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Parenting K-6 Kids/5 1/2 year old behavior issue


Hi! I have two boys, 3 & 5. I don't have any issues with the youngest, and what I'd consider to be normal issues with my oldest. For the most part, he's a very healthy and happy 5 1/2 year old. However, lately he's been "tattling" on himself - I believe for attention?? I can't find any info on what must be a "phase."
He will come home from preschool and deliberately tell me right away something "naughty" that he did. Almost like he can't wait to tell me! He does it at home, too. He'll say... "Mom, I just kicked the dog." If I ignore it he keeps asking so that he knows I heard him. Since I feel he must be testing me, I always impose a punishment after he confesses to whatever it was that he did. Field example: He knows that we have no tolerance for spitting yet he came home from school today and immediately told me that he spit at school. He told me Monday he spit as well. I don't know why this behavior is occurring and what to do about it. Punishing him doesn't seem to be working. It only happens every few days but I want to nip it in the bud. Any insight and/or advice would be much appreciated. Thank you in advance for your time.


You may be correct in thinking your son has discovered a way to attract your attention. Other possibilities include a defense mechanism used to insulate himself from punishment for something else he's done he thinks he's likely to be punished for or, finally, behavior fueled by poor self-esteem or depression.

In general, children who are acting "normally," except for engaging in one or a very limited number of non-threatening misbehaviors, can be safely redirected to  abandon the misbehavior.

"Normal" behavior for any age child (or adult, for that matter) can be defined as 1)the consistent performance of age-appropriate tasks (like schoolwork, personal hygiene, chores), 2)rule-following, w/ rare and non-threatening exceptions and 3)getting along w/others. If one or more of these parameters of normal behavior are not being performed consistently, a "disorder" has been defined and professional assistance is advisable.

So, if a child is exhibiting a non-threatening misbehavior, such as you describe, within the context of otherwise normal performance, an attempt to redirect the misbehavior would be safe and justifiable.

Here's an example of such a strategy: A child might be taken to a toy store where he is allowed to choose a toy he can earn if he collects enough green poker chips (the number defined by the parent, perhaps emphasized by a stick-on chart on the wall). To earn the chip each day, the following ritual might be started -

-when the child returns from school each day he must describe something "good" he did that day at school. Any description of something "bad" disqualifies him from getting the chip that day.
-once the total # of chips is accumulated, the child may return to the store and claim his toy.

This extinction strategy is likely to work when no "disorder" is taking away choice-making. Depression, anxiety (as from bullying, or abuse at school or elsewhere,for example)and other disorders superimpose themselves on a child and limit choice-making, causing the extinction strategy to fail. Whenever misbehavior cannot be redirected, disorders worthy of professional assistance need to be considered.

Hope this is helpful.

Parenting K-6 Kids

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Alan M. Davick, M.D.


As a Johns Hopkins trained Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrician with 40 years experience, I have focused on distinguishing underlying willful, poor choice-making (like Oppositional-Defiant Disorder)from innate "conditions" masquerading as willful misbehavior (like ADHD, Autistic Spectrum Disorders, Bipolar Disorders, Cerebral Palsy, Developmental Delay, Epilepsy and "Behavioral" Seizures). Though I cannot act as a formal medical or psychiatric consultant, I will answer queries with generic information and suggestions for discussion readers may direct to their own professional advisers, including physicians, psychologists and educators.


I trained at the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions in Pediatrics, Child Psychiatry and Behavioral-Developmental Pediatrics. Thereafter, I've continuously practiced Behavioral-Developmental Pediatrics and have taught the principles mentioned above to parents, colleagues and professional groups.

American Academy of Pediatrics SW Florida Sportsman's Association Florida Writers Association

First Travel Meds - 1987; Managing Misbehavior in Kids: The Mis/Kidding Process; Bullying: Rarely Travels Alone; Discipline Your Child (without going to jail); AD(H)D: What Every Parent Needs to Know

Undergraduate - NY University WSC Arts & Science, NYC 1959-63 - B.A. Medical Degree- State University of NY, Upstate Med Ctr, Syracuse 1963-67 - M.D. Internship/Residency - Johns Hopkins Hosp/University - Baltimore, MD 1967-70 Major, US Army Medical Corps, Chief Pediatric Section, Savannah, GA - 1970-72 Sp. Fellow, Dept Child Psychiatry - Johns Hopkins Hospital/University - 1972-73 Practicing Behavioral-Developmental Pediatrician, lecturer, author - to date Currently practicing Child Psychiatry - SalusCareFlorida, Fort Myers, FL.

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