4 Year Old Boy Who Spits, Hits and Kicks When He Doesn't Get His Way - HELP!!

Updated on July 16, 2010
K.M. asks from Annapolis, MD
15 answers

My 4 year old can be a very sweet boy....but often when told no or that he has to share with his younger brother, he becomes angry. He has been spitting, hitting and kicking me and my husband when he doesn't get his way. I try to very calmly (and as non-emotionally as possible) tell him this is not ok. He will then go to his room for timeout. We have talked about why this is not a nice way to act and that it hurts people but it doesn't seem to be sinking in. He does not behave this way at pre-school. Advice??

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So What Happened?

Thanks for all of the great advice. Luckily, he does not hit or kick his younger brother...just his Dad and I. Unfortunately, he doesn't have any favorite toys or activities that I can take away. I think he could take or leave most things. I have taken his little blankies that he sleeps with at night and have taken tv. I may take his soccer practice today if he doesn't stay in his room this afternoon. He is a very emotional and easily influenced child. So, I think that anytime there is something to get upset about he does. And, he uses the not so nice words that he hears from his older friends. Just an example of his overreacting...he got upset this am b/c there were only 2 waffles left in the house and his brother got 1. This was followed by the kicking, hitting and spitting that accompanies most of his tantrums. We never went through the "terrible two's" so I think I'm paying for it now when he's four. To the person who said it's good that he isn't like this at school, only at home....that's exactly what his pediatrician said and also about it being a "safe" place at home. Thanks again for all of the advice! Although I know that other moms go through this kind of stuff, it's nice to be able to commiserate and learn what worked for others!

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answers from Columbus on

If he is holding back his worst behavior for you at home then he is doing really well. Keep being consistent and teach him what is OK and not OK, and step up the time outs with other dicipline at home if it does not become effective soon. That he can control this behavior at school is a very good sign, believe it or not, this is the kind of pattern you want to see, when behavior is more global, or when you see it in public, you have more complicated issues. You are "safe" so he trusts you and he is showing you that he has control, so he is just saving it up and letting it go at home. Keep working on it, and it will improve.

Don't we all kind of do this once in a while? Bad day at work, can't yell at the boss...you know how it is! Not that it is right, just that it is typical and expected and you are doing the right thing with him, so stay consistent.


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answers from Chicago on

I have to point out, sharing with a younger sibling is not always the right solution. I can understand his anger, and being only 4 he has no other way to show this anger.

I don't know what instances you ask him to share, but he could be feeling like he doesn't own anything anymore. Or that nothing is just "his." Or maybe the younger brother breaks things or ruins what he is playing with.

I only say this because my stepdaughter is forced to share her toys with her younger sister when at mom's house. She shares a room and has nothing that's just "hers." They make her entertain her younger sister, and while that's fine, sometimes she just wants to play by herself. She says her younger sister breaks her toys, or ruins what she's playing with. There was a time when she was physically tackling her sister and pushing her! My SD is NOT a physical kid, she's never violent and I've never seen her angry at our house. It has also created a big dislike for her younger sister.

While hitting, kicking and spitting are never acceptable, I'd just take a look at why your son is angry. Could you give him some time to just play by himself? Are there toys your younger son just isn't allowed to play with because they belong to your oldest? Could you create a box of "toys to share" and "toys not to be shared?" Does he get enough one-on-one time with you?

Sharing is important, but I'd be MAD if someone made me share all my stuff all the time!

I'm guessing that since he doesn't do it at preschool (and they make you share there!) that there is some other issue at home. Solve the issue and you'll stop the anger. Also, you could teach him what to do when he is angry instead of just getting mad at him for showing his anger. My mom got my brother a punching bag and when he was angry he was taught to go punch the punching bag. It always made him laugh in the end!

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answers from Davenport on

I agree with Martha R. He obviously understands that this behavior is not good, because he is not doing it at school. You need to keep up what you are doing. I would also have a talk with him when things are calm (not during or after an episode). Explain to him, that it is not okay to hit, kick and bite. Does he like stickers? Maybe start giving him a sticker at the end of the day when he has a good day. That will make him more conscience of his actions at home.

