Disciplining my child (and failing)

What do you do when…

~ Your child simply refuses to sit in time-out and instead makes a game of you chasing him around the house?

~  Your child head butts you when you’ve decided to give holding him down in time-out a try?

~  Your child hides from you — at home, in the garage, at the store — and he is an impeccable hider?

~  You yell at your child in exasperation and he simply yells back?

~  You spank your child in a last-ditch effort and he either 1) yells at you 2) laughs or 3) smacks you back?

~  Your child gives a wicked smile of victory after he’s finally caused you to blow your top?


Let me provide you a little background and anecdote so you can fully appreciate the exasperation I am feeling.

Big C is almost four years old now and was diagnosed with high-functioning autism back in February.  Lately, he has been testing me (and I mean me very specifically).  If medals could be handed out for making mothers lose their cool, Big C would have a trophy case.

There have been a lot of changes recently, and I know this affects Big C.  I know this, and yet, it is still so hard to cope with.  School is out and I’m a teacher, so he is no longer going to daycare or his special needs preschool.  We’re only on day two of him spending his days with me and his one-year old brother, and I’m already at my wit’s end.

Case in point: this morning, I was trying to get the boys out the door because Big C is taking a social skills class (imagine that) once a week and today was the first day.  Naturally, it didn’t go smoothly at all.  Transitions are always a struggle for Big C, even with his visual schedule.  Honestly, I don’t even remember what set him off this morning, but all of the sudden, he was punching me on the back, quite hard if I might add.

I tried to stay calm. I really did.  I tried to recall what his in-home ABA therapists have been telling me: “Ignore the behavior.  He wants your attention.  Eventually, it will stop.”  So, I took a deep breath and ignored it.  I focused on Little C instead (per the ABA therapists’ instruction) and told him what a great day we were going to have.

The punching got more intense.  Big C started saying, quite calmly, “I’m hitting you, Mommy.  I’m hitting you, Mommy.”

He may as well have been saying, “What are you going to do about it, huh?”

I got up, carried Little C into the garage, and buckled him into his car seat, still ignoring Big C.   He proceeded to follow me into the garage too, sans socks and shoes, and sit on the tractor.  At this point, we had to get going, or we were going to be late.   No more time for ignoring. I told him, calmly, to get in the car.  He refused.  I then carried him into the car seat and begin putting his socks and shoes on.  He started hitting me again, this time adding in some arm-scratching (I need to remember to cut his nails).

Then, with his rather long legs, he stretched across the car to the other car seat and kicked his little brother’s fingers with his shoe-clad foot.

And then I lost it.

I grabbed his leg roughly, yanked it down, and then leaned in until I was half an inch from his face and screamed.

Of course he screamed back.  What the hell else did I expect?  For him to cry?  For him to obey?  Not Big C. He got pissed right back. The last ten minutes of demonstrating a calm demeanor were obliterated.  I let Big C use my back as a punching bag, and for what? I demonstrated for Big C exactly what not to do.

I know it’s not the end of the world.  He’ll be fine.  I’ll be fine.  Yet, I’m still living in fear every day.  Not of Big C, but of my own intense emotions.  I literally have to tell myself every morning to be calm, don’t let him get to me, he’s just a little boy. More times than not though, I explode, I do let him get to me, I do forget he’s a little boy, I do fail, and within that failure is a real fear that my inadequacies are hurting my child, a child who needs, and deserves, proper guidance.

No one ever said raising a child was easy, but for once, can’t it just be for a day?

K. Sawyer Photography / Foter / CC BY-NC


Published by Miranda Keskes

I am a freelance writer, editor, and tutor with fifteen years of high school teaching experience. Helping young adults craft their unique writer's voice is one of my passions. As the mother of a child with autism, I also feel compelled to share our story, connect with fellow parents, and raise awareness for a diagnosis that is still quite misunderstood. Learn more at my business site, KeskesInk.com, and my personal blog, MommyCatharsis.com.

4 thoughts on “Disciplining my child (and failing)

  1. Oh God. I don’t know about raising a child with autism, but I do know about losing my cool with my kids. Both have intense meltdowns with screaming and incessant “bugging” until I lose my shit. I’m so sorry. Here’s to a better tomorrow.


  2. Wow, that sounds really hard. Good luck. I find it so much easier to get my kids to “do it my way” when there’s something they want – eg, if my daughter screams “snack” in my face (as she is want to do after school) I ignore her until she asks politely. This works as she wants the snack and I have it. But when I want them to do something, like actually put their shoes on now so we can leave before they’re late, then there’s nothing I can withold from them, and it’s so much harder, it’s really frustrating. I try and think of relevent immediate consequences to help them understand but I’m only human and sometimes they just aren’t on my agenda (after all, they are kids). It’s harder to get my son (who might have Aspergers) to do stuff than my daughter. But he doesn’t hit me, I’m lucky.

    When I do loose my cool I remind myself of my big brothers advice that it’s good for kids to learn from you, a safe person who isn’t going to hurt them, that you if you keep pushing someone enough they get angry, so that hopefully they understand this before they meet less well meaning members of society when they’re older. And I also remember the person who told me at a parenting group that her mum never once shouted at her as a child. And in her first job her boss shouted at her and she was completely overwhelmed and burst into tears and didn’t know what to do because she’d never had to deal with it before.

    So, loosing your cool is not good, but maybe it’s not the end of the world. And you’ll get plenty more opportunities to practice doing it better!


  3. You make such a great point about showing my raw emotions to my child. The world isn’t going to tiptoe around him, so it probably is healthy on some level for him to see a natural reaction to his actions. Thank you! Perhaps I can stop beating myself up so much now (I’ll continue leaving that to my child). 😉


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