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3-year-old started playing too rough and hurting other kids

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!!!
1 Responses
973741 tn?1342342773
Ahh, honey. It's hard being a mom!  Your post takes me back in time and I'd like to give you my thoughts.  First, I'm the mom of two boys about 15 months apart in age.  They were a dream come true when I had them as it seemed like forever to make happen!  I was an older mom and left my career to do the mom thing with great joy!  Oh, I adore my kids. And they were clearly smart, sweet and wonderful.  Then I put my older son into preschool.  He just went two half days a week.  It was not the experience I had hoped for.  My son had great difficulty.  Some things similar to your son.  Very disheartening.  I went to school and observed and was a little shocked as he was different at school than at home!  As we went through things, I learned that this is actually common. Home is the safe place.  School and day care are places where other things happen because the environment isn't a place that is controlled like it is at home.  My son has something called sensory integration disorder. Impulse control problems and social skills problems were early signs.  Basically, your son is having both of those two.  I was very resistant to something neurological like sensory integration disorder going on with my son but eventually accepted this and began to work with an OT.  An occupational therapist official diagnosed him and we worked with one. This was of great benefit.  Whether your son has something going on like this or not, OT strategies can be employed for him.  OT's are not kind and fuzzy.  :>)  They will say this is the boundary and you will follow the boundary.  No means no and there are consequences. In my son's school, he'd have to leave the classroom and sit in the head teachers office. He hated it and it was embarrassing but that was the boundary and consequence.  


What you are telling him isn't working.  You have to get firmer.  This is a NO (explain the activity) and will result in X if you do it.  This is a Yes (explain activity) and you will get praise if you do it.  You can role play that out.  You can set up boundaries that he must follow of other kids space.  We used 'robot arms'.  So, you walk funny around with arms out like a robot and then out to the side stretched as well. That's the robot space. And you can not get into other people's robot space.  :>)  My son loved this. And then his teachers and I could que him with 'robot arms' to keep his space between him and other people.  Another way people do this is bubbles.  Everyone has a person bubble. You can use your hands to say where your bubble is and where his bubble is.  And that you can walk up to someone's bubble but have to stop because your bubble protects you and their bubble protects them.  Also, hands in pocket strategy.  If you can not control your hands, they stay in your pocket when outside on the playground.  

This day care may not be the best for him if they have babies and 3 year old kiddos together. a setting that has kids broken into their age mates would probably be more ideal.  So, all the 3's together, etc.  I don't know how big it is or how much staff they have.

I can tell you more about sensory integration disorder if you'd like. My son, as I said did OT for a good while.  And I will tell you that although he had struggles in elementary and things to work on over the years and still has his neurological issue, (sensory is add's cousin), he is 16 and a successful high school student with straight A's, is an athlete, in school band and has friends. He even has a part time job.  I believe he would not have been so successful had we not addressed the underlying issue to his behavior during the preschool years.  
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