So I'm just wondering if there is anyone out there that knows of any discipline suggestions that maybe I haven't tried.

I'm waiting for mental health to get back to me but I need something in the meantime.

He's 5 years old. His dad and I have been apart for 2 years now and he sees his dad when he's out of camp work and talks to him when he can. His teachers have expressed that he has been violent at school. I've tried taking things away, time-outs, and taking special dates away(play dates and shopping trips).

He's not overly spoiled.

His dad has mental health issues as well.

If you have any ideas please let me know I'm in need of some help.

  • \Have you read any books on strong-willed children (if that's his issue)? Have you seen a therapist? I don't know that you've provided enough information to really get much useful advice other than very generic stuff; see questions like this one for a bit more of what would be useful here. That said, I wouldn't jump on the 'mental health' right away unless that's code for therapist (not psychiatrist); his situation sounds hard for any 5 year old to deal with.
    – Joe
    Commented Jan 24, 2014 at 3:15
  • 1
    I largely agree with Joe here with one exception -- there's nothing bad about psychiatrists unless it's one who thinks a pill is the solution for everything. Given the family history of mental illness, evaluation cannot hurt and counseling with you and your son may be quite beneficial. Children at all ages try to test their limits and depending on a variety of mitigating circumstances he may be doing that or simply confused about life as it is and acting out that confusion which he does not understand. Commented Jan 24, 2014 at 3:44
  • One additional comment -- You're asking in your subject about "helping" and in your first sentence about "discipline"... Discipline may not necessarily be the way to help. Just something to consider. Commented Jan 24, 2014 at 3:46
  • I'm not saying there's anything bad with psychiatrists, just that the first place to start is a therapist. Good psychiatrists will be some of both, but they're also more expensive. Start with someone who can give you advice and also can evaluate whether you need to see a psychiatrist, or if this is normal behavior that simply needs a few changes.
    – Joe
    Commented Jan 24, 2014 at 15:16
  • 1
    Please could you add some more information? How is his behaviour horrible at home? Did school give any more information about violence? What MH problems does the father have, and why do you think those are relevant?
    – DanBeale
    Commented Jan 24, 2014 at 19:59

2 Answers 2


As @Joe commented, there could really be lots of reasons for that behavior. It could be a combination of reasons. And in order to handle it the right way (as opposed to achieving a temporary deceiving quiet), the root causes are better be exposed. There are some root causes.

Let's try to narrow it down. Does your child have no discipline whatsoever? You said "His teachers have expressed that he has been violent at school." It sounds like his behavior is bad only at school. Is it only violence? How about paying attention to the teachers? Doing homework? If it's only violence, is it aimed toward specific (irritating?) children or does it occur on specific days of the week? (like longest school days, or the day after he meets his dad because he misses him etc.).

So my first suggestion is try to understand your child. Try your best effort by yourself before any mental health help arrives or not. Don't be dependent on that. Just do it (as you've started by posting here) because you love your child. BTW, you know him best so you can most probably help him best.

(You might already been doing it, but) My second suggestion is talk to him. Or more accurate: make him talk to you. Let him describe his day at school. Let him explain his ups and downs, his violence, the teachers' reactions etc.. Make him comfortable talking to you. Just try to hear him without criticizing his behavior. Since you're his most meaningful adult in his life, you're his solid rock on which he relay upon. If he's criticized at school, then comes back home and get criticized all over again, where would he go? With whom would he share his thoughts and feelings? Open communication and trust are key properties for healthy relationships and parenting. Moreover, if you succeed in that, you might also come to understand your child's behavior (the first suggestion).

Third suggestion, a non-direct suggestion. Don't blame anyone... Not yourself, not the child, not the father, not the school. Don't look for someone to blame and don't jump to conclusions.

BTW, you mentioned that his dad has mental issues "as well". What do you mean by "as well"? In addition to your child? He wasn't diagnosed yet. Let him enjoy being mentally healthy while he can :). Jumping to conclusion might introduce new problems instead of solving the existing ones ("oh! You're just like ---" and stuff like that might cause children actually think that they should start behaving like ---).

Last note, you say that the punishments you used were to no avail. Typically I discourage punishments, certainly at such an age, but even for those that believe in it, in this case, either your child simply isn't afraid of them (not probable for such an age), or he doesn't perceive them good enough, or that the things you use to threat aren't important enough for him.

I am no psychologist or education expert or anything... Just suggestion for your own judgement of course. And I hope it'll help you in your journey.


