How to Stop a Child's Negative Behavior

Updated on June 08, 2013
A.S. asks from Arvada, CO
17 answers

I have 3 1/2 year old twins. My daughter is pretty well behaved and my son is great most of the time but he has a problem with the "no" word like every child. He goes into what I call "joshua mode"... after being told not to do something or anything negative he freezes. He stands completely still with his arms crossed and wont do anything or say anything. He wont even recognize that you are talking to him. Once you get to his level he gets aggressive. At home I just let him be and when he is done with his "joshua mode" which is typically a minute or so I tell him to come talk to me when he ready to talk and we talk about what he did wrong and then he fine. At school they do not let him have a moment and they get down to his level to talk to him and every time he either hits them, kicks them or scratches them. I am not sure what to do. I have talked to his teachers about maybe not getting down and talking to him but they say that they can not just let him be when he does something wrong and he needs to go to a time out which he wont. He stands completely still from where ever he was standing when you got onto him... he wont move unless you pick him up and move him. At home I let him stand where ever he is until he is ready to come talk to me and then we have our talk and depending on what he was doing and his attitude he will either go sit in the time out chair for 3 minutes or we just have a talk and then he goes back to playing. at school they wont allow him to stand there so when they go to talk to him or move him he gets very aggressive towards them.

I am at a complete lost on what to do. Everything I have read and tried seem to not work. At home we have it under control but at school they cant do the same techniques that work at home so I dont know how to stop him. Whenever he gets a good report from school he gets to pick a treasure out of our treasure box and whenever we get a bad report i take one of his favorite toys away. I have a chart hung up with stickers for good behavior but none of this seems to help. I still get a bad report like once a week.

If anyone has had anything like this I would love some feedback on what you did to stop them. I know every child is different. Its weird how my kiddos are twins and raised the exact same way but are totally different. I know every child is born with their own personalities but it feels like no matter what I do it does not help.

Thank you!!!

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answers from Norfolk on

It's a variation on a temper tantrum - which is totally normal in a 3 1/2 yr old.
No one likes hearing 'No' - he's just learning how to deal with it.
Personally I see nothing wrong with giving him his minute to process his feelings.
If he doesn't bite/kick/scratch unless someone gets in his face, then his teachers are triggering it - and a good teacher knows there is more than one way to deal with the situation - they are being rather inflexible.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

Explain to him that there is a zero tolerance for hitting, scratching, etc. he is old enough to understand that. If he hits at school, he goes straight to bed when he gets home, no tv or privileges. Explain that school and home have different rules, and just because he doesn't like it, he can't hit his teacher.

2 moms found this helpful

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answers from Portland on

Oh, my. You are doing it right. I don't understand the way the teacher is thinking. We do what works, not what some book or rule says.

I've had lots of experience with this sort of behavior both from children and adults. I'm a retired police officer and there are some officers who act the way the teacher wants to act. They get in people's faces and start a fight. It just does not work. I was a part of a group of officers who trained with a psychiatrist and a psychologist to learn how to deal better with individuals. We learned to give people who respond by just standing with their arms crossed space in which to process the information. If they move, are agitated or in any way are responding in a negative way then we must stop their activity. That does mean looking them in the eyes and often physically restraining them.

Your son is responding this way because his mind is thinking about what has happened and how to respond. This is a reasonable way to respond. Because he's not continuing to act out or openly defying the adult he does not need to immediately be put in time out. The time out happens when he doesn't comply. The goal, after all, is to gain compliance. Until he takes some sort of action he is complying.

I suggest that the school can use the same technique. I suggest that you talk again with the teacher, explaining why this works at home and why she doesn't have to take immediate action. Yes, she doesn't have time to wait until he's ready to talk but she can schedule in time to talk. She can wait the part of the part of a minute it takes him to decide on how he's going to react.

