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Starting to lose it with angry, violent DS 4

(42 Posts)
PrinceCorum Thu 06-Oct-11 09:01:39

My DS has always been one to push the boundaries. But in the last 2 months, since leaving nursery and starting reception class at school, things have become so challenging that my wife and I are in tears much of the time. Please share your advice on things that might help with these behaviours,a ll of which seem to happen when he is with the family but NOT at school, with the nursery reporting that he was an angel there(!):-

1. Constantly losing his temper with mum and dad and then hitting us
2. Shouting and hitting his little brother (aged 2)
3. Slamming doors and trying to break things
4. Saying the cruelest things to Mum and Dad - "I want to kill you", "I want you to go in the back of the bin lorry and get crushed" (!!)

So far we have tried: (1) ignoring, so as not to reinforce or reward with attention - very difficult - yesterday I bent down so as not to be intimidating and to talk to him at his level - he smacked me in the face so hard my nose bled... he hits so hard we find it very difficult to ignore. Plus, I'm worried about our 2 year old - we can't ignore it when he is getting hit around the head by his brother. How on earth do you use ignoring when faced with this?!; (2) taking toys away - seems to make him more angry for a bit then he forgets about the toy and doesn't seem bothered, later returning to this anfry behaviour; (3) sending him to time out on the stairs on to his room - he tries to destroy the stair gates (he can open them too), he tries to break the lights by flicking them on and off repeatedly, slams his door until the door frame gets damaged, etc. (4) analternative release - I have tried suggesting he bangs his bed or a cushion when angry - this appealed to him for 30 minutes then he got bored with the idea and gave it up (!); (5) reward charts - been there, got t-shirt, ain't working; (6) going over the top praising any good behaviour - same as 5 - tried it and it doesn't stop the hitting.

I seriouslty doubt DS has any Autistic Spectrum Disorder or ADHD - he has no communication or social skills issues, no attention issues, etc.

And I'm not looking for a diagnosis here - just would welcome some practical advice - is there anything we haven't tried that might work ?? Is it all a testosterone surge related thing that we can't really change through parenting techniques?

Again, just to re-iterate - teachers report zero probs with him in the classroom - in fact, y'day when we picked him up teacher said he had been bitten by another child and he didn't react aggressively, bite or hit back - he just told the teacher calmly and cried a bit...if only he was so thoughtful and reasonable at home...

Please help with some advice as this is putting a strain on the family

NightLark Thu 06-Oct-11 09:18:29

I couldn't read and not post, this sounds awful for all of you, poor you.

Although I haven't got any magic answers I can say that my normally kind and loving DS was a nightmare for the first few weeks of reception, despite having been in nursery since he was tiny. He even kicked the teacher in a bonkers out-of-control episode. He has since calmed down totally and school has become some kind of happy social group for him, so this may pass of its own accord.

But what to do in the meantime?

Has your DS been able to say what is making him so angry?

lozzyblue Thu 06-Oct-11 09:19:18

No advice - sorry - will be watching your thread with interest tho and hope someone helpful will be along soon smile

PrinceCorum Thu 06-Oct-11 09:22:37

@NightLark - you ask "Has your DS been able to say what is making him so angry?" - no, I have tried repeatedly to ask and all he will say, if pushed is "you didn't do something right" or "you did it wrong". Ridiculous things trigger the hitting at present, such as putting a cup of water "in the wrong place" on a table...

lozzyblue Thu 06-Oct-11 09:56:00

Sounds like he thinks he's boss of the house. Do you ask him to do things or tell him? Sometimes a tweak of language can help. It sounds so tough.

I'm wondering whether rather than removing toys as punishment I wouldn't actually remove ALL toys and privileges and start to return them as reward. Show him you mean business. NO tv etc and when you do reintroduce make for a limited time (ie one episode of fave show).

Not sure if these things are right but I've been thinking about what I would do in your situation.

HTH.

