Our four-year-old son is saying very hateful things.

Our four-year-old son is saying very hateful things to us, just today it has been, “I hate you”, “I hate your house” and even “I want to kill you”. This is not OK. I understand children hear and learn things from other kids and TV but we have always corrected him when he says these things. Time outs and taking things away just send him into a whirlwind of a temper, screaming, hitting and terrible, hateful words. He can be so very good half of the time and so very nasty the rest. He has started his first year of kindergarten and was very confident in the beginning, now he would much rather not go at all. I have tried to speak to him about school to see what is bothering him but I have not come up with any answers. Is he just being a brat or should we take him to a pshycologist? All we want is for him to be happy and to grow up to be a respectful man.

The most important strategy to help your child is the caring and respectful way you are in your everyday life. It is also important for you to be calm even when he misbehaves.  He needs the good example you are showing.

If this has been going on for more than 2-3 months, a professional consultation may be very helpful.  Talk to his family doctor or pediatrician who can check his health and probably help you choose a specialist in your area who is good with this type of problem.

A warm caring approach that is also very firm is the key. Specific suggestions include:

  1. Talk to his teacher about what is happening at school.  The teacher may have some ideas of what his issues are at school. There may be problems at school around bullying, learning or behavior.  If there are problems, you and his teacher can work out a plan.
  2. When he is good make sure you pay attention to him and let him know you are proud of him. In addition, a good behavior chart can be very helpful. Make it so he can earn a sticker for each hour of good behavior at home. If he has a tantrum he doesn’t get a sticker. Allow him to redeem his stickers at the end of the day for something a bit special such as an extra half hour of being read to, or some choice in activities or food or privileges.   Make the number of stickers he needs to win fairly easy. If you have six hours with him on weekdays and he usually is good for four, start with four stickers to get a special privilege. Gradually increase it after two weeks of success.
  3. He probably has minor tantrums and more severe tantrums. Minor tantrums might be just a few seconds of rudeness.  When he has a minor tantrum, ignore it and walk away. Make sure none of his tasks are avoided by these minor tantrums.
  4. When he has a major tantrum, stay calm. Don’t lecture or get angry. Be firm. Use a 5 minute time out.  It is fine to take away privileges but don’t make any punishment longer than that day.
  5. Don’t spend a lot of time talking to him about his bad behavior.  He already knows what is good and bad. The problem is not his knowledge.

Keep track of his tantrums and his good behavior.  It would not surprise me if he gets worse for a while. However, you should see a significant improvement in a month of consistently using these approaches.

Be kind to yourself. You will make some mistakes. It is very stressful to handle a child like this. Get lots of support from your partner. Schedule some time for you to relax.

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