Boy's Aggressive Behavior Toward Parents

Addressing a Young Boy's Aggressive Behavior Toward Parents

Dear Ms. Ramirez,

I am writing to ask about what seems to be a pattern of aggressive behavior from my five year old son, directed at both me and my husband. Our family consists of X. (age 5), Y(age 16.5 months), my husband, and me. Aggressive behavior seems to occur only at home. X. is in kindergarten and more than once, his teacher has written home to tell us how polite he is and what a good role model he is for his classmates. By and large, at home he is also a pleasure. He is eager to please, fun, funny, bright, and quite often, cooperative and helpful.

It seems to us that aggressive behavior occurs when X. feels rushed and frustrated by not getting the attention he sees his younger brother getting. We practice attachment parenting, and we co-sleep. The metaphor you used in your parenting book re: lying behavior and heart strings has captured X.'s imagination with regard to aggressive behavior. This has been a really helpful way of talking about the damage that hurtful behaviors can cause. Thank you!

Last night, an incident of aggressive behavior (both by X. and against him) occurred that everyone in the family found profoundly upsetting and unsettling. I was getting Y. ready for bed. Both my husband and I asked X. to change into pj's, and brought him his pj's.

He played and played, but did not change. I asked him again, and my husband, who was stressed, tired, at well beyond his his limit in terms of irritation, became angry, and forcefully removed X. from the room with the pj's.

X. then became angry, and threw a toy at my husband, who in turn became really really angry, picked up X. with a great deal of force, and threw him onto a bed in another room. NOT a moment any of us wants to see repeated.
All of us feel sick and ashamed about it. I am very clear that the incident violated a core value of mine: creating a nonviolent household.

My husband then went to walk our dog (took a much needed time out for himself), while I talked with X. about what had happened, and explained that Daddy lost his temper.

X. stated that "Daddy cut all of the strings to my heart and they'll never be fixed." We left a note on the door to the house saying that we want to make things better, and that we are upstairs.

My husband was able to return and talk things through with X., acknowledge that HE had behaved in a way that he wasn't proud of, and we were able to repair some of the damage.

After the kids were asleep, my husband and I talked. I stated that I believe that violence teaches violence. He stated that he believes that violence in response to violence can suppress violence.

I was saddened as we articulated the differences in our values and beliefs. My husband would like X. to learn enough respect (and he is comfortable equating fear with respect; I am not) so that the idea of hitting or throwing anything at either of us would be unthinkable to X.

I want X. to learn that hitting and throwing things damage relationships (and property in some cases), and that in our family, we handle emotions in ways that do not hurt people or things. I'm clear on what I want, but unclear on how to go about getting it, especially given the divergence in values between me and my husband.

I've noticed that X. similarly throws things or lashes out at me when feeling rushed. I have not lost my temper, but I fear that I am not responding effectively to the behavior, because it continues. Time-outs have been 100% ineffective -- they create distance and fuel anger, in my experience.

I welcome your thoughts and insights about this.

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Oct 09, 2009
Aggressive Child and Discipline
by: Laura Ramirez

Your child gets so immersed in what he's doing that he has difficulty transitioning when the outside world requires that he make a shift. He is hypersensitive to these shifts and so it's important that you learn how to work with him, so he can start making transitions without acting out.

What you describe is actually an autism of sorts, but must be dealt with because we all must learn how to respond to the outside world and its demands even though we'd much prefer to stay engaged in what we're doing. Since this is process and not something I can describe easily in a short post, you may want to take a look at my parenting coaching program.

I understand the process from the inside out because my youngest son once had the same difficulties that your five-year old is having.

Although your husband reacted to your five-year old out of fatigue and frustration, his actions revealed an important difference in your philosophies about raising children. I support your point of view (and recommend that your husband read my parenting book if he has not, particularly the sections on respect and responsive parenting). This divide between moms and dads is fairly common: men tend to believe that it's okay to be respected out of fear, while women tend to believe that respect should be earned through love and caring.

I think this gives us a great opportunity to discuss what happens in a household when parents have different ideas about discipline and how to come together to resolve these differences so that we can present a united front to our children.

Although I have my own ideas about how such conflicts can be resolved, I'd like to open this up to comments from other readers to start a dialogue about this very important issue.

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