Post 14 — Ten Tips on Raising a Child Who Acts Out Violently

By Liz Sydney –

Raising a violent child is many things simultaneously: Stressful, sad, exhausting, terrifying, embarrassing and hopeless. But, unless the child is sociopathic or somehow beyond repair, a parent’s or caregiver’s love and effort can heal the child and create a stable home life.

1. NEVER respond with violence. Never. Most children who act out violently do it because they are behind developmentally, not because they are bad. Responding with violence will inflame the situation, injure relationships, and confuse and devastate the child further. Show this child constant and unconditional love while keeping clear boundaries and POSITIVE discipline.

TRASH any book that encourages any and all physical discipline, no matter how benign-seeming (withholding affection, locking in a room, flicking, pinching, ‘light swatting’…). No child, and least of all a child who is struggling to develop, learns or benefits from destructive discipline.

I learned early on to keep my husband away from an explosive event. He’s naturally nonviolent, but the length of time our child could rage — up to 45 minutes at a time — pushed my husband’s patience to its limit. I had a better hold of my ego and anger so I took the reins of my child’s care during explosions.

2. Have a plan in place for the child’s outbursts. Devise a safe way to protect everyone from the child’s violence that also protects the child’s physical self and emotional dignity. The child doesn’t choose to explode; the child explodes when a situation is beyond what they can handle.

My safe place was a futon on a floor of a small room, where I could safely hold my child without him getting hurt, or me being significantly hurt (of course I was regularly, lightly injured). When he got older, I put him outside in our fenced-in yard and monitored him. As time went on the violence significantly lessened. Whenever the violence was finished, I held him close in a long, nurturing hug to communicate my love and support, and to counter his own regret and shame.

3. Ensure that the child is as physically healthy as possible. Strictly limit processed sugars, processed food and provide the best diet possible. A healthy brain can’t develop from food carrying no nutritional value; and a poor diet exacerbates bad behaviour. Whole, organic fats and best-quality fish and flax seed oils are believed to support a healthy brain. Limit screen time, including on-screen violence, because it sends that child a mixed message about violence. Maintain a strict, healthy sleep routine.

The evidence on whole food vs processed food for brain health is incontrovertible. I don’t allow junk food, processed food, or processed sugar in my family’s diet. It’s a drag. I hate organizing, preparing and cooking, but the role of processed food in all chronic illness can’t be ignored. I make my kids sleep earlier than most (9PM), in a tech-free room, kept completely brain-healthy black.

4. Don’t leave the child at a school where teachers or students don’t support her/him. All the love at home can’t counter peer or teacher bullying, destructive discipline by the school, or teacher neglect.

My child was variously bullied by a peer, easily egged-on by older kids, and neglected by two teachers. I decided to homeschool him, which I dislike and devastated our family income, but gives his future a fighting chance.

5. Make sure this child gets lots and lots of quality exercise. Concussion-prone sports (football, hockey, soccer, boxing) are a bad idea for a child whose brain is struggling to develop.

I chose karate as my son’s sport. I like that it’s a whole-self sport that demands concentration and focus while being a physical outlet.

6. Don’t rely on diagnoses (ADHD, ODD…) and psycho-pharmaceuticals to further the child’s actual development. Diagnoses and meds (that carry significant dangers) are not magic bullets, and are subject to the whims of psychiatric fashions and the billion-dollar drug marketplace. NO drug or paid professional can shepherd this child into his or her healthy self. There’s no getting around it: This child needs real, loving human support daily in order to develop properly.

I did NOT have my son diagnosed because the evidence didn’t demonstrate that behaviour labels would effectively alter or improve his situation. I did NOT medicate him because the pharmaceuticals are prescribed off-label in a best-guess manner, have not been tested in children over the long-term, and include serious side effects. I simply took full-on responsibility for my child, and eight years later he is nonviolent.

I found ‘The Explosive Child’, by Ross Greene, PhD, and his non-profit website VERY helpful. He trains therapists in his methods, and maybe you have a CPS-trained therapist in your area. I didn’t.

7. Be patient and aware. This child may have overlapping issues, such as sensory hypersensitivity, which can be a trip wire for outbursts. Know your child well: This child isn’t making up hypersensitivities to touch, taste, sounds or sights. The child isn’t trying to be annoying. Hypersensitivities are very powerful.

My child was hypersensitive to certain clothing and clothing labels, certain sounds, certain light, many foods, and more. I regret now that I was insensitive, unaware, and easily irritated by what I wrongly viewed as his behaviour choices.

8. If you don’t have human support, then listen to the always-available online radio programs that Ross Greene, PhD, does with call-in parents just like us. (This is a non-profit site.)

I was completely isolated in my experience, so I found massive comfort in listening to Greene’s online radio programs where I heard other wits’-end parents dealing with all of my same issues. Those programs saved some of my sanity!

9. As a parent or caregiver, you need to stay sane, well and healthy. Raising a child like this is a bit like being in a war zone. You need to know how to take good care of yourself and find methods you can rely on for your stress.

