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Hi! I have a 3 year old step son that we are having a really hard time with and I'm looking for some opinions/advice. Some background.. My husband and I have 5 children together, 2 each from previous marriages and one together. Ages from 5 months to 10 years. In general, all the kids get along great. The girls are BFFs who adore the new baby, and the boys are close.. but of course boys :) The problem though is the 3 year old temper tantrums that are effecting the whole family. Now I know tantrums are normal.. but I'm talking 45 minutes fits, anywhere from 1 - 5 times a day. It's exhausting for all of us, and often times we're not able to finish family activities because the 3 year old has to be removed from the group because he won't stop screaming. And when I say screaming.. I mean top of the lungs, head thrown back, possibly flopping around on the floor, and it could be over just about anything. You tell him to eat, he screams. You tell him to brush his teeth he screams. Bed time.. 45 minute fit that keeps the other kids up, and usually wakes up the baby. I've even watched him chase his father around the house clinging and pulling on his pants because he wants.. whatever it is he wants at the moment. My husband and I have been living together for about a year and a half now, and this has been going on the entire time. We've tried different methods.. primarily time outs, followed by a "talk" about why he had the time out. We've also tried rewarding good behavior, ignoring the fits, and distraction (depending on the reason for the fit). At this point, I am at wits end. I love my husband, and I love the kids.. but I am exhausted (especially now with the infant). Not only am I exhausted, I'm really having a hard time standing by and seeing how the 3 year old's behavior effects the rest of the kids (and my husband and I). My 5 year old son has started acting out, my 10 year daughter gets stressed listening to the screaming and ends up staying in her bedroom. Both of these changes are a complete contrast to how our home was before we blended. Now.. months and months into this.. my step daughter, who is 8, came to me recently expressing some concern with what the biological mom is doing at her house to punish the 3 year old. My step daughter said she doesn't like it and it upsets her (to which I had no idea how to respond). But apparently the mom is pinching her son on the thigh or spanking him with a wooden spoon as punishment when he throws the fits. Of course, neither of those things are working as he continues to throw fits at her house too.. but that aside, they are a completely different approaches than what we're doing. Bottom line, I feel bad for my step son, who is clearly getting different parenting styles, which I imagine is confusing.. and I feel bad for my step daughter.. who I don't know how to help feel better about what's going on at her mom's house. However.. I need to focus on my home.. and getting things in line there. I haven't said much about my husband.. but the short of it is he's just as frustrated. He's the one primarily disciplining his son when he's with us and it takes a toll on him. Throw in the fact that the only time he and I get together is when all of the kids are home (and the 3 year old is screaming all day).. our marriage is starting to suffer. My husband recently reached out to his ex-wife, asking if she could try some other methods instead of the pinching and wooden spoon (or least try to come up with something they both agree on).. to which her response was "You do what you feel is best, and I'll do what I feel is best". Needless to say.. I feel hopeless. Soo.... let me have it.. thoughts? ideas? suggestions? I'll even take some criticism if it sounds as though we need to fix something within parenting somewhere..
 

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Your husband should see about getting him evaluated. That sounds extreme even with the upheaval. If this is a special need manifesting, you NEED help. What works for a neurotypical child will not help a special needs child and can make it worse.

3.5 is one of the worst ages, from what I've heard, but you said this has been going on for a long time.

How is his development otherwise? Is he talking well, can he communicate his feelings when he's not mid-meltdown?

Also, look up your state's law. It may be illegal to spank with a wooden spoon. If it is, that needs to be addressed. (I don't like it period and it sounds like it's upsetting your step daughter, but if it's legal there's only so much you can do)
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Your husband should see about getting him evaluated. That sounds extreme even with the upheaval. If this is a special need manifesting, you NEED help. What works for a neurotypical child will not help a special needs child and can make it worse.

3.5 is one of the worst ages, from what I've heard, but you said this has been going on for a long time.

How is his development otherwise? Is he talking well, can he communicate his feelings when he's not mid-meltdown?

