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Looking For Solutions With Our Angry 3 Year Old

by Anonymous

I have a 3 year old son who can be sensitive, sweet, funny and caring. However, he does have an anger management problem. He has hit, bit and kicked other students as well as teachers.

He will also throw things when he is angry and is asked to do something he doesn't want to. As parents we find this behavior unacceptable and do not feel it should be tolerated by anyone, especially teachers. We have removed him from one daycare and he has recently started a new school and of course his behavior has joined him.

We have spoken with the behavior specialist at our pediatrician and have tried the "traditional" tips. The pediatrician said he was too young to be diagnosed with many of the conditions associated with this behavior but did not think he had ODD or ADHD. He has no developmental or learning challenges.

We have tried reward charts, positive feedback, negative consequences for negative behavior (no toy story, restricted toys...)and we have also used spanking. We are at a lost and are looking for solutions to correct this behavior. We do not have a violent home.

Our son gets lots of attention, love and positive feedback. We also have structure including set bath time, bedtime. He is required to put away toys and clean up behind himself.

We are looking for solutions to address his behavior now.

Response from Dr. DeFoore

Hello, and thanks for telling your story here. It is clear that you love your son, and that you have tried very hard correct his behavior. I will see if I can offer some helpful input. Having limited information, I have no way of knowing whether my perception is entirely accurate, but I will share my thoughts based on what you've written here.

I encourage you to consider that there's nothing wrong with your son. I know that's a stretch, but here's why I say that:

All emotions occur for good reasons, including anger. Those reasons are difficult to discern, especially for a child as young as your son. What I'm suggesting is that you try your best to figure out what he's saying with his anger. Start with the assumption that he has needs that are not being met.

Some emotional needs are very subtle, and even good parents such as you may not be aware of all of them. You can learn about these basic emotional needs here. I strongly encourage you to seek family counseling, which would ideally include play therapy for your son. Children communicate through play much more effectively than through words.

I also suggest that you and your husband (separately) get on the floor or on the ground outside and play with your son. Move into his world with him, suspend all control and discipline, and let him guide the play. This can be a great way to connect with him, and he may be able to send you some messages this way that otherwise would not come through.

You mentioned that your son is required to put away toys and clean up behind himself. At the age of three years, I encourage you to be more relaxed about this. Move patiently and gradually in the direction you want. Make the putting away of toys and cleaning up into a game in which you participate. Be playful and have fun with him, with lots of excited, enthusiastic praise when he participates.

I know this is hard. I get the intuitive sense that things need to be more relaxed and easy with your son, with more acceptance and approval for him as he is. He needs to get the clear message from both his parents that he is good and lovable, just like he is.

I hope this helps, and I wish you all the best in your efforts to help your son with his anger.

Dr. DeFoore

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