What keeps your brain from exploding? I watch dumb TV shows; I drink wine in moderation; I take lots of vitamins; and I need time alone. Need mani-pedis, nights out with friends, or jogging? Do it, whatever it is!

10. Hug this child all the time. The child is regularly humiliated, terrified and saddened by his or her own behaviours and by the reactions of others. You must be a safe island of love, warmth and hope for the child’s present moment and future.

I love, love, love, love my child. I say and demonstrate it all the time (to both my kids). I wasn’t raised like that at all but recognize that love is truly the best teacher and healer. I have one chance, in these few years that he’s under my wing, to fix this kid. I won’t lose my chance.







18 thoughts on “Post 14 — Ten Tips on Raising a Child Who Acts Out Violently

  1. Beth

    Have you had your child checked for PANDAS (pediatric auto-immune neuropsychiatric disorders associated with strep). These children rage because they have inflammation in their brain. There is simple screening and non-invasive treatment. I suggest you research it. It is now said that 1:200 kids can have it. If your child has it, their behaviors can revert back in a matter of days of treatment. Many kids go undiagnosed for years and can have lifelong mental health issues from it.

    1. Liz Sydney Post author

      Hi Beth, I had read about PANDAS in the past and it didn’t seem to fit my son’s health profile, but I’ll absolutely go back now and see if new information bears new insights. Integrative and functional medicine are finding new links each day between gut, body, and brain and I would never dismiss or rule out anything! Thanks so much for visiting and reminding me about this.

  2. Healthy Home Body

    This article is spot on! Dealing with violent behavior is exhausting. We help manage our son’s behavior through diet and lots of love. Thank you for this wonderful article, I will be sharing this with my clients.

    Alicia Dragic, RN, CGP

    1. Liz Sydney Post author

      Hi Alicia, It makes me so happy to hear of a family healing a child’s violence through diet and love! So many adults instigate a tragic power struggle with a confused child. Thanks so much for visiting and commenting!

  3. Elaine Vigneault

    I would not characterize soccer as “concussion-prone” and lump it together with football, hockey, and boxing. At least not for boys. The CDC has stats on these things and they say: “Children from birth to 9 years commonly sustained injuries during playground activities or while bicycling.” and “For males aged 10-19 years, sports- and recreation-related TBIs occurred most often while playing football or bicycling.”

    Soccer does come up for girls, however. They say “Females aged 10-19 years sustained sports- and recreation-related TBIs most often while playing soccer or basketball or while bicycling.” The Washington Post says, “The particularly high concussion incidence rate in girls’ soccer can be partially explained by the fact that girls are more susceptible to concussions across all sports played by both genders” and that heading the ball (and attempts at heading) is dangerous. Now-a-days, because of recent findings about heading the ball, many youth soccer leagues simply don’t allow it in play.

    All of which leads to my point that soccer is a fine choice, particularly for young children and teen boys. Of course, there are plenty of other sports to choose from if a parent wants to keep an active child busy and healthy: swimming, track, dance, tennis, golf etc.


    1. Liz Sydney Post author

      Hi Elaine, Based on my research (Daniel Amen, MD is one of my go-tos on sports) and the many years my husband spent in the sport, soccer is not a choice I would make for my children’s developing brains. I state my opinions but don’t impose them. I wish all soccer-loving kids lots of healthy fun in the sport. My husband, kids and I were all glued to the last World Cup! Thanks so much for visiting and commenting.

  4. TiredMom

    Thanks, I needed to see this tonight as a reminder. Have been put through the ringer all day by our 5 year old son and lost it tonight and yelled. Hate myself when I don’t practice what I know is the right way of doing things. Going to do better tomorrow. Glad to know we aren’t alone.

    1. Liz Sydney Post author

      Holy cow, Tired Mom, You’re SOOOOO not alone! Listen, in my next incarnation as a Buddhist monk I’ll NEVER yell. As it is, in my present incarnation as a parent of a difficult child, if yelling is the worst thing we do then I think we can forgive ourselves. I wish you strength and sanity, and that you’re able to keep hugging and loving your son. Your love does more than you can imagine.

  5. christinawester

    I love the advice you offer here! So glad you recognized the damage school can do and took him out.

    So sorry that you hate Homeschooling! 😦
    We home educate all three of our kids (one with special needs that includes violent behavior) and have found alternative methods that make for a much easier and more peaceful Home Ed experience, AND results in more efficient learning as well. (Meaning what is learned is actually RETAINED!) 🙂

    This approach goes by many names Whole Life Learning, Organic Learning, Paleo Learning but the most google-able term for it is Unschooling. It is NOT un-parenting but a method that engenders an even deeper connection with your kids and their needs.

    My website has more info, definitions and links to further reading (click Unschooling Resources) and I highly recommend this blog by a grown Unschooler that gives a great intro to Unschooling as well as links to common questions like “how do Unschoolers get into college,” etc.
    Click Unschooling 101

    There are also schools that use this approach if Home Ed just simply isn’t for you. Sudbury Valley has been Unschooling kids for over 40 years and there are now over 30 “Sudbury Schools” around the country.

