July 02, 2015

Q: I have 4-year-old boy who is out of control. He uses cuss words all the time and talks back to me and hits me everyday. I've tried timeouts, but I can't get him to sit or stand long enough. I've tried hot sauce and bar soap for his cussing. Neither of them work he just screams and cusses me out some more. I've tried talking to him and tried to come to an agreement on these subjects. Yet I am getting nowhere and Ia m so stressed out. I don't know what to do anymore. Please help!

A: First, I'm wondering where your son is hearing all those cuss words to begin with. Our little ones take their cues from the others in their lives, so try to eliminate the source. Then, as difficult as I know it will be, ignore the cussing—but praise him when he DOES use nice words. If he does cuss when other, sensitive adults are around, send him to his room or the bathroom, where he can cuss all he want—with no punishment. He just can't do it where everyone can hear him. Soon, he will learn that he won't get an audience or a big reaction, and this will lessen the behavior. The same goes for his treatment of you. Hitting is simply never OK. Again, make sure he's not mimicking others. There should be a "no hitting rule" that goes for the family—that includes parents, too. Spanking children only teaches him that hitting is sometimes OK—too confusing for a child, and likely to increase HIS hitting. So eliminate any spanking, as well. When he hits, he needs to take a timeout. Don't get upset or lose control—that will worsen his behavior. Simply enforce the rule by giving a timeout for hitting. Timeouts don't have to be taken while sitting or standing still. Explain to him, in advance, that this is how timeouts will go from now on: Set a timer for 4 minutes (usually, 1 minute of time out per year of age works), and ask him to take timeout in his room. Don't get upset or emotional. Try to stay neutral. If he resists and screams, walk him to his room and set the timer for when he gets there. If he comes out, reset the timer for 4 more minutes. Timeout is over when he has spent 4 minutes in his room. It may take many repetitions to get this process to work, but it should after several tries. Hang in there. And if none of these tips work, it's time to bring in a professional child development and behavior expert for help. Good luck!

Answered by Dr. Heather Wittenberg


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