My grandson is autistic and in special ed. The way you describe responding to your son is the way the staff responds to their students. I don't understand why the staff continues to do what isn't working. Perhaps you need to talk with the school counselor who is likely to understand better what you're trying to say. The counselor could then be an intermediary with you and the teacher.

I would stop taking toys away when he gets a bad report. It's too long after the event for him to connect the toy with the behavior. He's apt to be angry at losing the toy and does not understand why he's lost it.

It's good to have rewards for good behavior. When he's been well behaved all day the reward is soon after the good day. But the discipline of removing the toy is not closely related to whatever behavior earned him a bad report.

I suggest that you don't need to do anything when he gets a bad report other than to talk with him about why and how he can do better the next day. The goal of discipline is to teach. Focus on the teaching.

I'm a big fan of Love and Logic by Foster Cline and...... You may get some reinforcement for your way of handling your son that you can show the school staff. Also ways to reinforce good behavior and give the responsibility for poor behavior to the child. Natural consequences is more effective than punishment. Taking away his favorite toy is punishment, unconnected to his behavior.

Giving him treasure when his day has been good may not be the best thing to do either. I suggest praising him would work just as well and would teach him that good behavior has it's own reward. You want him to behave because it's the right thing to do, not just to get a reward.

After reading the previous post, it might be a good idea to spend some time in the classroom to see how they do handle it and then modify your response to something similar. You can teach him to not hit or be aggressive by immediately giving him a time out to calm down. Tell him that hitting is never OK; that you won't let him hurt you while you grab his hands.

I suggest that time outs for aggression need to be less structured than other time outs. He needs a way to get rid of the energy that his anger has given him. I send my grandson to a quiet spot to recoup. We talk about how he needs to calm down and so should stay in his room until he's calm and can come out and talk about what happened. That way he can move around and get energy out.

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

i'm a little taken aback that you are expected to cope with a child's behavior when you're not there. a pre-school should have the experience and patience to cope with this.
your coping technique is working for you. of course i'm sure you support them and discuss it with him, to the degree that something can be discussed after the fact with a 3 year old. you've offered them your solution.
what exactly do they want you to do?

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Williamsport on

You don't actually have this under control at home if he has complete control of you like this. From what you are saying, you HAVE to leave him be exactly where he is until he is ready or he gets aggressive. In other words, in order to avoid his wrath and aggression, you do what he wants you to do, which is leave him exactly where he is for as long as he wants. There are no serious consequences for his aggression, because you avoid the situations that lead to his aggression at home. So he doesn't learn to NEVER act that way.

Now he's at school where other people don't follow his rules, and they are getting hit, kicked or scratched. Because no one has taught him through effective consequences AT HOME that he will NEVER get away with that.

You need to shift the control to yourselves and teach him to never be aggressive like this. FIRMLY. Not only so he can mesh with the school's rules, but so he does not become a violent bully who controls others at such a young age.

Back to Basics Discipline by Janet Campbell Matson is fantastic for this age.

And yes, all kids are different I have three. You have to be much tougher with some than others if you want good behavior. It's not mean if it enables hm to be liked and successful in school and in life.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from New York on

I think you need to change the way you handle him. Right now he has control and he thinks he can control teachers. When he finds out he can OT, he becomes violent. Not a good thing. He will be thrown out of school if this keeps up. You and a hook need to be in the same page. School is not doing anything wrong, they are trying to deal with the issue right then and there. I am not sure why everyone says the teachers are wrong. They are not.

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answers from Boston on

I agree with Marda that your technique is actually perfectly acceptable and the school is being rigid and inflexible and the teachers sound a bit ignorant. How much training do they have? Is the director better educated and more open to actually working with the children rather than pushing one technique on everyone?

What he's doing is taking a time-out in place, which is essentially what we want kids to do. The whole point of a time out is for a child to be able to calm down and process an upsetting situation, to remove the child from the activity until he gets control of himself and can then think about his behavior and make amends. If your child can do that on his own, right where he is, then good for him! He has found a coping technique where can pull himself together and calm himself down without being dragged kicking and screaming into a corner. Do you think if you explained it to the teacher this way she would get it? If not, I would seriously consider finding a new class or new pre-school where the teachers are less insistant on being confrontational and invading a child's space who is clearly sending out signals that he needs a moment where his bubble isn't invaded to gather himself and then he'll respond reasonably.

