Expert Q&A: Discipline, Depression, ADHD, and More


Q. I have a 6-year-old son. He is wonderful and bright and can be very sweet, but has been having several problems.

He seems to have trouble transitioning from one activity to another. I also have a bad problem getting him to eat normal foods. He will not eat fruits/veggies, meat (unless chicken nuggets are a meat).

The biggest problem is his "episodes," consisting of name calling, kicking, hitting, biting, spitting in face, yelling, crying. These can all happen in one episode or two, and can last 5 minutes to an hour. (This is only at home, mind you. I have spoken to his teacher and his behavior is fine at school.)

I am afraid to take him out with me. He seems to feel bad about it afterward but can't seem to stop himself from doing it in the first place. Time-outs and other traditional discipline methods do not work. He simply does not care about them. I am always walking on eggshells waiting for an episode. Any ideas? -- Rorobean

A. Here are some things to consider: First, my red flag is the teacher who said he does not do these things at school. Does he have this problem transitioning ANYWHERE ELSE or WITH ANYONE ELSE? Can you observe him in the classroom? Or at Scouts, a playgroup, or any other location? What you need to be very clear about is whether this is a problem he is having or it's how you are responding. Does he use this behavior with Dad, siblings, or friends? Is it at a particular time?

I understand the eggshell concept perfectly. You nailed it. The key to telling you what to do is figuring out what is causing it. Does any other adult see the same pattern?

I'm trying to get you to think:

  • WHO does he do it with? And NOT do it with?
  • WHEN does he exhibit the behavior? At a certain time that is predictable?
  • WHAT causes or intensifies the problem?
  • WHERE does it occur? In certain places? (ONLY at home?)
  • HOW are you currently responding? Once you know that, stop doing what you're doing. It's not working.
  • WHY is it happening? Knowing that is your goal.

You can create a plan to deal with the behavior after you answer these questions. You're dealing with a difficult situation, so here's what I want you to do:

  1. Read over my advice carefully.
  2. Start charting your child's behavior -- without him knowing. Get a clearer picture of what is really happening.
  3. Talk to a few people who really know and care about your child.

Usually, a PATTERN emerges that you might not recognize. Once you figure out the pattern, take the pattern/clues to a pediatrician and/or school psychologist and share what you've discovered.

You can't solve the problem without knowing the cause.

By the way, the best discipline is always CONSISTENT and CALM.

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