We have a great little boy. He was absolutely perfect until he turned 5 years old. He is almost 6 now and he is just a handful. He talks back, does not listen, refuses to admit fault and laughs and makes faces when he has you mad at him. We are trying not to yell, we tried that and are just so tired of it. At school the teachers think that he is less than truthful. Academically he is great but he rubbed the teachers the wrong way. He was disruptive at times in class like making noises but then not stopping when asked. We are so afraid that he will have a miserable life if he does not learn from his bad choices.

I said last night that we should be firm but kind to him but he just hit all the buttons on my wife. I took over then he hit mine. He is in bed without his favorite stuffy because he threw it at me. He says mean things as well. He has been having a great summer, chess camp, soccer camp, golf camp and weekend camping with us. We are going playing ice hockey tomorrow evening with a group of kids his age. I said we would not go yesterday but I want to go. I like seeing him do things and progress.

How much longer will we have to suffer through an obstinate little kid who seems to be happiest driving us crazy?

  • 6
    Can you give us specific examples of what he is doing and how you are reacting to it? You gloss over several examples but hearing one or two in-depth would be really helpful... it's good to know both what he is doing and how you (and the school) respond
    – Catija
    Commented Jul 26, 2017 at 4:09
  • I second Catija's inquiry - what are some specific circumstances under which he acts this way, and what exactly does he do and say, and how do you guys react?
    – MAA
    Commented Jul 27, 2017 at 3:30
  • 1
    "I said we would not go yesterday but I want to go" If you said it, you have to follow through. You will have zero credibility, and there will also be the belief that there are zero consequences, if you fold like that. Commented Jul 27, 2017 at 16:38

2 Answers 2


Well firstly I will admit that reading it, the way it's worded is a little concerning to me. You seem to set a stage where a child was awesome, as in past tense. And then it seems you perceive that he changed dramatically nearly immediately from your explanation. Humans aren't wired like that. We do not have drastic personality shifts for no reason.

And I gather he is a handful as you say, but it's important to remain in correct thinking when something like this is going on. He is not giving anyone a hard time, he is having a hard time. Children truly do act it out when they are struggling. You will have a much easier time having no available buttons to push if you can remain in this level of thinking because you will stop taking his behavior personally (because it really isn't personal) and start to be better able to take in the big picture from an observational standpoint & start to better be able to look for where the core of this is.

Now, there are some biological things you may have forgotten, missed or maybe not realized. One notable one is that there really are 6 year molars & teething, even at this age, is an ornery business many times, much like it was at a year old. This is why I am not really convinced babies are having pain per se when teething. I have had kids old enough to talk well teeth molars & asked & they are not feeling pain according to them, yet they are ornery, not sleeping the same, not acting the same, etc. This would also explain why pain relievers were never of any help to us when babies were teething.

Now onto other things. What if anything changed after being 5? Did he start a new school? Have a change in teachers? Have a friend move away or a new student added? Has anything changed with the parents, siblings, etc?

As a very very general rule, if all other things are fine, child is developmentally fine, healthy, blah blah, a child at this age that is actively defiant has lost his desire to please you. Again, in general terms, this can come about merely from a loss of connection. If you are connected with your child, working on things that aid in bonding (such as shared activities the child enjoys, taking an interest in the things that interest them, spending time together, etc) then the child feels bonded to you. When a child is bonded to an adult, the child will naturally be inclined to want to please that adult, to gain that adult's favor, to cooperate with that adult, etc. Much like how you would feel naturally inclined to help someone you like a lot, versus someone you are annoyed with. If the child somehow feels like he is lacking that bonding with you, you can then get the opposite, which is a child that will actively seek to not be cooperative. So it's like a subconscious level of them trying to "hurt you back" because they feel hurt by the lack of connection. I do not believe, based on all I have read & what I have seen of kids this age, that they mean to do it, I think it is a normal reaction for kids at this age. This is why I asked about a change. If he is away from parents much more than he was before, if there has been a new sibling added, etc, if there have been changes that may have made him feel less loved & less appreciated, it can develop into him displaying unruly behaviors.

If that is the case, the working on rebuilding a strong connection with him would be the best way to resolve it. He would need to know that he is loved, whether he acts amazing or obnoxious, whether he is perfect, or perfectly tyrannical.

When my boys are in a rough phase, we like to watch "Where the Wild Things Are" together. If you haven't seen it, there is an opening scene that shows a boy get his feelings hurt, embarrassed, feeling rejected by his sister, etc and then he freaks out and does some pretty destructive stuff, then later he feels ignored & pushed off by his mom, etc. But the point is, he goes wild. He screams & yells & breaks things & has a mother loving breakdown. And in the end, he is sad, missing home, tired & comes back, and he is sorry.

Your son is going through a change right now. He is obviously having something happen. I also can tell you that before I had sons, I didn't know that so much emotion was involved in the ages 5-7. I just didn't know. I had no idea boys cried as much as they do either. Some of what he does that may seem exaggerated & over the top may well be quite normal. I am not suggesting that everything you stated it, just that some of it I am sure is.