Prior to my response to your question, it is worth noting that you started with question #2. The order should be: 1. Are the behaviors a discipline issue, and 2. what do I do about them.

To those who suggested talking to the child, etc. It is worth considering that 5 years old is far too early for reasoning with a child, the child does not have the required reasoning skills (for more in depth, see: Piaget's theory of cognitive development).

Several things to consider:

  1. Children, especially in early developmental stages, are typically yet to develop a true sense of self, they consider their environment (parents, etc.) an extension of themselves, and as a result tend to feel responsible for anything (good or bad) that happens. You mention the separation of the child's father and yourself, is there a possible relationship between that separation and the Childs behavior. It is not unfeasible that the child is expressing anxiety. Remember, children at this age do not have the tools of expression that us adults have (or should have).

  2. Has the child been in therapy since the separation? Regardless of age, separation of parents severs a child between two conflicting entities, a situation which in itself, can cause significant anxiety to a child. This is always true! Even when a separation is for legitimate reasons, from the child’s perspective it is still his/her parent. If the answer is no, then you will do the child (and yourself) a huge service by making that happen. If you cannot afford it, federal, state, and local agencies have myriads of free support and counseling services, especially for children.

  3. It is worth observing if these behaviors are worse prior to, or after the child speaks to, or spends time with his father. Possibly the most emotionally difficult aspect for children of divorce is what professionals call 'Transition' between parents. Google it, you will find lots of material on the topic, and how to best facilitate the process to the benefit of the children.

  4. Be sure to never alienate the child’s father or speak negatively about the father in the presence of the child. That in itself puts the child between two adults, which frightens the child, and can cause high anxiety levels. Again, google 'Parental Alienation' and you will find lots of info on the topic.

  5. You discuss discipline, while I'm a fan of discipline, it must be applied:

    1. When the problem is truly a discipline issue (see points 1-4)
    2. in the appropriate way (both age, and child appropriate)
    3. At the appropriate time (don't discipline a child for something they did yesterday).
    4. for the correct reasons (not because our boss yelled at us and we are on edge).
  6. The discipline measures you described are negative in nature, have your tried positive discipline? For instance, instead of you will lose xyz because you did ABC, how about if you don't do ABC for the next day or two, I will treat you to something.. The timespans cannot be that large, since children of this age do not have that level of patience, so you end up setting them up for failure.

  7. In general, discipline should be forewarned. How would you feel if your boss said "I'm deducting 400 from your compensation, because you could have spoken nicer to the client", you would have expected a warning, and even then, taking something away, breeds resentment, and (in most cases) does not match the crime. Which brings me to the next point:

  8. I would be very careful (even for yourself) before labeling a child as having mental issues. Feeling that way (even if you do not verbalize it) comes across in your attitude to the child, and can have a negative effect. I would exhaust other measures before making that call.

  9. My final suggestion, and summary of prior suggestions:

  10. Get the kid into therapy.

  11. Shower the kid with positive love, even if you feel like ... and are not in the mood..
  12. Observe patterns and times of behavior, and identify if it is related to 'Transition'
  13. Avoid parental alienation, at all costs.
  14. Try positive discipline.
  15. Consider your child to be the 'best thing since sliced bread', avoid thinking of your child as a mental case, but as a gift which you will nurture, and cherish. The kid will feel it!
  16. My final suggestion: Every kid, even one with high anxiety levels can benefit from TRUE and HEALTHY discipline, my suggestion to you, is to pick up a copy of "1-2-3 Magic: Effective Discipline for Children 2–12" by Dr. Thomas Phelan, it is a classic, and really works (but only if you follow it to the T).

See: http://www.123magic.com/All-Products/1-2-3-Magic-Parenting/1-2-3-Magic-Book-4th-Edition (also sold on Amazon, etc.).

  • Thanks for the comprehensive, well thought out answer! I think this is all great advice. One minor nitpick, though: Piaget's theory is really just a general guideline, and not a hard-and-fast rule; saying 5 year olds don't have the required reasoning skills for discussion is possibly painting with too broad of a brush stroke. Some children at that age, or even younger, will respond to rational discussion with varying levels of comprehension; others will not.
    – user420
    Commented Jan 31, 2014 at 13:24
  • You’re welcome. Yep, I agree, and should not have generalize. However, traditionally (in my experience at least) dialog and reasoning works best for teenagers, younger children "tend" to do better with good old nurture and discipline. Anyways, thanks for pointing that out. -Y
    – Yossi
    Commented Jan 31, 2014 at 20:00

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