’m thinking does she need to see a behavioural specialist do I look at her food intake – something has to be triggering this. Then I say it’s me what have I done wrong when I’ve tried my very best onto give her security stability love and laughter. Desperate for some help
Hi Mandi, I wonder if it could be a good idea for you to book a time to have a parent coaching consultation with me to help me gain more information, and to explore what might be the source of her meltdowns. She clearly becomes incredibly distressed and overwhelmed. I may well be able to help you tweak how you’re responding to her before, during and after the meltdowns that could hopefully result in her gaining the help she needs sooner. Meltdowns can easily become a vicious cycle for little ones, they are such an intense and scary experience where the child feels powerless to their intense emotions and impulses and then becomes so scared of it happening again that they go into distress quicker when they start to feel emotions rising inside themselves. I’d also love to help you know some of the ways that you can help her overcome the shame she feels at having these meltdowns. I live in New Zealand but do skype or phone sessions with parents all around the world. You can read more under the services tab of this website. Genevieve
She sounds like my daughter! Who got frustrated when my emotions didn’t match hers..she hates my calm voice…She also struggles with denial..usually the third ‘no’ of the morning will be the one that precipitated a meltdown…also really struggled with switching off tv, games, or stopping in the middle of reading…I think it’s something in her brain chemistry, as her dad is similar…all I can offer is that this has lessened as she’s got older, her impulse control is better, her moods are much shorter lived and we always repair afterwards. We limit the rules now so there are less…this works for her…see the book ‘the explosive child’ Shame makes it hard for her though, to talk about it. I wonder does she worry TOO much about being good, especially at school..
This has helped me put things into perspective, thank you! I’m currently in the process of moving to the other side of the world, my daughter is 3yrs and everything is changing for her, I know and understand where her aggression is coming from, I just didn’t know how to deal with it, is very hard not to feel guilty! I’m trying so hard to meet her melt downs with love but sometimes I react badly, as I too am stressed and sad! It’s comforting to know I’m not alone and that with love and support I can hopefully help her through this tough time! Thank you for writing! !
Georgena, I’m really glad that the article has helped. So hard to stay calm and solid for our child when they have a big meltdown hey. A couple of other articles come to mind that might also help: Helping children adapt to change, and empathy makes difficult feelings much more difficult.
My husband and I are at our wits end with our son’s behavior. Our son is 13 years old has Down syndrome, but he is very high functioning, and knows better. and We have noticed each summer, especially in the summer when he can be outside, he doesn’t listen to us at all. We live in a farm and have lots rondo along with a lot of acreage. We try so get him interested in helping us with projects, but he isn’t interested or starts helping for about 2-3 minutes and goes off in a tangent. He will take off and go into our large woods, and we can holler for him to come back, but we get completely ignored. We also have a dog in our outside kennel, he thinks as soon as he gets outside, he must let the dog loose. We tell him as soon as we get such and such done, we will let the dog out to play. We did have a lock on the kennel door, until our son started damaging the kennel to get the dog out. Our son can be so loving and a blast to be around, but at times, we feel like we are ready to explode with him not listening to us! Any suggestions for us???
This article is so helpful and has given me another perspective on dealing with my sons outbursts.