Also, look up your state's law. It may be illegal to spank with a wooden spoon. If it is, that needs to be addressed. (I don't like it period and it sounds like it's upsetting your step daughter, but if it's legal there's only so much you can do)
Thank you for your reply! I've suggested we get him evaluated, as I've had the same thoughts.. but my husband and the biological mother are sensitive about it and it's been hard to follow through with. He didn't have any social experience until he was about 2, when he started daycare, so initially I thought that was some of it. At that age he was only speaking 2-3 word sentences. He'll be 4 in May, and he can speak in complete sentences now, but we both still have a hard time understanding him at times. Part of it though is he rolls his tongue when he's talking (on purpose), usually because he's asking for something he's already been told no about. It's almost like a fidget for him. Personally, I don't feel that he expresses his emotions in a verbal manner at all. With my kids, they would flat out say I'm mad, or sad, or hurt. He doesn't do that, he just screams. Which to me was just further reason to get him evaluated. I also agree about the wooden spoon, I'm not sure if it's illegal, but I certainly don't agree with that method of correction. I'll have to look into it. Obviously addressing with his mother directly didn't get us very far.
 

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Check the law. If it's legal, you can't do anything, but that strikes me as something that could be illegal. Keep records of any bruises he gets as well (I hope there aren't any bruises!).

Do you need the mom's okay to get him evaluated? If not, I hope you can help your husband understand. Our toddler is intelligent, I have no doubt he'll do well in school and succeed in anything he puts his mind to- but he needs more help than most kids. The therapies have been life savers for us and they also help him. We've had to push for speech therapy, and we need to push for more, because that's always been a big issue.

Some of kiddo's prblems include a difficult time self soothing and sensory overloads- so he gets overwhelmed then can't calm down. We had the same problem with long term meltdowns. Starting occupational therapy almost immediately decreased them.

There's nothing wrong with having a special needs kid. Getting him extra help doesn't mean he won't live a full and happy life. It means he needs a little more help right now. The sooner he gets it, the better he'll be.
 

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i don't have much to say except that DS was litterally VERY easy going ... until 3 weeks before his 3rd birthday when he started screaming and complaining about ... so many things he had no complains about beforehand .... i didn't think we had done anything different than before, for him it must just have been a developpment stage ... he was not very verbal either, i suppose he was also very frustrated somehow, we changed countries the following year, changed language as well, life was not always easy for him, he got help at school, in various forms, .... fast forward 11 years ....and he's fine now, i cannot recall exactly when the complaining stopped, but it took a few years ....
 

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i don't have much to say except that DS was litterally VERY easy going ... until 3 weeks before his 3rd birthday when he started screaming and complaining about ... so many things he had no complains about beforehand .... i didn't think we had done anything different than before, for him it must just have been a developpment stage ... he was not very verbal either, i suppose he was also very frustrated somehow, we changed countries the following year, changed language as well, life was not always easy for him, he got help at school, in various forms, .... fast forward 11 years ....and he's fine now, i cannot recall exactly when the complaining stopped, but it took a few years ....
The OP has said this has been going on for a year and a half, or I'd be more likely to agree it's probably just a normal phase. I've definitely heard people say that 3 is WAY worse than 2.
 

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That is a difficult age. My son was not an easy 3-year-old (exacerbated, I'm sure, by the fact that his dad and I separated when he was just about 3.5). There were definitely tantrums like you are describing, but not several times a day. That does sound out of the norm to me.

I'm not sure I have a lot of advice-a lot of that time period for me was just surviving, so I doubt I handled those tantrums all that well! If my ds was lashing out at others, either verbally or especially physically, I had to put him in his room alone (make sure is child proofed, of course) and explained that he couldn't be around others if he was going to hurt them.

I'd be very upset about the wooden spoon disciplining, but if it's legal there isn't anything you can do. Frankly, even if it is illegal, unless she is leaving marks, it's doubtful there is anything you can do, sadly.