PrinceCorum Thu 06-Oct-11 10:02:06

@Iozzyblue - thanks for your ideas - one added complexity is that DS4 and DS2 share many toys (e.g. Thomas trains), so taking them away would punish poor innocent DS2 as well

lozzyblue Thu 06-Oct-11 10:05:56

I understand how difficult that is as we have the same issues here but I can only suggest you keep a box of your ds2s fave toys separate for him. Explain to ds1 that these are for his brother? I'm guessing that most of the day he will be at school anyway so a little easier to keep separate?

Bramshott Thu 06-Oct-11 10:08:24

This isn't very helpful, but if he's just started school, he will be exhausted. I think it's just a question of getting through till Christmas the best way you can, and worrying about it after that if he's still like this. Sounds hard.

PrinceCorum Thu 06-Oct-11 10:11:01

@Iozzyblue - may I ask - have you sought professional guidance/help? We are toying with the idea but don't want a label putting on him at just 4

midnightexpress Thu 06-Oct-11 10:13:39

That sounds tough. On the positive side, the fact that he doesn't behave like this at school suggests that he feels very secure in his home environment - that is a positive thing that you should take from it all. The start of school is tough for lots of children, and very tiring.

At the risk of sounding a bit woo about it all, your suggested remedies do all seem very punishment/reward based. DS2 has tendencies a bit like this, and we've approached it in a similar way often. However, I do find that that sort of approach tends to end up in a bit of a spiral of bad behaviour, increasing 'tactics' on our part, culminating in me or DP losing our rag. We find that the really best thing to do is to make sure that when we are with the DC we are properly engaged with them - playing with them, lots of cuddles, all the usual stuff.

I'd also make sure that he's not doing too much after school - a bit of quiet time, a (little) bit of telly, all sit down to eat together, fixed bedtime routines etc. In other words, try to remove as much chaos from his life as possible so that with all the new stuff he's doing at school he at least has a regular settled routine at home. You're probably doing all that already, so apologies if I'm trying to teach you to suck eggs. grin

lozzyblue Thu 06-Oct-11 10:20:33

Sorry PrinceCorum, I wasn't clear - we struggle with disciplining just one child as unfortunately both share toys and tv time also!

I think that most parents are going through bits of what you are so can understand. I actually really agree with midnightexpress in that your DS must feel secure at home to behave in that way and actually some extra positive attention might just do the trick. My DD has also just started school and was really struggling to sleep the first couple of weeks - I guess too much stuff on her mind. Some nights I would just lay with her and let her talk to 'offload'. She seems to be settling a bit better now.

thrifty Thu 06-Oct-11 10:36:08

hi :-) i have a boy the same, he's just turned 6, and has been like this since he started school. An angel for everyone else, a nightmare at home. Some coping strategies we have are:
absolute consistency wrt naughty step. Find a spot where he can't trash the place, and follow through, even if it takes an hour. Only use the naughty step for totally unacceptable behavior, i.e. Hitting.
School is really draining on him, especially if he's been good all day. Allow him to relax when he gets home, ds is always better if he gets time to chill out with the tv.
Feed him around 4ish, dp's behavior is terrible if tired and hungry. He can always eat again later on!
I think you have to remember how you feel when you've just got in from work after a hard day :-)
i know its hard, and sometimes i have trouble and lose it. Good luck.

wellwisher Thu 06-Oct-11 10:40:30

Don't ignore hitting - straight to time out with an explanation. I wonder if you are losing your nerve too soon with the techniques you've tried? It sounds like you are really afraid of him. He's only 4, this will pass and he needs you to teach him how to behave. With time out, he freaks out and gets destructive to get your attention, test you and make you give in. Ensure the time out area is somewhere where he can't do serious damage and keep putting him back on the spot (without talking)and resetting the timer until he stays there for a full 4 minutes.

thrifty Thu 06-Oct-11 10:42:36

ds's not dp's.

