Toddlers: 24 Months+

No sort of discipline works. I'm lost.

I'm a step mom of a 4 year. I stepped in as his mom when he was 3. His mom hadn't been in his life since he was 3 months. His dad joined the army and then was deployed before he was a year old. He was with his grandparents until his dad got full custody over him which was last year. We brought him to Oklahoma to live as a family. He's a sweet, intelligent kid. He loves building stuff and math. He's extremely affectionate...on his terms. But I ran into a problem that's about make me go over the edge. My mom keeps telling me he's just testing but it's been almost a year and it just keeps getting worse.

The boy has took control of the household. We have to do everything on his terms. He talks back to everything we tell him. Will argue with you until you stop talking. There's no telling him something he doesn't want to do. I've tried every sort of discipline. I've tried time-outs. He sets in his room and screams until you let him out (and he can scream for a long time, we go through it during nap time). I've tried taking toys and TV privileges from him. He throws even worse tantrums that have been violent. I've tried spanking. He think its a game. I've tried the reward system. Now he thinks we owe him those things. Like when he wakes up from a nap. He'll come in the living room and say "Ummm I get my candy now" or when we're in a store "If I'm good, I get a toy. Deal?" Nothing seems to get to him. I can scream. He screams back. I can talk to him. He doesn't listen. I've tried sitting him down in his bedroom and talking to him at his level. He wont even look at me. He looks everywhere else. Or I'll have him repeat what I tell him, like "no more hitting the dog" he'll respond "I forgot" then smile. We don't want to give in to him when he acts this way but fighting everyday day with him is getting tiring. We can't even walk out the door before him. If we do he gets mad and won't leave the porch cause he "doesn't want to lose". It makes going out as a family very difficult cause we don't know when one of his meltdowns will happen. 

I'm 24 years old, and I don't have any kids of my own. I do have a lot of nieces and nephews and I've never seen them act the way my son does. It's getting to a point where I want to just give up. I'm afraid it's going to start affecting my marriage. We've discussed having another one. Our family and our son wants us to. My son asks me everyday if he's getting a baby yet. But it's getting to a point that I don't think I want another one since I can't handle the one I have.

Re: No sort of discipline works. I'm lost.

  • Take a deep breath!  I know kids with behavioral problems can be difficult, and it seems like he knows how to press your buttons.  If you feel like nothing is working, I suggest talking to your pediatrician and see if he can recommend a behaviorist that may be able to observe and give you some guidance. I work in a school and I know even schools will sometimes have a behaviorist available to help. Good luck!
  • I will come back and write more when/if I get the chance, but given all that he's been through, I'd suggest taking a few days to read over and digest much of what is posted at, and see if anything there about connecting with him will help.  It won't help in the next day or the next week, but maybe - if you're consistent - it will make some really good changes in the next few monhts.
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  • fredalina said:
     Give up discipline for a while. If he isn't going to seriously hurt himself (a scratch or bruise is ok) or someone else or important property, say YES. No can wait. If you absolutely don't want to set a precedent but again it isn't hurtful or destructive, find a way to say yes, like doing it outside or doing it tomorrow. I'd say give it this summer. Make it the summer of fun. No punishment. Discipline only by natural consequences (he wants to stack bricks, he does and pinches a finger. And lives.). Read a book about Positive Discipline and go from there.
    this was what i was going to suggest.  one of the most powerful things i learned from my master teacher while i was getting my teaching credential was to use natural consequences in the classroom, and i found that i could handle even the most difficult of children this way.  not saying that this is the same thing as what you're going through, but i do think it's worth a try.  good luck!
    oh, and i'd be sure that you don't blur the line between friend and parent, b/c then i could see this backfiring.
  • LC122LC122 member
    I agree with the suggestion to look into seeing a behaviorist.
    I also agree and recommend the Positive Discipline series of books - they have age-appropriate ones (0 to 3, teens, A to Z of major topics, etc).
    I will say the following with the disclaimer that I don't have experience with what some people call "spirited children" and it has come to my attention that kids who I previously thought just weren't being parented correctly or adequately may in fact be "spirited" and therefore more challenging. You may need to seek out books on parenting such children.
    A few quick tips:
    Like PP said, keep it positive. Try rewarding the good without punishing the bad.
    Try redirection.
    Praise the good - try to catch him doing something good, even if that is just playing quietly or calmly.
    Look for teachable moments - kids like to learn new things. Bonus points if that new thing is a good manner or anything that can later be praised.
    Give choices - choices are empowering to kids. Just make sure that the choices given are mutually acceptable. (Do you want milk in the blue cup or green cup? As opposed to, do you want milk or soda?)
    No idle threats. Say what you mean and mean what you say. If you aren't getting a response for a choice, you can say "If you don't choose in 5 seconds, I'll choose for you" Then you must make the choice if none is made. Don't re-enter the negotiation and wait another 5 minutes for him to choose.
    Give notice. Kids will often resist sudden change. If you give notice - of your day, of bedtime routine, of your plan to leave the playground soon - kids will accept it more easily. "We're going to leave in 5 minutes. You may play for 5 more minutes" will go over better than a sudden "Time to go".

