I have a 4-and-a-half-year-old son. All our relatives live back in my home country. My husband doesn't contribute much to raising the child. Even at home he is spending most of his time with his laptop. The problem is that my son hits and throws things when he is tired or wants something from us and my husband says that it is because I don't punish him enough. Please advise me.
It can hard to be far away from family, and harder still when you are feeling unsupported at home. Here are my thoughts about your situation:
• Strengthen your marriage. I know your question is about your son's aggressive behavior, but tension between you and your husband will have only make things worse. If most of your interactions with one another are focused on who is to blame for your child's misbehavior, the two of you will have trouble feeling the closeness that allows you to parent as a team. What brought the two of you together? When do you have fun? Look for ways to build a solid relationship, and seek out counseling if things have deteriorated so badly that you can't imagine enjoying one another again.
• Learn to help your son handle frustration. Children get frustrated every day; it's perfectly normal, especially when they are hungry or tired, or they don't have the words to express their needs. When your son gets mad, avoid trying to talk him out of his upset or explaining why he can't have what he wants. Instead, acknowledge his frustration with comments like, "I know you wish you could have more ice cream, sweetheart", or "It's hard to have to clean up your toys when you feel like playing longer." Helping him feel understood is one of the best ways to reduce his aggressiveness.
• Notice positive behavior. Children respond much more favorably when we appreciate their effort to behave well than when we constantly point out their shortcomings. Catch your little boy doing what you ask, and let him know that you appreciate his efforts: "You cleaned up those toys so fast I could hardly believe my eyes!"
• Build parent-child connection. Encourage your husband to think of two or three activities he can do with your son that both of them might enjoy. It could be a short game like Connect Four or Uno, or something outdoors like drawing on the sidewalk with chalk or playing catch. The more he has fun with your son, the more likely your little guy will try to please both of you with better behavior.
• Create a network of support. We aren't meant to raise children in isolation. With your family far away, it is critical that you find caring, trustworthy friends who can provide moral support, as well as give you a break from time to time. You may make friends with parents from your son's school or the local park. If not, look for classes at a nearby community center.
Children who feel liked, cherished and enjoyed want to behave well because they naturally want to please us. When they sense tension between their parents, or have no tools for managing frustration, their behavior can take a turn for the worse. While punishments may work, they come at a cost. There are healthier ways of managing a child's behavior that don't generate fear and resentment. Hopefully these ideas will help your family get on a better track. Best of luck!
Susan Stiffelman is the author of Parenting Without Power Struggles: Raising Joyful, Resilient Kids While Staying Cool, Calm and Connected. She is a family therapist, parent coach and internationally recognized speaker on all subjects related to children, teens and parenting.
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