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answers from New York on

He's old enough to live up to or down to your expectations. I learned, from an 80 year old Sunday School teacher, that even little ones (she taught 2 & 3 yr olds for 40+ years) can understand when you tell them what you expect of them, and give them encouragement and positive reinforcement.

Your son, particularly since he's side by side the "perfect" sister, (in his little mind - not yours), is going to continue doing whatever gets him the most attention. Kids want as much of us as they can get. And if standing stock still & refusing to listen while you pay attention to him is what gets him what he wants then he's learned that's what it takes. He's not trying to be manipulative - he's just doing what works. At this age kids don't have ulterior motives - their minds are hard wired to do whatever works - so they do.

Instead anticipate what his likely response is going to be in a particular situation (preschool, play ground, playdate, grocery store, etc.) and tell him what kind of behavior you expect of him. Tell him you know he's growing up to be big boy and learning how to do that, and you are so excited and are looking forward to his great behavior. Explain terminology. A 3 year old doesn't neccessarily know what it means to "be good" or "behave yourself". Instead, he needs to understand, in 3 yr old terms, what is expected. (keep hands to yourself, you can't get up and run around but you can tap your foot or flick you fingers if you feel like you need to move...)

A grocery store trip would go like this "Timmy we are going to the gorocery store. I know there's a lot of stuff there that you want to touch and you might even want to get out of the cart. But we only have a little time to get a bunch of things we need for dinner. So I need you to stay in the cart and tell me what you're thinking instead of trying to get out of the cart. I know that you can do this becuase you're very good at telling me about stuff that happens at school and describing things. You are a great helper so I need you to help me figure out where to find the things on the list - so we'll go through the list and you and I can talk about where to find things." Then include him while you're walking through the store, tell him why the ketchup is probably down aisle 5 where the mustard, mayo, BBQ sauce is because they'll all condiments. Explain the word "condiments". Ask him to repaet the word. If he tries to pinch his sister or grab a package of candy correct him in a "no-big-deal" manner - no faces or tone since you want to ignore bad behavior as much as possible and reward positive behavior. Distract. If he pokes his sister remind him that he's supposed to be helping you find ketchup. Whatever he does right acknowledge it. "I knew you'd be helpful with getting all the stuff on the list. You did a great job. I'm really proud of the fact that when you wanted to climb out of the cart you didn't and instead you obeyed me! I love when that happens!" Give him a hug, show affectionwhen he lives up to your expectations.

The idea is that you want to elicit positive behavior so be positive. The negative stuff gets ignored to the extent it's ignorable. You must still correct - but with deadpan expression and little personal attention.

Our kids want us - they want out time, our attention, our love. So use it to encourage the positive things about our children. Boys are different than girls. Boys have a brain that's been bathed in testosterone which makes them more willing to take risks, to be more aggressive, etc. all of those qualities are good in the proper context. Let's not turn our boys into wusses - but let's not also encourage them to be aggressive and destructive. Boys should come with owners manuals for we moms who are just clueless... ;o)

Good luck mama.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Sacramento on

You don't mention what happens if anyone other than a teacher tries to talk to him when he's in "Joshua mode." Does he get physical with another child if they approach him?

I agree with others that say try to get the teachers to do it your way. He is giving himself a time-out. It isn't as though he is standing still until they turn their attention and then repeating what he's been told not to do. He stops, processes and then can talk about it without getting physical. The school should have worked with children enough to know that all kids are different and you can't have a cookie cutter way of disciplining kids.

I do not think that you should be taking toys away for behavior at school. His consequence for school behavior should be handled at school, and should end that day. Every day is a new day with a fresh start.

