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3 Year Old Quirky Behavior - Please help!
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3 Year Old Quirky Behavior - Please help!

My 3 year old son has some behaviors that are very disruptive to our family. He has an obsession with touching his sister’s hair (he has twin 20 month old sisters).  It started right after birth. He would hit them in the head. I corrected him and showed him to touch gently. Over time the hitting shifted to more of a rubbing /pinching of their hair. Hundreds of times a day he finds a way to stroke, pull or pinch their hair. Most of the time it is with his hands but sometimes it is with his feet or forearm.  While he is engaged in this behavior he usually has a clenched jaw expression like he has an under-bite. We have tried ignoring the problem, putting him in time out, yelling (unfortunately), smacking his hand (not what I like to do) and trying to replace the hair obsession with some other object (squeeze ball, stuffed animal or my hair). Nothing we do seems to work.  When I ask him why he does it he just tells me he likes it or doesn't answer. He is very aware that I don’t want him to do it. In addition to having this behavior with his sisters he will sometimes do it to other younger children. He occasionally does it to older children but not often.

Another area of concern that goes along with the hair touching is that he presses his head against his sisters while making a humming type sound. When he does this he also has that teeth clinched under bite look on his face.

When he isn't doing these odd behaviors he is a pretty "normal" 3 year old. He laughs, plays, has normal speech, smiles, makes eye contact and is a happy kid. I have read about every disorder I think of and nothing seems to fit him. It's like he is two kids, the wonderful funny happy child and the one that can't stop his quirky behavior.

I would really appreciate some help. Thank you for reading.
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973741_tn?1342346373
Your son may be a seeker like mine.  My son also will play like a maniac in sand-- pour it on him, lay in it, dig in it----- but, he also has tactile defensiveness.  The funny thing about sensory is that there are no absolutes.  It can even look different from one day to another.

Your son is still young.  How his sensory affects him will evolve.  I will tell you that for my boy, we started OT at 4 and have been going weekly since.  Has your son started any type of preschool program yet?  My son went two half days (2.5 hrs each) a week.  He had issues in circle time, wandering the room and not settling for an activity, melt downs, over reaction to things, etc.  His sensory was a bit more than he could cope with.  It was far worse at school than at home.  So, when your son starts into a school program, you may then have some things to address.

When you say that your son had speech delay, that is actually common with a sensory child.  Motor planning is the culprit usually.  Where this could crop back up for your son is in the area of fine motor tasks such as writing, using scissors, etc.  If he starts to avoid new things that are fine motor related, motor planning is usually the reason.  I just would show my son hand over hand how to do something and then he would get it.  Might mention that my son met all his developmental milestones and is uber bright.

Physical activity and "heavy work" is the key to helping a sensory seeker cope. I know you have the twins, but I'd pack the kids up and get them to a park every single day.  Let your boy hang from monkey bars, climb, run, jump, swing, skip, roll like a mad man.  Swimming is a great "heavy work" activity plus has soothing deep pressure involved.  You can set up an obstacle course and include areas in which he jumps over something, crawls under something, rolls across a part of it, etc.  You can play a game called "push over" in which he goes to a wall and tries to push it over.  Or get one of those big exercise balls with you on one end and him on the other and you both push.  We call that sumo wrestler and my boy thinks it is great fun.  He uses his whole body and pushes against me and I create resistance.  You can fill up a laundry basket with weighted items and he can push it or pull it across the floor.  

I want to tell you that I hear where you are coming from.  I have spent many many hours worrying about my boy over the past few years.  He's so beautiful and wonderful and fun and I hope that the whole world is able to see it too.  With the strategies we have in place, he is doing great.  My son has friends, his teacher last year loved him, he's just one of the guys.  Some days are more difficult than others but overall, things are fine.  But I worry.  And when he was 3 and 4, I had a very heavy heart about it all.  I just want to say to you that you can handle whatever it takes to help him along.  And that kids can sure come a long way with guidance.  So, while I know you will, try not to worry.

Soccer is an excellent sport for a sensory kid.  When your son is 4.5 or 5, get him involved.  It will help with social skills and lets him get some sensory input that his brain craves.  And it boosts self confidence tremendously.  

Anyway, contact me anytime for any info or support.  I'm always here.  
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16 Comments Post a Comment
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134578_tn?1404951303
My son gets a little glazed-eyed when he has a bottle, and insists on pushing his hand up my sleeve to the inside of my elbow and rubbing it.  I think it's a comfort behavior.  Have you looked up OCD symptoms?  Maybe your son has just a touch of OCD going on in that one small area.  My sense is (and believe me, I don't know) that the more you pay attention to it the more he'll get stuck in it, and (like with stuttering) one of the keys is for the parent to ignore it or it just gets locked in.  Can the twins just pull their heads away and shriek, and does he take the hint from that, or is it necessary for you to police it all the time?

