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Discipline for a 4 year old - worried we're not doing it right!

(37 Posts)
user1479678841 Sun 20-Nov-16 22:06:18


First time poster and father here. I am looking for some advice or consolation, or even someone to tell me I'm right/wrong.

The story.
Our 4 year old, like many, will lose it. Ignoring all of the build up where we try distraction, caring and so on, it gets to the point where we have to go for a chat. This involves sitting and restraining our son.

What we do.
I sit with him facing me, legs either side and with my arms around his back. I lock my arms and this prevents him running away. He doesn't like it and he loses it even more. He pushes against my arms, but I never actually force him "in", so he can just sit if he wants. (He never does)

Why we do it
He will go ballistic, which he was heading towards anyway. He then gets worked up and will then get past his emotional and physical uncontrollable behaviour. he quietens down and we can talk to him. It always ends with lots of hugs and love and everyone happy.

Why I am worried
This was used early on age 2 -3 and I hoped to end it now. Also it;s a physical restraint and we really want to be in a post physical discipline world. Even writing this out makes me feel like we are doing something awful,

So. does anyone else do something similar..? Anyone think this os really ok, or really not ok? Looking for help.

Artandco Sun 20-Nov-16 22:08:40

I don't think it's ok to restrain a child in any way. I would be angry too if someone did that to me. You need to learn to displine through words as you defiantly can't restrain him as a teenager even if you wanted

user1479678841 Sun 20-Nov-16 22:20:33

Thanks Artandco,

I also don't like physical restraint and yes his anger is understandable. I guess though I may not have been as clear as I could about the state he is in when this starts. We're already in a "post-words" situation. So that makes it tricky.

titchy Sun 20-Nov-16 22:23:45

Well you need to think of something else and quickly. Reward chart, removal of privileges, no attention. Have you tried those instead? Consistently?

user1479678841 Sun 20-Nov-16 22:33:22

Hi Titchy,

Yup, all these things are in play, have been used in the past and so on. Applied as consistently as one can hope. The above situation is really for when we are at risk of him getting hurt, and or some serious damage occurring., I guess the best way to imagine it is like holding onto a serious tantrum.meltdown that you read and see about so often on social media.

corythatwas Sun 20-Nov-16 23:05:36

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Artandco Sun 20-Nov-16 22:08:40
"I don't think it's ok to restrain a child in any way. "

Would this apply even if a child's tantrums took the shape of deliberately kicking, hitting and biting other family members (including younger siblings), as well as breaking furniture? Running after people to hurt them? Because that is what dd's tantrums used to look like, and seriously I do not see what else I could have done except restrained her, calmly and gently, in the manner described by the OP.

As an adult, if I behaved that way, I would expect the people around me to call the police. And they would certainly restrain me.

So what do you think we should have done?

When dd went into one of her meltdowns, there was absolutely no point in threatening sanctions: she would be screaming so loud she couldn't hear, and even if she did hear she didn't care because the urge to get at the person she was angry with was far stronger than any sanction we could possibly give her.

One of my brothers was the same. He basically tried to get at his siblings to kick the shit out of them.

Should add that he has grown up into a wonderful, loving adult, as has dd, and we are all on excellent terms. But that is because the adults around us ensured that we all survived to tell the tale. And managed to do so gently and calmly and lovingly.

strawberrybubblegum Sun 20-Nov-16 23:05:42

Two thoughts:

1. Have you figured out a pattern for what's causing it? Eg hunger, tiredness, over-stimulated? If you can figure that out, you can make changes to reduce his triggers.

2. Do you really need to restrain him to keep him safe/prevent him destroying things? What would happen if you let him get on with it, staying with him and talking when he's ready? Could you pick him up just very briefly to get him somewhere safe?

corythatwas Sun 20-Nov-16 23:11:19

As for the question what you would do with a teenager, ds once asked me what I would do if he hit me (he was around 10 at the time, and feeling rather angry with life, as well as having grown up with his sister's meltdowns). I answered: "Well, I would try to stop you, but you will soon be getting too big for me to do that without risking hurting you or myself, and it is still my job to make sure that nobody in this house hurts anybody else, so I'm afraid if I couldn't stop it any other way I would have to ring the police". He accepted that answer- and never tried hitting me.

corythatwas Sun 20-Nov-16 23:15:00

I think strawberry puts her finger on it: you need to figure out if the restraint is really necessary or if you could get away with letting him working his feelings out. By "get away" I would understand not letting anybody get hurt and nothing of any importance broken.

(I once miscalculated on this one and still have the scar to prove it...)

user1479678841 Sun 20-Nov-16 23:18:31

Hi Corythatwas,

Yup, that all sounds familiar! Did you have an age when it stopped being necessary, or a new technique? I suspect time will remove the need but it's starting to get concerning as he ages and matures and becomes more able to reason and understand, but still has meltdowns.

user1479678841 Sun 20-Nov-16 23:21:34

Hi Strawberry,
Yes after each event my wife and I review it and see what we could have done, and yes every child reacts to theirs parents moods so we have to take some responsibility too.

The only pattern is that it is the culmination of a building tension or uncontrollable energy that we seek to diffuse. TV, hunger tiredness all contribute.

We could leave him with it, but every room has risks in it and also we have younger siblings to watch for.

