My Five Year Old Son is Extremely Defiant

Reader’s Question

My five-year-old son is extremely defiant and displaying aggressive behaviour. He has always found it difficult to control his anger, and he winds up throwing things. We have found that over the past couple of months his behaviour is escalating and he is yelling, screaming, punching, kicking and spitting at us. He gets so worked up that he goes red in the face and is crying so much through all this that we can’t understand what he is saying to us and it takes us at least half an hour to calm him down. We have tried many things to control his behaviour — confiscating toys, talking about what is acceptable and unacceptable behaviour and trying to encourage him to kick a ball when he feels angry. When I have spoken to him about why he gets so angry, his reply was “It’s my brain telling me to be naughty.”

At times he can be well behaved and really is a pleasure to be around but there is not a day that goes by that he doesn’t show this unacceptable behaviour. We are at our wits’ end and really feel that it is not at all normal for a child of his age to display so much anger and aggression.

Kind regards,
Distressed parents

Psychologist’s Reply

You are describing patterns we often find in children with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Children with ADHD exhibit what I call “neurochemical excitement”. In this situation, the normal brain chemistry changes that occur when we are upset, angry, or frustrated are exaggerated by the presence of their ADHD. The result is a very intense, severe behavioral outburst that makes them appear almost totally out of control. As you describe, they yell, scream, kick, spit, throw things, cry, and even curse. Rather than a brief temper tantrum, these episodes can last for 30 to 60 minutes. After the episode, the children often take an hour to calm down. If this is ADHD, your son will exhibit this pattern in other social settings as well. He will have this behavior at school, with the babysitter, or when visiting out of the home.

I’d first read up on ADHD and the symptoms of ADHD. I have written an article on Understanding ADHD that is available on my website at This website also has many links for ADHD. I’d also speak with your pediatrician/physician. You may also want to consider an ADHD evaluation through a psychologist in your community.

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