My 3-and-a-half year old son is getting in trouble at daycare for being too rough, and is worrying me and his father with his behavior. This is a new phase and has been going on only for about a couple of months, but for the past two weeks it has escalated dramatically and now he hurts someone every day.
His transgressions include pushing kids to the ground and jumping on them while they're down, kicking them while they're down (including in the mouth), pinching, shoving, throwing rocks at people, etc. and while he's at it, he won't stop even if the victim is red in the face from crying. He even does this to 1-year-old babies!
This has caught us off guard because it doesn't fit his personality and seems to be coming out of the blue. He is very sweet, emotional, affectionate and empathetic. He will ask you if you're okay if he sees you looking sad, will offer hugs, will offer help if you're struggling carrying something, etc. - all unprompted.
He has a high emotional intelligence for his age (higher than his sister's at this age), so it's not like he doesn't recognize this is bad and hurtful. He's also very verbal (early talker) so it's not that either. He doesn't do it when he's angry or frustrated, and he's not trying to be mean. Rather, it's all a game to him, he thinks it's fun, or funny. He's the family clown and life is one big joke to him, but his idea of jokes has gone in the wrong direction.
We are a screen free home so it's not like he saw it in a movie, show or computer game. There's no trauma in his life at all - he has two loving parents, a home, a sister, no abuse in the home, no drugs/alcohol or an absent father etc. etc. We are against corporal punishment so he isn't being mistreated at home. He has a great life.
I have no idea where it's coming from or how to stop it! We don't roughhouse at home, and rough play is not allowed at daycare, because it's mixed age and they also have babies and younger kids that can get hurt. We have clear limits and boundaries both at home and at daycare. We are strict parents, but also very just, affectionate and emotionally available. There's no "boys will be boys" at our house. Everybody needs to be respectful and kind.
Most of this behavior is happening at daycare, so it's out of my control, but they are really upset and putting pressure on me to "deal with this" (certified daycares in our state follow strict requirements - no spanking or yelling or other harsh measures, he just gets time outs and talks etc. so no abuse there). We talk to him a lot at home, and he expresses empathy and regret when we talk.
After the fact, he agrees that pushing/kicking/pinching are not fun nor funny, and feels sorry for the victims, but he can't articulate why he's doing it. He stonewalls inquiries with "I don't know". He tends to have impulse control difficulties in general, and I guess he gets carried away and can't stop himself?
I am dumbfounded and depressed because nothing seems to be working to stop this! We talk to him every day about hurting, about self control (trying to empower rather than shame him - "you're in control of your feet, you have to stop them from kicking"), the golden rule, tried rewards on good days, taking away privileges on bad days, yelling, calm talks, and lots of hugs trying to show him that we still love him even despite all this... I try to lead by example and tell him that even though he needs a good beating to see what it feels like, I am NOT going to ever do it, because it's wrong, so he needs to do the same and fight his urges like I am, because hurting others is wrong. I tell him that every day is a new beginning and he has a new chance to do better (growth mindset, he's not a bad person), he promises and swears and sounds sincere, but then it happens again. I feel so defeated! Please help!!!