Combating a Child in Attack Mode

Has anybody ever had a problem bonding with one of their charges or just not liking them? I feel terrible about saying this (and even worse feeling it) but I do not like the four year old little boy that I nanny for. I have been this familys nanny for around two years but have known the family for four years. The parents are great and he has one older brother and a toddler brother. I have tried my best to bond with the four year old (about to be five) by doing activities, playing games and sports and even taking him on Ice Cream Fridays to get ice cream when I pick him up from school.

He is a very difficult child to the point where he has been taken to several doctors to test to see if he may have autism or a personality disorder due to his very high aggression. He is very rigid in the way he wants things and will assault you if you do something he doesn't like. He is very destructive with his items yet at school (according to the school) he is a perfect angel that follows directions and is not in the least bit aggressive to his classmates. He is a bully toward his brothers and when I intervene I get hit, kicked, scratched, bit, spit on, etc. When I have to physically put him in time out, he goes into full on attack mode and I have fallen down the stairs on more then one occasion. He is very bright but has a very nasty personality. His brothers on the other hand, are very easy and more laid back. Do the nannys or parents on here have any suggestions on how to try and bond more with a very difficult four year old and how to combat some of this extremely bad behavior as I am desperate for some help. - Anonymous


Wednesday said...


Again, this is why I only nanny for infants.

I think he's better in school because there are more reprocussions for negative behavior than there are at home. Plus, in school there is a strict schedule to follow so he's always busy and kept focused. To go along with that he's probably got a lot of built up energy from being at school. Yes, he is 4 and not 10. He isn't sitting at a desk all day but they do have to sit still at times to listen to a lesson or story, draw shapes and write their alphabet, numbers or name. I'd try taking them to the park or in the yard to play an organized game with a ball or chalk. Kids thrive off of structure and consistancy.

BED may very well be a diagnosis for this child but while you, the parents and the doctors ponder through the hundreds of possibilities (diet, home atmosphere, disorder, hell he could just be tired after school...) a worn out kid may be the solution to your problems for now. Play, play, play!

Good Luck!

Lyn said...

It's normal to not always bond with all of your charges. Not every match will be one where the kids become like family. Sometimes work is just work. I hope you aren't beating yourself up about this. You sound like a great Nanny and as long as you are showing the same care and attention equally bewtween the children then no one can fault you for your feelings. They are valid.

I agree that the child probably is responding well to a strict school schedule and the consequences set in place by his teacher and the school. When I was teaching 1st and 2nd grade I several special needs children in my classes and their aides were always telling me how much better "their" children did with the structure I provided than when they were at home. Some kids need a good consistent routine, and most special needs children (assuming he is one in one aspect or another) thrive from one.

Have you tried setting in place a similar routine and consequences for him? I think that would be highly beneficial if you haven't yet.

BrooklynMomma said...

If the child is, in fact, calmer and less aggressive at school, then I wonder what is lacking in the home that makes him react aggressively. Are there rules at home that, when broken, have appropriate consequences? Do the parents spend enough 1:1 time with this child? What have the doctors said about his aggression?

I firmly believe that there is always a reason for children's behaviors. Since they lack the understanding and language to express what is bothering them, they lash out or become introverted as a way to deal with the situation/feelings. What do his parents say about his behavior? Has it always been like this or did it start recently?

redrosebeetle said...

My husband's son had the opposite problem: the son was a good kid at home and a tiny terror at school. My husband never knew, because the teacher kept sending home "satisfactory" behavior report cards.

One day, the teacher said that the son couldn't go on field trips because of his behavior at school. My husband was understandably baffled: after all, the teacher kept sending home report card after report card saying that the son wasn't acting out. So, he went down to the school to try to get to the bottom of the problem.

Turned out the son's behavior at school had been just horrible. Acting out, being aggressive, giving lip back to the teacher, you name it. On the last field trip, the son had even bought a mock spear at the gift shop and was using it to threaten other kids. Hubby and his ex had *no* idea. However, the teacher didn't feel it was "fair" to give a bad grade to a kid for anything.

So, the moral of that story is you can't always trust the teachers to give fair and accurate reports.

I wonder if there's any way you or the parents can arrange to observe part of the son's day at school without the son knowing he's being watched?

OP here said...

Thanks for the tips. They have rules at home but it just depends on the mood if he wants to follow them. He doe timeout in his room which he does hollar about but then becomes no big deal. He does every once in awhile take naps but that is usually 4 or 5 o'clock (then the problem becomes getting him into bad because then he will stay to midnight if he naps).
his mom is planning on Monday to go and observe him but his preschool has really short days (nine to one). I am just at my wits end and dread the afternoon when I have him.

Terrible 4s said...

This is normal. But it's not easy. Four year-olds often throw fits like a toddler. And when their temperament is high strung, inquisitive, active it's really a tough mix.

I'm thinking that one thing that will turn your relationship around is to make a commitment to "catching" him doing good. Force yourself to praise him. He needs it. "I really like the way you remembered to put your shoes way after school"/. " Thank you for sharing your toy with your brother. You're such a great friend!"

Kids often meet our expectations. If we think they'rer awful, well... then they will begin to believe that is their role in life. Watch what you say to him. Do not call him names or put him down. (not suggesting you do, but in my experience when an individual child bugs me as much as you seem to be, I start to have fleeting thoughts "what a brat!" that rarely ever emerge in most of my work and have to be sure to check myself and my attitude/ what And how I say.

You're human. But your job is to be sure you are the same awesome caregiver to all kids. When I have felt that I can't be that for a certain child, I have sometimes resigned or given up responsibility for them where I can. As long as you're paid by his family, you have no option but to improve your attitude and relationship. Remind yourself of his awesome qualities and nurture him. Send him the message that you believe in him and expect him to flourish. Bad days will happen. Tomorrow must be better!

Bear Hug said...

Also, when a child is flailing, I literally hold them. Luckily, I'm tough and strong. I sit up against a wall, wrap my arms around their flailing and hold strong. They get their energy out, and also get the message that Inam in charge and will not allow them to hurt themselves or others. Some kids need this. Self- regulation is a huge and important area of development. This kiddo may need help regulating physically, until he starts to cue into the physical signs of anger/ frustration on his own. Naming his feelings is hugely empowering. "wow! You're really mad. Let's walk over to the couch where you can be safe" and let him flail there. But the minute he starts hitting you, Bear Hug time.

that's what I say said...

Are you a different race than this boy? because i took care of a girl who was white (I am from South America) and after she got a new nanny who had straight hair, she told me she didn't like me anymore because my hair was "too curly".

And she also made a joke about me being a monkey. Needless to say, I never worked for that family again.

Now, if that isn't the issue, have you spoken to the parents about this behavior? I took care of a boy who hit me a couple times and finally when I spoke to the mother about it, she fixed the problem.

CANanny said...


I take care of an autistic child that can be very aggressive (hitting, biting, pulling hair, head banging, etc) when he doesn't get what he wants. When he has a bad day, it can be very exhausting.

He's usually has no trouble at school and is also very good with me and the other nannies when mom is not around. When MB is around she has a very difficult time setting limits, which has led to a very spoiled child who can throw horrific temper tantrums.

Your little guy sounds like he has something going on but has not been properly diagnosed yet. What works with my charge as far as behavior goes is to be firm, very clear and consistent with behavioral expectations. He responds well to people who do not let him run the show.

Good luck OP

P.S. Just and FYI- Personality Disorders are not supposed to be diagnosed until after someone turns 18.