You’ll usually find Vicki over at The Boy’s Behaviour where she writes about her son Mini, but today she’s asking for your advice here…


We have a lucky dip bag that Mini gets to go in when he’s been doing something really really well, so he gets rewards but without a formal reward chart or system. We verbally praise too, but sometimes he deserves a bit more than that. So today, he got to have a dip, but didn’t want what he pulled out.

“Sorry Mini”, I said “I thought you’d like that. You can put it back if you want, but you don’t get a second dip.” “Oh yes I will, I will have another go”, he demanded. “No, I’m sorry darling, the rules are always the same – just one dip.” “Well, I’m going to hit you then”, he shouted, raising his hands. (I ducked, he missed, Daddy stepped in and moved Mini away from me and luckily distracted him with his dinner).

This isn’t just over the lucky dip bag though…this is everything. If Mini is told he can’t have something, the standard responses are ‘Oh yes I can’, ‘YES I WILL’ and ‘I will if I want’. And if we don’t change our minds and give in, he’ll threaten to hit us.

This sounds fairly minor when I write it down, but this is one of those ‘behaviours’ that is on the increase, and although I’m sure it’ll die down as quickly as some of the others have, I just don’t know what to say to Mini when he’s threatening to hit me. It’s always said with such venom. On the occasions I’ve called his bluff, I’ve been thumped. I’ve empathised with how he’s feeling, but that doesn’t change how he’s feeling, so again, I get thumped. I often want to just walk away, but I worry he’ll feel rejected, and needs me close to help him figure things out. Distraction isn’t always an option, and anyway at 6, I feel we should be doing much more than distracting him anyway, else it’s just going to carry on.

How do we change this? We’ll carry on not giving in, but I don’t want to be hit each time.

8 thoughts on “Demands

  1. Rachel

    Hi Vicki,

    This must feel very hurtful – the threat, never mind the occasional follow-through, and I hope you manage to nip this particular behaviour in the bud soon! I can empathise a little, our 6y/o has also recently become very assertive on occasions, though luckily without the thumping. He’ll just state “I’m doing X” or “I’m going to Y” as a matter of fact, then have a meltdown when I explain that sorry no, he’s not doing that at all. I’ve wondered if it’s just another instance of copying what he believes is adult behaviour ie. telling everyone what to do. I always explain why he can’t do whatever it is, and when he might be able to do it, and I’m sure he knows before he says it that it’s not going to happen – it seems like he’s trying another way to set up a confrontation & test my limits.

    I accidentally found a way to “defuse” him yesterday, though. I smiled. He’d just stated that we WERE watching his choice of DVD when the other 3 people in the room had voted for something else, and was working up a head of steam about it. He looked so serious I couldn’t help smiling. Not what he expected at all. He instinctively smiled back, sat down & watched the DVD without another word.

    I have no idea if that’s going to work again (I’ll let you know!) or even if it was a good thing to do, but it seemed to break the usual cycle of these things. I’ve found, in common with a lot of people here, that our kids struggle to understand “if you do this, I will do that” thinking and will keep pushing and pushing.

    I’m not sure what to suggest for your situation, but not playing the role I was expected to play worked for me. Yesterday, at least.

    Good luck with this one, Vicki, and let us know how you get on x

  2. Sally

    It is very hard for our children to hear ‘no’. The very smell of the word can send them back in time and into a state of uncontrol.

    I can’t speak for your house, but in ours the treat bag would be a source of great stress (and to be honest would get raided in the middle of the night! – another story). I am a big fan of small amounts of praise, delivered genuinely, like ‘I noticed you did that really well’. I’m also a fan of a treat for no reason. Occassionally producing a packet of smarties or whatever and you can say ‘I was thinking of you today and I got you this’.

    In terms of the hitting, it has to be a big ‘no no’. I think it needs a consequence. For us the chore works best, done with a grown up. It doesn’t have to be something major but it gives time together for repair. If you get the ‘NO’ in response then I’ve found the best reply is ‘I can understand you don’t feel like doing it now, so we are going to do it later’. Then later I might turn the heat up a bit. ‘Of course you want to go out now, let’s get this job done first, oh what’s that you don’t want to, well I’m sorry that we we’re not going out until its done’.
    I’ve found the narrative thing good with hitting too. Perhaps as you are doing the chore run over the events ‘you were playing really well, then x annoyed you, and you hit me, which is not acceptable, and now you are being so helpful’ as it isolates the event and doesn’t make it about them being a bad person.

    Sorry to ramble on and I hope some of this is helpful.

  3. lindsay

    I really like Sally’s idea of narrating what has happened and labeling his feelings. We’re finding the labeling really helping Jonathan and he’s identified them a couple of times on his own now. When he gets mad and is stomping his feet and maybe screaming i will calmly say “wow Jonathan you look really mad right now; you’re stomping your feet and yelling. That tells me your mad. Do you need help?”

