Rambunctious Toddler Violence! PLEASE HELP!

Updated on February 17, 2011
M.I. asks from Saint Paul, MN
13 answers

Hello all you experienced moms!

I'm a busy mom of 3, ages 3.5 yrs, 2 yrs, & 6 mos old. We are having some serious issues with our 3.5 year old! PLEASE HELP!

Our extremely rambunctious & imaginiative 3.5 yr. old son is really showing signs of male agression (or maybe it's somthing else, I don't know) in wanting to "fight bad guys," or acting out things all his favorite construction trucks do. However, b/c we don't have any real bad guys around to fight or loads of dirt to dig/roads to repair, his younger siblings are constantly the target of his "attacks." He sits on them (yes, even the baby!) as his trucks, squeezes, "drills" with his finger or fist, squeezes necks, & occasionally bites really hard! Also he'll do some of these things or just push or kick if anyone tries taking away something he has or wants (the baby's already crawling & so is into everything).

Timeouts (even long ones), taking away his favorite toys/privileges, & even spankings (that we were initially against but ended up trying since nothing else was) do not seem to be helping to get the point across that it is NOT OK to be hurting them. Our talks with him on how to treat people, that he is supposed to protect his younger siblings, that we are to share, etc. do not seem to be registering AT ALL.

I quite literally cannot turn my back on the boy & am now having to make him follow me to other rooms in which I need to go so that he is never alone with the other children. Even if he's not doing any of the things I listed above, he is always moving, always doing something with his hands or body & inevetably ends up hurting someone! I'm at my wits' end as to what in the world to do with him as it makes all the other hundreds of things to do so much harder! And of course just so frustrating that our son who is so smart, sensitive, & loving is also so dangerous!

Has anyone else experienced a child like this? Is there anything you've found that can help?

Or does this sound abnormal?


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answers from Minneapolis on

Can you put him in some sort of preschool or maybe an ECFE class where you can spend some one on one time with him and put the other two in sibling care? It really sounds like he is fed up with the little ones getting the attention that he feels he deserves. (which all of us go thru when we have a second/third child). Just a thought.

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answers from El Paso on

He sounds like a perfectly normal 3 1/2 year old boy who can't find what we deem as "appropriate" outlets for his imagination. A sandbox and a swingset or "playground" area outside would likely do wonders for the safety of your other two. Whether you can afford to do something like that may be a different story, but it sounds like he just doesn't see any other options. If he had a "playground" outside where he could imagine, climb, dig, etc. to his heart's content without affecting anyone else, I think you would probably see less involvement with his younger siblings.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

Is he watching any tv, movies or video games? If he is- turn them off! Take them away! and see if he improves at all over the next two weeks. Start reading stories to him about helping out and being nice. And you are just going to have to stay consistent with- no, we don't hit/bite etc. because it hurts so&so and it's not nice. We are nice and soft with the baby. If you are going to hit with the truck, you won't get to play with the truck anymore.
you could also try tiring him out by letting him play and run around outside. You also might need to re-think how you are telling your child to be the protector- make sure you are wording it for his age level and not overly talking it(I've done that many times with my oldest and he really doesn't get it because I wasn't talking at his level- we both do better now!)
Don't give up! Keep at it! It just takes a while sometimes.
We have also done the "when you hurt the baby or brother/sister- it makes mommy sad because I love the baby and brother/sister. When you are hurt also it makes mommy sad."
Good luck ! you are in this for the long haul!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Minneapolis on

Please talk to your pediatrician. Express your concerns - a phone call or an appointment on your own (without kids, or at least only w/your oldest) might be easier. It absolutely could be that there's a particular parenting technique that might help, it could be that he's in a challenging, boundary-pushing phase - or there could be something larger going on for which interventions might be appropriate and useful. If interventions are appropriate, the earlier you start, the faster the interventions work. But let your pediatrician help you, it's part of their job to help you figure things like this out.

Rambunctious is normal for a 3 year old. Energetic is normal. Even inappropriate (mean, violent, impulsive, etc) is sometimes normal. Hurting your siblings is not acceptable. Disregard for consequences is quite worrisome.

My 6-1/2 year old son was diagnosed with ADHD over this past year, and while he's not particularly oppositional (as it sounds like your son might be), that kind of behavior is very typical of ADHD. My son's preschool teachers first started raising red flags when he was 3, although just in the "lets keep an eye on this" realm. When he was 5, they said: it's time to have him evaluated. We went through extensive, thorough evaluations (audiology, opthamology, psychology, sensory/occupational therapy eval) and the results were very consistent: ADHD. I see you're also in St. Paul - we went to Gillette, they were amazing, Dr. Raymond Tervo.

Your first step should be your pediatrician. The fact that you describe your son as "loving, sensitive, smart" and "dangerous" and "I'm at my wits end" suggests to me that there's something going on inside his brain/body that he can't control. It could be ADHD, it could be any number of other things, but you don't have to figure that out for yourself. Talk to your pediatrician.



answers from Appleton on

Someone suggested Parenting with Love and Logic and along that same vein I suggest "Unconditional Parenting." I like this book because it asks parents to reconsider the usual ways of disciplining (time-outs, rewards, etc.). If time-outs and spanking are ineffective then maybe it's time to stop them and find some other way of dealing with conflicts. It also asks parents to consider the long-term goals for our children and ask ourselves if punishments and the way we deal with problems are going to get us there. It was definitely an eye-opener for me.

