I am losing faith in my ability to parent our son constructively; he is almost four. He has become increasingly aggressive with me and has begun to lash out physically when reprimanded or told “No”. I am trying to follow the positive parenting paradigm and trying to use positive language, even in adversity.
I try to hold him close and help him to calm down when he is in the throes of a tantrum or an angry outburst. This has resulted in me getting my hair pulled, my face scraped and pinched, being kicked and punched, or having any item close to hand thrown at me.
I can see by his reactions to me and by mine to him, when he is being violent – wincing, recoiling and so on – that he is losing both his fear of reprisal and his respect for me. I mean, what child can respect a parent who is not only “soft” but afraid?
I’m supposed to be the one in charge, but all that seems to be happening is that his behaviour is getting progressively worse and mine is more entrenched in aggressive parenting styles. This is exactly what I do not want in our house. He is not aggressive in this way with his father, who has a firmer hand, or other caregivers, who also use an older parenting skillset, so it seems to be just me.
He is a creature of habit and likes to have things happen in a somewhat particular way on any given day: for example, in the mornings he has to come downstairs and “surprise” us in the kitchen. Any deviation from this usually results in a meltdown.
Likewise, in the evenings when being collected from his grandparents, he has to hide and surprise me, when he’s ready to. If we don’t do this, he completely melts down. It’s during these meltdowns that he is most violent with me.
I can’t figure out what I’m doing wrong and this has driven me to tears as I really fear that I am doing absolutely the worst job with him. Please help.
Aggression and behaviour problems in young children are among the most challenging to deal with. Once they start they can easily become an escalating habit that can worsen over time unless they are addressed. Emotionally, they are particularly tough to deal with as it is very hurtful when a child hits out or says nasty things to you and, in difficult circumstances like yours, you can easily feel fearful of your child’s anger, and find yourself becoming angry and even aggressive back.
The good news is that these behavioural problems can be turned around, though it does take patience and hard work.
Create a positive discipline plan
When dealing with challenging behaviour, it is important to have a range of positive responses and strategies that you can use. Remember, different approaches work in different situations: sometimes it can work to soothe and hold a child when they are in the midst of a meltdown; but, at other times, this can make things a lot worse and can increase the child’s aggression, as I suspect may be happening in your case. In those situations, it may be more effective to withdraw calmly for a minute or two.
You might first assertively say “No hitting, let’s calm down now,” or “ Sssh now; when you are calm, we can play.” You then wait for a minute or so until there is an opportunity to re-engage and distract your son.
The key is to take a pause in the face of each meltdown so you can tune into your son, and to your own emotions, which then allows you to decide the best course of action.When I am working with parents, I encourage them to write out a step-by-step plan for each meltdown situation that they can draw upon that allows them to remain calm and positive no matter what happens. I will send you a copy of my book Positive Parenting, which has some more information.
When I am working with parents, I encourage them to write out a step-by-step plan for each meltdown situation that they can draw upon that allows them to remain calm and positive no matter what happens. More information is in my Positive Parenting book.
Preventing problems in the first place
It also helps to try to avoid flashpoints and prevent problems in the first place. If your son finds changes in routines difficult, it might be best to keep as many of these the same until he is a little older and is more able to cope with change.In addition, it is important to take time to teach him how to manage his feelings: name his feelings and encourage him to talk about them, for
In addition, it is important to take time to teach him how to manage his feelings: name his feelings and encourage him to talk about them, for example, “You sound a little cross” or “Use your words now [instead of hitting].”
Make sure to encourage and praise him any time he behaves well, and particularly where he shows any signs of the positive behaviour that is the opposite to the misbehaviour: “Good boy, you asked very nicely,” “Thanks for sharing,” or “I know it is hard, but you did a good job.”
Finally, recognise how stressful this is for you and take time to prioritise your own self-care. The more re-energised you are, the easier it will be to manage. This might mean sharing the burden more with your husband, or other family members, and asking for more help.
It can also be very helpful to ask your husband to get more involved in managing the meltdowns; perhaps you can back off and watch how he copes, so you can support each other.
Get further support
I would suggest you contact your primary care team and ask about further supports. There may be an evidence-based parenting course that runs in your area, which could describe positive behaviour-management tactics in more detail.
In addition, it may be useful to seek further assessment as to whether your son has any particular developmental issues that underpin his behaviour, and contacting your public health nurse is the first step in assessing this.
John Sharry, Irish Times Newspaper, September 2015. John writes in the Irish Times Health+ every Tuesday.
For further information on John’s courses see www.solutiontalk.ie