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I am a single mom to a very good 5 year old little boy...90% of the time. About once a week...give or take he has a meltdown and becomes violent (hitting, scratching, biting, throwing things, etc). I am desperate for help and started going to a counselor. She said I need to hold him until he calms down...but he doesn't calm down. I have been using the holding technique (I sit behind him and use my legs to control his leg and my arms to restrain his arms. I have to be careful how I position or he will bite or head butt me...he often spits in my face.) I finally had to spank him tonight. He would act like he was calming down and the minute I let go he would come after me and after about the fourth time he backed down and did a 5 minute time out. Then he is sobbing and wants me to comfort him. It seemed like the spanking worked better the the restraint and either way I feel terrible. But then after He fell asleep he woke up two hours later hysterical and violent again. This time I locked myself in the room. Today at counseling I was told to get a gate of some sort because she said it is not safe to lock him in his room. Now I am locked in my room. Is it ok to lock him in his room to protect himself and myself until he calms down? Please any help would be greatly appreciated regarding any of it. I am so scared and trying to cope alone.

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Don't have anything over the excellent advice below to add; just wanted to let you know that lots of us are going through this with our 5-yr-olds. Those of us going through this (or those who have made it through the tunnel to the other side) have your back. :) –  Valkyrie Apr 29 at 12:00
    
What counselling? Is it with a registered professional? –  DanBeale Apr 29 at 12:04
    
Put him in his room and close the door. Take away privileges. Put him in timeout. Once he calms down, talk to him. It may take a while. You may also look at his diet to make sure he is getting the right amount of nutrition. This is not a knock on your mother skills at all. My daughter's attitude improved when we started giving her a Flinstone's vitamin with Iron every morning and drinking Almond milk. The doctor said she needed to improve her diet. She also gets more sleep now. Night and day difference. –  staticx Apr 29 at 12:34
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Are you comfortable with spanking, or other forms of non-abusive physical discipline? Honest question for the OP, I don't want replies of how Spanking is abuse blah blah blah –  BigHomie Apr 29 at 14:36
    
Do you keep a consistent bed time for your son? Various research studies have indicated that a regular bed time schedule impacts behavior. npr.org/blogs/health/2013/10/15/234683175/… –  M. Dudley Apr 29 at 17:49

5 Answers 5

I volunteer at ADHD and Aspergers syndrome vacation camps for kids. We hold raging kids and keep a rigid consequence structure that everyone follows (organizers included).

Usually after 2-3 everything calms down and the kids can have fun.

Holding is helpful to calm down a child but it does not fix the source of his tantrums. Write a contract with your child (I'm serious) where you state ground rules for each other. There are no exceptions to the rules. You can amend the contract but your kid has to take part in it.

The contract also has conditions for holding a child (e.g. when it beats other children even if they mock it) and when it can be released (usually after they count up to 10 slowly).

It usually lists consequences for misbehaving and not keeping simple responsibilities. We use squats and holding as consequences but sometimes it backfires at us as some kids are starved for contact and misbehave just to get someone to hold their hand.

We don't use spanking and we always have someone around to help in case of an emergency. It's hard to get other kids out of the room when you are holding one.

Reach out to someone that lives around and have them as backup. It's hard to keep a kid in place when you are a fit man, let alone a woman.

When it comes to spanking... all camp staff signs a contract where we explicitly state that we will not inflict any violence to the children. This is pretty much self-explanatory as we personally can be sued but the org itself cannot.

We also get some abused children and it's terrifying how deep scars it can leave.

Another thing we do is that we ditch using negations and verbs when commanding. Some ADHD kids are distracted pretty much all the time and telling them

Pen on table

if far more successful than

Could you please put down that pen?

Don't forget adding some rules for fun stuff and gratification too. This is great for encouraging help around the house and keeping homework under control.

Lastly, seek help. If your counseling is not satisfactory reach out for second opinions.

The bottom line is that your kid has to know that you are in control of everything.

If someone questions your decisions in front of him it pretty much destroys your creditability and the sense of stability. Don't argue, just delay the critique until you are sure your kid cannot overhear it.

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I downvoted this answer because it implies the child has ADHD or Aspergers. –  staticx Apr 29 at 12:35
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I have experience with ADHD and Aspergers. No implication intended. The points I made are quite universal and work well with ADHD kids as well as parents and volunteers ;). Raging is a symptom of trust issues, not ADHD. It just turns out that ADHD kids usually have them too. –  zamber Apr 29 at 12:45

You're not alone

My son also went through a phase of intense/angry/violent tantrums. I used various ways to deal with this:

  1. Take him to his room to let him yell, kick, thrash about without hurting himself or causing concern. This worked well many times as he just needed to 'let rip'. I waited outside his room until he subsided and then knocked on the door to see if he was ready to talk. Eventually, he was, and we'd cuddle while he'd cry a little and tell me what was bothering him.
  2. Went outside, to a large park, let him thrash it out there. Less private than his room, but if the tantrum was escalating while shopping, it was a good option.
  3. Physical activity. I've observed that boys need a physical outlet, whether this be swimming, soccer, trampolining, climbing trees or just running about. He always felt a whole lot better after burning off some energy, especially if I turned this into a game - "I bet you can't catch Daddy"... etc
  4. Smacking does not work. If my son was frustrated and unable to express his frustration, smacking his bottom was completely pointless.
  5. After the tantrum subsided, talking about what was upsetting him and why he had a tantrum was very productive - it was often something quite small like I'd missed his request to do something and the opportunity passed by and he was upset that we could do that thing. After talking, I found it wasn't worth it to expect any kind of apology.