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answers from San Francisco on

Dear K.,

Hopefully he is not spitting, hitting and kicking his little brother. I someone you didn’t know, child or adult hit, kicked or spat upon on you, one would almost have to be “superhuman” or a total passavist to not react with anger or some sort of retaliation. While you and dad are still the biggest, it’s time to do a bit more then telling your four year old “this is not O.K.”.

A few suggestions:

Remove his shoes in the house (as a precaution); tell him no shoes until he learns/understands that there is no kicking.

The next time he hits, spits or misbehaves in anyway, pick him up, restrain his legs and arms by holding him tight as you carry him to a time out place (not his room), someplace there is absolutely no fun, no toys, no other children. Just a little chair is a spot where you can see him. If he gets up, put him back…no talking, no yelling, just put him back until he stays for the amount of time you have given. Using a timer helps, five or ten minutes to a four year old is a long time. When he has completed his time out, he will probably have calmed down enough to talk and apologize.

The only remedy for correcting bad behavior is consistent discipline and love.


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answers from Pittsburgh on

Typically, kids know what they CAN and CAN'T do at school. But they are known to push the envelope at home. Just keep being very consistent with your house rules and the consequences he receives for his behavior. You say he 'will go to time out in his room" but does he like it in his room? LOL make sure the consequence is actually something a bit unpleasant or it won't have the desired effect. What REALLY made the point for my son was taking away a favorite toy/lovey/activity/etc. more than a time out. But all kids are different. Good luck!

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answers from Washington DC on

I'm sorry if this is redundant, though it doesn't sound like it from your update (I haven't had a chance to read all the responses). but I just wanted to say, it sounds to me like being punitive isn't working, and maybe you should re-think your whole strategy. I once read in a book something to the effect of:

when you want to push your child away, try bringing him in instead.

what it means in practice is, at those moments when you most want to put him into time out or yell or whatever, stop, and try and think about what's really going on with your kid, and if there's a way you can give him ~more~ of you instead of less. it sounds like he's acting out b/c he's trying to get your attention, so if you can really focus on giving him positive feedback for his positive behavior, it will help to re-direct his energies.

also, and this is really key, try carving out special one-on-one time just with him that he gets to direct, ie.: we have an hour (or ten minutes, it doesn't matter how long as long as it's as much as you can cobble together) together, honey, what do you want to do? play with trains? read books? go to the park? I'm all yours, we do whatever you want. (the only think you can't do is watch TV or go a movie or do something else that creates parallel play instead of the two of you actually interacting and playing together.)

you may find that the negative behaviors lose their power and so he may start to calm down. just ignore as much as you can. obviously biting and spitting need a response/guidance, but try not to give negative attention, and make up for it by giving as much positive attention as you can possibly muster. every single time you see him do anything positive, tell him you noticed and praise him: johnny, I see how nicely you shared your toy with your brother, that was great! johnny, I see how you really wanted to hit your brother because you were mad, and then you didn't, and I'm so proud of you for that. etc etc etc.

and when you're really mad, think about bringing him in instead of being punitive. think about being disappointed instead of angry. think about including him in strategies for correcting his behavior instead of meting out random punishments from on high (so to speak).

good luck!

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answers from Norfolk on

Are you completely against spanking? I am a spanker. And something like that I would have no problem taking my hand across my child's hind end. We've been there with that. It didn't last very long.



answers from Portland on

Check out the book How to Talk So Kids Will Listen, and Listen So Kids Will Talk. It gives really practical advice on how to respond to kids by not denying the feelings they have. Amazingly, children can often resolve their own unhappiness once they believe you have really listened to them.