I’m wondering if you can offer any additional insight? My son is three and a half and has always struggled with delayed speech. He is at the moment coming along leaps and bounds with his talking and so I thought this sort of behaviour would improve however his aggression seems to have resurfaced. It’s also worth mentioning that his aggression seems completely unprevoked and random. He will be playing nicely alongside other children then suddenly hit one across the face. He seems to know it’s wrong and stands almost frozen. He attends nursery three half days a week and is very well mannered and loving with me and his dad. He is also very very energetic. Any advice would be great
We are so worried about our 7 year old boy. He’s always flown off the handle, had melt downs and violent and aggressive outbursts since he was around 3. They have tapered off a on the physical side but his verbal attacks are viscous and venomous, saying he hates us, want to kill us, won’t visit our graves, worst parents ever. He then realises what he’s done and turns on himself, hitting his head and saying I’m so stupid, get me a knife I’m going to stab myself, my stupid brain, I’m going to jump out of the window and other such things. We have tried the calming, teaching him breathing techniques which sometimes help, finding other ways to vent – taking himself to a quiet place, stamping his foot on the floor, until he feels calmer and more in control. These all help but it’s the words that come out that we worry about the most. I am concerned for his mental health and where it all comes from. He’s the youngest in his school year and he’s real small for his age and he often gets picked on and called and baby and told he can’t do things as he’s too little and he dislikes this. He doesn’t talk much but this can all come out when he’s raging. We just don’t know what to do. Hes so out of control during these episodes and sometimes will tell horrendous lies that spiral in to stories and more lies that could get us or other people in trouble. He has a younger brother – 3 years old that he tells lies about and he does it with his friends too. I don’t think he is well liked at school because of this and because he has in the past sorted out friendship issues with physical aggression.
Once he calms down he apologises but we are left exhausted and scared by events with some of the things he says. He carries on like nothing has happened all happy and we are left feeling like we are failing him, and worried there is something wrong with him or that he is going to harm himself during these episodes or that he will tell lies and his brother, friends and family will either be in trouble or feel like he is a horrid child. Episodes like this can come from the smallest thing And he is like Jekyll and Hyde. Please help us, we really don’t know what to do.
I am a 36 year old single mom with a daughter who is about to be 5 and start kindergarten next year…She is very clingy to me, freaks out on the weekends when I leave her with her dad, ( who comes to our house because I am not satisfied with his apartment being kid friendly. ) her father and I co-parent just fine, but she dreads being with him even though when they are together they end up having so much fun.. she has been getting angry at the smallest things and lashing out and even hitting me. We share a bedroom sure the room is hers and the other half of the day but she has slept in the bed with me her whole life. I need advice on how to deal with a 4 year old child who gets angry easily and freaks out! Currently I have been put on anxiety medication because I feel like I’m going to lose my mind if things don’t change and I have a lot of life changing events going on around me which does not affect her..I am an artist and bought 25% of a store that I’ve been working out for 3 years and it is a good thing for our future..What do I do? I lost my mom who was my best friend and soul mate 3 years ago, been through therapy, and at times I get angry that she left me. I have no family or friends to help me, especially at festival season when I need to be getting jewelry made to make extra money… I have tried everything I know…please help!
Hi, reading all of the above posts has made me feel like I should know better how to deal with my sons behaviour. I am a teaching assistant and regularly have to deal with challenging behaviour. I understand positive praise and seem to be able to implement it in the workplace. However, have difficulty using this at home with my own children when they behave so aggressively at times with each other. We mostly have trouble with my nearly 12 year old son. He is aggressive verbally and sometimes physically towards his 9 year old sister. He will lash out towards her for no reason. We have somehow assumed that he is jealous of her. He says things like, I wish she was never born and it was better before she was here. He was 2! They do compete for my attention. I treat them both equally. I was a stay at home mum so they both had me 24/7. Now, we have realised a quick clip round the ear is no good, so everything e.g. Phone, kindle, xbox etc has been removed until said behaviour stops. Only, now I think we’ve gone about it all wrong. I can’t just back down. I have to show consistency I my discipline or I fear I will have a teenager who will think they can do anything and get away with it. We are admittedly struggling parents and running out of ideas on how to handle his behaviour. He will not stay in his room when told and will even back talk to us and slams doors. Only he is very good outside the house and trouble only occurs when his sister is around, which is most of the time. I need to speak with him, but where do I start. He us in his 3rd week of high school so he has had a major change in the expectations put to him as he is affectively being told to grow up fast. Please help, any suggestions welcome.
it’s so hard for a parent to know how to best approach challenges with their kids when there’s so much conflicting information, and I can imagine that the non-punitive, connection based approach stands in strong contrast to alot of the information that you’ve heard from other angles. I wonder if backing down from the conflictual approach of punishments (be it hitting them on the ear or taking things away in an effort to motivate better behaviour) – is showing a lack of consistency, or might it display more compassion and a commitment to finding a more peaceful and kind response to the challenges.
