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Aggressive Five-Year-Old

Toddler and Teenager Expert Advice from Carleton Kendrick, Ed.M., LCSW

Q: Just wondering if you have any ideas or good references for guiding me and my husband regarding our very bright but overly aggressive 5-year-old. He just turned five two weeks ago. He is in a Montessori environment and they have moved him from the 4-year-old group to the 5-year-old group in December. He is well above average his teacher says, but she says that he displays very poor lack of control during free times. For instance, when it's time to go to class he will streak down the hall and bump into someone. He will hit you in the face when he gets very excited. We have tried to talk to him about these things until we are blue in the face. We are firm in saying that this is unacceptable behavior and that there are consequences that go with that sort of behavior. But, his teacher thinks that we are "tolerant" of this behavior. So, we are just trying to educate ourselves more on the subject. Any ideas? Thanks.

A: Whatever you do, don't let someone start convincing you that you could control his impulses by medicating him. At 5 your son should be internalizing a conscience, which of course would tell him that hitting someone in the face hurts them and is wrong. He should also be able to comprehend that running speedily down a hallway peopled by other children will probably result in a collision. These are the expectations of others for a child your son's age.

Now that we've framed what he's doing in developmental terms, let's take a look at what might be the genesis of his unacceptable behaviors. It seems to me that he has limited and immature impulse control when confronted with an unstructured situation or one that triggers considerable anxiety and/or excitement. I would begin giving him alternative behavioral responses for his emotional tool kit, like showing him he can stomp his foot or go punch a pillow if he finds himself very anxious or excited. I'm suggesting alternative physical responses because at his stage of impulse control, just telling him to only use words(which of course you always suggest as a response) is too difficult. Tell him to save up all that speed that he uses running down the hall and show you how fast he can run when you see him after school. The idea here is to reframe his behaviors contextually so he can feel pleasure from something he currently does instinctively. His teachers should attempt to take a behavior that currently results in a negative, i.e. the fast running, and turn it into a positive, i.e. showing how fast he can run on the playground. Try this mindset out for a while and let me know the results. Good luck.

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Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.

Please note: This "Expert Advice" area of should be used for general information purposes only. Advice given here is not intended to provide a basis for action in particular circumstances without consideration by a competent professional. Before using this Expert Advice area, please review our General and Medical Disclaimers.


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