NorksAreMessy Thu 06-Oct-11 10:43:49

He is 4.
4 year old boys are very troubled with a testosterone surge
frustrations may well be diminished by some exhausting physical activity.
and then early to bed for proper rest.

school plus being 4 plus little brother plus testosterone is the problem I expect.

my DS (now a huge 15 year old) improved his behaviour when we started walking over half a mile to school and back. (I packed a snack for the return journey). he arrived home pretty chilled and calm and was tired at bedtime.

good luck, and remember the MN mantra - this too shall pass

midnightexpress Thu 06-Oct-11 10:53:17

Oh yes, I definitely notice a difference in behaviour when we walk home from school about 30 mins rather than driving. I think sitting on one's bottom all day (or a lot of the day) is extremely hard for 4/5 year-olds and a little bit of time pootling along/being a car/poking sticks down drains always makes for a more peaceful evening.

BTW, a couple of people have mentioned the testosterone surge at age 4. I thought this was a myth? It was mentioned in that Steve Biddulph book 'Raising Boys', but I thought it had subsequently been poo-poohed as not actually based on fact? Is there a doctor in the house?

BertieBotts Thu 06-Oct-11 10:56:16

I agree that it's most likely his way of dealing with the big change in his life at the moment, especially as the teachers say he's well behaved at school - it sounds like any frustration he's getting there is building up and building up and it's just coming out at home over the tiniest thing. This is actually a positive thing in a way (bear with me!) as it means that he feels safe enough in your presence to let his true feelings come out, and knows that you will still love him.

I think that you need to really really try to remember these are his feelings coming out which are probably big and scary for him, and try not to take it personally, even if he is saying things like he wants you to die, or go away, or be crushed(!) - all that he's expressing (clumsily) is "You are really annoying me at the moment and I need you to get out of my face" (Not saying that you should necessarily leave him alone at these times BTW.)

If he's hitting you when you are trying to speak to him, then don't even try speaking with him when he is that worked up. I agree that this is NOT a situation you can ignore, but I don't think that punishments or rewards are the way forwards either - it's more about teaching him to manage these feelings. You do need an immediate strategy to stop/prevent any damage being done to people or things. Either take him to another room so he can calm down, or if he's being too destructive there, won't stay, the idea doesn't appeal (or whatever) restrain him from behind in sort of a hug which means he can't move his arms, kick, or bite. (If you hold his arms down by folding yours around his whole body, pinning them to his sides, then it won't hurt him unless he is really fighting against it. Don't grip his arms in your hands because you could end up hurting him.) Tell him in a calm voice "I know that you are really angry, DS, but I cannot let you hit/kick/me/your brother/break things." Hold him until he feels calm - he probably will scream, cry, struggle and insist that you are hurting him, and it will feel like you've been holding him for ages, but he will calm down shortly. Keep reiterating "It's only hurting because you are pushing away from me. I'm going to hold you like this until you calm down, because I can't let you hurt people. We can talk when you are calm. It's okay to feel angry, but we need to find you a different way of showing it." (etc etc depending on whether talking is calming him or winding him up more, or even whether it helps you keep calmer.) If he starts saying horrible things like "I hate you!" either ignore them, or just say "Okay". You can talk to him later about how those kinds of things are hurtful to say, but right now if you point that out he'll probably say "Good!" Once he is calm, you can ask if he wants a cuddle, and if he feels better now, and then something like "Daddy was hurt when you kicked him. How do you think we could make him feel better?" (And then prompt with a cuddle, kiss better, apology, etc, if he doesn't suggest anything helpful) and remind him that we don't kick people and if he is really cross he can kick the sofa or go outside and kick his ball or something, let him do the "making better" thing and let it be over.

When you or your partner shout (we all do!) how do you manage this? Do you apologise for it, or do you just accept that you shouting = an unpleasant consequence of DCs winding you up? I've had massive success with reducing DS shouting at me by trying to catch myself when I am shouting and apologising for it, and if he asks me to stop shouting or talk nicely then I do, even if it takes a big effort. Also asking him to "talk nicely" rather than "Stop shouting!" (illustrated fantastically yesterday - DS was shouting, DP said "Don't shout" in firm, slightly raised but not quite shouty voice, DS ignored him, I said "Talk nicely please, DS" and he immediately changed his tone of voice grin)

I also find with DS that it's worth having a neutral, non-telling-off conversation about how he feels when he gets angry, much later, like before his story at bedtime. I know they say that you have to deal with things there and then, but when they are massively worked up is not the time to try, because 1) they won't listen, 2) they will be too angry to see any other point of view than "I am right and you are NOT FAIR!"

