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What to do about 8 year old hurting his siblings?


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#1 EmmaNZ

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Posted 14 March 2013 - 03:55 AM

Any and all ideas wanted please. My 8 year old boy has a good heart, but is a bit of a challenge to me. The main issue (but not the only one) at the moment is him hitting out, pushing, kicking much too often and much too hard, at his siblings. He doesn't do this with his friends. It will often be an unintentional push to move somebody out of the way, but there are many other instances of hitting on purpose.

I have spoken to him over and over again, but these events are just becoming a habit for him and within 2 minutes he has done something else. I am reluctant to come down too hard on him because he is my most insecure child and I don't want to push him further away. I have nobody to chat to about this and I'm stuck. Please, could you help me by bouncing some ideas around with me? I feel like I'm failing him, and our family, by not managing to sort out his attitude.

#2 Pamela H in Texas

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Posted 14 March 2013 - 06:04 AM

This one is a hard one for me. The entire time I read through Beyond Consequences, Logic and Control (Forbes), though I started understanding and agreeing for the most part, I would fight about certain key behaviors, physically hurting others being one of them. You want me to empathize with him? You want me to be understanding? You want me to realize HE is behaving out of fear? Seriously? And the other kid? The one with the bruise and who is crying? What about him?

In the end, a few things are true:
  • Behavior is either done out of love or fear. Obviously, this one isn't love.
  • Children cannot process discipline in the moment (none of us LEARN when in a state of dysregulation)
  • We use things we *know* in dysregulating situations which is what allows us to push through a crisis (baby choking?), but is also what makes it so challenging to change behavior (yelling at a child who scares us by doing something dangerous?).
So knowing these things, it makes sense to make sure the child knows we love him until the moment has passed. And regulation begets regulation so it takes the ooomph out of original situation. When it is safe for him (whether in 10 minutes or a few hours), we can discipline (teach/guide). That teaching/guiding has to sound down to be what he does in the moment. Then he can do better.

Honestly, people do better when they CAN do better. No one wants to do things they know are wrong, are upsetting multiple other people, gets them negative consequences, etc.

This is not to say there would be no consequences. In this case, I'd likely make sure he has supervision to the degree he personally needs. I'd also have him blessing his siblings regularly. If he is looking for what he can do nice for them, he's less likely to be rough with them. Part of the discipline itself would include restitution, likely serving his sibling.

One main thing I want to suggest is that you don't want to think like "reluctant to come down too hard on him because he is my most insecure child." I don't think you need to "come down hard" on him to get him to start making better choices. However, it is more likely that you are making him more insecure by coddling him. Insecure people do things because they aren't confident, prove how low they are, don't think they can step up to making better choices, don't think others think them capable, etc. The best thing you can do right now is to insist this behavior is going to change and express confidence in him that he is capable. By having him do reasonable things, even hard things, he can learn to step up.

I'm sure a few people would read the beginning of this and have the same feelings I did at first about empathizing with the aggressor. I don't blame them. But as you can see, I'm not suggesting NOT disciplining, even firmly. I'm simply saying that most discipline people do in these situations tends to be when a kid can't learn something new which is why it continues happening.

I hope some of this helps.

#3 Rebecca VA

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Posted 14 March 2013 - 06:10 AM

I disagree that a child only acts out of love or out of fear. A child who hurts others, especially if it is done secretly, could be on a power trip. Or he could be doing it for excitement, to see how much he can get away with.

If the behavior continues, I would recommend taking him to counseling.

#4 2squared

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Posted 14 March 2013 - 07:00 AM

As a brief response, I think you need to instill new behavior patterns which would require stopping the aggressive behavior before it happens. What triggers the aggression? If he's mad, does he need another way to deal with anger? Are the sibs older or younger? Younger sibs can be annoying if they are in older sibs space too much. Does he need more space from them? Older sibs are just as annoying, and little sibs need to learn how to cope with them.

If my 8yo was too aggressive, he would be spending his time with me. Not as punishment but as a way to help him learn different behaviors.

#5 EmmaNZ

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Posted 14 March 2013 - 07:40 AM

Pamela, thank you so much for your long and thoughtful response. It's really helpful. I think both you and 2squared are saying similar things - help him to make better choices by setting up the situations in his favour right? Spend more time with him, don't allow things to come to a head so much, discuss coping strategies with him at other times? Is there more I've missed?

He is the oldest of 5. Mostly he is aggressive out of frustration - he's a perfectionist and wants the world to be just how he expected it, and of course it isn't always. I already have him doing something kind for the one he has hurt, I wonder if I can find a way to make more of this.

Thanks for your thoughts.

#6 Pamela H in Texas

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Posted 14 March 2013 - 08:04 AM

Rebecca, hold on...don't disagree too quickly :) Even those things are based in fear. Why would someone have a power trip? Because they are fearful of the power they have or don't have. They are grasping for power that isn't theirs, why?

Of course, you still may not agree :)

Emma, With you having several younger children, you may also try something like a social skills training program, problem solving program, etc. The one I found 18 years ago that I just stick with is Raising a Thinking Child by Myrna Shure. It is something fun y'all can do at the table in the morning. We typically like to do it loud and silly. As long as they learn the skills, right?

