My 5-year-old sons' behaviour has deteriorated over the last 9 months but mostly in the last 4 months has it been more noticeable.

He will hit and lash out at both myself and my partner's children for no obvious reason. When he does this he is sent to his bed and has to sit there for 5 minutes. Each time he hits (within that day) he is sent to his room and an extra minute is added to the time. I've also punished him by taking away items he likes to play with, trips out having been taken away.

Example of what tends to happen.

  • My son and the 2 yr old were playing in the garden. The 8 yr old went out and interrupted the game. The 8 yr old was trying to annoy both the other children so I went downstairs to diffuse the situation and make sure the 8 yr old didn't continue to annoy the other children. In the time it took me to get downstairs my son had scratched and hit the 8 yr old.

  • I was taking my son upstairs (different incident from the one above) as he had been told to get changed for bed an refused. While carrying him through the living room, he slapped the 2 yr old in the face. The 2 yr old had been sitting watching TV for 10 minutes and had not been involved in anyway with what was happening. He had just been within reach at the time.

  • General shouting and screaming, lots of "I hate you's" to who ever is close by.

Some back ground information.

  • His mum and me don't live together and he sees her 2 days a week. This has been the case since he was 18 months old.

  • We have moved in with my partner in February of this year

  • There are 5 children including my son in the house, age of the children in the house are (2(m), 5(m), 6(f), 8(m) and 10(f))

I'm pretty sure he struggling as he has less 1 on 1 time with me, at the time we moved I was dealing with some other issues that prevented this. That said it isn't that I don't have the time to spend with him, I just don't want to start to give the idea that unwanted behaviour gets extra time with me.


  • How do I stop my 5-year-old hitting myself and my partners children?

  • How to reward good behaviour and discourage bad behaviour in 1 child while not appearing to show favouritism or rewarding that child in the eyes of both older and younger step-siblings.

  • 1
    You may also want to discuss this with your family doctor, if only to rule out medical causes. If there is a biological root to the behaviour, then all of the praise, punishment, and redirection in the world will be a waste of your and his time. If there is no underlying biological cause, then you can rest easy knowing that behavioral interventions consistently applied will eventually work.
    – pojo-guy
    Commented Jul 4, 2018 at 13:34
  • I have 6 yr old twins, and one can get physical. If he's mad at me or his dad, he'll often smack his brother instead who had nothing to do with it.
    – mkennedy
    Commented Jul 9, 2018 at 0:09
  • @mkennedy: I hope you didn't let him get away with it.
    – user21820
    Commented Feb 18, 2022 at 13:08
  • @user21820 No, of course not. He's grown out of it, thankfully.
    – mkennedy
    Commented Feb 18, 2022 at 15:47
  • @mkennedy: If you don't mind me asking, how exactly did you intervene, and does he understand and acknowledge your intervention as correct? Thanks for your thoughts!
    – user21820
    Commented Feb 18, 2022 at 15:53

1 Answer 1


In children this age, I've found that hitting usually is a sign that they don't know how to handle a situation, and hitting is their attempt to solve it and/or express frustration.

Imagine this scenario. 5 year old is playing nicely with 2 year old in the garden. 8 year old comes in and disrupts the nice game. 5 year old tries to think of his options for how to handle the situation.

  1. Accept the intrusion and work with it
  2. Ask the 8 year old to leave them alone
  3. Go somewhere else, leaving the fun game they were playing
  4. Hit the 8 year old and either drive him away, or at least express frustration.

Number 1 is probably pretty hard for the child to do at 5. #2 might work, but odds are if the 8 year old is coming over there intent to disrupt, it's not going to work, right? #3 seems like a poor choice, after all he's having fun, why should he have to leave? So #4 it is - hitting.

This kind of thing works both ways - when he's mad that you're making him go to bed, or really mad at anything he can't control, hitting or screaming is often the only options he sees available to himself to express that frustration.

The way to deal with it is to teach him how to handle these situations in the moment. Give him the tools to handle difficult issues, and even play-act the situations.

Here's one example of a method of handling conflict; there are many different approaches, and I don't particularly endorse one over the other - just search the web for 'conflict management children'. But the key here is to find a method that you can teach him to proactively use. Make sure he actually sees the 1,2,3 options above. Add some other options, like 'find a parent', or 'ask the 2 year old to go away with you', or some better ways to ask the older child to leave them alone.

Also coach him on anger management. Make sure he understands that anger is a fact, not a choice; your emotions are there no matter what you'd prefer. You need to process those emotions and handle them in a positive way, rather than a negative way. Again, there are many sources on the internet for anger management skills - here is one that makes sense to me, and is roughly what we practice at home.

Finally - understand that you won't be able to make this go away in a minute, but you can help him develop skills he'll need for the future here. He's probably going to hit sometimes. Don't overreact. Don't just throw a punishment at him. Instead, get him to cool off (your 5 minutes seems reasonable to me) and then talk to him about the situation, about what he could have done differently.

Also understand that he's in a very difficult situation - in a house with 5 kids all near him in age (that's going to be difficult no matter what!) and 2 parents both of which are undoubtedly busy. All five kids are learning their role in the social hierarchy, and so it's stressful for everyone. This will get better, but it will take time, and it's not at all surprising that he's stressed out and reacting poorly. Be loving, understand that he's got to learn how to handle these things, and help him get there.

  • 1
    "... here is one that makes sense to me..." Nice link! Commented Jul 25, 2018 at 4:20

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