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Ask Jill Blog

Ask Jill Blog

Jill Kaufman, Licensed Clinical Social Worker, is a dynamic speaker, educator and therapist who has lead workshops and seminars at schools, religious institutions, corporations and community organizations. Ms. Kaufman received her Bachelor of Science from Cornell University and her Masters of Social Work at Rutgers University. Ms. Kaufman is a Certified Parent Educator and looks forward to blogging about topics such as discipline, sibling rivalry, self-esteem, power struggles, consequences, communication skills and limit setting for toddlers through teens.
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Most recent posting below. See other blog postings in the column to the right.

Ask Jill - May 1998

Q: I'm worried about my 5 yr old. Every time I tell him he is wrong for doing something he starts yelling, "I'm going to kill myself." Then when I try talking to him. He holds his hand over his ears and won't listen to me. He'll start screaming. Like the other day he was out in the street when he knows he's not allowed so he was punished for a day. He was not allowed out. Now when I was talking to him I was telling him how much I love him, how I do not want to see him get hit by a car. Well he told me, "I know mommy. I'm sorry." I told him "Good. I know you know you did wrong but I can't let you back out. You're punished, you know the deal." Well, he started hitting himself. I could not believe it. Then he tried choking himself. He put his hand on his neck and squeezed. I held him and told him not to do that. I don't want you to hurt yourself. I love you. What can I do because he did this a lot of other times before. Please help me as soon as you can.

Your friend Linda

A: Dear Linda,

It sounds like your son has a lot of anger in him and he is taking it out on himself to get a reaction from you. You need to do a lot of things. First, concentrate on the positive things that he does. Whenever he does something that is "right", let him know. If he does something which you consider to be "wrong" do not acknowledge it unless it is life threatening like playing in the street. (I use quotes because it is ultimately you who can make a decision what is right and wrong for your family.)

The hitting and choking himself sounds like he is trying to get your attention. And it is working! You need to stop it from working. Try as best as you can not to react strongly to this and tell him, "If you want my attention, ask me for it." Tell him, "When you hurt yourself it makes me feel scared because I love you and I don't want you to get hurt. Would you please talk to me instead of hurting yourself?" This sounds simple but if you react calmly when he is hurting himself and tell him how to act appropriately, it may take away his need to do it.

A five year old does not have the maturity to understand why he shouldn't play in the street. It isn't his fault that he goes there, he is just playing. You should always supervise him when he is outside. It sounds like you are handling him well when you stick to your "logical consequence" of not letting him outside. But don't treat it like a punishment. Be loving when you tell him he can't go outside without you and empathize with him. Say, "You really are upset that I am not letting you outside. You will have another chance to play outside tomorrow." Tell him why he can't go outside and ask him if he has any other solutions. One solution is that you can go with him while he plays outside.

Are you giving your son enough attention? Spend some quality time with him when he isn't misbehaving and that will show him that you love him. He is so young and so impressionable. He still doesn't understand a lot of things. Don't expect too much from him and allow him to be a kid. This will help your relationship. Also, get a parenting book - Raising Your Spirited Child by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka. There are a lot of tips on how to discipline in there that will help you.

Good Luck,

Q: My daughter is 7 years old and her teacher has told me that Alexa is having difficulties in school, for example, focusing on and completing tasks, is easily distracted, arguing with classmates and blurting out. Her teacher does not think this is something my daughter can control and insists it is not my daughter's fault. She has suggested I speak with my daughter's pediatrician. I finally figured out that my daughter's teacher was hinting that my daughter might have ADHD. While I do notice these traits and more at home, for the most part, my daughter is very well behaved. Her teacher also said my daughter is beyond a 1st grade reading level and can tell she is trying hard at math. What I am afraid of is a misdiagnosis of ADHD. How do I know that these aren't normal traits for a 7 year old and that she will simply grow out of them? On the other hand, if my daughter truly has the disorder, I don't want to wait until my daughter starts 2nd grade and falls behind. I have tried to ask my daughter direct questions about her feelings about school and reassured her we will not be angry at anything, but we need to know if she needs help. Can you offer any suggestions or advice? I am truly confused and frightened by the prospect of either a misdiagnosis or not getting her help at all. Thank you.


A: Dear Debra,

I understand your concern about a misdiagnosis because there seem to be too many children diagnosed with ADHD these days. However, you should consider taking her to see her pediatrician. You can always get a second and third opinion and then you have many choices. If she is been diagnosed with ADHD, you do not have to give her medication if you are concerned about that. There are other ways to help a child with ADHD. In addition, there is a lot of information that can help you help her if the doctors think it is ADHD. You also can do nothing. In addition, there are many books like "The Active, Alert Child" (I don't know the author) that can help.

Good Luck,


Q: I have a big concern that bothers me deeply. My 5 year is still biting other children. I could use some help and advice. She does it when she doesn't get her way or something is taken away from her. It is not something that happens every time but it should not happen at all. PLEASE HELP!

Thank you,


A: Dear DeAnne,

Biting should stop or significantly slow down at about age three. Does your five year old have any speech problems? That could be a reason for a five year old to bite. If your child is talking normally then you need to look at what else is going on. Is there something stressful going on in your family or in the child's school? A new situation like a new sibling or a move can cause a child to regress to biting. Get your child to talk about the stressful situation and reassure your child that you love him.

You need to supervise your child closely and intervene quickly when disputes begin. Most importantly, you need to stay calm. If you get emotional and angry, you won't be able to discipline appropriately.

1. Calmly state, "It is not okay to bite people. Tell the child what you want with words."
2. Offer a consequence, "If you bite, we have to go home."
3. Role play with your child. Pretend the two of you are fighting over a toy and that you are going to bite her. Stop and ask, "How would you feel if I bit you? What would you like me to do instead?" Role play again. Pretend you are fighting over a toy and let her try whatever she suggested to do instead of biting. Do not bite the child back! Hurting a child does not help her learn to stop hurting others.
This is a tough situation and requires you to be consistent and on top of the situation.

Good Luck,


Q: My 18 month old granddaughter has mood swings. One moment she is playing fine, the next she cries out and gets mad. Is there a chance that she needs some form of medication at her age in order to balance out her moods. We have tried everything, but nothing so far has worked. Should we take her to the doctor for tests. If so what kind of test? Her mother (deceased) had a real problem with mood swings all of her life. Could she have passed it on to her daughter?

Any help would be appreciated.
Virgil Palmer

A: Dear Virgil,

At 18 months old it is very hard to tell what is going on. At this age it is normal for a toddler to be extremely happy one moment and hysterically crying the next. However, if her mother had a psychological condition, it very well may have passed on to her daughter.

Mood swings in and of itself is not a psychological condition. People have nine inborn temperament traits, one is intensity. A person who has a highly intense reaction can be "a living staircase of emotion, up one minute - down the next" (from Raising Your Spirited Child by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka). If this is your granddaughter, there could be nothing wrong with her - it is just her temperament. You should expect strong reactions from her and develop a plan to help her express it appropriately or diffuse it. You also should get the book "Raising Your Spirited Child" mentioned above.

I would stay away from medication at this age unless absolutely necessary. You probably should get your granddaughter checked by a physician - it can't hurt. But my gut feeling is that you cannot make a diagnosis at this young age.

Good Luck,

Moderated by Jill Kaufman.

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