Troubled Behavior : Helping troubled four year-old

We've recently adopted a four old. He's been kicked out of day-care centers and booted out of foster homes, because of his behavior. He's quite a challenge. He is extremely demanding and will not allow attention to be given to anyone else at any time he's awake. He talks over everyone, makes loud noises, bangs on furniture, runs around like a lunatic and makes everyone around him nuts. Then, when someone reacts he blows up in a biting, kicking, scratching fit. He throws things, breaks things and shouts he hates everyone. So there you have it -- annoying and severe temper tantrums. We've tried many things, from time outs to spankings. He acts like he wants to try, but nothing is working very well. Any suggestions?


First, let me say how much I admire you for adopting a child with some problems. You must be very special people indeed.

Next, I must address the psychological component of your son's behavior. Clearly, he is testing you. He has been in other homes before, and he hasn't been kept in one yet. Why should he assume that you will be any different? If he throws every piece of bad behavior he can at you, and you don't send him away, then he will begin to know that he is finally safe. So, regardless of what you do, this is going to take time.

Next, let's look at how to control, or at least manage, the difficult behavior. Start by acting just the opposite -- the louder he gets, the softer you get. Even if you are using words of discipline, you should speak them softly, and with a limited amount of emotion. You should be completely consistent with your discipline. If he throws and breaks something, he has a privilege, such as watching a special TV show, taken away. Don't confine him to his room. He is too needy right now for that to have any effect other than to remind him of his feeling of being alone. In my opinion, taking away privileges is better for this child at this time.

At the same time, give him plenty of opportunity to do things right. If he does even the slightest thing well, such as clearing his plate or putting on his shoes, praise him a great deal. Your son will respond to this, even if he doesn't show it immediately. All people respond to praise and warmth. I assume I don't need to tell you that praise and hugs and kisses (when he lets you) are probably just what your son needs the most!

I wish you the best of luck with your child. Just remember that it will take a while to quell these annoying behaviors, just as it took a while to build them up. But love and patience should eventually work their magic.

Again, congratulations on your courageous decision.

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