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Jennifer, School Psychologist
Category: Parenting
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Experience:  Collaborative parent consultation on everything from modifying behavior to child development.
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I am at my wits end with my middle child - a 7 year old boy.

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I am at my wits end with my middle child - a 7 year old boy. He refuses to listen, doesn't take any punishment (ie won't go to his room if told to) and is now violent towards me. I am now scared that he is really going to hurt me. This evening he brandished a large wooden statue at me. He has thrown things at my head before so I was very scared. I know I am handling him completely wrong, but how am I supposed to deal with a child who is very destructive at the first sign of a punishment. He seems to get so angry and cant pull himself out of it. I am seriously concerned for my safety and that of the other two when he gets like this.
Thanks for your help
Submitted: 6 years ago.
Category: Parenting
Expert:  Jennifer replied 6 years ago.
Hello and thanks for using!

I'm sorry you're going through this. I know how frustrating it can be to feel like you're at your wits end with your child! The first thing I'd suggest you do is contact the school counselor and/or school psychologist at your son's school. If the school year has not begun already, I imagine it will soon. They will be able to meet with your son regularly for skills training (teaching anger management skills) either individually or in a group with other students who also need help in that area. Those individuals will also be able to refer you to counselors in the community other families from that school have found to be helpful. I'd recommend family counseling (with a counselor, psychologist, or family therapist) to work on the communication in your family, setting boundaries, effective discipline strategies and the overall dynamics of your relationship with your son. It sounds at this point that he's not respecting your authority. His temper is becoming dangerous and you'll need immediate assistance to alleviate the problem. Don't be afraid to ask for support -- This is not an unusual problem and the school personnel will be able to direct you to the resources in the community that will be able to provide you with that support.

Beyond that immediate intervention, I'd suggest you practice a few strategies. The first is a matter of modeling -- It's important he see you handling anger and frustration in a safe and productive way. It's perfectly normal to get angry. Try talking yourself through problems (aloud) so he can see / hear how you handle feeling that way and perhaps learn from your example. Strategies you can show him (directly teaching / practicing together when he's calm and modeling yourself when you have the opportunity to do so) include taking slow, deep breaths, self-talk ("It's O.K... Calm down... I can do this..."), counting slowly to 10, visual imagery (close your eyes and think of a calming scene or memory), and progressive muscle tension / relaxation (squeezing your muscles, one group at a time, then releasing the tension and paying attention to how relaxing that feels).

You could also do some activities together such as reading books about anger written specifically for children (Here's a great list of books for parents as well as books for children:

Create a safe place for him to feel angry and calm down. You could call it his "calm down corner" or whatever he'd like to name it. I do this in classrooms a lot -- It's usually a pillow or bean bag chair, a stuffed animal or two, and whatever that child needs to calm down. This could be a squishy ball to squeeze repeatedly, a list (with pictures) taped on the wall as a reminder of ways to calm down, or some paper and color crayons so he can "draw it out." You can work with him on this by asking what would help him to calm down when he's feeling that way. When he feels he can be calm and safe, he can return to whatever he was doing. It's essentially a safe time out space with a positive twist.

As far as parenting theories, I'm a big fan of Love & Logic. There are a number of parenting videos and articles available free of charge on their website: I know you've tried removing privileges / toys already, but I do think he likely cares more than you think. The key is to be consistent with whatever discipline method you choose, remain calm and neutral when you're explaining consequences (SO hard to do, but much more effective!) and really focus on giving him positive attention (verbal praise, high fives, compliments, pats on the back, small rewards if you're doing a behavior plan) when he's being good. That way he knows he can get just as much attention when he's playing by the rules.

Kids do whatever works for them. Your son is getting something out of this misbehavior and it's up to you (and the professionals you work with) to tease out what that is. Attention? Sensory stimulation? Try to guess what might be motivating his behaviors and see if you can meet that need in a more acceptable way. Be sure to teach him whatever you WANT him to do so he knows what it is you're looking for. A behavior plan could be created to help you get there as well -- one specific goal at a time with small rewards along the way. He'll be more tied into this plan if he helps you create it. Rewards can be things such as choosing what's for dinner, control of the remote for an evening, etc.

I hope I haven't overwhelmed you with ideas and wish you the best of luck!
Customer: replied 6 years ago.
That is a lot to take in but thank you.
I don't really want to get the school involved because I worry that he will be labelled and treated differently. He gets into a bit of bother at school already, although nothing violent. The suggestion of him going to a calm corner is great but he would simply refuse to go. What am I supposed to do in that situation?
Expert:  Jennifer replied 6 years ago.
You could try rewarding him for going to that space when you ask him to. Put up a chart with 3 boxes (start small). Each time you ask him to use that space to calm down and he DOES, he earns a sticker or a smiley face in a box. When he gets to 3, he earns an agreed upon reward. Trip to the dollar store to pick out a prize? Play a favorite game together? Treat of some kind? Talk to him about what he'd want to earn for working so hard at being calm and safe. Keep the goal small at first (as low as it needs to be for him to feel successful at it quickly) then raise the bar. "You're doing such a great job at earning your stickers... I wonder if you can earn FOUR in a row... I know you can!"

Practice having him to his calm corner when he's NOT angry. Throw lots of praise his way when he does so he's familiar with how to do this and gets a ton of attention for the practice. Hopefully this will make it easier for him to follow through when he's feeling agitated. Ask him what he wants in his "calm corner," too -- a special stuffed animal or blanket? Does he want you to play soft music when he goes there? Or leave him alone for a few minutes?

When you see him getting upset -- preferably before he becomes REALLY angry -- validate his feelings and suggest he go to his quiet corner without making it a direction. For example, you might say, "I can see you're feeling frustrated right now... I wonder if you'll earn a sticker by going to your calm down corner to feel better." This way you're teaching him how to use feeling words and encouraging him to take a break without telling him what to do (something he might push back at if he's already feeling agitated). Let me know how that goes... If none of this works, we can brainstorm together some other tactics that might be more effective. Keep in mind that being consistent is really important. Stick with it for a few weeks before deciding it's not working.
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