I have a 5-year-old boy who is beyond bad. We have tried everything from talking to spanking to taking stuff away to rewarding the good and are at our wits' end.

He is abusive to animals, at least 4 times in 6 months. He has chased a dog with a metal bat and hit the dog in the mouth, tried to put an 8-10 week old puppy in a cooler full of water, kicked another dog several times, and tried to pull a small dog apart by her legs.

You can tell him to do or not do something and he will do the exact opposite and look at you the whole time. When getting in trouble he will not look you in the face. His answer for why he did something is "I don't know", "I don't have an answer" or to have a complete melt down.

He has been in school for 9 days and has had a bad report 5 of those days in a row. Everything from hitting classmates and being disruptive to running around and yelling. Today was the regular report with a separate note stating he colored all over the table and didn't take responsibility even after being caught in the act.

I have 3 older kids (20, 18, 16) with only the 16-year-old at home.

He is in our care after his bio mom walked out almost 2 years ago. He had an old school 40 inch TV fall onto him in December 2012 causing temple fractures on both sides, both eye sockets to fracture, and a fracture behind his ear. We have an appointment on Friday with his pediatricians to get some help or maybe a referral to a neurologist to see if there is brain damage from the TV.

Any help/info/suggestions would be awesome.

8 Answers 8


Things you can do right now:

  • get the dogs away from him. Don't tell him you're doing so, don't tell him it's because of how he treated them, but no more access to the dogs
  • stop hitting him. Start to learn how to get through in other ways (it will take a while to learn this and it's hard.)
  • tell the school you want an IEP - Individualized Education Plan - and get that rolling now. This may include adaptations like sitting apart in the classroom, not being asked to do certain things, having an aide present, and the like
  • consider being in the classroom for a day or two to see how he reacts to the teacher, the environment, and the other students so you can provide guidance to the school on minimizing things that upset him (see * below)
  • continue to explore professional help from both the physiological (brain injury) and emotional/psychological (abandonment) fronts

[* Simple example: a Grade 3 (9 yo) student with major anger problems related to having the right stuff in the classroom eg pencils and being disciplined (sent out of the classroom) for being unprepared. A $2 box of 100 golf pencils, and 3 or 4 pencils in each pocket, more in the backpack, more in the locker, a dozen in the desk, and the box by the front door --> no more pencil frustration. Adults can think of simple things that make a world of difference, once they see the situation. That child grew out of the anger problems over a year or two and reducing the number of battles was a big reason why.]

Do not hold him to arbitrary communication standards like "look at me when I'm telling you off!" or "tell me why you did that awful thing!". You are unlikely to succeed, and even if you did, it wouldn't keep him from doing the awful things and won't really make you feel better either. Focus on telling him consequences: that hurts the puppy; now the school staff have to clean this desk; that scared Suzy - and where feasible involve him in the consequences (clean something at school or home; apologize to the other child) but not as "I want you to feel bad about what you did" and more as "I want you to learn what this experience is" since he seems to be disconnected from that part of reality.

You want his absolute bedrock to be that he can count on you. Not to forgive him no matter what he does, but to love him, to try to understand him, to help him, and to protect him. To teach him things that "everybody should know" but that he clearly doesn't. To show him better ways to express his anger and frustration, and to help reduce them too. This is a long road. It's probably not what you expected. But you can help. Get plenty of trained professionals to join you - they will, and it can help.


Apart from getting professional help, I would stop spanking him. Violence begets violence. He has probably suffered enough abuse in his life already, and needs love and understanding from you, even though it may seem impossible.

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    I can only agree with this. I truely have every sympathy- it sounds very difficult. But spanking doesn't sound like it is going to solve the root problem.
    – Urbycoz
    Commented Aug 23, 2013 at 9:26

Wow, this sounds like too much. The TV incident is worrying, could it have caused this?!

Anyway, to me it sounds like you need professional help - hopefully there's some way that you can access that? It sounds like it's beyond a normal discipline issue. Tread carefully - I wish you luck.


I hope you came here looking for confirmation that you need professional help because that's what it sounds like to me.

There are plenty of behavioral tests that can be administered to narrow things down. I've had them for a couple of my kids and the results varied. One kid they said to monitor, another they said "no he's fine", so assessments like that aren't necessarily a f. Also, as no kind of medical professional... http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychopathy


What will you do when professionals diagnose him with brain trauma?