With the alternative release thing I think you really have to keep reiterating it, it doesn't work to just suggest it a few times or give up because he doesn't find it satiates his anger the first few times. Always remind him too if you think he's about to strike. Physically move him to the thing he is allowed to hit/kick/bite if he doesn't look like he's going to do it of his own accord and if he's still resistant then do the restraining thing. You can also do something which seems unrelated but which might be appropriate at school, such as giving him a piece of paper and a crayon and saying "Show me how angry you are! Draw me a picture to show how cross you feel!"

Hopefully, this is just a phase, related to starting school, but even if it is this stops the immediate effects and shows him that you are not going to let him behave in that way. I don't think you need to add toy-removing or other punishments on, I think that's just likely to escalate things. Also DS is going through a similar phase of objecting hugely to what seems like ridiculously small things, and it helps to give him options at every opportunity, such as "Do you want to climb into your carseat, or me to lift you up?" "Would you like the pink cup, or the green cup?" and being a bit flexible ie if he runs in shouting "No I wanted to get it out of the cupboard!!" <start of crying/whining> don't react immediately with consequences to that shouting/whining, but say "Okay, WAIT! <revert to normal voice> You can get the cup, I'll put it back, but you just have to ask me nicely." and then when he asks nicely and gets to get the cup himself, say "See? If you ask me nicely, it's fine. Try to remember to ask nicely first next time."

<looks back at long post> It's exhausting, this, isn't it? grin

BertieBotts Thu 06-Oct-11 11:01:03

Also to picture, something like holding your hands apart a short distance - "Are you this angry?" <moving them further apart> "Or this angry?" <spreading them as far as you can> "Or THIS angry?" - sometimes quantifying it and knowing you are listening means that they don't feel the need to express it quite so destructively.

Bramshott Thu 06-Oct-11 11:07:21

Ooh, another thing I use with my DDs is "sniff the cake and blow out the candles" (I've banged on about this on here loads, but it's really good - honestly grin). If you can catch him just before they're going to explode, try and get him to "sniff the cake" (breathe in deeply through his nose) and then "blow out the candles" (blow out strongly through his mouth). It can help with dispelling that feeling of building rage. The DDs now tell me to do it when they can see I'm getting stressed!

BertieBotts Thu 06-Oct-11 11:15:32

Ooh that's good, Bramsott!

happybubblebrain Thu 06-Oct-11 11:22:41

My dd's behaviour has been quite a bit worse since starting school. I think it's just a troubling time for her and will take some time to settle in. So I'm trying my best to only give her my attention when she's really good. I'm also taking her to the park and doing lots of activities to try and wear her out a bit. And just trying to make everything as positive as possible so we don't dwell on the negatives. Fingers crossed it works.

Georgimama Thu 06-Oct-11 11:26:08

My four year old is very similar, although not as extreme (he doesn't hit but he is very shouty) and also recently started school. I think they are just knackered, hormonal and pushing pushing pushing the boundaries. Make sure there are some boundaries for him to push against. It is encouraging that he is settled and good at school (my son is too) which to my mind rules out any serious ADHD/AS issue.

Georgimama Thu 06-Oct-11 11:35:12

I'm going to print out, laminate and tape to the fridge BertieBott's post.

PrinceCorum Thu 06-Oct-11 11:38:15

Thank you all for this help - esp. BertieBott for such a long, thoughtful response ! :-)

Clare123 Thu 06-Oct-11 19:59:01

Just wanted to add that I could have posted your post last week. My (just) 4 yr old ds started school and was an absolute terror. He shouted and hit me for 3 nights in a row (something he has not done since he was 2yrs old). I really was at the end of my tether with him. He had a really quiet weekend, and even had a nap one afternoon (which again he has not done for about 18 months). This week has been so much better. I am ignoring as much as I can and letting him have tv time after school cuddled up to me. He has been so much better. I honestly think they are too young to be at school, and everyone has such high expectations of them. I know my little ds must have felt completely overwhelmed with everything!

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