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Two/three year old being mean
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Two/three year old being mean

My son will be three in September. He is overall a good-natured child but has lately been obsessed with hitting. I believe it started when he was in daycare with another boy who hit. My son soon caught on and now hits regularly. He hits me and children that he is familiar with. He does not hit children he does not know -- in fact, when we take him out, we always get compliments on how well-behaved he is. It is to the point that he tells me, "I want to hit him" or "I hit because I wanted to hurt him." His pediatrician isn't very concerned but I am -- reduced to tears. My husband and I have tried every form of discipline (positive & negative) but nothing works. It's almost like he does it because he knows he will get into trouble. Should he see a mental health specialist?  People say it's a phase, but it has lasted for almost five months. We have removed him from the daycare where the other hitting child was, and he will start a new daycare/preschool in a month and a half. In the meantime, I have a couple of months off work, so I am keeping him with me for that time. I thought I could "reprogram" him, but so far, it does not seem to be working. I am so worried that he will continue this behavior at the new daycare and they will tell me not to bring him back. My husband and I devote all of our spare time to him; he's our only child. He knows he is loved by many yet he still wants to hit. He is also extremely active and bright -- his doctor says he is verbally/mentally more like a four-year-old.  What do we do? Someone please help.


This discussion is related to Biting, hitting, pinching three year old.
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He's probably feeling the walls of the adult orientation of his world.  I'm the mom of a doted-upon only child myself.  I worry that with the implicit implication that the way to behave is the way we behave, he has had not much chance to just behave like a wild and goofy little kid.  His vocabulary is way up there, his behavior is beautiful, but every now and then we get the hint that having to fit in to our adult world, while something he can do, puts him into a tighter bind than a 3-year-old ordinarily is in.  He doesn't jump around, mess up, talk inarticulately, hit the cat, spit on the floor, or drop stuff and run off, the way his cousins do, and when I see him doing those things with them, he looks like he is having so much fun.  It is not that we correct or admonish him to behave in a more grown-up way than a 3-year-old should, but with an observant child, you don't need to say anything for them to draw conclusions about how they are expected to behave.  It is very subtle, no words have to be said.  

I think in your shoes, I would try taking him somewhere where he can work out physically.  Gymboree or the park, something where he runs and climbs and jumps, digs in the dirt, etc. and does not have to talk, or reason, or behave.   Let some of the steam out.  He might be hitting because at some level he is aware he doesn't have these chances that other kids do, to just be wild and crazy and 3, and it makes him a little mad.

If you say you are sure this is not it and he has a lot of chances for physical interplay with other kids and blowing off steam physically, then probably the thing to do is talk to a child therapist, since you only have 2 months before it starts up again at the new daycare.

Good luck!
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Hi.  There is a really good book called "hands are not for hitting" that you can look for in your library or at a book store.  It is excellent for driving home this message.  I'd also look up books on emotions to help give your child kid words for how he is feeling. Lots of kids have a difficult time expressing themselves and need help with the words. My sons described being in a grumpy mood as a storm cloud was there, being enraged was a tornado, etc.  But if your son has words he can use instead, maybe he'll do that instead of his fists.

I'd role play a situation in which you are mad-------- make it very exagerated so he laughs.  Then work it out in an appropriate way.  When you are mad-------- you can use your word, count to 10, take a deep breath, go to a cool down spot, etc.  

But I keep things like hitting really simple.  Immediate action is required.  Hit . .. leave.  If you are at a park and he hits you or a child---------- pick him up and leave.  Play date at your house and he hits-------- play date is over that minute.  

Most schools use redirection.  When he goes to a new daycare----------  I think you should be upfront and tell them that you are working on the issue.  Don't blame it on the other boy-------- just say you are working on it.  Then the teachers/child care people will know and not let him in unstructured situations in which hitting occurs (when these things typically happen).  