  • Would you start caring more?
  • Would you be more understanding towards him?
  • Would you allow him to behave like he is doing now?
  • Pay special attention to what he should be doing during the day?

The logical side of the brain doesn't understand emotion. A dog suffering from pain when he pulls its legs apart isn't something the left side of the brain is concerned with. Everybody is left <-> right unbalanced. Some more than others. In combination with some traumas this might result in such behavior.

For sure the boy is unbalanced. Bringing him back to balance is key. Sounds simple enough, but sure might be a challenge. What counters its behavior could be the remedy.

Do lots of things that involve activity for the right hemisphere of the brain. Music, sports, fun fairs, etc, ... So lots of quality time. Make him feel he is important to you. That will evolve to a feeling of being important to the world around him. Do all sort of things that involve emotion. Stimulate the development of his emotions. Do not ask why he did something when he did something that can not be tolerated. Answering such questions requires processing power of the left side of the brain. Show him how sad it makes you instead, but don't judge him. Never judge him, how it hard that might seem. Always love him.

Maybe you come to realize that you must develop your own emotional side more before you can (effectively) stimulate his... Example: If you THINK that you have developed your emotional side 'enough' already (with lots of reasons/arguments like, I am a grown up, etc.etc...) then you emotional side requires more attention. If you FEEL you already have, then use it on the boy.

And never talk about his bad behavior in while the boy is present as well. Do not think he can't hear you or he doesn't understand.

And force him (yes you read it well, FORCE) to communicate with emotion. When he is angry and wants you to do something, don't, although what he is asking you to do is reasonable, don't do it until his attitude/emotion is the way it should be. Do not let him hide behind words, saying he does/will do/didn't do something, while his body language and all says otherwise, isn't good enough (honest if you will). But always allow him to correct his mistakes, always make him feel that he is important to you.


First, you have my complete sympathy, sounds like a very difficult situation you are in. I am sorry.

I would probably stop using spanking, since this is how he is acting out.

I would remove pets from the home, for now.

Find other people who will support you. People who will listen to your issues regarding the child.

Pray for wisdom.

Try altering his diet.

Inquire about mood stabilizing/altering drugs that may help the boy find some measure of peace and calm. Try them in small doses and then increase until you find the correct dosage.

Finally, keep fighting the good fight. The boy needs you and your calming, loving influence in his live.

You are in my prayers.


I know this is an old post, but I came across it while searching for answers on how to address my own son's misbehavior, and thought I'd come back to add what I've learned that hasn't already been mentioned for others like me searching for answers.

The reason your son says he doesn't know why he's hurting the dogs could be because he genuinely doesn't know that he is hurting them, or why he is hurting them. He could still be learning cause and effects at the age of 5, so it is good to teach him why. "When you __________, _________ happens...." or "I don't like it when you _______, because_______."

Another thing I picked up on is that the boy may be disobedient is because he hasn't learned how to express his emotions. Children at 5 years or less are may not know how to express anger, frustration, hunger, tiredness, overwhelming, boredom, etc. Or worse, if the child has been physically abused by an angry adult, spanking could be learned as acceptance to hit someone when they are angry, especially if the child doesn't understand why they are being spanked.

I used to ask my own son why he was hitting, and he also told me "I don't know" with a confused look on his face. What he did understand was "hitting hurts". I asked him if he wanted to hurt me or the dog, and he shook his head no saying, then said he was sorry with tear filled eyes after I told him he did hurt me or the dog. I asked him how he felt before he hit so that he can learn words for those feelings, and helped him decide what he will do instead when he feels that way again, such as going to a quite place, hitting a pillow or physical activity, or talk about what is upsetting him, etc. Now when my son is angry, he will shout "I'm mad at you!" and walk away for a time out to feel and think until he is ready to talk more about it, or he starts playing when he's over what he can't change. We are still working on not needing to shout when someone can hear his normal tone, but it is a work in progress.