Unfortunately, the time out and withdrawal of privileges and applying consequences all break down the healthy bond, the open lines of communication get lost as children before more hurt, resentful, insecure and defensive – which then all plays out in negative behaviour.
There are some helpful articles on here around setting limits with love (search for that), what’s wrong with time outs, the consequences of imposing consequences (search for that) and more. I hope it all starts to make more sense. I promise you the more empathic connected approach I teach really works!
I have 9 year old twin boys and over the new school year one of son’s has been acting out in school. At home he’s fine but at School it’s a complete 360. He throws stuff, knocks over pencils and rulers. I’ve met with the teachers and principles multiple times. My son says he hates the school and wants to switch schools. The school my son attends has a step program. Basically if u dnt do what ur told the first time that’s a step 1 u stand by the corner reading rules on the board and if u talk or explain yourself before the teacher has time to talk to u that’s step 2 then step 3 and step 4 office referral. My son has been very defiant. He was in the principles office kicling the trash can. I just don’t understand how at school he is this way but at home he is fine. The school says he’s defiant, sometimes out of control and wants him to see a mental health therapist and doctor. Little things such as not understanding something and him not getting the help he needs turns into a trip to the principles office cause he gets so worked up. However his teachers say academically he’s great. I’m not sure what do to or why this angry defiant issue is only at school
I’ve read this article and have employed many of the suggestions. Nothing seems to work. My son is now 7 years old, is diagnosed with ADHD and takes medication for it. He tells me daily that he hates me, which I am so used to that now it just rolls off my shoulders. However, he cannot be left alone with kids. He always hits them. He has been in the principals office more times in first grade than most kids would in their entire lives. If he is told no, or a child says something he doesn’t like, he just hits them. If you ask why you always get the same response, “I don’t know”. This has been going on since he was 2 years old. Trust me, we’ve done everything. I have spent thousands of dollars on expert advice, counseling, classes, special day cares and camp programs. So now what?
This is lovely Genevive. I’m dealing with an odd situation with my 7 year old daughter. She is very kind and sometimes shy, but usually a nice outgoing kid. Her grades are great and she can be very helpful at home.
We have been getting reports from her school that sometimes she will just haul off and kick or hit someone. Or pick up pens and throw them like darts at someone. And when she is asked why she did it, she says she doesn’t know. Almost as if she doesn’t remember the incident. Her teachers believe her when she says this. My husband and I are at a loss as to what to do. I really wish I knew where this was coming from. At home we have our disagreements (the 3 of us) but we have lots of laughs and hugs and everything seems fine.
Do you have any suggestions for us? Also we have tried taking privileges away but the only thing she really misses is screen time, and that doesn’t work either
Meghan, it’s very difficult to know what is going on for a child in a school setting, but because she is fine at home and there isn’t a larger pattern of aggression and dysregulation that you can identify at home, I would be very curious about what it is about the school environment that is causing such a huge huge build up of frustration to the point of her acting out aggressively. Does she feel unsafe, have you considered if she has a learning disability, or sensory processing disorder or dysregulation, does she have friends in school or does she feel lonely. The best time to help children access identify and express what’s going on for them is often after they’ve had some really good quality connection time with their parent. Also, be very vigilant of her play and see what she might demonstrate there, perhaps initiate playing school and see where it leads.
It’s not easy for parents to stand firm when their little angel is unleashing a tornado of negative emotions. Your heart would break every time you see your baby cry or become physical. In fact there would be days when you’d want to give in and change your rules … but you need to take out the emotions.
Remember, this is the time your child is growing and he or she needs to understand that you won’t agree with all of their choices. Make them understand that getting into a fight or throwing things wouldn’t change your mind or house rules.