I'd definitely encourage your husband to take him to get evaluated-it should be free through the local school district. My son is in speech therapy, and while I'm sure it's also due to just getting older (he's nearly 6 now), it certainly hasn't hurt that he can express himself more clearly now. I bet it would help your ds start to learn to use his words before screaming. There are some awesome OTs there as well who help kids learn to relate to others better, etc., which might be helpful. And these things are really, really common to get help with-it really isn't seen negatively in any way, in my experience, and hopefully your dh won't let that get in the way if your dss needs a little help. Oh, and as long as he has at least shared legal custody, he can take him to be evaluated without mom's permission.
 

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Okay, this suggestion is just tongue and cheek, but it's a well-known story in my family, and my mother STILL swears by this advice to this day and tells new moms to try it.

My oldest brother (who is now a stoic, rock solid engineer) was a mercurial toddler. Mom said his tantrums were ear-splitting. She was a teen-age mom in the 60's. One day, she was scrubbing the laundry on the front lawn, and my brother wanted something. She said no, and he started one of his epic tantrums, throwing himself on the lawn screaming. My mom, in desperation and without really even thinking it through, grabbed the laundry bucket and dumped the entirety of the contents onto the child. She he just sat up in shock. Blue eyes peeking out a mountain of suds. She said he never did it again.

She said with all three of us kids, she ended up doing the same thing in some manner. That first tantrum was met with a wet, splashing response for each kid. She swore up and down that she never had to deal with a tantrum after it...
 

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Hi! I have a 3 year old step son that we are having a really hard time with and I'm looking for some opinions/advice. Some background.. My husband and I have 5 children together, 2 each from previous marriages and one together. Ages from 5 months to 10 years. In general, all the kids get along great. The girls are BFFs who adore the new baby, and the boys are close.. but of course boys :) The problem though is the 3 year old temper tantrums that are effecting the whole family. Now I know tantrums are normal.. but I'm talking 45 minutes fits, anywhere from 1 - 5 times a day. It's exhausting for all of us, and often times we're not able to finish family activities because the 3 year old has to be removed from the group because he won't stop screaming. And when I say screaming.. I mean top of the lungs, head thrown back, possibly flopping around on the floor, and it could be over just about anything. You tell him to eat, he screams. You tell him to brush his teeth he screams. Bed time.. 45 minute fit that keeps the other kids up, and usually wakes up the baby. I've even watched him chase his father around the house clinging and pulling on his pants because he wants.. whatever it is he wants at the moment. My husband and I have been living together for about a year and a half now, and this has been going on the entire time. We've tried different methods.. primarily time outs, followed by a "talk" about why he had the time out. We've also tried rewarding good behavior, ignoring the fits, and distraction (depending on the reason for the fit). At this point, I am at wits end. I love my husband, and I love the kids.. but I am exhausted (especially now with the infant). Not only am I exhausted, I'm really having a hard time standing by and seeing how the 3 year old's behavior effects the rest of the kids (and my husband and I). My 5 year old son has started acting out, my 10 year daughter gets stressed listening to the screaming and ends up staying in her bedroom. Both of these changes are a complete contrast to how our home was before we blended. Now.. months and months into this.. my step daughter, who is 8, came to me recently expressing some concern with what the biological mom is doing at her house to punish the 3 year old. My step daughter said she doesn't like it and it upsets her (to which I had no idea how to respond). But apparently the mom is pinching her son on the thigh or spanking him with a wooden spoon as punishment when he throws the fits. Of course, neither of those things are working as he continues to throw fits at her house too.. but that aside, they are a completely different approaches than what we're doing. Bottom line, I feel bad for my step son, who is clearly getting different parenting styles, which I imagine is confusing.. and I feel bad for my step daughter.. who I don't know how to help feel better about what's going on at her mom's house. However.. I need to focus on my home.. and getting things in line there. I haven't said much about my husband.. but the short of it is he's just as frustrated. He's the one primarily disciplining his son when he's with us and it takes a toll on him. Throw in the fact that the only time he and I get together is when all of the kids are home (and the 3 year old is screaming all day).. our marriage is starting to suffer. My husband recently reached out to his ex-wife, asking if she could try some other methods instead of the pinching and wooden spoon (or least try to come up with something they both agree on).. to which her response was "You do what you feel is best, and I'll do what I feel is best". Needless to say.. I feel hopeless. Soo.... let me have it.. thoughts? ideas? suggestions? I'll even take some criticism if it sounds as though we need to fix something within parenting somewhere..
I haven't read the other posts yet. Sounds like a kid who is at the end of his tether and doesn't know how to communicate. Plus he is dealing with 2 homes, and did you say school too? If he's in school I'd think about taking him out unless he's really happy there. Sounds like he has a bad relationship with his mom. I know 4 was a very hard age for my son. Could he be getting over stimulated? Could he benefit from quiet alone time, or more exercise?
 