I agree that lots of physical outlets are good for an energetic three year old.  Parks are great and if you are in a warm place--------- hit the pool whenever possible.  Swim lessons at three are a great activity.  Kick a soccer ball in the back yard.  Etc.  Get that energy out!
Good luck (ps:  I have a child with sensory integration disorder---------  what you describe does not sound like a developmental issue but a short term behavior problem.  You'd see more issues than just hitting if it were more than that.  How does he do with speech, by the way?)
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Thank you for your response. His speech/vocabulary is unbelievable for a 2.9 year old. He is very smart -- too smart sometimes, and he never forgets anything, which is why I think getting him to stop hitting will be very difficult. It's like he's obsessed with it. As far as his behavior otherwise, I think it's pretty typical of that age group. He is starting to talk back on occasion, which we squelch. Last night we were with family from out of town that he had never met, and he said, "I want auntie to go home and never see me again."  I, of course, freaked out because I am concerned that he has a severe behavioral disorder, but my husband thinks he is just acting out in normal two/three-year-old fashion. I agree with you about leaving whenever he hits, but at his new daycare, I will not be there to carry that out. In fact, he has told me he does not want to go to the new "school" with kids. He loves being home with me. I'm afraid that since he's so smart, he will figure out that if he hits at daycare, he will get sent home, which would be his goal. I am searching for answers everywhere -- thank you for the book suggestion. I will pick it up today. If you have any other advice, I would be happy to hear it. Do you, or anyone, know another child who has gone through this terrible hitting ordeal?  
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Oh no no no.  Do not become overly concerned about this being a deep emotional problem.  One thing he may be doing is that he has noticed his power.  Boy, can he get a reaction with either hits or words!  My wonderful niece that I am really close to and is now a junior in college went through something like this at the same age.  She and I were so close . . . I spent every Friday night with her and other times during the week------- we loved each other dearly.  All of a sudden she would give me the stink eye and say rude things.  My sister was appalled.  I just ignored it completely.  I know she loves me and her words were meaningless.  She was done with that phase after a couple of months.  My point is--------- not time to be thinking of a mental health issue at this point.

My son is also very intelligent.  I'm "older" and educated and did all the "right" things.  My son has sensory integration disorder.  I have another son that is 15 months younger that does not have sensory integration disorder.  I tell you this because what you describe does not sound like a child with an issue such as my older boy.  Both do knucklehead  things, boy things, things I don't want them to do.  I would bet my life that this is a phase.  Do not start thinking mental issue or developmental delay---------  it really doesn't read that way to someone that has a lot of experience in both areas (one via my profession and one via my son.)  

My sons didn't hit. But that was because I had two close together and from really early on it was the worst offense in our house.  Now they will occasionally lash out------- especially my youngest boy when he is mad.  That is where talking emotions comes into play so that he can express himself with words.  I can't tell if your boy is doing it for power and reaction.  Sounds like it. Hm.  Okay----------  I'm going to give you a suggestion.  It worked for something that I had to curtail at home that I wouldn't tolerate.  My older son heard a bad word and was repeating it.  My response: a dollop of appple cidar vinegar on his tongue.  Yuck and double yuck.  A preschool teacher gave me the idea.  One time is about all it takes.  Doesn't hurt them and it solved the problem in one to two times.  I'm not kidding.  Message got through loud and clear.  And my boys were getting two handsy with one another the other day . . . and I thought "oh no.  It will be a long summer if they aren't keeping their hands to themselves"  (they are now 5 and 6)--------  so I calmly said that if they didn't keep their hands to themselves that I would be getting out the vinegar.  Big eyes stared at me and said--------- okay.  

I think that at home---------- you start making things a little different.  You are to act like a peer.  Take turns picking what to play. He must do your game too or you don't play.  He gets to pick what you do and you do it for 10 minutes and then you pick what to do and do it for 10 minutes.  You take turns winning-----------  he wins, you win.  He has to share his toys with you.  When he is playing with something-----------  you ask for it.  Give him the words to express that he is playing with it and he will trade you for something in a minute.  Then you make that happen.  This is all practice for things that happen in daycare.  We tend to cater a bit to our children . . . and they don't learn how to deal with situations with other kids.  Before my son entered kindergarten---------  we had a period of the day in which he could only talk to me if he raised his hand and I called on him.  It was practice.  Sounds ridiculous but we had not one issue in kindergarten with speaking when it wasn't his turn.  (he's my boy that had a tough time in preschool-------- we worked on lots of things.)