And perhaps slow down a little. It sounds to me like summer hasn't had really much unscheduled time to just be. That is a very high amount of scheduled camps for a child this age. The majority of kids his age don't even do one, let alone three. I am not saying don't do them, just be sure that is really something that is working well for this child. A child can seem to enjoy something and have that be a stress all at the same time. My kids do this a lot. They love certain video games. I allow them to play until I see that the frustration & intensity of excitement has exceeded the fun factor & instead they are starting to get upset & angry. They would swear up & down the whole time that all of it was fun, that they do not need to take a break, that they are still having fun, but it is evident from watching that it's not the case & they do not have a good handle on how to set personal limits, self regulate & realize when they are just overdone. So just keep an eye & make sure that all the planned activities are helping the situation & not contributing to it.

And hopefully not, but be aware that trauma such as abuse can change personality greatly & quickly & make a child distance themselves emotionally from adults. I do not think it's likely, but it's worth mentioning.

And if you are willing to take the time to read a book, this is an excellent one for helping you develop strategies to getting back on track with connecting with him & getting a better response out of him on the things you request he do. http://www.drdansiegel.com/books/the_whole_brain_child/


It's hard to give good advice without some detail as to what exactly he does that makes you upset, but I'll take a stab at it:

Don't get upset.

I know that's sometimes more easily said than done (especially if you're already worried/stressed about something else), but right now you are allowing your child a tremendous amount of power over you. Stop.

As you said, "firm but kind" seems like a good place to start, but I'd refine that a bit - you both obviously love your son a lot, so I would start there: "we love you, we want what's best for you, and that will always be true, no matter what you do." However, "actions have consequences (good and bad), and it's important to learn what those are so that you can choose behaviors that will lead to the consequences you want."

Explain the difference between natural consequences and imposed consequences: "if you drop your toy and it breaks, that's a natural consequence. It broke because you dropped it. If you keep being mean to mommy, she won't want to play with you anymore. That's a natural consequence. Before you do something, think about what's going to happen and whether that is what you want. Do you want your toy to break? Do you want mommy to stop playing with you?"

"Imposed consequences are things that we give you in order to help you learn, because while we always love you there are some behaviors that are not acceptable, and you have to learn what are appropriate and inappropriate ways to behave." Then I'd tell him what behaviors are expected, and what the consequences will be if those expectations are violated.

I've found "time out" to be hands down the most effective consequence, especially when emotions are getting out of hand on either side - it gives the kid a chance to calm down, it gives you a chance to calm down, and it sets up a natural space for you to discuss what happened immediately afterward. I usually keep time outs short - 1 minute per year of age of the kid - but, time out can't be over until the kid has calmed down, and at age 5 your son should be amply able to understand that (make it clear beforehand, so if he chooses to act out and extend his time out, it's an informed decision). If he resists time out, remember that you are bigger and stronger than he is, and that you are perfectly able to gently and kindly pick him up and carry him to his room (and hold the door closed, if necessary). It's important to have this reset if the behavior of you both is not conducive to having a conversation.

When time out is over, do not skip the talk. It is important for your son to recognize and say what exactly happened, and what the problem was with what happened. It is important that he state and apologize for any wrongdoing, and that he promise to try to avoid repeating the wrong behavior. If he's not ready to talk to you at the end of time out, he may need a few more minutes to "think about it."

HOWEVER it is at least equally important that you understand him, and the feelings he was having that led to the behavior, and it is important that he knows you have done this. Make it clear that the post-time out talk is a safe place for him to say anything he feels he needs to say, even if it's mean, as long as it is a true representation of how he is/was feeling. I know from experience that young kids sometimes have a hard time finding words for how they are feeling and why, so it can be helpful to ask questions about it and state your own observations/guesses about what might have been going on for them. Then accept their feelings and express your understanding. If you can identify any wrongdoing on your part acknowledge and apologize for it (this will be a good model for your son). Then - explain that while you understand the feeling, it does not excuse the behavior, and give him an alternative way to deal with it in the future.

Example: "I understand that you were getting frustrated and angry because I was on the phone and not paying attention to you. But it it is still not acceptable to scream and hit me with your toy snake, even when you're feeling frustrated and angry. Next time you start feeling that way, you can say "excuse me, dad" (maybe have him practice) "I'm feeling frustrated because you've been on the phone a long time, and I'm waiting for you to play with me." That way I know how you're feeling. But sometimes it's important for grown ups to talk on the phone, and I might say, "I'm sorry, I know it's been a long call, but I still need to be on the phone a few more minutes." And if that's the answer then you'll have to be ok with that. Just know that I will give you my undivided attention as soon as I am able. Sometimes you have to be patient."

Last bit of advice: stick to your guns. If you decide on a consequence (taking away a privilege, making him clean up his mess, canceling a play date, etc) do not back down. Even if it's something that makes life harder for you (aka the play date was your childcare for the day). You do not want your child to see your word as cheap and weak. Live by it. If certain consequences are difficult to enforce, maybe think twice about choosing them rather than having to take them back later.

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