My loving son has turned into a raging asshole.

As I understand it, this happens with many five-year-olds. Google “dealing with a defiant five-year-old” and see how many articles pop up, from both reputable parenting sources and otherwise, and how many forum discussions started by parents at their wits’ end.

I’ve read all the advice, many times over: Be empathetic. Deliver swift and related consequences. Praise and reward good behavior. Compromise. Choose your battles. Be consistent. (Yes, some of the advice contradicts other advice — it’s quite a challenge to compromise and choose one’s battles, yet be consistent about it.)

Yesterday, my son punched one of his classmates (in retaliation, it seems, but luckily not too hard), disrupted naptime for the entire class (again), and threw mulch at his teacher and his classmates on the playground. He had to be separated from the rest of the class, and still he flung mulch toward them.

That evening at home, he played with his food at dinner, ignored my requests for him to bathe properly, splashed water out of the tub, threw his pajamas and his toys, ran around his bedroom, and was a general holy terror. There were moments of clarity within the assholery, though, which leads me to believe this might be related to him just needing more sleep.

I’m not sure how that’s supposed to happen, though, unless I manage to start making dinner in record time. I usually manage to get a balanced meal in front of us in a half hour — well, 25 minutes or so, technically, since I have to feed the cat first, then get Connor his juice and his tablet to keep him occupied while I make dinner.

If I cut out his play/TV time after dinner and before bed, he’ll construe that as a punishment. In fact, I told him this morning that if he misbehaved again at school, that’s exactly what would happen. (I hope I don’t have to follow through on that. I hope he behaves today.)

As it is, the evening looks something like this (on a school day):

5:10pm – Pick up Connor from school.
5:20pm – Arrive home. Put stuff away. Hug Dad.
5:30pm – Dad leaves for work. Feed cat. Start dinner.
6:00pm – Eat dinner.
6:15pm – Watch one short (15-minute) TV show or play in the living room.
6:30pm – Head upstairs for bath.
7:00pm – Brush teeth. Put on jammies. Choose a book.
7:15pm – Read a book. Get one last drink. Sing a song.
7:30pm – Lights out.

The shenanigans usually happen around the bathtime/jammies/book part of the evening. Depending on the level of shenanigans on any given day, Lights Out could be as early at 7:15pm (rarely) or as late as 8pm. Unless he’s utterly exhausted (like he’s been for the last two nights), he usually cashes in his “Golden Button” for one no-questions-asked visit after Lights Out.

I don’t know, and there’s no one else to ask. I was never like this, so my Mom doesn’t have any sage advice. The pediatrician assured me that he’s getting enough sleep, and that any behavioral problems should work themselves out with proper discipline — and if he does have an actual behavioral disorder, that won’t be diagnosed until he’s in elementary school, and only if he’s having academic troubles.

I’m not a child psychologist. I’m not a behavioral psychologist. I DON’T KNOW WHAT THE FUCK I’M DOING. I feel like I’m messing him up somehow. Like I’ve already messed up somehow. Like my sweet boy is being overwhelmed by this asshole inside him, and I’m powerless to stop it.

Yeah, I know most parents feel like this sometimes. I know someone can give me assurance that this phase will end — like I assured the dad at the park this weekend that the Terrible Twos and Threes don’t last forever. Because, just like back then, I’m feeling like this shit sucks and I’m a shitty parent and I’m a shitty person for reminding myself that this is just one reason why we’d decided not to have kids in the first place.

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