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dealing with aggression without punishments

post #1 of 12
Thread Starter 

I've been following the thread on punishments with much interest, as we are making some big parenting changes right now and don't want punishments to be part of our family's deal anymore. I've been rereading Kohn and Neufeld and we are really trying to put the focus on the attachment relationships with our 7 and 4.5 yr olds (the 2 month old just needs lots of kisses!) and so far it is feeling so much better, but there are still some places that I am stuck.


Our oldest ds is a wonderful, compassionate, enthusiastic fellow who really struggles with anger/aggression/impulse control at times, and has been resorting to lots of hitting and physical aggression whenever things don't go his way. I am at a loss of how to deal with it- towards his younger brother especially. In the past we would threaten him with time in his room, and this would make him fly into a rage and get more aggressive and the cycle would go on and on... and obviously the threats and punishments were not working. But I need to find a way to keep ds2 from getting bonked every time he doesn't want to play the way his brother wants him to. I would love to hear how other parents deal with aggression without yelling/threatening/punishing. How can I keep our relationship intact and still teach him not to use his body to hurt people?

post #2 of 12
Thread Starter 

I guess this is too much to ask! lol.

post #3 of 12
Originally Posted by calendulamama View Post

I guess this is too much to ask! lol.

No, but maybe folks are burned out on the subject a little. I started a thread that didn't get much traction - it just happens sometimes. I think a lot of times it's easier to discuss philosophy when we aren't talking specific families or situations. 


How old is your oldest? Is he 7?  Can you tell us a little about your home-life?  Does he attend school or is he homeschooled/unschooled?   


By 7 I think a child is ready for some education and skill-building for anger management. It seems like things employed by many adults may even work for a child that age. 


Also, I think prevention could go a long way here. Can you arrange more playdates with kids for your older child? Maybe he just isn't that into playing with younger kids. If you could find an older playmate, that may give him some much needed perspective on what it's like to be the younger child. 


What else...? 


Lots of physical activity, changes of scenery, outings that offer something for both kids. Maybe your 7 year old needs some private space where he can go when he doesn't want to play with his younger sibling. Not as a punishment but as a special privilege of being the older kid with needs of middle childhood. 

post #4 of 12

Having been the older sibling myself, I strongly agree with the idea that a 7-year-old may need some private space.  Most times I hit my brother were because he was bothering me (like, I was trying to read and he kept making annoying noises) or wouldn't leave my stuff alone.  Pay attention to any times your oldest complains to you about something his little brother is doing; make sure you are either helping him deal with the situation or suggesting a positive strategy, rather than brushing off the complaint and leaving him to deal with it on his own.


Try putting your focus on comforting the child who was hit rather than disciplining the hitter.  I only have one child of my own, but when he once slapped a visiting friend I found this strategy startlingly effective at convincing him he had done something wrong.  It worked well when I was a Girl Scout leader, too, if one girl hurt another.


Instead of threatening him with time in his room, either impose the consequence right away at the first offense, or don't do it.  I find that threats make my son feel bad about himself and therefore defensive, but they don't seem to have any effect on his ability/willingness to resist repeating the behavior.


You could try the Becky Bailey approach, "You wanted X, so you did Y.  You may not do Y.  Instead, when you want X, do Z."

Example: "You wanted your brother to stop tickling your foot, so you kicked him in the face.  You may not kick your brother.  Instead, when you want him to stop tickling your foot, say, 'Don't tickle me!  I don't like it!' and then put your feet under a blanket."

If little brother is present, then you turn to him and make sure he understands what Z means: "When he says, 'Don't tickle me!' that means no more tickling."


When you have some time available (might be difficult with a 2-month-old!) sit down with your oldest and make a list of all the things he might do when his brother is bothering him.  Brainstorm and write down everything either of you suggests.  Then go down the list talking about each idea: Is it a loving thing to do, or a mean thing?  Cross off the mean things.  Make a list of the acceptable choices and post it where he can use it as a reminder.

post #5 of 12

I'm following this thread, as I posted a similar one just a few minutes ago. Dealing with older sibling hitting younger sibling and how to affect a change in their behavior?!

post #6 of 12
Thread Starter 

Thanks for the great responses. Yes, my son is 7 and he is homeschooled so he spends a lot of time with his little brother. They play together so well most of the time, but things can get bad fast between them, with the younger yelling and older hitting before I can make it across the room to separate them. So time apart really is feeling needed right now. I like the idea of getting the oldest playing with bigger kids to get some perspective. It's true that he mostly plays with kids younger than himself, as the kids we know are mostly younger.

I feel like we are doing pretty well at staying connected through the day, and there are some things that will take care of themselves once the school year comes (he does a lot better with structure, which we are pretty terrible at creating in the summer,) when I wrote the post I was just wishing I could be a fly on the wall in some homes of parents who do not use punishments when their kids act out/ are aggressive. What does it look like to stop this kind of behaviour without punishing them? We are limping through pretty well I think, but I wish I could see what others do- this feels so new and different from how much of the world parents!

post #7 of 12

Contrary to what others might believe, there is absolutely nothing wrong in disciplining your son by giving him consequences when he shows signs of aggression.  I am kind of reluctant giving you advice on this issue because it almost sounds as if you are trying to alleviate your son's aggression without the use of discipline.  I guess I'm a little confused by your question.  Are you looking for advice on how to discipline your son when he is aggressive?

