37 answers

Aggressive Behavior from 4 Year Old Boy

Hi. So, my son is my only child and he has always been VERY active and fiery. Sometimes this means alot of pushing, hitting, pinching and even talking meanly to other people, mostly other kids. And he usually isnt even being mean spirited about it, it seems more the result of not knowing what else to with all his fiery energy. He has not generally been on the recieving end of this behavior and is not exposed to violence through media. His father and I have always taken a pretty laid-back , though strongly communicative response in trying to curb this behavior. We have also issued plenty of time- outs, and although neither of us are very stong in the discipline dep't, , we have tried to be consistant, and i know that we have been alot more tolerant and patient than most adults we know would be in this situation. I have been so careful to not allow my son to be branded a "problem-child" or "bully" , but to see this as a phase we can gently guide him out of. Well, in the last few months, i am not so sure. This "phase" has lasted a little too long! His dad and I are starting to feel more frustrated and impatient about it . As are the parents of some of his good friends. I see that he IS earning himself a reputation for being mean among his peers and their parents. It is breaking my heart, because he is actually usually a very sweet and loving kid and no matter how much we try to lovingly encourage kinder behavior, he seems at times unable to control himself. He also seems to have no regard for the response he is receiving from those he hurts or annoys. In the last few months, I have taken a "no-tolerance" stance towards this aggressive behavior. If he is making someone uncomfortable, he is removed from the situation immediately to his own space for a several minutes. If it happens repeatedly, we leave parks, parties, play-dates etc. The thing is , i still see no changes!!! Some of our closer friends and family are suggesting that we "nip this in the bud" before it is too late, but have no practical solutions that we are not already applying. What can we do if we are certain that we will never resort to hitting our kid!? (seems especially ludicrous to try to teach him be less aggressive by being aggressive toward him!) I feel desperate to see some changes now! Any advice would be greatly appreciated!

What can I do next?

Featured Answers

Hi A.,
There are behavioralists that you can contact with great information. My guess is he is getting something out of his behavior, otherwise, he wouldn't be doing it. Once you find out what he wants, show him a different way of getting what he wants. Give him praise for using the different way.-for instance, time outs aren't working so his behavior is not attention seeking. Hope this is helpful.

1 mom found this helpful

Hi A.,
I wish I had some advise, but I do not. I have a 2 year old who is also an only child and sometimes he's just mean! I know 2 year olds go through the terrible 2's, but I'm also like you I do not want a "problem child" either. I'm really starting the time outs now and those help a little bit but somedays I feel like I'm going to be on Nanny 911 someday! I just wanted to say good luck and be strong! This is one of the hardest parts about being a parent.

More Answers

My sister passed along an awesome discipline tool that has worked wonders in our home.
We have two girls (8 and 6) and the six year old is a spitfire! She is very emotional and very strong willed. When she was younger, if we would try to discipline her, she would just respond more intensely, then we would get more intense and she would respond with even more instensity, etc etc etc! Until everyone was exhausted from crying and getting things taken away!
This tool we now use is the three srikes rule! If you get three strikes, then you have a consuequence (hers is going to bed early). Every Sunday night the slate gets cleared and we start a new week over. And I actually post the strikes (an 'x' on a piece of paper) on the fridge. Any time she needs to be disciplined we just give her a strike. And it keeps us from getting worked up about it! We can just calmly tell her she has earned a strike for having done XYZ. This has been so incredibly effective. She very rarely goes to bed early from too many strikes! I think the key for her is that she feels more in control of the consequence than if we just all of sudden say no more tv or tonight you have to go to bed early. I can threaten giving her a strike and that right there just makes her get control of herself.
It has been a lifesaver for us!
Good luck!

2 moms found this helpful

I know that with my children, they tend to act out more when they are wanting attention. Because they want attention, they do what they can to earn it, even if it is negative attention. If I notice that the behavior has increased or that it is lasting a long time, then I evaluate myself and how I have been treating them. I know you said your son is an only child, but he still might benefit from uninterupted "date" time with you and your hubby at different times. Let him help plan the date. Help him feel that his needs and wants are important too. This has helped a lot, I just wish we could do it more often.

Also, maybe trying to give him some alternative way to act out his feelings instead of with physical means. close your eyes and count to 10. Or sing a song. Or come and ask for a hug. A way to try and change the behavior. Eliminating a behavior is tougher than replacing it with a better one.

I wish you luck and would like to offer you hope!

1 mom found this helpful

Been there. It started in preschool with my now 6.5 yr old. He too is very sweet and loving but could not control himself in certain situations or times.

It really sounds to me that HE CAN'T CONTROL himself because the discipline would have at least helped to curb the behavior. This too was and is the situation with my son. So, the question is, is it something like ADHD or some sensory processing disorder? Maybe a weird allergy (though probably not in my opinion)?

My son has ADHD and meds have helped immensely as well as behavior charts and structure to motivate him to at least be conscious of the unacceptable behavior. We are still trying to improve his ability to attend at school but the early kindergarten labels of "the bad boy" are long gone and his self-esteem is good. Who knows if this is your son's issue too but it is definitely time to chat with your pediatrician about what you are observing/doing as well as what any other caregivers/family members observe as well.

My last thought.... Have you tried or noticed any change in behavior if he has had caffeine? Once I put it together before a real diagnosis because he had a couple great days after first sneaking then me giving him a caffinated pop a couple of mornings. Give it a try and see if there is any difference. Also take this observation to your pediatrician.

Good luck.