Another possibility is that your 5 year old could be disobeying TO GET a reaction out of you. Whether it is for attention, or to get a reaction, they are learning how to manipulate the situation through the cause and effect I mentioned earlier. The best defense for this is to try to prevent situations where the behavior tends to occur, such as keeping him separate from animals and small children. Then try to not over react to his behavior, because you could be positively reinforcing the behavior by your actions, therefore increasing it. Sometimes to stop bad behavior, you have to ignore it or keep a poker face when you can't. I've walked away while my son throws newly folded towels on the floor, because when I told him not to, he would continue to do it while smiling at me. Now if he doesn't stop, I'll take away his favorite toy, and he doesn't get it back until he folds all of the unfolded laundry, and puts it away no matter how messy it is in the end.

The good news is that it is normal for children to go through a stage of defiance around the age of 5 when they are testing their new found independence against our authority. The defiance will subdue if they feel secure in knowing that we care, we listen, we understand, and we are predictable with expectations and consequences. All children are different, but what is the most effective consequence for my son's bad behavior is taking something valuable from him, like his favorite toy, and return it after he exceeds my expectations. It started with good behavior for 1 day, then expanded to a reward for 1 week of good behavior, or good behavior and doing homework and chores. I was told by an expert that we don't want to reward them for what is expected, otherwise they will expect rewards for minimal effort, but we can reward them for their effort to exceed our expectations.

I hope this helps.


Sounds like he had a tough life so far... I feel sorry for him. For sure he's not being malicious because he wants to, I hope that thought helps you cope with his behavior a little.

The other answers already said a lot but I wanted to bring up nutrition as well. Bad nutrition early in life can lead to a host of problems, and there are many anecdotal examples from schools and prisons that diet has an impact on behavior.

You can read a really dramatic example on the Paleo Parents Blog:

Cole, the oldest at 5 years, had always had behavioral, self-control issues that led to him nearly being expelled from preschool for repeated incidents of hurting children. Always a wonderfully nice boy with never any malice intent, his brain and body just weren’t connecting for him to be able to find self control. Hugs became tackles and playful games of superheroes on the playground led to choke holds in the mulch. The dietary changes put him in control of his body immediately. He became a renewed person, the one we knew was there all along, almost overnight. By the end of kindergarten he was praised as being not only the best behaved child in class but the “healthiest eater” as well. The facts that his asthma disappeared and his weight is no longer “off the chart” were cherries on the Paleo sundae.

Things that can lead to problems are:

  • Sugar, including fruit juices. In my opinion kids should not get anything sweetened on a daily basis. Fresh whole fruit is ok.
  • Vegetable fats, including margarine and cooking oils. Any oil that has more than 4% total Omega-6 and/or Omega-3 should be used sparingly, quickly and unheated. Good fats are butter, tallow, coconut oil, lard, olive oil (use after cooking) etc. They can handle heat well and provide fat-soluble nutrients.
  • Grains and legumes, especially wheat. Consumption of these can lead to malnutrition in a number of ways, as well as some intestinal damage and immune reactions. Some people are more sensitive to this than others, but rest assured that daily wheat consumption is not a good idea for anybody.

So striving to limit the above while providing nourishing foods (like egg yolk, meats including organ meats, varied vegetables and root vegetables like carrots and potatoes) might help or at the very least it won't hurt. Personally I follow the Perfect Health Diet with great results on health and weight but do shop around, learning about how the SAD (Standard American Diet) is not doing anyone any favors.

On top of that, there are a number of neurological conditions including epilepsy and schizophrenia where at least some patients report improvements when following a ketogenic diet. Here's an extreme example of improvements on a ketogenic diet.

So in conclusion, I wish you all the best in coping with this and I hope that you find something that helps. Diet alone probably won't be enough but chances are good that it will help.

  • Great addition I want to say. What fuels your vehicle (food for you body) needs to be of quality for sure! Commented Sep 4, 2013 at 8:36
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    w00t, do you have any references to actual peer-reviewed science about your diet working on kids, or is it all just "anecdotal evidence" as you say? Commented Nov 7, 2013 at 5:29
  • @jpatokal For example bjp.rcpsych.org/content/181/1/22.full reports positive results on nutrient supplementation
    – w00t
    Commented Nov 8, 2013 at 12:27
  • 2
    What? Those are both studies about the positive effects of giving violent adult prisoners omega-3 fatty acid supplements, while you're claiming that omega-3 is bad for kids! Commented Nov 8, 2013 at 22:55
  • 1
    So w00t, do you have any references to actual peer-reviewed science about your diet working on kids? Commented Nov 14, 2013 at 10:42

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