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All of my kids were awful at 3! It's a terrible, terrible age:(

That being said, I think what you are describing sounds atypical. My son was most similar to that - started just before he turned 3 and would have terrible screaming fits that lasted way too long. I would have to isolate him in his own room because any interaction from anybody would make it worse. It would last much, much longer if I tried any type of intervention. So I would leave him in his room to scream for awhile 10? 15? minutes and then go in and try to soothe and settle him. He could not self soothe if I left him to his own devices and he would still be screaming or crying when I went in, but having him out with others only made it much, much worse. He did end up having an underlying problem, which we did not determine until a few years later. He has PANDAS, which is basically an undiagnosed/untreated strep infection that causes neuropsychological problems (and is little known/little accepted in the medical community, so it often gets worse and worse and worse as it is incorrectly diagnosed and incorrectly treated).

So I would say to gently but firmly push for evaluation. Maybe you could find information/research on typical three year old behavior and try to convince your husband that what your son does is not typical. Depending on your relationship with the mother, you may not convince her. She may not be able to hear it or may not be able to hear it from you. The spanking may be upsetting, but not likely the biggest issue that needs to be addressed because if the three year old were better able to cope with whatever is bothering him, she probably wouldn't be moved to take that measure. She's likely as desperate as you guys are to find a solution and hoping that she can find something that will work. If you can convince your husband to find a different solution on your end and find something that actually works, she may be more likely to listen.

Good luck. My 3.5 year old is one exasperation after another and has been since birth. She took a short hiatus of maybe 6 months where discipline actually worked, but is back to her old shenanigans again and now that she is older can get into so many more things. Last night, she immersed my best oil diffuser in water and shorted it out! This too shall pass...
 

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You sound exhausted. That's a lot on your plate.

These articles (below) helped me when my son was three, and seemed possessed by unseemly spirits. The times were very intense for all of us, and he wasn't going through HALF of what this three-year-old is going through. Not having language proficiency during the time you are really developing your independence must be mind-splittingly frustrating for him. And then to be hit and hurt, essentially for not feeling understood, is further insult. Time outs likely aren't working because isolating the child (which feels like a punishment to him) isn't meeting his need of having others understand what he needs/is saying/wants.

I really recommend the book How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen so Kids Will Talk. It gives you things to say that support the child's emotions, but still hold boundaries. (Ex: You really want a cookie! I can hear how much you want that cookie! I wish you could have it, but it's bedtime! Tell you what. Let's put this cookie on a plate with your name on it, and we will save it just for you, and you can have it at snack tomorrow. Oh, that's not what you want. You want that cookie now. I'm sorry, honey...)

It also might be good to have a family meeting about this (and regular family meetings) so the older kids can express their frustrations, and maybe you all together can work on some strategies of what to do as a group to meet needs and to address the high drama events.

My parenting practice has grown only with continual upkeep (like gardening). I try to go to a workshop every year or so, and I read some newsletters regularly (links below)...... I wonder if you would consider meetings with a parenting coach or a family therapist so you guys can sort your strategies and fast-track your plan? With five kids coming from at least three different experiences, I think it's fair to round up a Master Gardener for tips and tricks, from time to time--especially when you have tender, exotic plants in a tricky soil. ...If price is an issue, maybe you could find an MFT candidate who is accruing hours for certification, they often see people for free to get experience.

You are working SO HARD. I am impressed at how calm you are, in reaching out. It's obvious the children see you as a beacon in these stormy seas. Don't forget to feed your own soul from time to time so you have the energy to support theirs. You do deserve it.