I do feel that bad guy play is normal, especially for boys. I have a 4 yo son who loves Godzilla and loves to smash block towers, tip over the laundry basket with loud roar, or wrestle with his 2 yo brother. Sometimes it gets too rough, but I step in right away to talk about feelings, ask him to read his brother's face. Or I just ask, "What is your brother doing or saying that tells us he isn't enjoying your game right now?"

We also find ways to get the energy out. My husband gets home from work and the first thing they do together is wrestle on the bed. It gets the energy out and I think sets a good example of just how gentle you have to be. We strip all the cushions off the couch, build a fort, and my boys demolish it. Sometimes we pretend there's a stuffed animal trapped inside that needs to be rescued. Maybe you could turn some of the aggression into firefighting games. This way the game is to help someone or defeat the fire instead of defeat or attack a person.

Hope that helps and take care!



answers from Omaha on

I would definitely be displining him for the agressive behaviors, like hitting, biting, kicking, etc... He has to learn. However, I also think you should give him opportunities to do good things and then praise him like crazy! Try to catch him doing good things. Get him out of this agressive habit. I would also start doing dates with him without any other children. Maybe it's just playing cars with him or going to McDonalds.
I really believe that your child is frustrated and this is how he acts it out.
My 3 1/2 yr old is still struggling with jealously of his 1 yr old brother. We work hard to give him attention. I think it's just something he has to get through.
Good Luck!



answers from Duluth on

He sounds normal in my opinion! On one end of normal, certainly, but that's typical in our house. For those who implied he was watching too much tv--our kids ONLY watch PBS (we only get 4 channels) and a few non-scary movies, and my 3 year old knows about "bad guys". Even Veggie Tales has bad guys. What we did, with both our boys, who tended to be this way, was to first attempt to teach empathy. Do you see the look on his face when you do that? He doesn't like it! And yes, it's a pain, but you DO need to be with him more. (We just went through that for a couple months with my middle son, who is now 3 y 5 mo.; it was a royal pain to have to supervise him more than i did when he was a baby.) And then it was timeout...timeout...timeout. We also resorted to spanking, but our first hit about 4 years old and realized we were punishing hitting with...hitting. It stopped working, and although timeouts didn't feel any better, they did eventually work. Or they outgrew it. Both boys seem to go in fits and spurts; what seems to work better than teaching them NOT to do it is to help them find alternatives--not even addressing the aggressive behavior. Where can he be that he can BE aggressive, but not toward other children? We send the kids outside, but that's hard up here in the winter. Now that it's finally getting nice, push him outside--all the time. When he can work out his physical feelings individually, he'll probably be a little less likely to work them out on his sibs. Good luck!!



answers from Minneapolis on

Sounds normal. My son went through a short, violent phase at age 3 and took it out on the cat. Both survived well. Most people now comment how gentle my son is. Here's what I did:

If he hit someone or something, I said, "People do not hit each other. If you want to hit something, hit the couch" (ALWAYS give him an alternative) I did not punish, but redirected. I learned to be fine with giving him a stick or plastic sword and a couch cushion.

I'd him to pet the cat nicely. (Or pet the baby's hair nicely.) When he did, I'd say, "I think it's so nice that you're good with animals." ALWAYS compliment him for being gentle and nice. Compliment other kids, even if they're strangers, when you see them being gentle. Your son will hear that and want a compliment from you too.

It's a long process which requires patience and kindness, things that you're in short supply with 3 kids. You have my sympathy!



answers from Omaha on

I strongly recommend the books by Jim Fay Parenting with Love and Logic. They even have workshops in which you can learn and apply strategies that work. They show you how to approach the situation with and empathetic and logical standpoint that holds your child accountable for his actions. They show you how to give your child lots of choices for everything they do, so you don't get caught up in a power struggle feeling like you are either always giving time-outs or taking things away. It is really great stuff and believe it or not makes discipline fun! I used these strategies as a teacher and now as a parent. Good luck!!



answers from Honolulu on

Where did he come up with "bad guys"? My son doesn't do any such thing (he is almost 3 though, so that could be it...?) but we don't have TV at all.



answers from San Diego on

he sounds like just an active ...very active boy. if you get mad he wins and you both lose. perhaps getting him into some classes for his age group or sports would help? i would suggest karate perhaps that way he can find an appropriate way to "attack" and they stress disipline. buy those blow up characters you can punch and hit and they bounce back. some nerf guns? tampoline? army figurine set to act out attacks? you need to just get him too tired to hurt the other kiddos. it may be inconvient with having the other kids but you gotta get him out to get his energy out. :( or they will emulate him later. good luck!



answers from Rochester on

He's 3! LOL that's your answer:) My 3 year old is very active, violent, and all that. We to have tried everything and nothing has worked. I have found keeping my child involoved in organized activities help alot! We do a lot of crafts and baking and he enjoys keeping busy. I know it is hard with 3 kids as I have 3 as well, but the more you have him do the better off he will be!



answers from Minneapolis on

It's possible this is normal, I suppose, but I do want to counter all the parents who are saying this is normal behavior because that's how their three year olds acted. Neither of my sons was at all violent when they were three. When the baby was born, my older son (almost 3 at the time) was very gentle and loving to him, and is to this day (they are 13 and 10). The younger one didn't have any babies around to bully, but he was never violent with anyone.

I think this behavior is really worrisome, and that you should get help, starting with your pediatrician. He IS a good boy, he just needs some help figuring out this problem. I hope you find success! It sounds really stressful.

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