Defiant, Aggressive 3 Year Old and Mother at Wits’ End

Reader’s Question

I have a question about my 3-year-old son. He is a very defiant, temperamental, aggressive toddler. He has been throwing tantrums for 1 1/2 years, and they haven’t improved. The last two weeks, he’s thrown between 2-3 tantrums per day; for each one, I put him in his room, give him a few minutes to calm down, then go get him. Sometimes, he needs longer. He also is VERY defiant towards me or my husband (his father). We literally have tried EVERYTHING. He CONSTANTLY asks “why” when we ask him to do something, or to stop doing things. He is also abruptly aggressive toward his 1-year-old sister. She still crawls mostly. He’ll kneel on her hands when she’s crawling, hold her down, push, etc. Most of the time, he does it for no reason at all. We’ll also been having the most difficult time getting him toilet trained. I’ve been training him since July — and he still poops in his pull-up (which he wears to bed), and also wets his underwear DAILY, without even telling me he’s wet himself. I’ve tried rewarding him with candy, sticker charts, positive praise, letting him go “naked” to give him a better feeling of what its like to have to go, etc. NOTHING has worked. If I ask him, sometimes he’ll go. But I can’t get him to tell me, especially if he has to pee.

I’m at my wits’ end. I just simply don’t know what to do anymore. He has been a difficult child/baby since he was born. As an infant till about 18 months, he was SUPER sensitive to noisy/bright/chaotic situations. We’d suffer the consequences for days…even going out to a restaurant was more than he could handle. I’m a stay at home mom, my husband runs a business, and we’re not having any marital issues. Our daughter is the total opposite personality. She’s laid back, easy going and happy almost all the time. I’m really starting to think that my son is going through more than just the “terrible twos”. Any suggestions you have would be greatly appreciated! We’re open to anything! Thanks!

Mom at her wits’ end!

Psychologist’s Reply

Describing his behavior with such words as “constantly”, “everything”, and “nothing” is something I hear from parents of children who are ADHD. In ADHD children, traditional parenting approaches often don’t work. To remember a correction, for example, we have to have the attention span to retain the correction. When you’re ADHD, every five minutes is a completely new five minutes. Despite being corrected and instructed, the hand goes back in the DVD player.

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The child sounds very ADHD, even at this young age. There’s a strong connection between ADHD and problems with bowel and bladder control. When we have a normal attention span, we have enough attention/concentration to carry out our activities yet still monitor our bowel and bladder signals. We can even anticipate how long we have before we NEED to go to the restroom. ADHD children are so focused on their activities (called hyperfocus) that they don’t pick up bowel and bladder signals until it’s too late.

I’d recommend reading up on ADHD, then consulting with your pediatrician. There are also tons of parenting suggestions on the Internet on the various ADHD and Parenting sites. Considering ADHD is the first step. If ADHD doesn’t fit his behavior, then consult a child psychiatrist or psychologist for additional support.

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