Get lots of physical activity in.  This really is important.  Have some play dates and if he hits, end the  play date.  You've got to get him around kids and have consequences.  If he hits you------------  he is in time out.  I know you say you've tried it but keep trying.  The book "SOS for Parents" by Lynn Clarke is good to explain how to effectively carry out time out.  Good luck
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I feel like you're my guardian angel right now! Thank you so much for your time and advice. We too are older, educated, and feel that we have done all the right things too, so I do not know where this is coming from. I've already called the library and reserved the Hands Are for Hitting book. What do you think about a spank in return for a hit?  I know people say hitting doesn't solve hitting, but spanking is "purposeful punishment," not quite equivalent to hitting??? Also, my son does not hit my husband, just other kids and me. I do feel like he hits for attention, even negative attention. This makes me feel extreme guilt for being a working mother, even though I do receive more time off of work than most professions allow for. Also, he is completely clinging to me -- he doesn't want to spend the night with his grandparents without me there. This makes me think the hitting is a way to guarantee my 100% undivided attention. I give him TONS of attention, but sometimes I do need to do other things -- make dinner, Google why he is behaving as he is : ) , etc.  Well, at least I think it started out as a way to get attention -- even at daycare. Now I think it's something he does just because he knows he's not supposed to. I just really need to break him of this withing the next month and a half or things will not be good for him at his new school. I will be upfront with them about his beahvior and the issues we are having, but I am praying that it goes away by then. Thanks again for all of your motherly advice. As mentioned, we only have one child and I do not have ANY experience with young children. I am trying to draw the line between concerning behavior and normal boy behavior.
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I also agree with Annie Brooke that physical activity would help it is an outlet for the energy children have..spanking is bad...it allows children to think its okay and they will do it to others . good luck
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Well, in answer to your question, I am not a spanker.  I've never spanked my kids as it is hard to say "don't hit so I will hit you."  It is a confusing message for a child and I think promotes the behavior even more.  

Read the book on time outs by Lynn Clarke and give them another try even if you feel they have not worked in the past.  I think an immediate consequence works pretty well with kids.  What matters to him?  Give me an example of what matters to him.  A blankie, a stuffed animal, a special cup?  Find an example of something important to him and tell me what it is.  Then we'll see if there is some way you can work that into his consequence for hitting.  For my children, removing them immediately from a situation upset them.  They also had a special item (blankie, stuffed animal) that I took away briefly.  They hated that.  So it has to be something special to them.  

And try not to put pressure on yourself about the new daycare.  That is going to make you desperate and that will come through and kids don't work well with that.  Nonchalant acting is a much better way to go.  Every child comes into daycare with things that they are working on.  So take that pressure off.  Just do the best you can.  

And as said in all my posts, yes.  Physical activity is often essential for good behavior.  It calms the nervous system.
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I will give the time outs another chance. I know we need to be more consistent -- it's like we'll try time outs for two or three days and when that doesn't work, we'll move on to something else. We've tried taking things away (blanket, stuffed animal, etc.) but when we do this, he instantly moves onto something else to play with. It only upsets him for a few minutes. Perhaps we need to take multiple toys away. We did seem to have some improvement with the hitting today, but he started talking about pinching and biting. Silently, I was thinking Oh, please not this, but I didn't react to him. I simply said, "No," and went on doing what we were doing. Hopefully, by not giving him a strong reaction he will lose interest and not pick up those two bad habits also. Back to the hitting -- he drew his arm back a couple of times today when playing but then stopped himself from delivering the hit, so I know he is trying. That's just it though -- he hits when he's having fun too and not just when he's mad. I don't understand it. I also read the book "Hands Are Not for Hitting" tonight to him, and he seemed to like it. I hope the message got through to him.
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Ok -- we had a pretty good weekend. A few hits to me here and there but I am praying that it is improving. However, we were not around kids. We did meet some friends at the park this morning -- he did not hit, but he did throw a rock. He instantly went to time out and then told the other child he was sorry. About the physical activity comments, I completely agree. My child is EXTREMELY active with an intense amount of energy. He regularly plays outside when he's with me. However, when this hitting behavior started, he was getting little physical activity and was kept indoors in close proximity to other children (it was cold outside). We are scheduled to be around other children each day this week, so I will keep plugging away at him. I haven't tried the cider vinegar yet, although I think it is a great idea. I am going to hold onto that one for a little while longer. I know small children are far from perfect, and I am not trying to make him such. I just want him to be nice and play well with other children. If anyone has experienced this (hitting children) and found a "cure," please share. Thanks, also, to everyone for all of the wonderful advice I've received here.
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I think you are on the right path.  I think all parents have experienced this in one form or another.  I didn't have hitting so much as a nasty period of . . . spitting.  I cringe just thinking about it.  Being consistent really helps.  Keep those time outs going and never say something you won't follow through on.  

Phases come and go with kids.  You'll need to watch your boy as this fed something he liked whether it was the attention, the power, or the impact (to the nervous system).

My boy has issues with his nervous system and if he does not get physical activity, he can not maintain behavior.  I have lots of indoor tips for things to do (IE: an obstacle course, a huge pillow pile to crawl throug, etc.).  Swim lessons at an indoor pool are excellent.  

Well, good luck to you and may he be "cured" super fast!
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