Yes Marko, so heartbreaking to witness one’s child struggle and I agree, the tricky skill to master is to not become reactive ourselves when holding those limits that our child doesn’t agree with. To the child it can feel like the only way to feel happy again is if their parent gives them what they want, but every time the parent holds strong in responding truly from the heart with empathy, without getting annoyed at them for being so upset, we help the child discover that there IS the possibility of coping with those strong emotions and becoming happy and settled again even when their parent doesn’t give in. AND it’s important for us to make sure we’re holding our limits for really good reasons and not as a way of being reactive to our child and covertly punishing them for getting so upset. Lots of skills for parents and children alike to master.
Hi, I have a 9 yo very clever little girl who is 90% well behaved. At school perfect, and with other people, however, as soon as we try to do something as a family mum and dad, she often plays up which ends up in a meltdown. She is particularly aggressive towards me, punching, pinching etc. She also speaks a lot with reasons why she was enacting out which are usually because she thinks we have promised her something when we have not. It’s very distressing as she has so many amazing qualities but this red anger is horrible. She has always been a spirited child, and is an only child. Her dad thinks I am too soft and this does not help as he blames
me for the behavior. We both have tempers too and I think he shouts too much land will distance himself when the tantrum starts. I can’t get through to him he doesn’t help the situation. Any advice please. Thanks
Louise asked (we lost some comments in the process of going live with the new website, so posting again).
Really interesting read and I’m a firm believer in positive parenting. However, I’m struggling with my 8yo boy. He’s always been short tempered and physical, but over theaat couple of months, his aggressive behaviour is more frequent and he is much stronger. I’ve received several bites and kicks that have left marks. I’ve seen a GP who referred us to the local children’s team, but they said he doesn’t meet enough criteria for a consultation. I already try the methods in your article, but how do I stop him from physically hurting me? I set limits but he pays no attention. If I remove myself from a room, he will follow or will wreck the room he is in. I don’t know what to do.
My response to Louise:
Hi Louise, this is so very difficult – for both of you. Great that you’re working hard to avoid being aggressive in return. It’s important you block those attacks to protect you from being hurt and protect him from how awful he’ll feel afterwards when the intensity has died down. I know it’s very hard to do it in a way that he doesn’t feel totally overpowered. Some children respond well to being held at these times with messages of “I’m keeping us both safe honey, I get how very very frustrated you are! I’m looking after you”, some children will shift from fighting to releasing tears at those times, but other children have either triggers around being restrained or the blocking of the release is so very strong. I’m very cautious in even mentioning restraining as an option as many parents can misuse this and cause their child to feel panic and terror (it’s natural and instinctive to have a primal reaction to being physically overpowered.
He needs help in gaining relief from all this intense anger and frustration. He will need to see and hear from you that you truly get just how hard these moments are for him, as well as you. I would do a journal for a few days to see if you can identify any patterns or triggers. Sometimes it’s food related, in fact more and more as food becomes more toxic. Sometimes it can relate to a deficiency, so getting a truly good quality organic multi vitamin (not just any old one, you’ll need to do some research). He’ll need outlets, and the best outlets that are natural to a child are crying, raging and laughter. Power reversal games can really help so much. Children who lash out are usually feeling powerless. These two article might help with the focus on increasing the empathy. As much as this can sound too “soft”, it’s the increased empathy, genuine heart felt empathy for how hard this is for him, that I see again and again to be the factor that starts to turn things around, helping the child regain their dignity, helping them believe that they can do better, helping them draw on their parent’s love, support and energy to make these big difficult changes.
Copying this comment across because it was lost when we updated to the new website ….
W: Please only post this if my email will not be posted with my comment. I was wondering what an empathetic response to verbally aggressive/threatening language would be. My son has been doing better lately with physical aggression (being way too rough with younger sister, and then physically lashing out at me when I pull him off of her) but he has latched onto a verbally threatening phrase which he says even when he’s not in an agitated mood, almost as though he’s testing. We’ve made it clear that words like these are NEVER ok to say, and that it makes others feel their bodies are not safe around him. What would you recommend as an empathetic response to get this to stop? We have been using other connection tools like special time, games to get him laughing, etc and we are trying to have empathetic responses and no punishment/consequences when these things crop up. Thank you.
