Parenting K-6 Kids/Difficult 4 year old

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Question
Dear Ms Truex,
I am writing as my husband and I are at our wits end wondering what to do with our 4 year old son.  We are loving parents of 2 wonderful children (4 and 17 months).  Our children are on completely opposite ends of the spectrum.  As our son (4) is energetic, wild and I will say a bit crazy and our daughter is calm, and easy going.  Together at home the two are great together.  Our son has always had a tough time listening, however just thought it was typical 4 year old boy behaviour.  Recently we have had a lot of changes in our household.  Moved provinces (we live in Canada), then are now waiting for our house to be built and in the meantime living with my inlaws.  For the last few months his behaviour has gotten worse, and we have just been informed that at daycare he is impossible.  He kicks, and bites, and hits and swears.  At home, other than the poor listening he does not do any of these behaviours.  It is difficult to discipline him on these issues when we don't see any of it.  I have asked if he likes school, and most of the time he says yes.  The daycare is investigating programs to try with him, but if it doesn't work they will be asking us to leave.  At home we have tried everything, taking things away, time out and unfortunately spanking.  We just don't know where to go from here.  Do you have any suggestions or even what type of help we should be seeking?  Thank you

Answer
Hi Chelsey,
Four year olds tend to be bossy and impulsive. Add on top of that a move, a new sibling and being unsettled, it's not surprising he's acting out. Children who feel their lives are in chaos can't express their feelings or regulate their behavior. Structure, routine and firm limits are the key. You're right in that while you want to support his child care, punishing him at home for stuff he did at school is not effective.

My suggestion is to put him on a behavior chart at home and at school. Let him be a part of developing the rewards. For example, for each hour of the day (or 2 hours...however the day is structured) he gets a star or smiley face when he's done well and a check or minus when he hasn't. A behavior chart provides regular cues as to how he's doing plus reminders to try and behave. If he has 3 out of 5 good marks, he can get a little treat like a sticker. If he has 3 out of 5 good days, he gets a little larger treat. Again, let him help pick these rewards so he'll be invested in the program. As his behavior improves, you can increase the number of successes (i.e. 4 out of 5 good marks).

You do need to get control of the biting and you might want to consider some short term counseling to help with the extreme behavior at school. A counselor can help him with expressing his feelings, dealing with anger etc. But the whole family should be involved, but in most cases, kids' behavior is influenced by what's going on around them. A counselor will be able help you set firm limits, deal with child care and help your son learned to manage his feelings.

Leslie Truex, MSW

Parenting K-6 Kids

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Leslie Truex

Expertise

I am a parent of two, but also I'm a social worker with over 15 year experience working with children and families. I can provide many tips and techniques to help with child behavior, interventions for specific behavioral issues, ideas to help children through difficult times such as divorce or grief, hints on keeping the family running smoothly, and tips for developing confident, happy children.

Experience

I have a master's in social work and over 15 years experience working with children and families. I have worked in schools, public health, mental health and adoption agencies providing parent education courses and children's groups.

Education/Credentials
BA in Psychology and MSW.

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