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My child recently turned 4 late this summer. We've noticed he has been more aggressive lately.

Background: I've pretend wrestled, boxed, and sword fought with my child before his third birthday. I started to see signs of him testing his limits outside of our pretend plays; one thing he would do is rush at me for a take down without warning or punch or kick my wife out of nowhere. I told him he can only display these behaviors when we're rough-housing. If someone bites, pinches, hair-pulls, punches, or kicks him after he warns them, and if an adult is present, to let them know; if that child hits him again, he can defend himself. So far, there have been no known cases of him harming another child at the daycare on campus at the University. They are very strict about children being physical.

At home, he is different. He continues to his aggression. My wife and I have come to the conclusion that it might be because he has too much energy. In his first three years, we did outdoor activities everyday since we were able to have enough savings to care for him for those years. Afterward, we are now back full-time working or studying. Monday to Friday, he stays at daycare from 8 AM to 5 PM. From 5 PM to 9:30 PM, we dedicate quality time with him since work or homework stays at the workplace or school; we finish before we pick him up at the daycare.

When he rushes, jabs, or kicks us, I tell him to stop in a calm demeanor that carries disappointment and he knows what he did is inappropriate. Wife raises her voice at him which I remind her sometimes that that's not necessary because he laughs when she reprimands him. We tell him that it's disrespectful and he needs to stop doing it. We follow that with different ways he can vent his energy. He tells us he's sorry for his action and lets us know next time, he will stop, breath, walk away, and then he will feel better. Later that day or the next, he does it again. Either we are not getting through to him or he is at an age where he wants to see how far he can push our limit. We stay consistent each time for the last few months that this have gotten to be a daily thing.

One thing that has worked is when we take him outdoors like how we used to, he gets all his energy out of his system. He wakes up for a nap, we take him out again because he is full of energy and loves the outdoors. We work/study full-time so it's a challenge to do outdoors on weekdays.

Sometimes we feel we need to get a TV, cable television, and allow him to watch movies. Other times we feel he should be able to play his tablet more than two hours per week on the weekends.

Is him testing how far he can take his actions a sign of his developmental stage or are we not doing enough? We are not doing something right, what can we do to help him control his actions? Are we going at it the wrong way?

  • Welcome to the site! Please don't use the "electronic babysitter" - I can understand that you are desperate, but it most likely would backfire. – Stephie Sep 7 '15 at 18:07
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He's a little young yet, but when he turns 5 you might seriously consider enrolling him in a martial arts class. In addition to the benefit of giving him a physical outlet, it will help teach him when it is appropriate (and when not appropriate) to hit or kick. My son learned some very good habits at tai kwan do...they stressed self discipline, self restraint and respect for others.

You might take him to observe a class or two and see if he is interested. My son totally wanted to learn how to hit people with swords (sigh, he has not yet grown out of that desire) but now he is quite aware of the difference between "want to" and "should" and he understands that it is only ok to fight when both people want to. If only one wants to, we call it "bullying", which is a term he understands quite well (many kudos to the school system for working to raise awareness of this problem).

As for how to deal with the current situation, you might try to add a bit more preparation and discipline to the rough-housing time. In the martial arts that I've participated in, you must bow to each other or observe some other ritual which signals the intent to begin. It will be harder now that you have already established a tradition of "ambush" tactics but it may not be too late. If you show enough enthusiasm for it, maybe even with some kind of formal "garb" you could make the ritual and subsequent play far more fun than just kicking and hitting (children often enjoy ritual)

  • +1 for ritual. Situations where it is easy for an adult to tell environment A from environment B often do not appear as distinct to a child. And as for your son, Francine, I still haven't grown out of that desire =) Such things happen when you watch Peter Pan one too many times! – Cort Ammon Sep 16 '15 at 23:30
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This sounds familiar... :) Here are some things we did which helped us:

  • making sure we go outdoor at any given opportunity (you're already doing that, I see) because he can use all his energy and then behave at home
  • enrol him in sports at least during autumn/winter. In our town some places offer sport "classes" for 3-4 year old kids where they mostly run, jump and play, but also learn to respect each other and the trainer; we had to change three places until we found the trainer with the right approach (neither too strict nor to lax for him), but he's learned a lot from the trainer and the other kids and he's loving it
  • we altered our working hours somewhat so he doesn't have to stay that long in the kindergarten (my workplace is more flexible, so I start working earlier), because in the kindergarten he rarely gets to play outside
  • watching cartoons soon after waking up and before going to bed for about 15-20 minutes. This helps him wake up / wind down. We only play cartoons we choose previously from Youtube, because TV often might air shows we don't approve of.

And a note on saying "sorry"... We had been teaching him to apologise when he does something bad and then he realized that he can mollify us easily when he says "sorry", so he developed this pattern where he would do something bad, say "sorry", make a sad face and then do it again in half an hour, shoot another sad "sorry" at us and keep doing it... So we had to re-introduce timeouts even when he apologises for the act, to make sure he remembers he shouldn't do these things outside of playing with me. It worked.

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