Hi, are you a Peaceful Parent Village member? If so I’m about to send out a video on exactly this topic. You can join free for the first month, you need to set it up through PayPal, but can then either cancel through your paypal or flick us an email and we’ll do it for you. Also, just in case you haven’t spotted, there are a few more articles also on this topic “Helping your child when they hit, push and bite”, “the peaceful parenting approach to kids conflicts” and “sibling rivalry”. There will be some big frustrations or other difficult feelings that are driving those bad words he’s speaking. At a calm connected time when he’s feeling loved and safe, talk to him about how you know he’s just trying to get his bad feelings out when he says …., and that you can’t let him say that to his sibling, but that you want to help him to feel better. With a light tone, talk about some better ways of getting bad feelings out. In the heat of the moment while intervening when he says those things, you can give him an alternative expression “flip flop” or “sugar” or encourage him to growl like a lion or shout out “I’m angry!!”. Or you can offer for him to push against your hands and see if he can push you backwards. These are optional outlets. A child doesn’t have the impulse control to just contain it, they need guidance on where to direct the aggression. Does that help?
Copying this comment across because it was lost when we updated to the new website ….
Hello, I’m a mother of 2 – a 6 yo boy and 4 yo girl. We have an extremely patient, stable and loving home and the kids are very well cared for by myself and husband (their father). However, my daughter is very difficult over the past year, maybe longer. She seems to be angry much of the time and expresses it with yelling, hitting, throwing, etc. but this happens exclusively at home or in the car (and primarily at me, mom). She’s an angel at school or with grandparents. I think its partly due to being tired much of the time but I have to teach her this behavior is not ok. I use counting to 3 and time outs in her room, also have tried treating her outburts like emotional distress with patience, love and support as you suggest here but these are not working … she loses her temper at very little things. And I worry my support might be feeding this response. I always say its wrong and teach her another way to handle the situation but its not getting better. Shes a very stubborn little girl. I;ve heard from others to start to ignore these outbursts and use time outs or lose privilages (i.e. no treats or ipad time that day) if they escalate. Do you agree? and Any help is much appreciated. Thank you,
How blessed your children are to be growing up in an overall very stable and loving home. And of course just you being here, reading articles and seeking support speaks volumes about how hard you’re working to find the best ways to help your children.
I’ve just responded on this same article to Louise, so can I refer you to my response to her as much of it will be relevant to you. It is so very confusing these days when parents receive so much conflicting advice, and even current parenting programs can still recommend time out, it’s hard to see why when the science is really clear that the child’s behaviour is so reliant on that security of attachment/ consistent warm and supportive connection with the parent. I would imagine that when you’re being super patient and supportive, that she may well still feel anxious that you might turn at any second because she knows that at times you lose patience (understandably I might add!!) and put her in time out, so yes that inconsistency can make it difficult for a child to let their parent soothe and support them. A child being aggressive is a child who is in some level of distress and inner chaos. They don’t enjoy that state any more than the parent who loses their cool and yells at their kids, it’s an out of control type feeling. The ultimate remedy (for children or adults) is to be able to maintain a kind connection with themselves when stress starts to build up or when suddenly faced with intense frustration/ disappointment / anger. And a child internalizes this self-caring, self-soothing ability through their parent’s continued caring responses.
This article gives more insight in to the reasons why I don’t recommend time out, hopefully it helps you gain more clarity. It’s so hard to not have clarity about how to respond at these very difficult times. I hope this helps. Also, have you joined my newsletter? I’m soon going to announce a really great deal for those wishing to do the 6 week step by step peaceful parenting eCourse plus join the Village membership for extra resources and support, including regular zoom Q&A calls with me. In fact just yesterday on a call I was talking about this exact topic, but able to explain it better through talking than writing. I’ll be adding an edited cleaned up version of the video to the member’s area.
