My 5-year-old has been an absolute nightmare. He hits his 2-year-old sister and blames it on her, argues back saying "no way" all the time, and will not do as he is told to.

He keeps having major tantrums all the time. He gets up at 5 in the morning, gets a chair, climbs up and starts rummaging the cupboard. I'm worried that it's a bit dangerous.

I have tried just about everything: the 123 magic system, time out on a naughty step, taking away his favourite toys for a while. But he just laughs it away. A few days later, after telling him off for his bad behaviour, he promises never to repeat that but goes on to do the same things over and over again.

I am just about at the end of my tether as nothing seems to be working and my 2-year-old girl is now starting to take up some of his nasty habits.

How can I possibly deal with such an incorrigibly naughty 5-year-old?


2 Answers 2


My oldest is two and a half, so bear that in mind with my answer.

The first step is to remove as much of his ability to misbehave as possible. Lock the cabinets. Strap the chairs to the table. Don't leave him alone with his sister, and always make sure you can intercept an attack. This will be difficult!

Next, make sure he has something else to do that he enjoys. The primary reason for my toddler misbehaves is either: 1. We've been inside all weekend and she's stir crazy. Going outside to run around solves this state of mind. 2. She's not getting enough attention from us (particularly true now that she has a baby sister), and playing with her, reading her books, or (to kill two birds with one stone) running around outside with her solves this state of mind.

You seem to be putting a lot of emphasis on punishment. There is certainly a place for punishment, but it can't be the whole solution. Young kids typically misbehave because something is wrong (from their perspective), and they don't know how else to express themselves. If you can find out why he's acting out (from his perspective), you can help him solve whatever problem it is before it escalates into more bad behavior. A big benefit of this is that you'll both be solving a problem together instead of fighting each other about the effect (to put it another way, you'll be treating the disease instead of the symptoms).

For instance, my toddler is ravenous in the morning, and always out of sorts until she has eaten. So, the first thing we do when she wakes up is breakfast. Sometimes, this is easy. Sometimes, she's so hungry that getting up into her high chair is an epic quest. She'll cry, scream, and hit. During this time, it's my job to make sure: she doesn't hurt herself or anyone else, help her identify and control her feelings, and, ultimately, get up into her chair so she can eat.

With your son (based on the little information from one paragraph of text), it sounds like he's acting very similar to how my daughter acted just after the baby was born. He likely feels he isn't getting enough attention, and his sister is the source of that "problem". If that is the case, the "punishments" you give him are probably what he wants: he has your full attention, you are--in that moment--completely invested in him, and he is in complete control.

I'd suggest a two part overarching strategy: as mentioned above, you'll need to give him more focused positive attention. Bad attention is better than no attention, but if you can teach him to crave good attention, he'll want that over bad attention. As part of this, teach him to ask you for your attention. I've been trying to teach my daughter to ask, "Can you play with me?"

Also, change your punishment strategy. If he's craving the punishments, you'll need to punish less and differently. Hopefully, blocking his methods of misbehaving will help you punish less. As for differently... well, here's what I do, it's somewhat effective. When my daughter goes into full tantrum mode, I lock us in her room and let her wear herself out. I'm present, but not involved. Then, after she finishes her tantrum, I have a calm conversation about it with her. One of the important things is for you to maintain an outward appearance of calm, even while your blood pressure spikes to dangerous levels; the more excited you get, the more excited he'll get. My daughter's essentially "punished" by herself (having a tantrum isn't pleasant), and I'm there to help her understand her emotions when she's calm enough for that to be useful.


This is an answer I gave another family who asked something similar. I believe this can help you rather effectively. 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. Schedule it.
When just beginning to act up to to him and tell him that you need a hug. If he does not give you a hug, say it again, nothing more, (want the hug, dont fake it, he'll know) if no hug, you can tell him Instead of yelling, use a calm voice when speaking with him. Stop the show by removing yourself. 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. PS.. Perhaps you can offer that he contribute to whatever you're doing when you can. Ex. Making salad when you're cooking, separating clothes for laundry, helping to mop, putting away his clothes in drawers. Obviously keep it safe. That also helps his sense of belonging. Contribution brings a great sense of significance as well.
Best to You and Your Family. PSS. Remember to establish the same with your daughter. It'll be helpful.

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