If your son is hitting and biting you, I recommend that you calmly explain that hitting and biting is unacceptable and that 'it hurts Mummy' when he does this. It's unlikely he'll be happy or proud about that.

Are there any influences in his/your life that may be triggering or compounding his behaviour? How is his diet? Does he watch aggressive/violent cartoons? Is there violence in the household from other siblings/family members?

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A simple swat on the butt can work quite well to get the child's attention. I have a son who suffers from ADD (not ADHD) and learning disabilities. As a child we went through more than our share of frustrating moments. I also have a teenager who is bipolar. Experience has taught me a few things. Don't put the child in their room. There are too many things for them to do there. Put them in time out where you can see them. Give them a minute for each year of their age. Start timing them when they settle down. They might spend ten minutes pitching a fit. Maybe put a stool in a hallway or the most boring place you can find. Kids often throw fits for attention (albeit negative, they do get attention). If you can be outside, let him be on a grassy area or someplace where he can't hurt himself or you, then ignore him until he calms down. If nobody is paying any attention to his tantrums, they might not happen so often. Calmly let him know that you are the one in charge and the you make the rules, not him. Give him some say on rewards for behaving well. Set a date so you two can spend time together doing something he wants to do. If his behavior gets in the way, then it is his loss and he will learn to look forward to his fun times with Mom, even if you are just making cookies. Don't plead or bargain with him. There is a reason why boot camps work. My Mom gave all of us kids a very wise piece of advice- "Always remember that your child came to live with you, not the other way around. Children adapt very well to their surroundings, so by all means vacuum at nap time." With my bipolar son, we found that his ups and downs were affected by certain foods. We try to keep his diet as additive and sugar-free as possible. Now he is studying culinary arts. Things will work out.

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We've gone through that same issue with our 4 year old.

It hasn't been any one thing, but a mixture of things that has brought the problem under control. I'll go over what worked for us and maybe it can help you out. It's important to note that none of these things was an overnight success, it took time for us to get us to a point where we are now (and a lot patience and a lot of time). Going over the email proofread it, I think it comes down to consequences and rewards. Our guy responds well to that, as long as we find the right carrots/sticks.

The first thing was to stop him from watching any tv show with violence. Depending on your viewpoint, that can be either an "are you serious?" moment or "duh!" moment. Our little guy was picking up on what was on the screen and on channels that were for 'kids'. For us, the lightbulb didn't go off until he saw Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and starting using their moves against us when he was mad. Also, his general style of play became more rough (he'd do all kinds of Turtle moves against his playmates). After losing that privilege (and explaining it to him why there are no more Turtles and some of the other shows he liked), that form of tantrum has almost disappeared. He still acts out the Turtles sometimes, but only in a play setting and not nearly as rough.

When he'd throw his toys at us or around the house, I'd explain he had lost that toy and march him to the outside garbage can and have him put the toy in the garbage can. For our guy, it has to be outside for a sense of finality, otherwise he'd try to get it out of the trashcan. He did get selective about what he'd throw, but then I shifted the penalty to another toy I knew he'd like, explain what was going on and go through the same process. The throwing stopped.

We held him too when he was going through the rages and that seemed to work pretty well, but like you found out, our guy tried to fake his way out of it, so I'd keep him wrapped up until I was extremely sure he was ok and then I'd let an arm go and see what happened. Sometimes, he'd try to hit me again, so I'd grab the arm again and start over until he was really calm.

Spitting we dealt with differently. We kept a squirt bottle of water on the counter and when he'd spit at us, I'd grab it and give him a squirt (on the forehead, mouth, chin, but not eyes or nose) and that stopped pretty quickly.

A strict schedule helped too. Our guys needed a framework he was familiar with, so he has a routine and knows what happens when we get home, what happens before dinner, what happens after dinner, etc

For my SO and I another important part was no arguing/yelling/etc in front of him. He'd watch that behaviour between us, imitate it when he was mad, and say "that what mommy/daddy does". He still knows when there's disagreement, but sees us talking 'calmly' about the problem and seems to be emulating that.

At this point, we're able to tell him that if he's going to have a tantrum he's going to his room until he can calm down. Sometimes that stops him, but sometimes not, so we put him in the room, close the door, wait for him to quiet down and then go in to talk to him.

To offset all of the discipline, we are very quick to praise him when he does something correctly or bring up he hasn't had a tantrum this week, so we'll go do something special that he likes. The nice part about that is that we can use that as a goal and say that if he acts well for x days, we can go do something fun. The flip side is important though and if he messes up, we won't do the special thing he'd like to do. He's a lawyer-in-training, so he tries to get the reward and skip the punishment, but we're clear that no means no.

I hope this helps!

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It is the attention you are giving your child that creates problems like this. What if you had 10 children? Would you be focusing so much about some random tantrum? He is only doing it because you are reacting to it and he can exert some control over you by doing it. If you stop reacting to the frivolous behaviors of some child, life will become much simpler.

As far as property damage is concerned, the best bet is to move breakable things out of reach of your five year old. Otherwise they are likely to get broken even by accident.

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After reflecting on this for a bit, I've edited the question to remove the unnecessarily rude language. I'm also purging the comments, as some of them have also been flagged as rude. I will once again say: basic courtesy is a requirement in the community. If you feel that making "distasteful" answers to deliberately make people "upset or self-conscious" is the way that you want to communicate your opinions, then we may not be the right community for you. If, however, you can make your points without such tactics, and maintain basic civility, your posts will be welcome. –  Beofett May 1 at 20:17

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