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 than 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.

  • 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, 2014 at 12:00
  • What counselling? Is it with a registered professional?
    – DanBeale
    Apr 29, 2014 at 12:04
  • 2
    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 Apr 29, 2014 at 14:36
  • 1
    I am in the same boat with a 5yrd old that has Tantrums, not the spitting and hitting though. He yells and gets really fiery in your face and screams. Am glad to see/ feel that I am not alone. I keep hoping he grows out of it. It's not daily but sometimes the smallest thing sets him off. (Just because he doesn't want to do something). It's frustrating and am not sure where to go with it. Makes me sad.
    – user13864
    Mar 4, 2015 at 3:19
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    If a considered spanking is what works, it may be your best punishment. I was one of those kids for whom the only workable punishment was spanking. There was not much that I wanted that could be taken away and after a "time out" I was likely to have become engrossed in my own imagination, so I wouldn't come out. However, it is well worth considering the diet and sleep equations and looking for a more peaceful solution.
    – pojo-guy
    Jan 18, 2018 at 2:39

11 Answers 11


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.

  • 2
    I downvoted this answer because it implies the child has ADHD or Aspergers. Apr 29, 2014 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, 2014 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?


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!


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.

  • "A simple swat on the butt can work quite well" - that’s a horrible suggestion. Aug 15, 2023 at 11:31

Every child is different -- some throw tantrums because it's effective at getting them what they want (treats, toys, attention), others because they're angry (hormones, frustration) and they naturally expend energy to deal with those feelings, or because they've seen examples of that kind of behavior in those situations and are mimicking it.

Consider little experiments to figure out which of the above is the best match --

For #1, which is common, tell them very calmly, "Uh, oh, little boys who behave like that don't get what they want, they get to go spend some time in their room." And then I would gently carry him up and lay him on his bed. He'd thrash and sometimes try to hold the door jamb as I'd carry him in, so I'd often try to grab him from behind around his chest locking his upper arms in place, and his legs so he couldn't do a lot of kicking. If he tried to jump back up I'd hold him down until he realized he couldn't get up. Then I'd say in a super-calm voice, "You can come out when you're ready to be sweet." When he came out, I'd pretend like the whole world was beautiful again and I'd say, "There's my sweet boy!" and give him a big hug. Usually this whole cycle would only take about 10 minutes, and those episodes became increasingly rare.

Some kids misbehave because it's the only way they get attention from their parents. So when my kids misbehave, I ask myself, "Is this the only way he can get my attention?" I'll then ignore the misbehavior, but watch in the next 30 seconds for something good he does, then say, "Hey, buddy, I noticed you put your shoes away, nice job! Want me to read you a book?" He's a great kid now.

Note, much of the above comes from Love and Logic (https://www.loveandlogic.com), their book is really good.

For #2, sports or outdoor activities (suggested elsewhere) are good options. Swimming and/or running are good ways to blow through that energy.

For #3, consider a self-evaluation -- how do I respond to stress and frustration? Am I modeling good stress-coping skills for my child?

And if that's ok, consider what kinds of media they're exposed to. Video games and TV and movies are quite violent these days, we don't often realize how much anger and violence our children are exposed to.

Above all, be sure to love and cherish him. =)


5 year olds can be hard to handle. They are big enough that they can be quite strong, and do damage when they hit, but young enough that they're still prone to temper tantrums.

You need to show him who's boss, but you don't need to spank him. Assuming you're a normal able bodied adult, however strong he might be, you are still stronger, and you're able to restrain him in a way which will not hurt him or yourself.

Running away and hiding in your room could be quite counter productive. This will not help him learn to respect you. It's vital that he learn to respect you now, while he's young, because by the time he's in his early teens he will be stronger than you.

Please don't take this the wrong way, but this is something that dads are very useful for. They can easily restrain a child without being hurt, or hurting the child. For whatever reason (none of my business) there obviously isn't a dad available, so you need to do that role as well. If you're finding you really can't handle him, take a gym class. I guarantee you're a lot stronger than you think you are.


My child is like this and the tantrums are very violent! She does have a sensory issue that when triggered by tiredness, sleep, needing to get energy out, or a feeling she cannot process - then a tantrum happens. We cannot avoid it, it’s too violent, we cannot walk away because she will hurt herself. Holding her down increases the tantrum.

What we can do is to avoid the tantrum, to break the cycle - avoiding it at all costs means I have zero reaction to small tantrums that start small, for example throwing something. I know that she needs something - food / play / tired. I immediately distract her. Sensory activities like bubbles, shaving cream, bouncing etc ., or just going outside and throwing rocks, all good. Distract distract distract!! Then fill the void - even if it’s junk food - get them eating, for example "sure, here’s a cookie" - one bite, then one bite of the pasta next to you - etc.


My 3-year-old also had the same tantrums. My wife tended to yell at him and spanked him, and sometimes he was calm, but most of the time he got more frustrated. On the other hand, I usually treat him tenderly, holding him, and acknowledging his emotion like "Do you get upset". Then, he said yes, and he started to calm down. In case he was still in a tantrum, I just ignored, and showed up later.

Also, you can apply "time-out" rather than locking him in the room. Just tell him that he gets time-out for specific bad things that he does and that's it! Do not talk a lot. During time-out, do not let him play, you can ask him to hold the wall or in the room with you...

After getting calm, he would listen to what you say or teach him. The kids tend not to listen to their parents during tantrums.


I completely understand how you feel. I am a single mum to a 5 year old daughter. While she doesn't scratch or kick, I have trouble with her showing aggression by screaming and disciplining. I actually put a question on this as seek advice myself. I struggle to get her do simple things like brushing teeth or putting clothes from the first time asked. It takes me up to 5 times to ask her to do something. It exhausts me. It happens every single day. At the moment, she would scream at anything she doesn't like. She screams when said no and asked to do something on most things most days. I do not spank her. But earlier I used to raise my voice out of frustration. Now, I don't even bother doing this. I just take her in her room and wait till she comes down: screams, cries out. Then she comes out and says sorry, however it all starts all over again.

  • 5 years old is old enough to understand reason. There is no point forcing your child to brush the teeth or put on clothes properly. But you can explain that if they don't brush their teeth regularly, their mouth would stink and their teeth may get holes and fall out later. Similarly, if they don't dress themselves properly, what are the natural consequences? Explain that to your daughter.
    – user21820
    Feb 17, 2022 at 14:16

My five yr daughter does the same thing except for the biting and spitting and hitting. She throws herself around and screams no. I designed a behavior chart for her and let her help, it has committed tags that we use to let her know where she stands with her behavior all through out the day. Red is for bad behavior, yellow is for caution watch your behavior, and green is good behavior. She likes it because she can see it and knows by the end of the week of she stays on green that she can be rewarded by an outing or game time with just me and her. She responses very well to this chart as this is what her TK teacher used in class this past school year. I started it because I didn't want her to forget that she still needed to mind her P 's and A's, and it works. Given she has bad days but I notice that have become less frequently and she improves every day. Other than that she is a very loving, kind little gal who loves to help and give hugs. Good luck


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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