You can read part of this really practical guide to communicating with your kids here: http://www.amazon.com/How-Talk-Kids-Will-Listen/dp/038081....


answers from Missoula on

When I became confused as to what to do about my son a few years ago, I thought "what is something that he really loves?" For him it was his cars. So every time he did something wrong (for me it was swearing) I would tell him to go bring me a toy and I would stash it away in my room. Fortunately for me, he would always bring me his favorite toys. He quit swearing within about 2 days. It made a huge impact on him and maybe that could work for your situatiion as well.
He earned back a toy each day that he didn't say one swear word.



answers from Indianapolis on

It's pretty common knowledge that I'm not a big fan of parenting books - I don't believe in a one-size-fits-all approach to parenting and to customize it more to the personality of the child to make it effective for them.

Our son will be 4 in June. We're finally beginning to realize what is effective with him - mostly taking prized possessions/activities away from him.

I personally grew-up in a very disciplinarian/authoritarian family. My parents left no question that they ruled the roost, and as a parent and an adult now, I really appreciate that approach. So, when you mentioned in your message that you try to talk calmly and non-emotionally, I wonder if that approach could be hampering your effectiveness in dealing with your child's personality. Perhaps he thinks it's OK because there's no real punishment, no shame, no guilt for his bad behavior? Not that it's OK to scream and yell at a child, but you can change the intonation, pitch of your voice so they understand more of where you're coming from.

In our family, kicking, hitting, spitting would not be tolerated and would be addressed completely and immediately.

I know my approach may not be the most popular, but I believe being a parent means having to do some hard things.
Whatever approach may work for your son, I'd start trying different tactics until you find one that is effective and sticking with it consistently.

Good luck!



answers from Los Angeles on

hi ,im going threw the exact same thing...
No terrible twos, but very terrible 4s..
please email me, at
[email protected]____.com
thank you



answers from Norfolk on

I have recently started dealing with this kind of thing with my almost 4 year old and just wanted to let you know you are not alone. I am still trying to figure out some answers. As I was driving home from the grocery store yesterday he did not want to leave so when he was strapped into his carseat I got shoes thrown at me. I know all the rational explanations of him not knowing how to express his emotions and blah blah but when you get a size 9 thrown at your head it can get you upset. He is getting too big for me to forcibly put him in his seat and I am having a hard time. He has always been an independent strong willed child and it just seems to be getting to be more so as he is older and more able to express it. I agree with the others of being consistent with the disipline but I also have another suggestion for you as Momma - make sure you get time to yourself (workout, shop, friends, etc.) it makes a world of difference when you are not stressed - you are more equipped to handle the outbursts more effectively - I think it would make a big difference for me.



answers from San Francisco on

Keep doing the timeouts, but maybe you should not make him "share" so much. Allow him to have special things that are just his own that he doesn't have to share with that pesky younger brother. Make a point of which things are his "special" things that he doesn't have to share, and which aren't. It's enough for oldest kids that age that they have to share their parents with the sibling.

You don't have to "share" everything that you own, and you probably wouldn't like it either.

N.S. below said it perfectly.


answers from Washington DC on

i like that you are talking to him about his behavior (not just reacting), make sure that you aren't making the explanations too long. i don't agree with taking things away from him. he's acting out from anger and frustration, losing his blankies won't help him with that. maybe you could try helping him to express himself- not by speaking for him, but encouraging him to use words 'it looks like you're angry because you want more waffles.' sometimes just being understood helps. a pillow to pound on when he needs to take his frustration out physically. a time out where he's in sight of you (not his room) but where he is returned patiently and inexorably when he's not able to get control of himself. he doesn't sound mean, he sounds as if he's at his wits' end and has no clue how to deal with the things that make him nut up. rather than just punishing, i'd think of ways of giving him tools to do that, and praising him when he succeeds.



answers from Washington DC on

My son behaves worst for me as well, and people have made me realize that I'm too easy on him. Time outs don't have much effect on him, but threatening to take away his favorite stuffed toy definitely has an impact. If time outs alone aren't doing it, see if there's something your son really loves that can be removed for a certain period of time to make the punishment more effective - either an object or favorite activity. I'm also working on keeping our day as structured as possible with daily routines. I think this will be especially important over the summer months. Good luck.

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