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Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Mean, Angry Three-Year-Old

Written by  Sylvia B. Rimm, PhD

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QDear Dr. Sylvia,

I am concerned about my three-year-old nephew. My sister has been having ongoing problems with his behavior, which is very defiant and even violent at times. He will pick fights with other kids or do things on purpose to hurt them or make them cry. He will also hit my sister, or occasionally, other adults like myself. He also swears a lot, using strong words that even sound bad coming from an adult. My sister has tried time-outs, but he will not stay in place.

He can be such a sweet, lovable boy, but then, all of a sudden, his mood switches and he becomes mean. Do you have any suggestions for my sister to help her help him express his anger in a more positive way, or for redirecting his negative behavior? I should say that he lives in a household with a father that is quite angry as well. He is very negative but has never been physically abusive toward my sister. I am really concerned about my nephew's expression of anger at such a young age.

-- Aunt of Angry Nephew --

ADear Aunt of Angry Nephew,

So much power and anger in a three-year-old may well be related to the interaction he sees between his mother and father. Do you think your sister's husband has been abusive and she hasn't told you about it because she's ashamed or afraid? It is also possible that your sister has given her son more power than her husband. If Dad threatens the son with a punishment, and Mom helps him to avoid his Dad's consequences, that would give the child more power than his father.

The adult vulgarity must come from words he's heard, and perhaps there are unpleasant arguments taking place. I think your sister needs more help than I can give her in my column, and that she may not be sharing everything with you. For her son's sake, and perhaps her own as well, encourage her to see a counselor. As an aunt, that's probably the most important difference you can make for your nephew.

Dr. Sylvia

Last modified on Tuesday, 09 April 2013 15:31
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Sylvia B. Rimm, PhD

Sylvia B. Rimm, PhD

Dr. Sylvia Rimm is a psychologist and best-selling author with a national following. She is the director of the Family Achievement Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio, and is a clinical professor at Case Western Reserve School of Medicine.

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