Copying this comment across because it was lost when we updated to the new website ….
Username; Mum …
Hi, I really enjoy reading your posts and have used a lot of your advice to help my children. But I am having a particular problem with my 5 year old child being aggressive at school rather than at home. And from what I gather I think it is a lack of being able to understand his own emotions and feeling anxious and stressed when conflict arises. He also does not like authoritive speaking and finds it very stressful being told off as opposed to talked to. My question is what can I do to help him when I am not there? I have tried my best explaining these things to his teachers, yet I think they are quite adamant that they know what is best and are experienced enough. Yet I don’t feel they know what is best for him as a person as he has now been excluded twice and it has damaged his already low self esteem and has made him feel as though he is a naughty child/bad person. And the problem with taking him out of school or moving him is that he find change hard and really loves his school (friends and learning). Would really appreciate any advice you have for me as to what I can do at home when he is not having aggressive outbursts to help him.x
Hi lovely mum, oh this is so sad to read that your boy is internalizing the belief that he’s a naughty or bad person 🙁
Have you read my article “Peacefully parenting your strong willed child”? I have a feel that this might resonate for you. My oldest is a strong willed child and never ever liked being talked down to, being patronized, being misunderstood etc by teachers/ relatives. He needed to vent a lot. He has a strong sense of justice, he’s very very sharp and clearly sees and feels it when people (or animals or the planet) are being treated unfairly. The key has always been allowing him to vent and really validated him, and biding my time before I help him expand his thinking to see other perspectives or problem solve, knowing that if that comes too early, it can increase his frustration. This is a bit of a classic with strong willed/ very sensitive / empathic children and people in general.
And in this one I talk about my son’s process of holding on to his self-belief in the face of condemnation from a teacher:
I take care of a 4 yr old during the day while his parents work. The only time he hits, punches, kicks and hits is when he is told no. Also, when i tell him to do / not to do he tells me no or uh uh. I don’t know what to do. I don’t want to quit m caring for him but his defiance is too much for me to handle. Especially when I have his almost 10 month old brother to care for as well. Please givew me suggesting things that may help.
Joyce, gosh this is so stressful, especially when also juggling the needs of the baby! When children are aggressive it’s important to think of them as showing you that they’re very stressed and needing more help to manage that stress and those impulses (when he hasn’t yet developed his impulse control). It’s important to teach him that it’s not ok to express his frustrations by hurting people, and it’s equally important to teach this in a way that he feels guided with care, helping him maintain his dignity. It’s so easy to shame a child for being aggressive but we need to remember that they also just want happiness and harmony and are genuinely doing their best. Articles that give specific advice on this issue are and
Also I really recommend watching the videos in the free Discipline without Punishment video series, each one is pretty short but will help you better understand what may be going on with him and how you can help him get back on track without getting into a power struggle with him and while maintaining that positive relationship with him that’s so important if we are to have that positive influence on the child. https://peacefulparent.staging.wpengine.com/mini-series-free-registration/
my step daughter she is 6 years old she lashes out at me all the time she spits bites swears at me throws things at me she dont listen to me she calls me a f***ing b***h all the time she tells me she hates me she dont have a relationship with her mum as her mum refuse to see her and her sister i really dont know what to do any more i have come close to leaveing as its getting to much for me please help.
Hi Kathy, this sounds incredibly stressful and distressing, for you and for her. I can imagine that the whole situation is incredibly complex and there will be lots of relevant history coming into play in all the dynamics involved. What a difficult situation for you to be in. With her mother refusing contact with her (for whatever reasons, be she perhaps lacking the skills/ confidence/ commitment or whatever may be going on there), this will be intensely painful for this little girl and it’s a very sad situation for you and her that you may be a constant reminder of her not having the relationship with her mother that she needs to have. It’s always difficult to know if the extreme behaviour is being fully caused by the attachment trauma she’s experienced and experiencing, or if there are other factors at play in terms of special needs, always difficult to know without professional support. But what I will say is that there is probably a lot more that you can do to help your little step daughter than you’re currently aware of. All the peaceful parenting skills that I teach aim to help repair ruptures in the adult child bond and deepen the connection, trust, safety and open lines of communication. She doesn’t stand a chance of figuring out how to feel better or hence behave differently. But if yourself and her father can work together to learn more skills, there is so much hope for the situation to gradually keep improving.
