Help with Behavior

Updated on May 04, 2009
K.S. asks from Bellingham, WA
20 answers

I'm at my wits end! My 6 year old son has been terrible the last year or so with his behavior. He is disrespectful, throws tantrums when things don't go his way, yells, screams, throws things and is very demanding. My husband and I have given him numerous time-outs that don't seem to work, taken things away and have even grounded him from doing anything but go to school. We don't know what else to do. Any parents out there that have advice we could use? Please!

Edit: My son does very well in school and he does very well understanding and comprehension. He eats fairly well and does a lot of things on his own, by his own choice. I honestly think that my husband is causing some of these problems. My husband often argues with our son over trivial things and no matter how hard I try, I can't get him to pick his battles. Everything is a battle. My husband and I will talk about better ways to parent, calmly and rationally, about once a week, but it seems that when bad behavior starts we aren't on the same page.

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A.E.

answers from Portland on

Try reading "Parenting With Love and Logic." It's very helpful, helps you calmly set limits. Without knowing more, it's hard to say what is going on. The book is based on a system of discipline that I, as a teacher, I found very empowering.

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J.B.

answers from Seattle on

Dr. Dobson has some good books on boys, their thought processes, and how to discipline them effectively. All of his books can be found at www.family.org. Even if you disagree with his conservative political stances, he is a trained psychologist and a successful parent of two boys, and his books have helped a lot of people.

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H.G.

answers from Eugene on

K., you know your child best, but I found that when my children began to act out at home the solution is sometimes simple. I try to examine the way I and the rest of the family are functioning first, stress in a household can create a strong sense of chaos. Next, I look at how I and others are reacting to the behavior, also Diet and schedule are important to school age children . They are expected to concentrate in class and get in line and follow a daily schedule. If they are eating a lot of foods with food coloring (tested and shown to cause behavior problems) or white sugar/corn syrup it may be affecting his ability to focus and follow directions. People sensitive to wheat and gluten can have irritable behavior as well. If "looking in" doesn't resolve in answers, looking at the situations the child is in when you’re not around (school, childcare and friends) may be enlightening.
Children know deep down that you as a parent love them unconditionally, and seem to act out with us when they are having difficulty processing other issues they have come up against outside of the family.
I think that most behavior issues can be resolved with the help of family and school/community support.

Mother of 3 and one the way
Boy 20 - Girl 17 - Boy 5

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W.L.

answers from Seattle on

Hi K.,

I'm sorry to hear about your frustration. I can completely empathize with being at my wits end with my almost 5 yo (and even sometimes with my 2 yo). Although he's still challenging at times, what has really helped us the most is finding his imbalances and correcting them. First we did a food allergy test on him and found out that he was highly sensitive to wheat/gluten. (Food allergies cause an immediate reaction; food sensitivites are more of a delayed and longer lasting reaction - but the correct allergy test can test for both.) Once we removed wheat from his diet (which was a big challenge), it changed his behavior significantly. Also, he's always taken a good daily vitamin plus omegas (fish oil), which are also really good in many ways for your/their entire body (including behavior wise), and I also found that adding magnesium to his supplements and making sure he gets enough calcium in foods and drinks, helped even more with his behavior. These are all things that I researched and have proved to be linked to ADD or ADHD behaviors, and so far it's really helped us a lot. Even if your son doesn't have those specific tendencies, often there is a physical imbalance that affects behavior. Another thing to be aware of in foods are food additives, food coloring (especially red and yellow), and sugar. All of these things are linked to bevavioral issues.

Beyond that, it might just be his age, or something that's going on with him. I'm sure you've tried talking with him to see if there's something going on that's making him upset or angry.

Another thought is to try positive reinforcements. Having him earn the things he wants and/or doing a weekly star chart for specific good behaviors is a great way to get them to want to do good behavior. Although we do use time-outs still, we have a lot of success stopping negative behavior by reminding our oldest that he will not get his star for the day if he breaks the specific rule. (He can get up to 5 stars a day for 5 preset things we've chosen for him to work on, i.e., good listening, no harming, cleaning up his mess, sharing his toys, and no yelling.) If he's not sharing his toys with his brother, I'll remind him that he won't get his star and most of the time he is then willing to share. We set a goal for the week of a minimum amount of stars to earn, and if he reaches that goal, then he gets a prize. The prize can be anything from a new hot wheels car (his favorite thing), or a trip out with just mommy or daddy (which we try to do anyway, but with a treat, like ice cream or something), or something like that. It gives him something to work towards and gives him a new perspective on correcting his own behavior rather than just responding to punishment.

