My 5 year old son receives and fears punishment but repeatedly exhibits the same unacceptable behaviors. He's always been strong-willed, and is usually the kind to view a statement like "Don't do that" as an open invitation to do it. We've tried redirection or distraction tactics, but he is still so narrowly focused on doing the original behavior. Even worse, he will typically do the prohibited behavior and flagrantly tell us or show us that he's done it. Repeatedly, even after punishment. (He's in time out right now for this very thing). He's consistently punished, yet he continues down the same self-destructive path each time. When he is punished, we explain what he did wrong, why he's being punished, and why he shouldn't do what he was told not to do. Sometimes he'll even tell us first why he's in trouble, so it makes me wonder if he's acting out for the inevitable negative attention he gets. I think he gets plenty of love and positive attention- he's an only child and stays with a relative during the day. We're trying to give him a good, fun childhood, but we need to figure out how to effectively discipline him.
His repeated misbehavior includes:
- Yelling at the top of his lungs in public (stores, friends' houses, etc)
- Running away from us (at parks, stores, parking lots, etc)
- Talking back and disrespecting authority figures
- Hurting animals even after we explain why it's wrong
- Repetitive nuisance behaviors (repeating himself, banging his fists, kicking walls, intentionally crumbling food on floors, etc)
- Repeatedly asking us why he can't do something even after it's been explained to him
- Basically, most bad behaviors that young children may do, but repeated over and over again, even after discipline
He gets a warning to stop the behavior, then depending on the severity of what he's done (and where we are), he'll either go to time out or lose a privilege (such as taking away a favorite movie or missing out on an activity). Going to time outs and losing privileges really upset him, but still do not ultimately deter him from the bad behavior. It's like he can't help himself.
My spouse and I are getting worn down. We try to model good behavior and encourage him to be well-mannered and respectful. This behavior mortifies us. It seems we can't even enjoy life as a family because our son is so disruptive and unresponsive. Most public outings have to be cut short or eliminated because he consistently misbehaves and doesn't respond to our discipline. After he's misbehaved, when we try to have heart-to-heart talks with him about his behavior and why we expect him to mind us, he usually has a little trouble expressing himself, and a lot of times we get the same nonsensical responses from him (Us: Why did you do [bad behavior]? Him: Because I didn't want to). He also doesn't like to make eye contact. We don't usually feel like we've gotten through to him.
Is there another discipline tactic we could try? Or does it sound like we need to see a professional at this point? We're at a loss, and don't want things to spiral further out of control as he gets older (and even begins school). We just want him to understand that his behavior isn't always acceptable.
Thanks for reading.
Update (from comments below): My spouse and I disagree on spanking, as we had different experiences with it. He feels it's necessary sometimes. Since our son failed to improve after time outs and taking away items/privileges, I grew to agree with him and we used it for select bad behaviors. It didn't work any better. However, when he was spanked, he was always told why. I didn't mention that we have used it because I was afraid it would distract from the original question, but since it has already come up [in comments], yes, it has been explored, but with no better results than our other tactics.