I would definitely talk to a children's therapist to check whether any of this (all just my opinion) is valid.  Good luck!!!!!
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535822_tn?1389452880
Its that old green eyed monster in my opinion,he has been usurped by his sisters, it can be very traumatic for a young child ,one minute they are the center of attention next minute two dear little babies arrive along with all the cooing and attention that gets , they are 20 months old so he was very little when they wre born , its hard on the eldest. So focus on his positive side ,lessen the punishments if he is naughty do the time out system , but mostly give him some one to one care, let dad play a lot with him then he has the girls whilst   you play with him ., make him feel less left out., it helps if you can walk in his shoes and be aware how he must feel .good luck
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1035252_tn?1371343440
Personally my gut is leaning more towards AnnieBrooke's response. Not ever elder sibling has jealousy issues...and because some of these behaviors are focused on his sister's and they're NOT negative behaviors, I would say it's unlikely that it's a jealousy issue (whether or not he HAS a jealousy or displacement issue would be an entirely different consideration...but in THIS case I would say it's unrelated).

I couldn't agree more that it sounds like an OCD or comfort behavior. Apparently when I was little I used to take my pacificer and rub it all over my upper lip and get a glazed expression...I did this from the time I was only a few months old until I was much older and they finally weaned me when I was pre-school aged. and it was bizarre, and nothing my parents did could break me of the habit...and to this day if I'm sitting, for instance when I was in college, in class and taking a test, I will rub the back end of my pen on my upper lip and it helps me to focus. I know it sounds weird! but that's kinda what your son's behavior sounds like to me, and for me it was 100% a comfort behavior. the head-pressing and humming sounds more OCD but it's hard to say...do you comfort the girls this way? maybe he's imitating a behavior that he thinks may comfort THEM.
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535822_tn?1389452880
It wont hurt to give him some extra attention anyway with twins to look after it must be hard to focus on them all, so my idea , of extra one to one time is a good idea and wont hurt whatever the cause is ...good luck to you
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134578_tn?1404951303
Rather than try giving him something fuzzy, I'd try giving him something silky, like a small blanket (the size made for kids or babies) with a wide satin blanket-binding edge.  Kids love silky blanket-binding edges, I've heard more than one story from mothers or from adult friends about kids (or themselves) who couldn't sleep without them to stroke.  One involved a little boy and a helpful babysitter who sewed down the loose end of the blanket binding -- big mistake!!!!  He loved it loose.  He would look for it on the blanket every night and wrap his hand over it and that is what put him into nirvana.  The other was an adult friend who said he always imagined the blanket binding was his "kitty," and he loves cats to this day.  It might work, if what he is reacting to is the silkiness of the twins' hair.
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Avatar_f_tn
Thank you every one I really do appreciate your thoughts. Sometimes I feel very alone in this problem and don't have anyone to really talk to.

My son does have some other quirky behavior that is probably tied into the issues above. He doesn't like his hair combed, teeth brushed or his face cleaned off. He is also pretty touchy with other children. For example he likes to hug everyone at school. He had occupational therapy for a while. The therapist told me she thought he had sensory issues. The pediatrician thought he might have OCD. I am not sure what I think. I just know that when my son gets this certain look on his face and he goes towards his sisters hair something isn't right. I do agree that he gets comfort from rubbing their hair. I just wish it was from an object and not a person.

Unfortunately I still have to police him with the girls. In the mornings I have about a min and a half before I hear one of them screaming. If I don't tell him to get off of them he will end up with his feet on their head. I do invasion a day in the next year that they will just let him have it when he bugs them.

In response to giving him attention, I really do try. I would say he gets the most of the 3 children. I take him along with me or do special things with him weekly. He doesn’t really seem jealous of them. In fact he loves them so much. He tells me every day that they are his babies and he loves them. And when they are outside and have enough space everyone is happy and they play well together.

Please continue to share with me any ideas you have. Also if you have ever seen that jaw clinched under bite strange face he makes I would really like to know.
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973741_tn?1342346373
Well, now you are talking my language.  The issues with hair combing, face washing and most likely touch in general is part of a sensory issue.  Google tactile defensiveness and sensory integration disorder.  Sensory integration involves the nervous system and how the brain processes things.  My son had real issues with tactile defensiveness that increased over time.  Things that might annoy another child would produce a meltdown in mine . . . and guess what . . . hair combing and face washing were on the list.  

Your son also sounds like a sensory seeker.  These little guys will try to get input into their system . . . which I  know all about as mine is a seeker as well.  Kids that are like this touch everything, don't have personal boundaries, are in other's space, crave deep pressure.  

I'd agree that he is self soothing with the girl's hair and a combo of also reaction to them as siblings.  Otherwise, any hair would do right?  And yours would be just as good.  So I do think that one on one would help him feel important and maybe take some focus off of the little sisters.  Sounds like you are doing that but maybe increase a bit.  So hard when you have a full house of kids!  With regards to hair stroking, the goal would be to give him alternatives as everyone has said.  Heck, a doll with hair would be preferrable than making his sister's scream every morning.  

Why did he do occupational therapy?  We see an occupational therapist for my son's sensory issues--------  but it is one that specializes in sensory.  He was evaluated for sensory at three but it was inconclusive but by 4, there was no doubt.  He's done occupational therapy ever since.  I will add that it has also been really successful.  His peer interaction has improved, some of the tactile defensive things went away completely, he does well in school and is happy and well adjusted.  He has a rough time in preschool, so I am thrilled that we did early intervention and addressed the issues.  He's now 6 and going into first grade.