#7 Amy in NH

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Posted 14 March 2013 - 10:26 AM

I'd stake him.

#8 claluck

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Posted 14 March 2013 - 10:49 AM

My 9 year old can be rather physical. And for a while I was afraid it would actually come to him hurting someone seriously. He has quite the temper. What is crazy is he will tease others until they cannot handle it any more and then when they lash back he gets mad and lashes back himself but had very little control of how much he was hurting people. He would feel bad about it later when he wasn't mad any more. In his situation we talked to him one on one when he was in a good mood (not that talking about your issues is ever pleasant but at least he was that much more less defensive). We tried to make it not all negative but came up with some ideas together. What we came up with was to avoid most of it we needed him to stop teasing. So we tried to keep a better eye on him and when he started teasing just tell him "Remember bud our goal this month is no more teasing." It was super helpful because when he was teasing he was generally still in a good mood. So stopping him there was most effective. But really it was just effective to sit back and watch for a couple weeks and see what instigated the aggressive behaviors and brainstorm solutions before we started trying to tackle them. Jumping at him every time he did something was no help we needed thoughtful understanding of the behavior.

We also have the kids go to their room frequently for aggressive behavior. My theory being (and I have told all the kids this) that people who react with hitting and such as adults usually go to jail. It is my job to help them get rid of this bad habit before they are adults. BTW our bedrooms are just beds and dressers no toys so realy going to their room isn't exciting. Though they can have books in there because I feel it will help them calm down. I only send them to their room if it's becoming a common event for the day.

I wonder with your son being the oldest if he is trying to express his power and authority over them. It is hard being the oldest, especially when you have so many younger siblings when you are so young still yourself. I am about to have #7 and my oldest is only 11... when he was 8 we had our 6th. It was actually his next younger brother who has the emotional control issues (he turned 7 right after she was born). And I think the teasing is part of his control issues. I have to say though that even though he can be overly aggressive he also have amazing attributes. This child of mine thinks and feels at a deaper level than most people. While he is overly agressive and reactive to certain situations he is can also be extremely empathetic and sensitive and intuitive. I have actually had him tell me before (more than once) he thought one of his brothers was hurt even though the brother was gone at the park and my guy was at home with me. I do not want to crush this child's spirit he has so many strengths in these abilities I just need him to understand how to control the negative ones and recognize in himself when things are going downhill

christina

#9 Dandelion

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Posted 14 March 2013 - 10:56 AM

ITA with Pamela's and 2squared's advice.

As 2squared mentioned, I think identifying his *triggers* will be key. If you can identify those, and then watch for them, you'll be able to intervene before he becomes aggressive. While addressing things after the fact is helpful, it can be even more transformative if you can work with your DS right at the point where the trigger is there but he hasn't reacted yet. Because that's the point at which his learned/automatic response is about to kick in, and one of your key goals is to help him replace that with something else. Once he's in reactive mode and becoming aggressive, that teachable moment has passed and you need to wait until he is calm again. But if you can catch him right before, that's a fantastic opportunity to help him learn a new way of responding.

#10 TKDmom

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Posted 14 March 2013 - 10:57 AM

I haven't read any replies yet, but I've had the same problem with my 9yo, and it started around when he was 8.

My best answer has been physical exercise. I forget to do this on a regular basis, but when I remember, it works wonders. When ds gets too aggressive or moody or whatever I send him out in the backyard to run laps. He runs until he stops feeling angry. One day he ran about a mile, then he came back in smiling. I thought it was the weirdest thing ever, but it worked.

Sometimes, I assign push-ups. That's their punishment for misbehavior in taekwondo, and it seems to work fairly well at home, too.

#11 sgo95

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Posted 14 March 2013 - 11:06 AM

Pamela, thank you so much for your long and thoughtful response. It's really helpful. I think both you and 2squared are saying similar things - help him to make better choices by setting up the situations in his favour right? Spend more time with him, don't allow things to come to a head so much, discuss coping strategies with him at other times? Is there more I've missed?


:iagree: You've gotten good advice here. In terms of spending more time with him, I think you should consider investing a LOT of time for a short period (let's say one week) during which he's by your side (or in very close proximity to you) 99% of his waking hours (like what Amy in NH recommended in terms of "staking"). This way you can catch his behavior before it escalates to physical aggression and redirect him until this habit is changed. Also, the idea is to be firm, gentle, and consistent that, regardless of why he feels frustrated, physical aggression towards his siblings will not be tolerated in your household. We're not trying to shame him for feeling frustrated or acting out--we can communicate that we understand why he feels frustrated but that he needs to find different ways to cope with his feelings. At his age, he's not able to rationally think his way out of his behavior (even adults have problems doing this) so we're trying to provide consistent external limits that will help regulate his actions.

#12 EmmaNZ

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Posted 15 March 2013 - 04:08 AM

Wow, thanks everybody. So many helpful ideas and suggestions. Claluck - you must have a very similar son to mine. We have had a good time since I wrote the post - typical eh?

Just as an aside, I do sometimes wonder if he acts up because I give off 'stressed out' vibes. Any tips on how best to address my own attitude in a busy household of littles?


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