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My girlfriend’s son is out of control!

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I have an unusual situation. I have recently started a serious relationship with an old girlfriend. She has a 5 y/o from another marriage. At any rate, she seems completely unable to discipline him in any fashion. Literally, he is housebroken and that is about the limit of his civilized behavior. Here are a few examples of what I mean:

  • He curses like a sailor
  • Grabs whatever he wants to eat of the counter and drops it on the floor
  • Sticks his hands into jars of peanut butter, cream cheese and eats it off his fingers
  • Destroys everything in the house
    • Ripped the fronts off the cabinets in the kitchen (repeatedly)
    • Takes kitchen implements and punches holes in the walls
    • Takes the garden hose and sprays it in the house
    • Smashes all his toys to bits
  • Punches, kicks, and screams at everyone
  • Defies authority all the time

Furthermore, I believe my girlfriend is the root cause of this situation for the following reasons:

  • This entire set of behavior is completely ignored by my girlfriend.
  • The child has no rules of any kind.
    • No set bedtime
    • No set mealtime, snacks whenever he wants
    • He sleeps in bed with his mother every night
    • His mother dresses him all the time and other basic “coddling”

This is shocking to me. I don’t have children of my own, but this can’t be right. My girlfriend agrees that this behavior is bad, but she does not seem to know what to do. Basically, she ignores it up to a point. Then she gets so frustrated that she loses her temper and starts a tantrum of her own.

So, I am not into corporal punishment. So, I am trying positive reinforcement and “time-out” as a negative reinforcement. So here is my problem. This child absolutely refuses to sit in the “time-out chair.” I spend hours and hours (literally) putting him in the timeout chair and he simply jumps up. Should I “lock” him in a room for his 10 minute time out? This doesn’t seem right. Do we need therapy? Do you have any advice for getting this child under control? Please, please help. We are in trouble over here!

My girlfriend’s son is out of control!

Answered by on -


You sure are. I can only guess that your girlfriend has been so overwhelmed that she couldn’t parent. This little boy is totally uncivilized. He’s also unhappy and angry and is showing it as only a terribly angry and hurt little boy can — by pushing the limits until someone finally has the courage to say no. Kids need structure. Intuitively they know it. They need the safety that comes with knowing that grown-ups who love them are in charge. But here’s the hard reality: As much as you would like to fix this; as much as your girlfriend would like you to fix it, you can’t do this alone. This little boy isn’t going to believe any form of discipline unless his mom is 100 percent (or at least 95 percent) behind it.

I think you and your girlfriend need more help than I can offer in a little advice column. Ask your pediatrician for a recommendation to a parent education class or to a personal parent-educator to help you both learn some skills and to give you the considerable support you will need to turn this situation around. Be prepared for a rough few months while you set new limits and teach this little boy how to be in a more loving relationship with the people who love him. As hard as it will be, it’s worth it. He’s very young. He can learn. With time and consistent attention, he can become the playful, smart little guy he was intended to be.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

My girlfriend’s son is out of control!

Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

Dr. Marie is licensed as both a psychologist and marriage and family counselor. She specializes in couples and family therapy and parent education. Follow her on Facebook or Twitter.

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2018). My girlfriend’s son is out of control!. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 25, 2019, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 May 2018
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 May 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.