post #8 of 12
Thread Starter 

Mark- I'd imagine if you are in the forum you are familiar with the work of Kohn and Neufeld.  I am interested in working with my child, in preserving his attachment to us, in helping to guide him without damaging our relationship through separation or punishments. I agree that it is important that he knows that hitting etc is not acceptable. I am asking to hear from other parents who do not punish their children, and how they deal with this sort of behaviour. We may or may not be in agreement as to what sorts of "consequences" are appropriate for a child who is acting out. I am not a permissive parent. I do set firm limits, but I have seen that punishing or using separation only make things a whole lot worse for my son.

post #9 of 12

I have no idea if this would work with your son, but maybe teach him to recognize when he is getting angry/upset/frustrated so he can remove himself from the situation for a moment. Like there is this song on Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood about taking a deep breath and counting to 4 when you get mad, and it gets stuck in my head sooo much I even think of it when I get angry myself, haha. Maybe have some sort of nice spot he can go to with a fun, quiet toy, or something like that to remove himself from the situation without it being a forced punishment he could (hopefully) do it voluntarily when he realizes he's mad. 

post #10 of 12

I think there is great advice on this thread. I've been enjoying this website too http://www.handinhandparenting.org/news/199/64/3-Tools-To-Stop-The-Hitting .Lots of good ideas. 


I do also think that the sibling connection is SO complex. I think its great to brainstorm response ideas and we've done that...but sometimes, and its not even that anyone is trying to wind anyone else up, but the younger kids are just being irritating. We have it between dd1, who is 8, and ds, who is nearly 10. She will go a bit too far and when asked to stop, using his best rehearsed kind words, will be too in the game or finding it all too funny to stop. And then someone gets whacked.


From your post, actually, it looks like they might really be spending a lot of time together without fighting. 


My kids are also homeschooled and a while ago I was thinking they fought all the time. So I started making a mental note of when they fought. Actually, we were talking maybe one big fight a week and smaller scraps a few times a week. Basically everyone fights with the same kid, my oldest, who can be a bit ornery when the mood is on him. But even so. Because they are always around, I really think I thought they were fighting a lot more than they were.


There is also a level on which, for me, hitting needs to be considered in the wider context. I've seen siblings fight verbally in ways that I'd find unpleasant in mine. I've also seen younger kids wind up others til they hit or lash out verbally and are disciplined. Now I'd actually in some ways prefer my kids hit, which is clearly wrong and can be worked on, than be sly and manipulative in their relationship with each other, which is both much less straightforward to work on and indicates, to me, something deeper going on than basically loving each other but sometimes losing it. I think, 20 years from now, a relationship where siblings 2 years apart (and pretty much the same weight) hit each other occasionally would be much more likely to be a good one,  than one characterised throughout childhood by mean-ness and trickery. My kids might hit occasionally, but they don't say they hate each other, generally call each other names, or try to get each other into trouble. The older two, which is where most fighting occurs, have also, as it happens. spent the past week at different grandmothers, and spent a long time on the phone to each other in that week. TBH half my issues are caused by the three of them acting as a unit. Soooo....not saying it doesn't need dealing with, just that, in context, all siblings have their stuff. And of course the ideal is good communication and no one hitting or being mean ROTFLMAO.gif


But I guess I am saying, look maybe at the relationship between the kids if that's where the aggression is coming in. Not just at your oldest. Yes he should control himself. But identifying what the youngest is actually doing might be helpful. Certainly looking at my kids, 4.5 is well old enough to be deliberately irritating. And the process of working out what is annoying him about his brother should be a helpful one.


Oh ETA. I find Kohn, certainly, quite amazingly lacking when it comes to inter-sibling relationships. Actually the only book I've ever come across that is helpful is the Mazlech and Faber (is that right? How to Talk etc...) book about siblings, which names escapes me.But generally, know that sibling relationships are hard.

Edited by Fillyjonk - 8/19/13 at 6:52am
post #11 of 12
I would suggest reading The Explosive Child by Ross Greene. Its primarily written for kiddos who have more severe problems controlling anger. The theory is that children (and adults) with more inflexible, black-and-white personalities lack problem-solving abilities and get easily frustrated. Often the traditional positive vs. negative consequences don't work and actually exacerbates the outbursts.
The framework of the method involves "cooperative problem-solving" and relies heavily on affirming what is making the child angry, giving them suggestions to help diffuse the situation, and coming up with a mutually satisfactory solution. By modeling this behavior, you are teaching them how to do it for themselves, instead of engaging in a power struggle.
Its important to point out that identifying your child's triggers are necessary to success, as well as a flexible attitude.
Its been working well for my 4yo in limiting her explosions, though I still reserve insistent parenting if anyone is in danger of being physically hurt.
post #12 of 12
Thread Starter 

Thank you all so much for the terrific responses. . Fillyjonk- thank you for the thoughts about sibling relationships, it is so helpful to hear what goes on in other mama's houses! It is very helpful to imagine their relationship in 20 years and it is true, that mostly they are great friends. I don't see manipulation or meanspiritedness, and yes, the younger is often very much a player in the fights. He is a shouter, which really triggers DS1, so that is an ongoing issue between them for sure. Thank you for the book reminder- I have it on my shelf, but somehow had totally forgotten it was there. I will give it a read for sure- thanks!

Curebaby- yes, I have this book too and I do find it helpful for reducing the amount of big explosive episodes DS1 has. I think he feels a lot more like we are playing on the same team now, rather than against each other, which is positive for all of us. This hasn't lessened the random hitting though, so I am still looking for ways to help him with that. Although someone mentioned physical activity, and have noticed that while he was in soccer camp, he was way calmer. I think he needs to run, run run to get that big energy out! Thanks so much for all the helpful thoughts.

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