I don't know if any of this helps, but I wish you the best of luck!!

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N.I.

answers from Portland on

My daughter threw temper tantrums when she was young. She is 31 now. but I just "threw" her in her room (not literally - more like picking her up or dragging because of flayling arms and legs) and told her she could come out when she could be civil. This started at 4 I believe. I told her that I didn't want to hear it and she could throw as many temper tantrums as she wanted (permission) - just not near me or the family. (but in solitude like bedroom or stark bare room with maybe a bed in it = no TV or games - clothes okay) I have two other boys - she was the middle child. She stayed in her room sometimes for an hour or more but eventually grew out of them. Afterward her temper tantrums I would either ask her what the temper tantrum was all about and if it wasn't something she wanted to discuss then I would just go through the chore of "throwing" her in her room. I did not get upset but matter-of-factly said this is what happens when soemone misbehaves. You sound like this is what you are doing but sometimes it takes a year or more before they get it. It did my daughter - but I was persistent. Luckily she didn't do this outside the home but if she did I would immediately taken her to the car or home. After a while she figured out that it didn't bother me that she through her tantrum and so she stopped. Boundaries and consistency.

There is a good book called Boundaries. You can probably get it at amazon.com. I recommend it highly.

Good luck from a mom who knows.

N.
wife, mom, grandma and wellness coach

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D.B.

answers from Anchorage on

Have you heard of Love and Logic? They have a website. They have books and cd's to help teach us parents how to deal with the many different stages our wonderful children go through.

Check them out. They have helped us.

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T.T.

answers from Seattle on

K.,

I am sorry for this phase, it is so hard to function with this unexpected challenge and you are never sure when it will arise and for how long!
This might seem an unusual suggestion, but I tried it with my son and it seemed to work (amongst changing his diet as well in the long run). When the frustration hits him, squat down, and just hold him. Squeeze him tight and take long deep breathes he can feel. Training himself to take the deep breath and calm down.
As for the food, I haven't gone all crazy on his diet but I identified his highest quantity of food and it was dairy. I made as much as I can organic and boy, what a difference. His fits are now more traditional to his age than anything else.
People might look at you funny when you embrace a kid that is having a fit but if it solves the problem and teaches them to focus and calm down, what is the harm in that?

Best of luck, hang in there!
T.

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J.C.

answers from Seattle on

Oh, dear K.-- I'm so sorry this is being so tough ( and I DO understand - way better than I'd like to--- taught children with behaviour issues for many, many years -- )promise me you don't feel this is ''' all your fault''' - as it almost certainly is NOT --- having said that- there are likely changes you could make that will help - and some of them are easy and most of them are NOT.

How does he do in school??? does he go to a Sunday school program at all?? -- how does he do there??--- ANY other group experiences?? -- athletics or classes ??? -- how does he do with THOSE????-- does the teacher in kindergarden have the same or similar issues???? If NOT - that tells you he is making a clear choice to comply in one environment - and be difficult in another. If she is having the same issues --- it's time to ask for some help. For his sake and for yours' as individuals and as a family. If he is having trouble at school-- consider asking the school to make him '' a focus of interest'' -- which would start a process of evaluation that is free and could lead to support such as a specialist from the district helping you set up guidelines that you and the school would all implement ------ it doesn't help if the school uses one set of ideas and you guys use another. PLEASE don't wait any longer to get some help-- you and your little boy need help while the solutions are in terms of months- not years.

Blessings,
J.
aka- Old Mom

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W.C.

answers from Seattle on

I am going to give you advise as both a teacher of k-1 and a parent of a strong willed child (very).

My daughter threw major temper tantrums until entering grade school. About 5 when she just went into over drive with them, I finally started saying, you are not mad at me, if you must be mad, go outside and yell at the trees... etc. It made life so much easier.

When she threw temper tantrums at the beach or on walks when it was safe I just walked on slowly so she had the opportunity to yell and scream it out on the ground.

I also realized that she often threw temper tantrums when her body and skills could not do what her mind wanted to do. She was the youngest in the family and surrounded by adults. Everybody could do more than she and being ambitious, she wanted to do what everybody else did. That was one source of her tantrums.

Check your son's diet. In fact take him to either an allergist or dietitian to see if his diet or environment is affecting his environment.

Start limiting your son's choices of everything. He could be so overwhelmed by "life choices" that he can't decide and just has tantrums as a result. Give him two choices at a time for every activity. No more.