I’m unfortunately not taking on new clients at present as my client practice is full (counselling and parent coaching), however, there is a lot of information and support that yourself and your partner could gain by joining our Peaceful Village Membership. A live round of our 6 week step by step eCourse is starting at the end of this month which could be a great opportunity to learn lots about how to best respond to a child when they’re distressed or acting out aggressively. You must have resonated with the article “Aggression why children lash out and what to do” if you were prompted to comment. This hopefully gives you a taste of our relationship and attachment based approach which aims to help children at a much deeper level than simply applying punishments and threats. She needs relief from all her inner turmoil and grief and rage, while being equipped with skills to make better choices when the distress intensifies in her.
I tried all these positive things in response to my 7year olds agressive behavior, it seems like she only wants to hurt me not dad for some reason, my daughter has trouble making friends and keeping them as well. We had to move school because of all issues with some of her classmates. She is very bright, she had all A’s this year, but listening part she just doesn’t want to listen to anyone, we did take away rewards, trips, as punishment, still doesn’t make a difference, she has little TV time, we try to take her out a pot for walks and physical activities, I try to speak to her and explain that she hurts me when she hits, bites throws things at me kicks, and I said that even if you are very angry you can’t hurt others, she listens more to her dad than me. I am very upset that nothing is helping
Asiel, how very stressful and no doubt quite heartbreaking at times. We just want our children to be happy, settled and secure, and when they’re not it can lead to endless stress and worry. I’m quite sure there’s lots of relevant background and history and influences in the family dynamics that come in to play and it’s always a frustrating effort to try to get the help needed online and what I can offer here is by the nature of it very limited because it’s general advice. Unlike the support I give to my clients which is all very specific to knowing the history and working together to fine tune the approaches that’ll best work. It sounds like you’re working so hard to figure this out and great that you take her out in nature and that she gets lots of physical activity and of course the time spent together, which will all probably be helping.
Have a look at this article When peaceful parenting isn’t working, what’s missing In it I name some of the more common missing factors that often come in to play when a child’s behaviour is consistently out of balance. Also, do you follow me on facebook for regular reminders of the more peaceful approaches? The Way of the Peaceful Parent. Also, maybe sign up for our free Discipline without punishment video series.
Parents often “try” these different approaches but they’re also sometimes using punishments and yelling, which all leads to the child just not knowing where they stand and not being able to trust that their parent truly is seeing how difficult these situations are for them and the extent that they’re crying out for more harmony and happiness themselves. Kids like us adults, want to be happy, want to feel seen, heard, loved and understood and when there are regular conflicts, they can feel quite hopeless and overwhelmed and lose faith in themselves. Hopefully you can avoid things getting to that point. Great that you’re here and reading articles. For more support, joining the Peaceful Parent Premium Village membership is a way to do the eCourses that take you step by step through the processes of really gaining lots more clarity and confidence with these approaches, while also sharing specific situations and examples in the forums for myself, the other mentors and other parents to contribute to.
Thank you for this article. My 5 year old son has been struggling with aggression and frustration for a couple of months now in kindergarten. My sweet, fun and bright boy hits, shoves and refuses to learn. His teacher has been great and he gets frequent breaks. However, the learning for everyone has been greatly impacted. I’m at a loss of what to do. We have started to increase parent-son playtime at home and that seems to have calmed him at home. School has been a different story and I have no idea what to do about it. I don’t know if the fact we adopted him (as a baby) abd that he’s the only child of his race in school are intensifying this. Help!
