I am a 20-year-old mom of an almost 4-year-old and a 9-month-old.

My oldest has gotten out of control. He won't listen to anything we tell him. We have tried spanking him, time outs, taking all his toys away - everything you can think of. Still, he won't listen; he always answers back, giving attitude, kicking, and punching.

If we put him in his room, he will get out 100 times, even if we spank him. If we take all his toys, he plays with his clothes, taking them out of place and throwing them everywhere. He screams for no reason. It's like no punishment helps. He doesn't care about anything that we do.

It just keeps getting worse and worse and my husband and I have no idea about what to do.

  • 2
    If you know punishment doesn't help, why do you keep bringing up worse punishments? Have you tried anything other than punishment?
    – Erik
    Jul 28, 2016 at 12:40
  • 3
    My 3.5 yr old is almost exactly the same way. He really does not care about punishments. The only thing that worked for us? LOVE and ATTENTION. Those are the hardest two things to give when I am trying to accomplish tasks or do stuff around the house, but they are what children need the most. Put some of that stuff that needs to get done on hold, or include him while you are doing it. Read to him. Talk to him about stuff going on in his head. It will be worth it. I find it can be boring/difficult when I want to get things done, but hey, I made the child so I gotta do what I gotta do :)
    – Jeff.Clark
    Aug 5, 2016 at 16:21

3 Answers 3


Take 20 uninterrupted, totally involved completely focused undistracted, minutes doing activities your child completely loves to do. Do this daily. Be present, so don't have food cooking, or laundry on, it's about him and you connecting. Follow his lead, have fun, let go. Do this every single day. Let him know how much you enjoyed it , how you can't wait to have one to one time everyday. Instead of yelling, use a calm voice when speaking with him. Stop the show. With no audience, there's really no point of having a show. You may want to child proof before doing this, but when he gets out of control you want to disconnect. You want to be neutral and matter of fact about it. Be quick about it and non reactive . Tell him you will be going to your time out spot and that he can come find you as soon as he is less excited. Nothing more. And leave. Now wait. When he comes, tell him you need a hug. Hug it out. Tell him that you're changing time out to make it a quiet place he can go to alone or with you when he feels really excited or angry. You can remind him of this when he needs it. He can go with you or alone. You will say something like I see you're really excited, do you want to take a break in your quiet spot or do you want mommy to come too. The spot can have books, music, favorite game or toy, no electronic devices like tablets or tv though. It can be decorated any way he wants. A huge box is a good thing to use. Make a little house of it. Or use a sheet to build a tent.

Discuss with him what other things can HE CAN do when he feels this way... like take a walk, build Legos, paint/color, stomp on his pillows, big self hug, take a deep breath, count to ten, go to his quiet spot, read a book with Parent, use flashlight in the dark (not really dark not to scare him). Just some suggestions. Stop yelling, reprimanding, and time- outing. It is feeding into his needs for attention and power negatively. That all can be replaced with the Positive version as described above. Would like to follow up with you so let me know how things go. Best to you. Just submitted this for another family. All punishments must stop. He's trying to tell you to give him choices, to notice him, to involve him usefully. He's also trying to tell you that "you can't make him do what you want" Don't get into conflict, don't give in, just follow the steps above. But, for sure, the dynamic needs to change. Spend less time ordering, commanding, and more time being curious. Use a question instead of command. Don't back talk, you're modeling it. Take ego out of the mix... He isn't competing with you, he's communicating to you with a positive intention to feel significant and to feel belonging. A big part of that is self power. He wants choices... Let him choose between two things. Instead of put your shoes on, ask him are you gonna wear your sneakers or your crocks before going outside? Let me know how you do, and we can move to more steps. Best to you.

  • Nice and useful advices +1
    – IrbidMath
    Jul 29, 2016 at 8:34
  • This is brilliant. Encompasses what children need. I would also add that children are trying to find their place in the home, so they want to contribute. In addition to that uninterrupted time, find a way to include him in cooking dinner, doing dishes, etc... My kiddos LOVE to help because we let them put away their own cups, the silverware, add the pasta to the water, etc...
    – Jeff.Clark
    Aug 5, 2016 at 16:26

There's a lot of things you can do, but one I'd put at the top is this: stop spanking.

All the research indicates spanking causes problems and solves none, even in recent studies that control for it only being used in perfect calm rather than in anger or combined with other physical punishment. You do not want your child to hit you. Stop sending the message that hitting is acceptable in order to get the result you want.

"Spanking makes children's behavior worse," lead author Elizabeth T. Gershoff told me. "It has the opposite effect than what parents want: It doesn't make children better-behaved, and it doesn't teach children right from wrong. It's not related to immediate compliance, and it doesn't make children behave better in the future."

  • 2
    I wholeheartedly agree. Spanking teaches a child it's OK to be violent when in a position of power. NOT what we want to teach. I used to spank my kiddos, but I saw how it changed their behavior for the worse. I have stopped, and done what was outlined above by other answers, and was pleasantly surprised.
    – Jeff.Clark
    Aug 5, 2016 at 16:29

You should talk to his pediatrician. Some kids have underlying illnesses that can cause behavior like this. If a child isn't feeling well, it won't be easy for him to be happy and playful and obedient. I've heard of children with different kinds of illnesses ranging from allergies to reflux to celiac to ear infections that caused really difficult behavior. It's always a good idea to rule out a physical problem before addressing it with behavior modification.

  • 1
    I don't know of any doctors who will do a work-up for what seem to be purely behavioral problems, but a talk with the pediatrician won't do any harm, that's for sure. Jul 28, 2016 at 23:16
  • Still, a problem that appears to be behavioral may actually be a physiological one in disguise.
    – Rachel S
    Aug 1, 2016 at 13:56

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