Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Is Your Child Acting Destructively?

My 5-year old son waited until I was in the bathroom, when he began wreaking havoc on my household.  In only 5-minutes he had pulled down the birthday presents, placed “out of reach” on the top shelf of my closet.  Not only were all sealed boxes taken down, they had been ripped open, cut with scissors, and coloured heavily upon with markers.  Naturally, I was furious and stepped back from the situation until I could determine how to better manage it.

Meanwhile in the kitchen, multiple pears and apples had been removed from the refrigerator.  All had bites taken from them, and yet none were finished.  This was the handiwork of my sons aged 2- and 3-years old.  A memory was instantly called up of a new puppy I once owned, who ate my shoes, jewelry and baseboard—also in only 5-minutes.  There was definitely a commonality between the dog and my boys. 

Suddenly, I began putting together the pieces of the puzzle: new toys broken—no decimated—in under 60 seconds; clothing cut up with scissors; unfinished food smashed with a toy “hammer”; scribbles on my wall and ripped down wallpaper; purposely torn pages in books, and the painting of the house with bright pink nail polish.  It then became clear that my children had been displaying destructive behaviour, and if I did not put my foot down, my house would become a zoo!
Here are some steps I put in place to get my house back, which I call SCABS for short: Supervision, Consequences, Activities, Boredom and Segregation. 

Supervision - It’s inevitable that when the cat’s away, the mouse will play.  So, if you’re a parent with young kids, then that private shower or bathroom break will have to wait until the kids are in bed.  An unsupervised child will find all kinds of ways to entertain himself, which is why supervision is essential to ward off destructive behaviour!

Consequences - Newton’s third Law of Physics states that every action has an equal and opposite action.  So, if my kids are displaying destructive behaviour, I will find a fitting punishment to match the infraction.  For example, a child shredding copious amounts of paper and throwing the shreds onto the floor, will have to pick up all torn remnants.  In addition, there will be no more paper offered the next day.  The same would ring true for a child caught drawing on a wall: the perpetrator will have to scrub down the desecrated wall with a magic eraser—and no crayons will be available the following day.  

Activities – As a child, my parents never scheduled activities for my brother and I, and yet we entertained ourselves happily.  However, as the mother of children who will destroy the house when left to their own devices, scheduled activities are important—if I want to keep the house in one piece!  Some great activities to keep the kids happily engaged include outdoor play, drawing, reading, writing and problem solving (ie: jigsaw puzzles).

Boredom – From my Ph.D in Parenthood, I have learned that a bored child is a destructive child.  Watch for boredom, as it is your enemy.  When my kids get bored, they like to stick pencils through my kitchen chairs, tear up my bedroom, and stuff entire boxes of Kleenex into the toilet bowl.  Combat boredom with some of the activities, listed above.

Segregation – If you have kids that are 3-years old or younger, a safety gate that divides off sections of your home is a great way to set boundaries—and keep personal possessions safe.  After 3-years old though, all bets are off—as the little darlings then learn to open or climb over the gate.  Regardless of age, all kids should be taught what areas of the home are off-limits, and where they are allowed to play.  The same can be said for what they may play with.

Have your kids ever displayed destructive behaviour?  How did you manage it?  


  1. My children definitely did some minor destruction when they were younger - my daughter cut her bedsheets once :-/. Great tips!

  2. Great post! So many valuable pointers that parents could benefit from. At the moment we have gates up around our home to segregate our great room/playroom from our dining room area and stairs. So many adults who visit our home like to question my motives and authority, but personally I don't care. It is for the safety of my toddler. The toddler whom I know gets into mischief if the opportunity is granted.

  3. I notice the crazy when the kids get bored too. Then, it's straight outside where she can jump it off on the trampoline. After we've shovelled it off of course. Great tips, bookmarking for when we're having one of those days.

  4. Great tips! My kids are older (18, 20 & 22) but I certainly know what you're going through. They don't get easier when they get older either. There are just different issues to deal with. Good luck!

  5. Oh I remember these days, when my youngest cracked eggs all over the kitchen floor, squeezed paint into it and went on to make a beautiful mural... I have 4 kids, I have these kinds of stories over and over again.

  6. My kids would just climb over the gates. Consequences is the big one here. You write on walls you get to clean them, you make a mess with food you sweep it up. You spill something you dry it up.

  7. My 2.5 year old often does these kinds of things.( For example, he will run to the fridge pull out eggs and smash them) For me it is really to know it will happen so take steps to avoid it. Keep doors closed and fridge locked. He always has to help clean up the messes he makes but at this age I just try to be proactive.

    Also if he has been stuck in the house it is worse, so outside play is a must to curb it.

  8. Oh son went through this. He drew on the wall, my little Picasso.
    Great tips! I'll be sure to share this :)

  9. I hope when my son gets old enough and he does something to make me furious, that I can step back like you did and take a moment to breathe before flying off the handle. I'll have to remember SCABS for the next few years. Thanks for the tip!! :)

  10. My daughter just started this! She colours the wallswith crayons or paints the walls with her eggs. Problem is she's4. I think thats kinda old for this


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