1 mom found this helpful

Hi A.,

My second daughter is a Leo, and in her toddler years up to about this age, she really lived up to it! You know how you can play with a kitten, rub it's tummy, etc, and it will purr and purr but all of a sudden it will just snap and nip at you? My daughter--except more on the level of a lion cub! She was biting and pushing children, without any provocation and without usually seeming to be upset with the child--she would go back to playing happily immediately.

She nearly got kicked out of the most laid back home daycare in town by a woman I've known as a good friend and community member and among the most tolerant humans on earth!

As I studied her behavior, I finally realized she had a "personal space" boundary that seemed to change for reasons that would make sense to a little girl, but that weren't obvious to any other child near her. She was very articulate at speaking, but I realized she wasn't really at the developmental stage to have learned how to TELL someone they were too close, or she wanted to stop what they were doing.

I started focusing intently on coaching her to recognize and speak these kinds of feelings. It started kind of awkwardly at first--she caused a few hurt feelings at first--but she very quickly stopped biting!!!

I think maybe your little boy is experiencing something like this--he is aware of personal boundaries, but maybe he isn't sure what to do when he wants someone to give him more space or even when he wants to play with another child (or another child's toy?).

Without seeing him, it's hard to say, but perhaps it would be helpful to give him words for what he's feeling, while at the same time asking him what he would rather have another child do--hit or ask? He's a bit too young to really understand empathy for another person, but he's not too young to begin to hear the message.


1 mom found this helpful

I've been there too. I'm sure you've heard this before, but consistency really is key. One thing I had to learn w/ my son was to address the heart of the issue; why was he doing these things. Mostly for him it was a matter of needing to enlarge his vocabulary and communication skills. I would get so embarrassed in front of other people, but had to learn to discipline in a way that would address his heart rather than pacify his behavior in front of others. Another thing I had to do (& this is about myself, not my son) was treat each incident as separate incidents, instead of adding to his "rap" sheet. It helped my stay more patient and focused on the lesson he needed to learn. Hope this at least encourages you that you're not alone, and best wishes!

1 mom found this helpful

hi A.,

this may seem very basic, but do you know why your son acts that way with other kids? i mean have you asked him what he is feeling? Frustrated? sad? etc. i understand you have to remove him from situations that are harmful, i'm just curios if you also follow up with what needs he has, that maybe weren't being met. there is some great non violent communication by Marshall B Rosenburg that you might want to check out. i use it with my son and it;s awesome! good luck!

1 mom found this helpful

Local authorities by law have to offer "Child Find" screenings through public education. These screenings are commonly held at your local primary or elementary school. The screenings are free and provided to the public by a team of specialists that usually include school psychologist, speech and language pathologist, occupational therapist, and physical therapist. This screening may provide you with the opportunity to consult with experts, connect with community resources, and intervene on the behalf of your son.

1 mom found this helpful

So, it sounds like you are rethinking your laid back approach to discipline because you have noticed that your son really doesn't behave himself appropriately. Congratulations! That is progress. You said he doesn't seem to be affected by consequences. Before giving up on that notion, make sure that you really are giving him consequences that HE DOESN'T LIKE and that you really are FOLLOWING THROUGH and not giving up or giving in. A lot of parents without even thinking about it "rescue" their children from the very consequence they just imposed. Like, the other day, my neighbor and her son came over. She told her son (age 3), don't take your shoes off, we are going soon." He took his shoes off. "Harry! I told you ... you are putting your shoes on all by yourself! I told you not to take those off!" He whined and pouted because he does not like to put his own shoes on. I was very curious to see if she would bail him out. She said, "either you are putting your own shoes on or you are walking home barefoot." He put them on. I was very proud of her -- this neighbor is the sweetest lady on earth, and I know it used to be hard for her to "be mean" but now she has realized that it really is best for THE CHILD. Keep that in mind, you are "being mean" because you LOVE YOUR CHILD. It is within YOUR POWER, Mom, to determine whether he becomes a PROBLEM CHILD or not. You can do it! I promise you, consequences really do work, but it depends per child on WHAT consequences will work.
Also, here's a tip: it may help to practice things at home BEFORE you go to a social situation. Then go to the social situation (like a park) and do follow through with a consequence IMMEDIATELY at the FIRST SIGN of his disobeying the behavior you JUST PRACTICED at home. That way he has no excuse, you know he is capable, and he will learn that he really does have to listen to you.
As an example, using quiet voices. At home: "we are going over so and so's house and it's important to use quiet voices inside her house. What's a LOUD voice?" (practice yelling) What's a QUIET voice? practice that. Now, when you're at Mrs. So and so's house, and you want to play with their trains? How should you ask? Should you use a loud voice or a quiet voice? Okay let's pretend that I'm Mrs. So and so. Ask me for the trains... Great! That was exactly right. Now, when we're at ... that's how I want you to speak. Do you think you can do that? Good, because if not..." This really shouldn't take very long. Two minutes.
As another example:
My son had a problem of running ahead of me in parking lots. Well, we did not go into the store he was running ahead to go into. We went home and he cried and carried on for quite a while. WHen he calmed down, we went out into the yard and we practiced holding hands and walking and I described to him this is what you need to do ... Then we went back to the same store and he was perfect! Children need boundaries to bring out the best in them. In fact, I never ever had another problem with him running ahead of me in the parking lot. So you see? Think how much SAFER he was as a result of my investing that time. And of course, I was much less stressed knowing he would stay beside me.
I know you can do it! Good luck. You will find your child much more enjoyable and you will love parenting even more. p.s. Have you seen "Raising Helen" starring Kate Hudson? She found it hard to be a meanie, too, but she learned. (And when I say meanie, I do NOT mean that you have to yell or otherwise intimidate! You can use a very calm, pleasant voice, but be firm.)

1 mom found this helpful

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