Sending light and calming breaths.


On being three:
http://jasongood.net/365/2012/12/46-reasons-why-my-three-year-old-might-be-freaking-out/

http://www.slate.com/articles/doubl..._out_the_science_behind_toddler_tantrums.html

http://www.npr.org/sections/health-...er-tantrum-scientists-deconstruct-the-screams

http://www.slate.com/articles/doubl..._out_the_science_behind_toddler_tantrums.html

On Family Meetings:
http://www.awareparenting.com/familymeetings.htm

http://connectedfamilies.org/2013/04/29/can-family-meetings-really-work/

Ongoing Parenting Coaching
Dr. Laura Markham - can get by email - also FB I think
http://www.ahaparenting.com/FAQRetrieve.aspx?ID=51143

API Newsletters - can get by email.
http://www.attachmentparenting.org

Happily Family (full disclosure: My sister in law) - they have a FB page,too
www.happilyfamily.com
 

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Dad should make an appointment with your pediatrician to discuss the problem and tell the mom and also tell her that the her abuse will of course be discussed with the pediatrician. He might want to invite her along so the pediatrician can get a fuller picture. The pediatrician can decide whether to report her to the authorities or not.

But since none of this is likely to happen in spite of your efforts, I'll give you what I think it the best DIY approach. Use the methods in the book Kazdin Method. It might look like stuff you have already tried, but the devil is in the details. The key idea is to give the positive opposite or replacement behavior social rewards (positive attention, including touch, enthusiasm, saying specifically what he did that was good, no veiled criticism tacked on the end, no "but..."). You can also add tangible rewards (reward charts) to get things going. You should subject tantrums, yelling, and all other harmless annoying behavior to planned ignoring. Instantly walk away without a word. If the kid follows Dad, then Dad should go into a gated area or a locked door if there is someone else who available to watch the kid out of the corner of their eye or listen. Try to avoid relocating the kid if possible, but if you need to then calmly take him to a gated area without talking to him or looking at him, you should not put a 3 year old behind a closed door. Discussions are good later when the kid is not tantruming, for productive discussions use the methods in the book The Explosive Child, but the kid might not be verbal enough for that at this point. The discussion might help you better understand how the little guy is experiencing all this, his side of the story.


When you start ignoring the behavior may get worse for a few days (the extinction burst) before it starts getting better. It can be helpful to chart the daily frequency of the tantrums, it will help you will more quickly notice when the improvement starts and thereby help you stick with it.


This has proven to be the most effective thing a parent can do in numerous randomize controlled trials.


Other than the abuse, I'd not be too concerned that the mom does different stuff. All kids learn to behave differently in different environments. If you can solve the problem in your environment then at least you will have something that the mom can use effectively too if she wants to.
 

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Your husband is divorced from his first wife. Were there anger issues or any signs of personality disorder? If so, perhaps it's an indication that your stepson might have similar traits.

It might also be a red flag that your stepson is dealing with more than he can handle. There's already a big red flag; an eight-year-old who is worried because their mother is hitting the toddler with a wooden spoon and pinching him. To my mind this kind of behavior on her part is a problem and it may indicate one of two possibilities:
1. She's at the end of her rope with the screaming and has no idea of what to do, so she hits. Perhaps she's angry or hurt by the divorce and this is contributing to her emotional state.
2. Her physical discipline is a potential source of stress for the year old and he's acting out that frustration.

I think you need to bring in some outside help here. The first step would be to discuss the behavior with a doctor. Perhaps there's some underlying physical condition which is making the child irritable. His doctor might also be a good resource in determining if his behavior is within the range of normal or if you need to seek help.
Even if this is determined to be normal three year old behavior you still need help in negotiating parenting styles with the children's mother. Even in cultures which still advocate a very controlled spanking as a form of discipline I don't think anyone thinks pinching or hitting a child (or anyone else) with a wooden spoon is acceptable.

