kcaveney asks:

3-year old w/ anger issues

My 3.5 year old has troubles dealing with his anger after seeing his dad and it takes a week or more to get back to normal.  He will act out aggressively and more physically (to the point of making kids or me bleed by hitting or throwing hard objects at them) when he gets angry.

A little history is that his father and I split 1 year ago after 7 years together because I asked him to step up and put effort into parenting and he decided it was easier to just leave.  I have less stress when he is not around and would love to cut him out of my life, but I can't because of our son.  However, he has only seen his son a handful of times within the year and never calls him just to talk or keep up to date on what is new.  My son loves when he sees his dad (usually it is only for a few hours and never overnight), but I think that he has abandonement issues since he never knows when he will see him again.

I am struggling to help my son cope with the sadness and anger he feels, but I am at my whits end (last night he broke my nose by throwing an object at my face).  Every day it's a worry about whether he will do the same to any of his classmates.

I have told his dad that he can't see my son until he sits down with me and sets a schedule so my son can see when he will see his dad next.  I also told him he has to explain to my son why he is not around but I am not sure these will work. Any advice would be much appreciated.

In Topics: Discipline and behavior challenges, Single parent families, Divorce Issues
> 60 days ago



Oct 1, 2011
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What the Expert Says:

I'm sorry to hear that your 3 1/2 year old is struggling so much. He is angry that he can't spend more time with his dad, and wants more time with him. He is also taking out his negative emotions on those around him.

It would be nice to set up a regular schedule for his dad to see his son, but it's not possible to control another adult. If your ex agrees to a schedule, that's great. If not, then don't push it. If he is spending time with his son, and see's it as an inconvenience and "burden"- your son will react to this also.

Here are some tips to help:
-Reassure your son that both mom and dad love him, even if dad doesn't spend much time with him
-Remind him that hitting, throwing, yelling (or whatever else he is doing) is not an acceptable way to express his emotions
-Put in place consequences for negative actions
-Put in place rewards for positive behavior
-When he returns from his dad's house, help him transition back to your house. This may include a time to talk about his visit, and process his emotions a little bit by you talking outloud about how hard it is to go from mom to dad's house and back- but that both parents love him.

This last part is difficult, a 3 1/2 year old is not able to articulate all of his feelings. I highly recommend some outside help. Consult a counselor in your area, that specializes in divorce and remarriage, and offers play therapy.  Your son needs a professional to help him through this time of transition, and learn how to handle his emotions more effectively.

Good luck. With some outside help, and you also helping your child, it will get better.

Kindest Regards


Shirley Cress Dudley, MA LPC NCC FACMPE
Blended family, step family and single parent expert
Director of The Blended and Step Family Resource Center
Author of the book, Blended Family Advice
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