    What if you did walk away after a threat of hitting but said something like “We do not hit in this family, when you are ready to talk I will be over there”. This way you are cutting off the behaviour but not him and leaving the door open for him to still be close. Even if he doesn’t approach you after, you can always go back to him once he’s simmered down a bit.

    Or, what about a short list/pictures with 3 or 4 choices of what to do when he starts to get amped up. Instead of talking with him, maybe he’s not able to hear you at that point. You could pull the list from your pocket or point to it on the wall without saying anything and it would be a reminder to him to choose something to do until he settles down. Of course pre-teaching is necessary with this one.

    Good luck!

  4. Gem from Life with Katie

    I sympathise. We get some of this behaviour as well. I like the labeling idea. I use that as well. We have consequences for hitting. The consequence will be a spell on time out and certainly a removal of myself from the situation with the explanation of “I love you but I am unwilling to allow you to hit me so i am going to another room for a while”. If one of our children hit someone outside of the home then there will be repercussions so I worry about giving mixed messages at home. I know that issues such as time out and moving to another room are widely debated in adoption circles but I draw the line at being hit. Katie is getting much better with that particular behaviour at the moment which is a relief I must say. I hope you find a solution that works for you Vicki.

  5. Dee Griffiths

    In the big wide world outside our homes, there are consequences to actions if we ‘break the rules’ – this will happen at school, in the workplace, in the street etc. I think narrative and explanation that breaking rules and about unacceptable behaviors is the way to go and that it applies not just in the home but outside too. Its something parents dread the thought of having school ring to say their offspring has been involved in injuring another child. Perhaps talk about how Mini feels when Dollop hits him – does it hurt? Yes? – then liken it to how you feel when he does it to you. If it hasn’t happened perhaps build an imaginary story about what he THINKS it would feel like to get him really thinking about it. I think reinforcing love for him and telling him you understand that he is feeling frustrated are paramount but perhaps giving him some time out space by walking away to another room for a couple of minutes and telling him why you are doing this is also important but reiterating you will be back when the clock/his watch says ‘xxx’ time – this may act as a distraction for him to keep an eye on the time thus giving him time to simmer down too! Am sure things will improve once back at school – at the moment don’t forget he is ‘the top dog’ and trying to be assertive – once back at school he won’t be top dog any more. Keep your chin up xx

  6. Rose white

    My son has always had problem with how he shows he is angry and it included throwing things, breaking thing and hitting (usually me). He had no real insight into cause and effect. We have worked on this over the years trying lots of different approaches. We now have a house rule of ‘no hurts’ and that is of himself, others and things. For hitting there is a consequence. So now if I say no to something and he says he will hit me I say ‘that would a a bad choice and will result in a consequence’. For him that is usually no telly the next time it is due or no bed time story – both big things for him. Over time the problem has reduced and he has gain increasing insight into the effects of his choices. I can’t remember the last time he actually hit me although he still threatens on occasions. I should say this is all along side the praise, noticing good choices, humour etc. noted by others. The other thing is for you as the adult to respond in a calm and matter of fact way – difficult I know but can be done! I hope this is helpful.

  7. new pyjama mummy

    there are so many wonderful ideas here – it seems as if the issues are with control which comes out as anger when threatened with a no or disappointment – you are right to be consistent – and great your other half was there to distract and diffuse on this occasion with dinner! the threat of being hit is never nice – we too have the no hurts in our family rule alongside kind words and being gentle – and naming the feeling (labelling) also helps too in the process – we use newspaper to punch as an activity which helps let it all out at other times – and yes you still have to duck which might help you all have time in and hit in a game context – haha – but the in the heat of the moment diffusion and sticking to your boundary has to help the consistency – even when there is resistance – he does need to know he is loved and that there is consistency, which is what you are doing. does this help?

  8. Vicki

    Thanks everyone, some really useful things – some of which we’ve tried before with no change, but perhaps it’s time to try again now he’s a bit older.
    We do the newspaper punching, we do name/label his feelings (i.e You look really cross right now, you’re shouting and punching that cushion) which normally results in a ‘No I’m not’, but we persevere with it because it’s gotta go in sometime right?, we’ve smiled or tried to make light (that seems to antagonise him), we’ve tried natural consequences, we’ve tried unrelated consequences…he just doesn’t seem to a) care or b) remember!

    But…we will continue with the labelling, and we’ll try consequences again. In fact I told Mini tonight that we would be reinforcing the ‘no hurting’ rule from now on and that the consequence would be a chore to do with mummy or daddy. He immediately kicked me to test out the rule! He was a little surprised with the result of that test!


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