Monday, November 11, 2013

5 yr old hits and bites if does not get his way

Hello .  I am hoping you can provide me with resources or maybe some feedback regarding my son.  He is 5 years old and gets very angry ( only towards close family members and most usually me ).  If I use a tone he doesn't like, doesn't feel listened to, or if I say No to somewhat he considers a "need," he will hit me and at times say that he wants to hurt me badly .  He has bit me and thrown objects at me .  He is cautious what he throws and usually will pick up a hard object put it down and then throw a soft object . 

 He is very sensitive .  He picks up on every emotion in the home .  My husband and I can bicker and I have been dealing with some complicated grief since losing my mom abruptly almost 4 years ago .  He has lots of energy and fidgets a lot but I don't think he fits the criteria for ADHD as he is focused and sits nicely in kindergarten .  He will take his time with his school work if he cares about it .  If he doesn't he rushes through it and if corrected ( by me typically) he yells at me that i am a mean mommy or says " be quiet , don't talk to me , I hate you , I want to hurt you ".    His outburst are very short lived ( thank god ) and I usually can redirect or distract him onto something desirable .  But this is a lot of work and emotionally draining for my husband and I . 

I don't know what makes him so angry .  He is an only child . He is pretty spoiled by my husband and immediate family who often give him many tangible items .  He feels that he should get something in every store we walk into and will wheel / deal any way he can to try get this "need" met .  Generally he is a very spirited boy who loves nature and noticing the seasons changing , he is pretty creative with art or even ideas about things, and his vocabulary is exceptional .  He is very loving and affectionate .  He loves our dog and is gentle with her . He is 5 ( six in April).  He shows little interest in reading but appears to be keeping up with his peers .  If he feels he has received genuine praise for something he is very prideful .  He picks up on "bullshit" easily . 

It is beginning to make me anxious as i don't know what will tick him off .  Additionally he needs us to always engage him .  Running errands or cleaning the house makes him irritable if he can't have an active role in it.  Watering down the cleaning to his level doesn't work, he wants to do whatever the adults can do .  He has recently been doing more mischievous things he knows is wrong as if he is looking for negative attention .   I feel terrible that I can't find a strategy of parenting that resonates with him.  He is acting out for a reason .  I don't think this is biochemical . I pray it's not .
Thanks in advance for any feedback you can provide .

Hi, I can tell you are trying real hard to understand your son, and it sounds like you are still grieving the loss of your mom. You mention too that you and your husband bicker sometimes.  Do you feel you need more emotional support at this time of your life?  I wonder if your frustration with your son is aggravated by your disappointment that he is another source of stress.  Maybe if you had more support (friends, support group in the community, or therapist), you could make limits stick better with your son.  You mention that he is spoiled.  Maybe you are trying too hard to please him.   It can be hard to say no when you anticipate a child will explode!

It is good that this is only happening in the home, because it means your son does have some self control.  Then the question is how you can get him more in control at home.  One thought I have is that it is going to be important to set a firm limit about physical violence. Do not talk to him while he is having an outburst.  When he is calm, however, you could all talk briefly about how dangerous this is.  Explain a couple of alternatives: saying "I don't want to" or "I don't like that." This does not mean he will get to do what he wants, but you will at least consider it.  And explain that in the future there will be serious consequences for violence.  Think with your husband what immediate, short term consequence might be meaningful for your son, e.g. no television for the day if this is important to him.  You do not have to announce the consequence right away if he is hitting or throwing things.

But when he calms down, let him know that it was dangerous, and he needs to find something to do other than television for today, and that if he does not hit for the rest of the day, he can have television tomorrow.  This may set him off at first, but in the long run you will establish a limit about violence.

The other approach to violence in the home for a young child is to restrain him when he becomes violent.  Bear hug him and hold him until he calms down (this could take many minutes).  It is reassuring to a child to know that you will not let him hurt anyone and that you are powerful enough to keep him and everyone else safe until he calms down.  Do not talk to him a lot during this time.  But talk with him after he calms down.

You want to pick your spots when it comes to discipline.  Think whether the issue is important to the functioning of the family.  For example, if his school work is rushed or incomplete, maybe you could let the teacher handle that with him.  If he cares about pleasing his teacher, her/his comments may help motivate him, and then you do not have to be the enforcer for homework.

I like how you distract him at times.  Also, consider ways to avoid tantrums.  For example, maybe don't take him to the store for a while if this is one of the battle grounds.  Maybe one of you go shopping and the other parent stay home with your son for now.  Or clean the house while he is in school, or while one of you takes him out for a walk.  You want to cut down on the number of possible conflicts until he learns better self control.

My manual for parents on anger overload explains some of these and other strategies you could use.  If you do not see some improvement in a few months, ask your school or family doctor for a referral for a child psychologist to help you. 

All the best, Dr. Dave Gottlieb

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