Wolfiefan Sun 20-Nov-16 23:22:19

Does he go to nursery? I'm guessing they wouldn't restrain.
Any suspicion of SN? It's unusual for a 4 year old to regularly lose it to the point of having to be restrained IME.

user1479678841 Sun 20-Nov-16 23:22:41

BTW the way it is reassuring that at least one other person has had to do something similar, feeling alone with an issue is worse then the issue itself.

user1479678841 Sun 20-Nov-16 23:25:00

HI Wolf,

No Sn (Special Needs?) suspicion. Yes he goes to nursery and have yet to hear of him having any meltdowns at nursery. He is near the top of the class for good behavior, manners and "niceness". (crosses fingers it continues)

user1479678841 Sun 20-Nov-16 23:26:47

Oh, and the frequency is maybe once every 2-3 weeks. So it's not a frequent issue, as he and us deal well with resolutions and compromise most of the time. It does feel like its a building problem that blows up after some time, as I say over weeks, not days,

Wolfiefan Sun 20-Nov-16 23:29:26

But problems shouldn't build up over weeks. Children generally live in the "now". So DD was cross I said no more TV. I explained why. Move on.
You mention being tired and hungry. Again that doesn't build up.
I would examine why these issues happen at home but not nursery. What are they doing differently?

corythatwas Sun 20-Nov-16 23:30:21

OP, I suspect the reasons for the meltdowns are all different with different children and that probably affects how long they go on.

Dd had (still has) a tendency to high anxiety which seemed to underlie her meltdowns, and I suspect something similar was the case with my db. Both still noticeably have days when their anxiety levels are sky high, but thankfully as adults they have learnt more adult ways of handling them.

Both went on having violent meltdowns for rather a long time, but that doesn't mean your ds has to be the same; from my experience most children who have them grow out of them during primary school as they learn to cope with their emotions.

I don't think it was a new technique that suddenly made a difference, but what I do believe, very firmly, made the longterm difference was that my mother and I were both able to stay very calm and never hold grudges after a meltdown. I remember sitting there, very much in the position you describe, repeating over and over "no, I won't let you hurt anyone, I can't let you hurt anyone". It was harder for dh because he is more physically timid and feared getting hurt.

Dd has had CBT later in life to deal with anxiety and that has been useful.

corythatwas Sun 20-Nov-16 23:31:58

wolfiefan, neither my db nor my dd ever had a meltdown when away from the family. Not once. They were both extremely well behaved at nursery and school. It was only when they felt safe in the family that they could let all their pent-up anxiety out.

corythatwas Sun 20-Nov-16 23:33:36

And if it is anxiety, that does build up. That is precisely what it does. Some people have an innate tendency to anxiety (dd), others (db) have possibly had it caused by trauma.

user1479678841 Sun 20-Nov-16 23:37:12


Interestingly I, and my side of the family are shot through with high anxiety and have had to deal with it. DS takes after me in many personality ways, so he may be expressing his psychological anxiety. Hadn't considered that so thanks!

Also, I appreciate the positive view that it is the family home that allows him to express his true self, including the meltdowns!

user1479678841 Sun 20-Nov-16 23:39:09


I'll bet you a pound that physical activity helped both your kids in their adult life, and I can see that with my son. If you run him he has fewer "moments"

and yes, we do try and run him often!

corythatwas Sun 20-Nov-16 23:43:02

I'm sure you are right, OP. The problem with physical activity in our case was that both dc also have a genetic joint condition which severely limited dd's ability to do physical activity in her younger days (she is better now). I am sure that did not help. Drama helped though; learning to express feelings in a controlled and non-personal way.

user1479678841 Sun 20-Nov-16 23:48:46


Sounds like you came through it all well and happy.

I am glad we are not the only ones. I wonder how prevalent the "passive" restraint technique is? Anyone?

Obsidian77 Sun 20-Nov-16 23:49:08

Hi op I feel your pain. My DC1 is very highly-strung and had terrible tantrums. DC2 is very mellow but on the rare occasions he loses his temper has real rages.
It's great that you and your wife are talking through this and important that this is something you present a united front on.
I agree with pp's suggestions that you try head off the tantrums before they build up (so looking at diet, fatigue etc helps).
What worked for us was removing the child from the situation when we could see anger brewing, going to walk round the garden or sit with them in their bedroom for some quiet time.
4 is still very young and although you can teach them ways of calming down, I don't think you can expect them to implement this on their own yet.
We emphasise that their bedrooms are calm, safe places and if they're angry they should go there to calm down.
I would prefer to avoid restraining a child but if necessary I'll carry them to their bedrooms and hold the door shut.
Mine are angels at school and I do find that kids can act out at home because they feel safe there and know that you love them unconditionally.
You might find reward charts work for if he manages to deal with a stressful situation without having a tantrum. Recognise and reward the positive.
It should get better as he gets older and is able to express himself better but I'll admit dealing with tantrums like this is one of the times when I really doubt myself as a parent. Best of luck.

corythatwas Sun 20-Nov-16 23:52:12

Obsidian, do you not find that your dc thrashes the bedroom if shut in there? Because my dd almost certainly would have in that situation. (my db once kicked a hole in a wooden door with bare feet- must have hurt like hell, but he wouldn't have noticed at the time)

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