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Handling a Violent 4-Year-Old


My divorced friend's 4-year-old son regularly punches her in the face when he does not get what he wants. He doesn’t seem angry, but he punches hard enough for it to hurt. After punching, he is given a time-out to think about it, and he destroys the room. After an hour, he returns to the sweet little boy that he is most of the time. How can we correct this behavior?



Time-outs are a very effective way to change behaviors if they are used correctly. From what you have told us, there are a few parenting tips we would encourage your friend to use when putting her son in a time-out to make it more effective. 

Have your friend explain to her son what a time-out should look like. This conversation should happen at a time when he is not being corrected and everyone is calm. Have her explain why he needs to go sit in a time-out and for how long. Then have her explain in detail what he should be doing while in time-out.

For example, it might sound something like, "When you are sitting in time-out, I want you to quietly sit on your bottom with your hands in your lap. When you can do this, I will know that you are ready to listen and follow instructions again." Then have him practice sitting in a time-out so that he knows exactly what is expected of him. A time-out should be one minute in length for each year of age the child has obtained (4 years old = a 4- minute time-out).

A time-out should be in an area where the child can be monitored at all times, such as a chair in a hallway or a step on a staircase. Select a spot for a time-out that has little to distract the child. Bedrooms tend to not be good, especially if they are filled with toys.

One of the biggest mistakes when using a time-out is a lack of teaching at the end of it. When trying to change or correct a behavior, it's important to have a consequence (time-out), and then teach the new appropriate behavior. Even if it seems like common sense or you assume the child knows what the correct behavior is, his actions are obviously not showing that he knows so teach it to him again.

After a time-out occurs, discuss what happened (in a calm way), and remind him what he is supposed to do. Have the child practice the appropriate behavior so that he is constantly reminded what is expected of ​him.