And I think you need some professional help. But choose carefully. Automatic giving him medication is not the cure.

Take care.

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D.E.

answers from Portland on

You might want to read Parenting with Love and Logic, it should have some good ideas for you. Good Luck

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G.B.

answers from Seattle on

I really don't have much advice (but I sure will be checking back on this!) since I'm going through this a lot myself right now - times two since it's my twin boys. It gets very aggravating and frustrating because I know they know how to behave and what's expected of them, but they can't seem to resist the impulse to react poorly. I'm currently working on talking them through the situations after the initial punishment. What I mean is that I have the child come talk to me about what happened and what was improper about his response/action and then go over what would be a better response/action. I'm not sure yet if the talking is helping at all, but it does seem to help break some of the tension we're feeling, for both me and the kids. I'm really trying to work on my own reactions to bad behaviors as well (consistently demonstrating how I expect them to behave seems like good logic) and put a LOT of focus on positive reinforcement (in the form of praise and thanks) and the talking because I believe my boys' issues are possibly stemming from complications of divorce from their bio-father and his abandonment and reappearance after they'd formed a fatherly bond with my current husband. I just really feel the need to get them talking about their emotions, and I hope it works.

***Edited***
See, I told y'all I'd be paying attention to these replies. That suggestion of the Family Rules system sounds awesome! I've been looking at the website and reading all the Q&A there for a couple hours. Will be talking to my husband about it tonight.

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V.L.

answers from Seattle on

Kids can be trying that is for sure. Having had 6, I know they all have different personalities and behaviors. If only they came with a specific direction book!!!
I absolutely love the book "Love and Logic" because it really puts everything back to the child and you don't become the 'bad guy' as they have made their choice. I also use it in my 4th grade classroom. Good luck!

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G.H.

answers from Richland on

Rush out and get a Parenting with Love & Logic book at your library, bookstore or online. It will give you the tools to turn this around....

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A.G.

answers from Seattle on

I'm not sure how well this will work with your child, but it's worth a shot.

When my son was 8, his temper started to get the better of him at home and at school. We tried all sorts of things to help him, but nothing worked. Finally after he got suspended from school for a fistfight, inspiration struck. We didn't want to completely single him out, so we started this method for improving behavior with all of our children. This included a 6 year old and a 4 year old.

We gave each child a jar. I had a bag of dry noodles that I had been sitting around unused. These became the jar filler. We set up some rules as to how to earn noodles and how to lose noodles. They could earn noodles for doing chores, being kind to each other, helping me when I needed it. There was also a bonus for doing things without being asked. They lose noodles for things like yelling, hitting, being disrespectful, not doing what I asked them to do. When the noodle jar is full, they get a special reward.

For the first little while, my son would earn some noodles and then quickly see them taken away as he hit someone. It was frustrating for him to lose the noodles he had worked hard to earn. Slowly he started to control his temper, and stopped hitting people. We have been doing this for 2 years now and his hitting problem is gone. He still hasn't mastered his temper completely, but it's so much better than it was.

It has also worked well with the other kids. Sometimes a threat of losing noodles for their behavior is enough to encourage them to shape up quickly.

I found this works well because it is a way to encourage them to regulate their own behavior. It is a good way to reward the good and discourage the bad.

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J.T.

answers from Seattle on

Dear K.,

There is still so much to know about your situation.

For instance, is anybody near your son who acts similar? If so, get that person to change. Your boy doesn't need a bad model.

How consistent, kind, and firm are you and your husband? Without this formula, don't expect a change in his behavior.

Children act out to get attention, revenge, power, and helplessness. Could any of these be what's behind your son's misbehavior. If so, figure out which ones. For instance, if it's power, give him some power by giving him 2 choices. If it's helplessness, avoid doing for him what he can do for himself.

I hope this helps, K.. Like I said, there's so much I don't know about your situation. If something helps use it and forget the rest.

With warm wishes,

J. at www.KidsDiscuss.com

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A.H.

answers from Portland on

Time-outs stopped working for us around age 4. Now my son is 5 and this what we do that has been very effective..

My son has to do chores to earn all of his new toys (this is very important because he really values his toys now). He earns money for each chore and saves to buy things. If he misbehaves he gets one warning that he will lose his toy for 1-7 days depending on the issue. If he acts out anyway then we take the newest toy that he's just earned. I have a calender where I write the day that he gets the toy back. Then he has to behave every day in order to cross another day off.