Good luck~ It's a tough one. But it sounds likely that you're going to advocating for a long time for this little guy because he doesn't respond in a typical way. Work for what works for him though...

2 moms found this helpful


answers from St. Louis on

This is a very defiant, stubborn, and also agressive stance coming from a 3 1/2 year old and I can empathize with you. I have two kids and my oldest daughter was a wonderful child but if she got into "tantrum mode" it was hell on wheels until it subsided. I had to really dig in my heels and seriously up my game with her until I finally got the behavior under control. And believe me, this doesn't happen overnight. My saying takes a child three days to make a habit and it takes a parent 30 days to break the habit! No kidding! Here are some suggestions that worked with my Temper Tantrum Tootie and stubborn and sassy-pants toddler. It worked!!

1. You pick a space of isolation. Somewhere where this kid gets none of your attention and cannot feed off anyone else in a room. It is a safe area but one that isolates him from the family and the "goings on". You want this to pretty much shut down the whole show that he's providing to you, siblings, and anyone else within eyeshot or earshot of his behavior. He can now have a one-man meltdown in private. Show's over!

2. As soon as he starts escalating into the minute are to give him a warning that he's crossing a line and that punishment is going to follow. Use the words, "Joshua, this is unacceptable and this is ONE. If we get to TWO, there is time-out." Once you do this, walk away without drama and see if he contains himself. Praise him if he actually does cool his jets and chooses to heed the warning. Tell him this..."Joshua, thank you for listening to Mommy. I love it when you listen and want to behave nicely." Give him encouragement and a big hug and kiss. Always praise a job well done with self-control.

3. If he snaps and continues the tirade or anything ugly comes from his mouth, you pick him up swifly and off he goes to the designated isolation area. I don't care if he's stiff as a board or flailing like a move him into that area right away and contain him. I used to use a pack and play in a remote room but if he can climb, you are better off placing him in a room and gate him in or shut the door. Put a toddler guard on the inside knob so he can't get out without your assistance. You tell him he will not be able to see you or rejoing the family until the tantrum stops and he apologizes. Period. No exceptions.

4. You time hime out for four minutes and then check on him. If he's quiet, you can approach him and you tell him why he got sent to time-out. You then ask for an apology and make sure you get one every time. If he escalates, tell him he is not ready, walk out of the room, and restart the time-out again at four more minutes. You repeat this whole cycle until Josh is quiet, contained, and apologetic. Then he can come out and rejoin the group. Make sure you end each ordeal with a nice sentence telling him that you love him very much but you don't like his behavior. Remind him of the warnings and then praise him for ending the drama. Kisses, hugs, and off you go.

5. What de-rails these pint-sized powerhouses is the shift of control back to you. Joshua is a lovely boy and very capable of good behavior but he is also a controller and manipulator at this point as well. he knows how to cause a scene and loves the reaction he's getting. shift the power back to the adults and shut it down. He's three. Trust me when I tell you that as a Mom, you are way more powerful than anything Joshua could serve up and you just need to exert yourself but in a very consistent and operative way. It's about redirecting the aggression and stopping the cycle of behavior he is currently used to using and forcing a change. You will have things YOUR WAY when he's out of control and until he shapes up, he's by himself and not able to be with you or others because his behavior is unacceptable. Not to mention that any other kids and adults around him are definitely annoyed by his tantrums and they don't need to see him doing this. Hence, the isolation factor. He will soon learn that tantrums get him nowhere but a trip to his own demise and that no one is buying tickets to his epic shows anymore!

6. Lastly...BE STRONG. BE CONSISTENT. Do not feel sorry for your son for disciplining him or for trying to mold and re-shape his behavior. He needs your guidance to learn what to do. You are not harming are helping him learn self-control, manners, and rules. I promise you that this will stop the behavior if you do this each and every time he acts up. No 1000 chances, either. He gets one warning and then boom...he's done. Kids like this usually turn out to be very good leaders and command a great presence in their upper years if they are taught to harness this behavior and use it in a non-stubborn and non-destructive way. Joshua will probably never be anyone's doormat when he grows up and that's a good thing! But for now, you take back the power and the control and make sure Joshua knows who makes the rules and why he will follow all of them. Then watch your son release this behavior and make a change. I know it will happen. I have the feeling you are a mom who can more than handle this task. GO FOR IT, GIRL!!