    Generally, I recommend reading some parenting books. I'm kind of a parenting book junkie. Have a discerning mind. I don't always agree with all of them and some have better advice than others, but it's nice to have tools to work with and examples of techniques and to know you're not the first or only one to go through this.
    Good Luck, OP.
  • @fredalina gave some great advice.  I'll also tell you that, as a parent of a 4 year old boy, some of what you describe is fairly typical of a 4 year old and then he ramps it up a little but, no disrespect, you didn't have a  chance to learn him for 4 years, do you know what I mean?  You're trying to parent a child who you didn't get to try to mold a little when he was younger so everything seems like a challenge. 

    I think fredalina said something you really need to take to heart - if what he wants isn't actually harmful, considering saying yes.  He wants to be first out the door because he wants to win?  No big deal and if you forget?  Play it up and play into his feelings "Oops!  I forgot!  How about we race to the car?  Ready set go!"  My son is ALL about racing and "winning."  Also, make sure you're "catching him being good."  It's so easy to let the best day go by with only a sigh of relief on your end but if he's listening and being good, tell him that.  Tell him how proud you are of him for doing xyz.  Kids want attention and if they get more of it when they're misbehaving, that's what they're going to do when they're seeking out that attention.
    Formerly known as elmoali :)

  • fredalina said:
    [quote]oh, and i'd be sure that you don't blur the line between friend and parent, b/c then i could see this backfiring.[/quote] Not even sure what this means in this context. A mother is someone who loves you no matter what you do, just for being who you are. A mother sees your faults but also sees your positives, and chooses to love you. Actively. Unconditionally. Sounds like a damn good friend to me! A stepmom gets to choose to be the best of both or the worst of both. Hopefully OP will choose the best. 

    ugh can't get out of the quote box.  yes, a mother definitely does all those things, and i'm certainly not saying that mother and friend are mutually exclusive, but that there is a parenting aspect (obviously!) to being a mother.  i was trying to agree with you - though not very gracefully, lol.
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  • fredalina said:
    [quote]oh, and i'd be sure that you don't blur the line between friend and parent, b/c then i could see this backfiring.[/quote] Not even sure what this means in this context. A mother is someone who loves you no matter what you do, just for being who you are. A mother sees your faults but also sees your positives, and chooses to love you. Actively. Unconditionally. Sounds like a damn good friend to me! A stepmom gets to choose to be the best of both or the worst of both. Hopefully OP will choose the best. We have here a kid who, again from HIS perspective and I write this without meaning any judgment, has been discarded twice. He has been hurt by that, without a doubt. He realizes he lacks control of his own life in ways most kids can't imagine. Not only does he not get to control the every day, he doesn't even know where he's going to live or who his parents are going to be. That is very scary for anyone, especially a child. And he has probably internalized this and is now pushing, pushing to do the only thing he knows, which is to be abandoned (from his perspective) again and have people leave him. It's his normal and he's trying to recreate it. I was a foster mom and one thing they stressed during all our trainings is that kids will try to recreate their own normals. If they came from an abusive home, they will try to recreate that by pushing your buttons until you abuse them. Isn't that so sad? And counterintuitive, but true. So this boy is going to push, push, push. If stepmom and dad are also constantly pushing at him, guess what's going to happen? He's just going to get further away, and smom and dad are going to have even less influence over him. That's why they have to get close to him before they do any more pushing. Get close physically with the skin to skin contact, massages, swimming, cuddling. Get close emotionally by letting him feel he has some control over his own domain. He wants to ________ and it isn't dangerous? YES. Now he has some control. And now he feels close to his parents. And NOW they have some influence, which time outs, taking away toys, and hitting him didn't have. A child psychologist definitely couldn't hurt. But a radical shift in how the OP thinks of this little person in her life won't hurt either. Understanding what the child is FEELING and you understand why he is doing the behavior. Eliminate the feeling and you eliminate the behavior far more effectively than by nagging or hitting.
    I agree with a lot of this.  When OP was discussing how he saw spanking as a game, it kind of came across to me that he is trying to pretend it doesn't hurt, possibly like how he is acting like discipline doesn't affect him.  He sounds like he has a lot of defense mechanisms going, and I agree with the idea of a behavioral therapist.


  • Thank you all for the responses. Y'all have given me a lot to think about.
    [Deleted User]
  • You've already got some great responses, but I would just add to be consistent. If you say no, mean it. If you say there's going to be a consequence, follow through with it. Hang in there!!!
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