This technique works way better than time-out. Most of the time it stops his behavior with one warning. Of course he did lose a few toys for a week or so in the beginning, but then he got the idea. CONSISTENCY IS KEY!!!

Also, someone mentioned below that they teach their son to relax and breath deep when he gets frustrated. I have also done this with my son since about age 2 for frustration and pain. It takes a little time, but my son is now quite good at relaxing his body and breathing.

Good luck!

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E.C.

answers from Eugene on

Hi, I would look for the source of the problem rather than try to just train it out of him. You can use those behaviorist methods to squash the behavior but you don't really know how it will affect his self-esteem in the process. Anger, depression and difficulty with trust and intimacy could result from never having their needs met. My toddler son attacks my infant daughter when he needs a new diaper, probably b/c he doesn't want to have to ask for a diaper change! When I tried time outs for his attacks he became more malicious and angry, and it worried me to see his good nature changing. Now that I figured it out and change his diapers when he starts getting in that mode, our relationship seems to have a much warmer quality than during the time outs period. I know this is a simplistic view esp. since I have never parented a 5 year old, but I believe the general principle is true of people of all ages -- *listen* to what's really bothering them even if it takes years to figure it out, and you will make a real connection of the heart with your son. Take care.

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M.F.

answers from Richland on

is the same behavoir exhibited at school. Have you tried talking to the school counselor or a psychologist the behavour could be caused by something beyond the childs control.
good luck
Paula

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M.D.

answers from Portland on

I also strongly recommend the Love and Logic parenting books. Sometimes, you can find low cost Love and Logic classes, taught by local school counselors. The methods work great with children of all ages, and will improve your adult relationships, too!

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G.R.

answers from Spokane on

Hi K. - I know the question has already been asked but I ask again... does he do this behavior just at home with parents or does it continue in the public (school, church, or families home)? If this is at all locations then you need to reach out for local assistance to help you including working with a positive behavior support specialist. How is your son's communication skills? Is he able to verbally communicate with you about why he is acting this way. If he can not verbalize see if he will color or draw to help you understand what is going on. I suggest that you start to keep a journal of what is going on in your son's life (including food) to see if you can pinpoint a trigger to this temper tantrums. Finding the answers to that will help with your needed fix.

We have 2 boys (8 and almost 6). When my youngest was about 18 months old we were having many behavior issues but we found that was tied to him not being able to speak/understand correctly. We got him in for speech therapy & started sign language and instantly we noticed a turn around in his behavior (to this day he is still in speech therapy and continues to make strides but behavior still springs up due to frustration). We also keep a close eye on what our kids eat, many kids have issues (allergy or intolerance) with a type of food or a food additive.

At our home we use the Family Rules system & it works very well for us www.family-rules.com this program is a skeleton frame and we at home can change the "skin" of it to best fit our individual family (one nice thing is there is an on-line support for parents to share tips & ideas back & forth). The book for this program is wonderful & has many more ideas as well as a detailed how-to-do "X". One of the BIGGEST things is to have you & your husband sit down and agree to a specific set of family rules, then write them down (ours includes how behavior is expected as well as daily/weekly chores, etc). Then each family member (including parents) have to abide by those rules. Each rule will have a "value" set for them. For example when our kids break the bedtime rule (staying in bed - except to go potty) they earn 1 good habit card (these rules & values can change as time goes on). The "cards" are anything that we dream up, we currently use chore items (vacuum, clean windows, brush the dog, etc) as well as other activities (read a book or play a game with brother). There are also Grace & Wild cards. Our kids know that if we (mom & dad) break a rule we have to do the cards too. The "reward" part which can also be tied in with a sticker chart for younger children is each kid earns a "Token" (we use poker chips) for each day they have no good habit cards. Just because they got cards for one day does not mean they are all out of luck. They can still earn RAK chips (random acts of kindness) so if we see them doing something good/nice we reward them with that. It takes 3 RAK to replace 1 token. We do keep a calendar of what our kids earn so we don't forget to give them their tokens to put in their jars.

Our kids helped us create a rewards list of anything they would like to earn, the key is mom & dad get to set the value of how many tokens it will take to earn that reward item. My kids have on the rewards list everything from special dinner, fishing, toy and even a Wii. Granted the Wii will cost them 300 Tokens and they really want that. Right now between them they have over 200 Tokens. At this rate they will earn it later this summer. But it will be worth it all the way by the much improvement in their behavior since we started this.

Hopefully you will be able to glean some valuable ideas from all of us Moms and find something or a blend of things that will work for you & your family. Good Luck!

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