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Denver on

Thank you everyone for the great advice. On here I have gotten a lot of different advice which makes me more conflicted. Before posting this I could not decide if I was in the wrong or if the teachers were in the wrong and now reading everyones post I am still confused. LOL!!

I work at the same preschool that the kiddos go to and I handle things a lot differently in my class then their teachers do. Our school rule in No time outs. We try to redirect not time outs. Also I do not agree with some of their rules and how they treat their students... not just mine. For instance... Joshua had a "joshua mode" yesterday at school because he was playing with blocks and then got up from the blocks to go to the bathroom and didnt ask so they told him that he needed to go to a time out. I personally dont think a kid deserves a time out for not asking to go to bathroom. Thats not even a school rule. In all of the other classes the kids are allowed to go to the bathroom whenever they please and this is only his 2nd day in their class so I think they could have just reminded him he needed to ask before going to the bathroom instead of just sending him to time out. Now I do not on any circumstances agree with his aggression problem nor is it something I put up with. Its just really hard because he does not and has not ever hit me or his father. Its only at school that he gets violent. He has never gotten violent with another child at school. Not during "joshua mode" or any other time. He is a very good little boy in all other aspects.. he is so smart, and so sweet. Its just when he gets upset about something he shuts down and needs a minute to calm down.

Some people where saying that I should try something else at home instead of letting him go into "joshua mode" and I have tried different techniques. I have tried making him listen to me and going to a time out. I honestly do not believe time out works. I think every child is different and time out works great with my daughter but with my son he really could care less. Our time out is in the corner of our dining room which is a ways a way from where everyone is at.

My husband has always had a aggression problem. His parents put him in anger management and therapy at age 12 and he has struggled with anger management his whole life and will continue to have to deal with it and with joshua acting the way that he I am starting to see a lot of the same qualities that anthony used to have as a child. We have seen a family counselor and they are the ones who told me to give him a minute to let him process and then have him come talk to me when he is done. They are also the one who told me it was depending on what he did on if he deserves a time out or not. If he was touching the tv and I told him to stop and then went into joshua mode then he talks to me he really does not deserve a time out. Now if he was doing something bad like arguing with his sister then once he gets out of joshua modes he needs a time out to get a consequence. So this works great at home and I dont have any problems but at school they say they can not do this. Which I totally do not understand because as a preschool teacher I allow the children to have a moment to themselves if they need it.
I also know that every child is different and needs different things but that being said I also know working at a preschool that I dont always have the time to let each child do their own processing. So this is where my conflicting sides come in.

Thank you for all of your advice and I have a lot of thinking to do!!

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answers from Hartford on

The school should NOT have to enforce the same discipline methods used at home. Should they adjust per individual child? Yes, but they still need to apply the same rules and discipline to each child or it isn't fair to the others. This is the beginning of children learning to fit into society and having to conform to certain rules or else face a consequence.

I really don't see anywhere that your son faces any sort of consequences when he's home. He needs to be removed from the situation immediately and disciplined/corrected. He can "process" in an area of time out that YOU have chosen.

You've got the tail wagging the dog here. Your child is running your home right now. And you seem perfectly all right with that. Now you seem to expect the teachers at school to allow him to run the classroom. That's an unfair expectation on the teachers AND your son. He has no boundaries nor discipline, so of course he's giving you problems.

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answers from Columbus on

My 2 cents it that if you are working with a counselor and what the counselor is suggesting works, stick with that.