I have a great deal of sympathy for the little boy, and for you and your family. Clearly you're trying very hard to do things right and it's hard. He's only three years old and he's had to cope with a divorce, a new household, a new family, new siblings and a confusing arrangement (for a 3 year old) where he's at home with his mother part of the time and his father the other part. Since he's only three and a half and you've lived with your husband for a year and a half his parents marriage was falling apart when he was just a baby. That must be very difficult for someone who can't speak yet and doesn't even experience his feelings in words.
 

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Wow.... So disturbing and upsetting to think of this poor 3 year old being physically abused and surely verbally as well by the bio mother. I live outside of Boston and that kind of abuse is fileable with the state DCF. I'm also a licensed social worker that works with children and families ( and a mom of 2 expecting #3) and am really upset that this is happening. It's sounds like he's acting out possibly on many levels ....but the abuse by his mother could be exacerbating his emotional and behavioral outbursts. I would have him evaluated by a licensed social worker/ psychologist ASAP and report the mother!! If he is in preschool and or daycare it will not be long before someone reports this situation. It's really heartbreaking for all the kids to witness and I imagine stressful on your marriage also. I would really encourage your husband to become assertive against the physical abuse. He is a 3 year old!! No one deserves that kind of treatment. His language skills are not sufficient enough to effectively articulate his needs it seems. The mistreatment at the mothers could be creating irreparable damage on his psychological development. Even worse behavior problems could ensue. Please get help here.
 

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Just wanted to add to my initial post that in the state of Massachusetts (not sure what state you are in) anyone can report abuse by calling the state Dcf office. It's called a 51A here.The report then gets investigated, and the child is evaluated as part of the process. I really think that there is more harm going on at the mothers that you and your husband might be aware of. I'm happy to help you find resources if you want to message me. (again, I'm a LICSW and an LMFT for over 18 years). I've been in both private practice and worked for the courts, state and school system on behalf of children and families. Don't hesitate to reach out.
 

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Lilandrsmama has outlined one possibility very clearly and compassionately.

Another possibility is a mother who doesn't know how to cope with prolonged screaming and is responding in the only way she knows how out of complete exhaustion.

I want to be clear that I don't agree with spanking or physical discipline, and I'm not excusing her pinching and hitting. It's clearly not a good response. But it may be possible that the three year old has an undiagnosed problem and his mother has resorted to hitting him because she just can't cope with the prolonged screaming and is at the end of her rope. They might both need help. Sometimes there are situations where there isn't a bad guy, only a very bad response to a stressful situation.
 

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He could very well be on the spectrum or have some kind of emotional or language based disorder, I wouldn't know without seeing him. I evaluate hundreds of kids a month for the courts and his behavior could very well be something that is diagnosed & then treated. However, even if the mother is " at her ropes end" and can't cope anymore, she is doing MORE harm with the abuse. She should not be parenting if she is resorting to abuse as a coping mechanism. Yes, I agree she needs help. But the boy needs protection at this juncture in my professional opinion. Also, while the pediatrician is a good starting place, he/she will only refer out to a specialist as well as report the abuse if they feel the child is being neglected or abused. I'm so happy to see so many people are showing concern for this little boy.
 

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Unfortunately corporal punishment is legal in most parts of the United States including schools in 19 states. While I think you and I are in agreement that the paddling and pinching is harmful to the whole family and especially the three year old, it's still a cultural norm in many areas. I'm resistant to suggestions that the mother shouldn't be parenting - or should be reported - without knowing more about her.

Is it possible that fear of the power of DCF to recommend that someone shouldn't be parenting might prevent a family from availing themselves of the very real help they offer?
 

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Poor little boy has been through a lot in his little life. Honestly, he needs to feel loved. I am guessing he is struggling badly. Please be loving and patient with him. I doubt he needs to be evaluated. It is obvious he is screaming out for love and affection and instead he is being sent into time out. Best thing you could do to help your whole family is read Dr Laura Markham. Her website is ahaparenting. I hope you all can feel like a loving family quickly. And any physical abuse needs to be stopped. I don't know what the best way is to convey that to his mother, but maybe if you find a way to calm the little one's behavior you could pass on the kinder, gentler method.
 
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