    I’m happy to answer any questions you have about the alternatives to traditional Homeschooling. Best of luck to you and your family!

    1. Liz Sydney Post author

      Hi Christina, Thanks so much for your thoughtful reply and Unschooling resources links. I should say that I am enormously grateful for our homeschool organization and also for a provincial government that includes it under its education ministry rubric. I’m grateful to all the risk-taking, stubborn parents who paved the way for our alternatives. I’m glad to hear about your positive experience with Unschooling and wish you the very best with your children! I’ll be sure to check out your links.

      1. christinawester

        Home Ed groups are ESSENTIAL to success (and sanity) while homeschooling! Hope you find a Home Ed method that is a better fit for your needs. I’m happy to help with that in anyway – homeschooling does NOT have to be a miserable experience!

        Another resource that comes to mind for anyone who is not quite ready to ditch the entire idea of curriculum is Donna Vail. She has homeschooled for over 20 years and she helps homeschoolers who are tired of the struggle. Even though she’s not an Unschooler, I really LOVE her approach as well.

      2. Liz Sydney Post author

        Hi Christina, Thanks for the information! I’ll stay put where I am since I only have another grade year to go, but I’m certain that someone will appreciate the link. If I hear of anyone seeking info on Unschooling or homeschooling, I’ll definitely steer them to your blog. You’re clearly very committed and your kids are very lucky to have you!

  6. Bridget Marchand

    Thank you for this beautiful artical. I am a mom of 3 & a certified Redirecting Children’s Behavior Instructor. Learning to parent is ever-evolving. As much as I “know” it is hard to catch myself, in the moment of an outburst between the kids, or a tantrum. Parts of my brain just shut down, I am certain. Prevention is key. What can I do differently next time? How have I stretched them beyond their ability to cope? So many times, a hug is all that is needed to refocus energy in a different direction. I have shared this to my FB page & parenting “groups”. Thank you again!

    1. Liz Sydney Post author

      Hi Bridget, You SAID it: ‘Learning to parent is ever-evolving’! We need to stretch ourselves and respond, with a new, best ‘self’ that we didn’t even know could exist, to the challenges presented by each child. It’s mind blowing! I’m so glad you think it may be helpful to the parents you teach. My lessons are hard-earned and I hope they can benefit others. Thanks for visiting and commenting!

  7. Katy

    I think there are lots of reasons why a diagnosis can be important, if not essential to get. I think perhaps if people do not see the necessity then maybe the child is not severe enough or is out of the education system which is not a possibility for everyone. I don’t know what country you are in but here in the UK I would say it is pretty important. I would have had my kids taken from me if I hadn’t got a diagnosis as it was thought I was making it up. But do agree a lot of love is a good thing.

    1. Liz Sydney Post author

      Hi Katy, Thanks for reading and commenting. I don’t disagree with your point. My husband and I know three continents fairly intimately (in urban and rural settings) and we know we’re fortunate to have the choices we do here in a Canadian city. Also, we’re lucky that our son never exhibited symptoms of schizophrenia, psychosis or sociopathy, which would have necessitated outside intervention, diagnosis, and forced medication. I avoid the ‘health care’ system at all costs because it is so badly ill-informed on mental health, and psycho-pharmaceuticals can do lasting damage. As parents we’re all in such terrible positions. I wish you the very best and I truly hope treatment is working for your family.

  8. Peaceful Parents, Confident Kids

    I really enjoyed reading this article. My daughter uses violence when things just don’t seem to be going her way. interestingly she only does it on her sister, myself and occasionally her father. I have never seen her show aggression towards her peers or teachers for example. Do you think this falls under the same category as it appears she does have some control over her violence? We are positive parents, who show her unconditional love and support always. Thanks

    1. Liz Sydney Post author

      Hi Peaceful, Thanks for reading and commenting. My son’s violence was also limited to us — his family — at home. This was hugely confusing for me until I read in Ross Greene’s ‘The Explosive Child’ that he came across it in his practice all the time. Some kids just somehow bottle it in until they’re in a ‘safe’ place for it to blow. Detractors will use it as their ‘proof’ that the child is ‘manipulating’ the family and fully in control. Hogwash. Greene repeats again and again: If your daughter COULD control her violence she WOULD.

      Violence is violence, in the house or outside. You just have some lucky leeway, like I did, in that you’re not being publicly vilified for your daughter’s behaviour and you have some room to help her without outside interference. Have you taken a look at my reading list on my ‘About’ page? ‘The Explosive Child’ was a great place to start for me. And only a few of my books are boy-centric. Most deal with girls and boys.

      I believe in unconditional love and support BUT my boundaries are rock solid. I let NO bad behaviour slide. All violence, verbal outbursts, door slamming…comes with consequences [non-punitive and non-violent, but clear consequences none the less]. It wasn’t OK simply because he did it only in private. These kids need to learn/develop the self-control that their peers and family all exercise, or how will they function when they leave home?


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