Call a conference with the school/teachers, and explain to them that you are working with a counselor and this is what has been come up with. If they will not budge on it, then it's time to find a new preschool.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

My only suggestion is to handle it the way they do at school...that way he will get used to it and you can put an end to the aggressive outburst from him. At 3.5 y/o he should be WAY old enough to understand that you do NOT harm others...ESPECIALLY his teachers!

I am sorry that is all I have. I am sure you will get more help from other mothers on here that have more experience but I have never had any of my kids get physical like that.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Denver on

You say you have it under control at home, but do you really? I think that is the bigger question. What he's doing in those "Joshua Moments" is what I like to call a silent temper tantrum or pouting. It's a power play. You let him have the power for that minute, whereas the school doesn't have the luxury of letting him control the situation. He shouldn't be deciding when he's ready to talk about what he did wrong - you or the school should.

The only solution I see to this is you need to take back control. Handle it like the school does. Pretty quickly, with enough negative consequences, he will learn he is no longer in control. When mom says "Stop it and get over here" he will listen.

Good luck momma!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Boise on

I think it's a load of nonsense that they can't give your son ONE MINUTE. They may insist that they can't treat the children differently, but children ARE different, so they need to be handled differently. They already DO handle each child differently in some regards.

My 6 year old son was getting in mild trouble at school, and they'd demand that he apologize right away. Having raised this particular kid myself, I know not to do that. He shuts down. He needs a little time to calm down before he can apologize sincerely, and he refuses to apologize insincerely. I happen to admire that in him; he refuses to lie about how he feels.
So when he refused to apologize immediately, he got sent to the school counselor and principal, just because he wouldn't lie to the kid he offended. They made it into a huge deal when he really only needed like 2 or 3 minutes, and then they'd see how he would make up with the other kid in a spectacular and genuine way.

Because of some other things going on at the time, and my own naivety, I told my son that he had to play by their rules at school. I was afraid of being seen as an uncooperative parent. But what I think I probably should have done is emailed or otherwise spoken with the teacher and counselor and told them that *I* know my kid, and I would be happy to tell them how to handle him. Because it's not unreasonable to give a child a few minutes to think before they do what's asked of them.

But I didn't do that, and guess what? Now my son fake apologizes immediately and whether that was a starting point or not, we're having problems with him lying.

Sorry for the long story. I would say advocate for your child. Tell them how to handle your son, and expect them to do what you say. I'm assuming that you are paying for "school" for a three year old, and that it's kind of like a day care situation, in which case these teachers work for you. Don't be afraid of them, but don't be bossy and snippy and mean, either. Let them know that it's not unreasonable to let your son work through how he's feeling for a minute, alone, without someone in his face, and so that's what you'd like them to try, and see if the problem disappears.



answers from Cheyenne on

Have you had him evaluated by a doctor? I'm certainly no expert, but if he freezes and you can not reach him, it sounds like maybe a sensory thing? Like he's over stimulated at that moment and needs a moment to process it. I disagree with the other mothers who said he's controlling you...he still gets a punishment (you mentioned time outs) once he's come out of his mode, so he's not just getting away with bad behavior by standing still. It's just a slight delay before he gets that punishment. If he was doing that and then you just let it go and he didn't have to come talk to you and possibly get a punishment, then I would say he was very clever and had you fooled, but that doesn't seem to be the case. Also, he does this no matter where he is...not just with you, but with the school, too. If it was working for him at home, but not at school where they don't let him do that, he'd stop doing it at school and only do it at home. But it's not "situation specific" (meaning it's not behavior specific to one person or location. Not just with you, but at school, with other caregivers, etc as well), which makes me think it's something more in the nature of the child, not something you are doing to bring it on or condone it. I would talk to your doctor. Some kids can't handle stress in the moment, or can't process so much stimulation. A doctor might be able to refer you to a behavioral specialist, or someone who can give you some tips.
But what I don't get is that you said in a post that the school rule is no time outs, but then they gave him a time out for not asking to go to the bathroom? Huh? Perhaps it's time to find a new school?

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