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Our 5-year-old boy loves to challenge us when we try to discipline him. We would ask him not to do something and he would go right ahead and do it. Eventually it escalates and he starts to scream, hit, and occasionally spit. We would give him a timeout but he would continue to do the same thing and get out of the timeout spot. We eventually resorted to sitting him on top of a chest of drawers so that he has to stay in timeout.

However, these methods don't work in the long run. He continues to misbehave, talk back, hit, etc. When we had a play date with one of this friends, he got mad because the kids couldn't agree to the rules of a soccer game and he threw the soccer ball at him. Another time he actually punched the other kid in the back.

Also, we've resorted to taking things away, such as toys and screen time.

I also want to add that he hates losing...i.e. he loves to win (and hates to lose)...at games, probably between all social interactions...which I think includes when he gets disciplined. A lot of times when he loses it would set off bad behavior.

I'm at my wits' end and want to see if this forum can give some advice.

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    As a simple question (which may be much too broad to answer in a comment), why does he behave this way? It it willfull rebellion? Obliviousness to rules? An overriding urge (e.g. overly energetic)? The inability to understand wrongdoing? ... Solving a problem starts with understanding the root cause, and it appears you've mostly been treating the symptoms rather than the actual cause. – Flater Jul 8 at 13:56
  • Is he clear why he is being punished? Can he explain in his own words the bad behavior? – Ben Jul 8 at 22:06
  • After the tantrum/episode ends he sometimes can recall why. – milesmeow Jul 8 at 22:11
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There’s a lot to be said for avoiding timeouts altogether [1], if you can. But I understand that you’d need other tools to replace them with. I personally got a lot out of the books “How to Talk so Little Kids Will Listen” and “No-Drama Discipline.” There’s a lot of overlap between the two books, though I’d say that the former is a bit more tactically practical and the latter goes into more depth in explaining how and why the techniques work and how to rethink what we’ve been taught that “discipline” means.

In short, some of the ideas I’ve picked up from the two books are to:

  • limit your words: Avoid overloading your kid with too many words. Be succinct about what you need.
  • describe what you see: Describe what you’ve witnessed that is spurring you to discipline your kid.
  • acknowledge emotions: “It sounds like you’re [frustrated, angry, etc.].” “If you have a feeling to hit, here’s a pillow you can hit instead.”
  • include your child in problem solving: After the fact, have a discussion about how you might avoid similar situations in the future.
  • say yes, when you can: “We can [read another book, have ice cream, etc.] tomorrow.”
  • be playful and fantasize about things you can’t say yes to: “If you could eat an entire banana split by yourself, what flavors would you want in it?”
  • reframe requests in the positive: Instead of “Stop running!”, you might say “Walk please.”
  • offer choices: “We can only read one book before bedtime. Would you like to read A or B?”

Here are links to a high-level summary of each of the two books:

[1]: For thoughts and research on the downsides of timeout, I’d recommend reading Alfie Kohn’s book “Unconditional Parenting”, especially Chapter 2 (Giving and Withholding Love).

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