Dear Adina, Yes his early history will no doubt be a factor now in his challenge to feel secure in school. And yes being the only child of his race in school can be a big factor and will just need some positive framing and making sure it’s talked about so that he has vocabulary and permission to talk about it if feelings or experiences arise for him around it. The quality one on one time at home will be hugely helping, keep going with that and it will no doubt continue to help him release frustrations and deepen his feelings of connection and security with you which forms the foundation for a child feeling resilience in other situations. Feel free to book a consultation with me through my contact page (under about in the main menu).
I have 3 kids and its my middle son who I am having problems with at the moment. He is 9 and small for his age.
Over the last year or so his levels of aggression have increased and recent weeks in lockdown have not helped. He is a caring, considerate and proactive child who can burst into a fit of rage over literally nothing. He is good at school although he can be very distracted but he tries hard and is respectful to his teachers. At home, however, he can be unbearable. He shouts and screams, throws things and intentionally breaks things or hurts himself (banging his hands on the walls or table) through anger and frustration then next minute he’s playing calmly and considerately with his siblings. He’s not the most affectionate child so its difficult to put my arms around him and tell him I love him. He can be particularly rude and disrespectful to me (mum) and will generally only show affection when he wants something. I am hoping that its all just a phase but a really worry that this problem will just get worse and we end up having a disconnected relationship as he gets older. He understands that his behaviour is wrong but he cannot control it. I’m scared that one day he lashes out and really hurts himself or someone else.
Hi, I’m having problems with my little 7 years old boy. Mum and I split when he was 5. When on limits of my patience i return with a smack or twisted ear only to deeply regret it immediately after, however it’s done and impossible go back (thankfully rarely happens). He’s behaviour is very challenging towards his mum. He gets verbally and physically very aggressive. Rarely with me. Mum says it’s because he trusts her more. Perhaps I’m forced to agree with her. Also, she has no rules, spoils him too much and no discipline at all. House is always upside down and hardly finding a place to seat. I tell her that this also has impact on him. With me he has simple rules like going to bed at 20h30, at the latest, with no arguments . With her often goes to bed after 23h after frequently lashing out. Mum says I’m to aggressive towards him. I don’t think I am but, I admit that I didn’t showed the right answer to my little boy’s troubles when he needed me. I believed that a bum smack/ twisted ear in the right time can avoid many later challenging behaviours. After reading all this article, I admit that I have failed when my son needed me the most. I feel a failure to my son. I hope this damage can be repaired. According to his mum, my son said he only wants to see me when I stop being angry. My son is my life and I love him unconditionally. I feel lost without him. I also feel very anxious and on edge knowing how he feels about me at this point. I want to make it up for my son and regain his trust on me. 1st step is admitting guilt – thank you – next step is correcting attitude – I’m on it – and finally regain trust – hopefully on time. Thank you for this opportunity to let it out.
Hi Bozzi, I’m very touched reading your comment and so pleased that you found my article and that it’s helped you to better tune in to your son’s emotional needs. Great that you’re committed to repairing the trust with him, and yes this absolutely can be done, you’re in the right place. Keep reading these articles and working to put the theory into practice. And yes the first step is admitting guilt, it’s very painful to admit that we’ve acted in ways that have hurt our children, but in doing so we step more strongly into our roles as caregivers. Being a parent is being a caregiver which means giving care not just when we approve of their behaviour, but at all times. Maybe consider joining our premium village membership and working through my eCourses Meeting Aggression with Connection and the Peaceful Parenting Step by Step Course. There’s much to learn and practice, but there’s no greater investment we can make towards increasing happiness and harmony in life. When we know better we can do better, but it’s not just forward motion it’s more like three steps forward and two steps backwards, so we need to be patient with ourselves and our child. It sounds like you and his mum have been caught in the classic trap of one parent being authoritarian and the other being permissive. But you can both learn how to parent effectively with structure and routines without enforcing rules or routines in a forceful way. Keep reading these articles on http://www.peacefulparent.com and the relationship between your son and you will keep improving. Maybe also watch some of Gabor Mate’s videos on youtube as he describes all this so well.