Parenting--Toddlers/Infants/Pre-Schoolers/Extremely impulsive 3 year old boy.

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I'm extremely concerned about my 3 year old nephew. He started aggressive behavior about 4 months before his now 1 year old sister was born. It was mostly hitting when he didn't get his way. He threw tantrums but that is pretty normal. Recently, his behavior has gotten worse. He is destructive. He used to wake up at 9 a.m. and go to sleep at 8:30 p.m. but now my sister has broken this schedule and he is waking up at 12 in the afternoon and doesn't go to bed until 3-6 a.m. She used to be a very attentive mother who would take him to the park and mall. Now, her day consists of sitting on the computer chair, in front of the computer for 8-15 hrs a day. I'm not sure if this is a reason for the destructive behavior. I know that right now I am due in 3 weeks with my first child so that is part of it.

She is quick tempered and yells at him a lot. Her first instinct is to slap whether its his bottom or his leg. This isn't just one light slap, its hard enough that he will cry and its 4-6 slaps. He has started to stop responding to this discipline but will cover his bottom and say "Please don't spank me mommy, Connor be good boy". When she leaves him with me, his behavior decreases a little bit and he is not spanked or yelled at. I will place him in time out for 3 minutes. After time out, I sit him down on my lap and tell him why he was in time out. If I catch him coloring on furniture or walls, I tell him "Connor, crayons/markers are not made for walls. We only color on paper. Now it is time to put the crayons/markers away and clean up the mess you made." She also yells at him when she leaves something out that he gets into or she will sit him in front of the TV all day so that she can get on the computer. Now, she is preparing to invite a stranger to him over for 3 days and I am concerned because she has stopped being attentive to her children now and once this man enters their life I'm afraid his destruction will escalate. He has even been saying pretty disturbing things. He is not allowed around shows that are aggressive, gory, etc. He said the other day, "Nana find sharps (knives) and cut mommy's eyes" and "i cut you auntie" He has also said "mommy go die and go hospital" These comments alone are concerning because it doesn't seem normal for a 3 year old to be so fixated on death. He used to be pretty well behaved. This destructive behavior was brought up to the doctor but the doctor didn't seem too concerned.

I'm a firm believer in not spanking children because I believe that you cannot teach a child that hitting is okay if you hit them. I think this says to a child "well mommy is mad and hits me so I guess it's okay for me to hit this person or that person because I'm mad" Any tips on handling this behavior. Is it just that he needs his mother to be more attentive to his needs? I do a lot with him. We read books together (that too, he used to get a bedtime story every night now, he rarely gets one unless I'm going in there to read to him), I make him finger paints and we paint together, we play cars together, we will watch Thomas the Train together cuddling on the couch. Every time I try to confront my sister regarding her parenting she tells me to stop butting in and trying to overstep my place. When he is given more attention, his behavior is less destructive. He gets more aggressive when we pay attention to his sister though. He will knock her down if we point out that she is using furniture to pull up on. I am not sure if she just needs to reestablish consistency. How much down time should a parent with an impulsive child get? I am worried that he has no respect for his environment because if it weren't for my mom and I, the dishes would never get done, the living room, bedroom, playroom, kitchen, and dining room would never be clean, and the bathrooms would never be clean. Please help! I am worried about his behavior.

Answer
Hello Amanda,
I agree that you should be concerned about your nephew's behavior. I think the doctor is not concerned because he has not been informed of the full picture. It is very common for toddlers of ages two to three to be more aggressive, but his aggression is worse than it should be.
I also share your concern about the parenting that he is getting. The lack of attention, the neglect, the aggression towards him, and the failure to understand and respond to this child's needs all suggest that his normal aggressive behavior is being made worse by his mother's behavior. In situations like this, when a parent is using harsh and physical punishments, there is a great risk that the aggressive behavior will become an established pattern.
Also, your approach is more likely to allow his aggressive behavior to be eventually better controlled. But that won't happen easily (if at all) under the present circumstances.
But I don't have an easy answer as to how you influence your sister to become a better, more responsible parent. It's possible you may have to intervene as a family or you may have to intervene legally (such as with child protective services) in order to bring about some significant change.
What do you think?
Best,

James Windell  

Parenting--Toddlers/Infants/Pre-Schoolers

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James Windell

Expertise

I can answer questions related to normal child development, disturbed behavior and how to provide appropriate guidance and discipline.

Experience

I've been a clinical psychologist in a juvenile court, worked in school settings, been a child psychotherapist in a private psychiatric clinic and consulted with schools, courts, hospitals and daycare centers.

Organizations
American Psychological Association
Michigan Psychological Association

Publications
I have been a columnist with the Oakland Press (Oakland County, MI) for 21 years writing a weekly column called Coping With Kids, which is also published weekly in the Staten Island Advance. I have been a mental health columnist with the Detroit Free Press and a columnist for Working Mother Magazine. In addition, I have published articles in professional journals. I have published 16 books, among them are "8 Weeks to a Well-Behaved Child" (IDG Books), "Discipline: A Sourcebook of 50 Failsafe Techniques for Parents" (IDG Books); "Children Who Say No When You Want Them to Say Yes" (IDG Books), "What You Need to Know About Ritalin" (Bantam Books) "6 Steps to an Emotionally Intelligent Teenagers" (John Wiley & Sons), "The Fatherstyle Advantage" (Stewart, Tabori & Chang) and "Defusing High Conflict Divorce" (Impact Publishers). My latest parenting book (2012) is "The Everything Child Psychology and Development Book." Articles about my work with parents has appeared in the New York Times, the Chicago Sun Times, the Detroit News and the Detroit Free Press. My website at Jimwindell.com includes more information about me, my books and includes many columns I've written.

Education/Credentials
B.A. in Psychology from Wayne State University
M.A. in Clinical Psychology from Oakland University

Awards and Honors
Best Educational Program by Juvenile and Family Court Judges Association (National award for the development of a parent training program for parents of delinquent teenagers. Beth Clark Service Award from the Michigan Psychological Association.

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