Anyway, as I've said we've done ot for a long time and I have lots of suggestions to help the nervous system.  Sensory is often confused for anxiety (and OCD is an anxiety disorder) or is present with (when your nervous system is on edge, you will get nervous).  We found by addressing our son's sensory issues the anxiety got much better.  His self comfort tool was sucking his sleeve.  Google sensory and let me know if you'd like some suggestions to help with this.  good luck
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Avatar_f_tn
My son had a 6 month speech delay when he was 2 so he started taking speech therapy through our early intervention program. He did great and completely caught up within a year. I kept telling our coordinator about my issues with his sisters so she sent out an OT. The OT said she thought he has Sensory Integration Disorder.

I have always thought my son fit into the sensory seeking part of SID but not so much the other areas. Like he loves sand, he likes being touched, although he is difficult to dress some days he is fine once his clothing in on. All the sensory issues he has don't interrupt our day except that hair/head issue with his sisters.

The OT stopped coming when he turned 3 because he no longer qualified for services. Although the OT told me he had Sensory Integration Disorder I guess I wasn't always sure. Can a child just have that only and not have a bigger problem. Some days I freak out and think he is autistic. Then I think he is very personable and picks up on other people’s feelings.... It is so hard worrying about children.
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973741_tn?1342346373
Your son may be a seeker like mine.  My son also will play like a maniac in sand-- pour it on him, lay in it, dig in it----- but, he also has tactile defensiveness.  The funny thing about sensory is that there are no absolutes.  It can even look different from one day to another.

Your son is still young.  How his sensory affects him will evolve.  I will tell you that for my boy, we started OT at 4 and have been going weekly since.  Has your son started any type of preschool program yet?  My son went two half days (2.5 hrs each) a week.  He had issues in circle time, wandering the room and not settling for an activity, melt downs, over reaction to things, etc.  His sensory was a bit more than he could cope with.  It was far worse at school than at home.  So, when your son starts into a school program, you may then have some things to address.

When you say that your son had speech delay, that is actually common with a sensory child.  Motor planning is the culprit usually.  Where this could crop back up for your son is in the area of fine motor tasks such as writing, using scissors, etc.  If he starts to avoid new things that are fine motor related, motor planning is usually the reason.  I just would show my son hand over hand how to do something and then he would get it.  Might mention that my son met all his developmental milestones and is uber bright.

Physical activity and "heavy work" is the key to helping a sensory seeker cope. I know you have the twins, but I'd pack the kids up and get them to a park every single day.  Let your boy hang from monkey bars, climb, run, jump, swing, skip, roll like a mad man.  Swimming is a great "heavy work" activity plus has soothing deep pressure involved.  You can set up an obstacle course and include areas in which he jumps over something, crawls under something, rolls across a part of it, etc.  You can play a game called "push over" in which he goes to a wall and tries to push it over.  Or get one of those big exercise balls with you on one end and him on the other and you both push.  We call that sumo wrestler and my boy thinks it is great fun.  He uses his whole body and pushes against me and I create resistance.  You can fill up a laundry basket with weighted items and he can push it or pull it across the floor.  

I want to tell you that I hear where you are coming from.  I have spent many many hours worrying about my boy over the past few years.  He's so beautiful and wonderful and fun and I hope that the whole world is able to see it too.  With the strategies we have in place, he is doing great.  My son has friends, his teacher last year loved him, he's just one of the guys.  Some days are more difficult than others but overall, things are fine.  But I worry.  And when he was 3 and 4, I had a very heavy heart about it all.  I just want to say to you that you can handle whatever it takes to help him along.  And that kids can sure come a long way with guidance.  So, while I know you will, try not to worry.

Soccer is an excellent sport for a sensory kid.  When your son is 4.5 or 5, get him involved.  It will help with social skills and lets him get some sensory input that his brain craves.  And it boosts self confidence tremendously.  

Anyway, contact me anytime for any info or support.  I'm always here.  
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Avatar_n_tn
Well it's been a few months since your post, but I wanted to let you know that my 4 year old son also does the clenched jaw underbite face and it's while he is obsessing on touching his 6 month old sister's face.  He is constantly touching her face either with his hands or with his own face.  And he will make a humming sound or a "nu nu" sound while he does it.  It drives me crazy!!! He is a sensory seeker in many ways and it seemed to worsen after his little sister came along.  He is also starting to get in trouble at school because he can't stop touching other kids while playing and this is leading to hitting.  It's this impulsive thing I don't think he can stop.  We have tried many many things.  He is seeing an OT and we have started him on the Therapeutic Listening program.  We are using things at school like fidget toys when he needs to be sitting like for circle time.  Please let me know if you have come up with any good solutions for your little guy.  It's nice to know I'm not the only one with these issues.  I obsessively worry about him and how he will fare once in kindergarten and if anyone will ever want to play with him.  Anyway, hope things are going well on your end.
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