My Preschooler is Hitting Me

Hi Janet,
My 3.5 year old has suddenly starting hitting, throwing things, and biting my husband and me.  Most of what I read seems to apply to toddlers and those with lack of language, but since my son is older and has very advanced language, neither of these apply.

During the 2’s he was an amazingly well behaved kid, just being his easy-going, good-natured self.  But as he approached 3.5 he started with the hitting, usually for no apparent reason — like, he runs by me and hits me, pinches me, throws a hard toy at me.  I thought I had all the patience in the world for him until he started repeatedly hurting me, and I find myself yelling at him to stop hurting me.

After I read some of the posts on your website, I changed my approach and would calmly say things like, “You hit me.  That hurts mommy.  Is there something that is bothering you?”  Inevitably, he would give me a silly answer like, “I don’t know how to talk.”  And a little while later he would do something out of nowhere to hurt me again.

Sometimes I think maybe I am not paying enough attention to him (I am a stay at home mom), but today we were sitting outside just eating lunch and he picked up his bowl and smacked me on the leg with it, then threw the bowl at me.

Last night he didn’t want my husband to put him to bed, so I said no problem, I will do it.  My husband asked him for a hug good night, and after my son gave him a hug, he punched him in the chest.  This is not the first time he has punched my husband, and I can see it is getting to him.

Help?

Thanks,
Stephanie

Hi Stephanie,

It can be tricky to give parents advice when all I have to go on is a snapshot of their situation. I invariably have many more questions than answers, but I’m happy to give it a try. I generally begin by looking for clues, channeling my inner Nancy Drew (devoured her books as a kid and briefly played her on TV in a former life).  Here are some statements I was struck by in your note:

“During the 2’s he was an amazingly well-behaved kid, just being his easy-going, good-natured self.”   Hmmm… It’s unusual for a toddler not to demonstrate at least a smidgen of resistance and defiance. Is it possible that you and your husband have been trying to skirt power struggles by catering and acquiescing to your boy? Do you give in to your son’s requests to avoid his displeasure? A subsequent comment seems to indicate that you do…

“Last night he didn’t want my husband to put him to bed, so I said no problem, I will do it.”  Assuming your husband is the affectionate dad I’d imagine him to be, why honor this type of request? Why allow your son to toss his dad aside at his whim? It sounds like you may be mistaking this typical toddler test for a need for mom’s company.

I often counsel parents who work hard at being respectful, sensitive and gentle; so hard, in fact, that every interaction with their child has them walking on eggshells, tentative about their choices and directions, fearful that their child might “crack” and get upset or make them feel like mean, overly strict parents.

They’re understandably gob-smacked when their efforts are rewarded with something akin to your son’s punch to the chest.

Worries about upsetting our kids can prevent us from seeing that their undesirable behavior is a question that needs to be answered clearly. And when children aren’t getting the answers they need, these questions become more insistent.

“I thought I had all the patience in the world for him until he started repeatedly hurting me, and I find myself yelling at him to stop hurting me.” Here is more evidence of your wonderful respect and patience, but it is misplaced. When children are pushing our limits, they need our capable leadership far more than they need our patience. It isn’t fair to expect toddlers and preschoolers to decide of their own volition to follow our directions or stop bothering us because they adore us (as our peers would). They have a developmental need to assert their individuality (which means testing and disagreeing with us often), while also feeling safely reined in by our clear boundaries.

If we are reticent to be our kids’ teachers and leaders, we burden them with an uncomfortable amount of power, especially when we allow them to drain us of “all the patience in the world” and cause us to yell. That isn’t fair. Rather than yelling at our children to stop, they need us to confidently stop them.

“After I read some of the posts on your website, I changed my approach and would calmly say things like, “You hit me.  That hurts mommy. Is there something that is bothering you?””  This makes me worry that my points aren’t coming across clearly. I would not recommend saying the things you mention, because:

He knows he hit you. He knows that it hurts you. He says, “I don’t know how to talk,” because what’s bothering him is difficult for him to understand, much less express in words. He is, however, expressing himself loud and clear through his behavior. What bothers him is your lack of response. He needs and deserves a clear, direct answer to his question: “What happens when I hit you? Bite you? Throw toys at you?”

So, I recommend:

1) Respond confidently and comfortably (not angrily), be matter-of-fact, “I don’t want you to hit.”

2) If he continues, I would block him: “You feel like hitting. I will stop you.” Hold his wrists or hands if you need to, put away any toys and objects he’s using unsafely.

3) Instead of referring to yourself as “mommy”, which is indirect and less connected, speak to him as a person…in the first person. These are important exchanges between you and your son, (not “mommy” in the abstract), and your connection needs to be clear and solid.

Calmly preventing your boy from hurting you may evoke his anger, which would be the healthiest thing that could happen, because he’s probably been storing these uncomfortable feelings for quite some time.  He’ll need assurance that you fully accept and don’t fear his feelings. Let the feelings be, and when he’s calmer, reconnect by acknowledging (without pity), “You wanted to hit and I won’t let you. That was upsetting.”

Getting comfortable with this basic limit-setting dynamic is essential:
We confidently establish a boundary. Our child expresses displeasure (which can include frustration, disappointment, sadness, anger, rage). We stay anchored during this storm, patiently accepting and acknowledging our child’s displeasure.

“Sometimes I think maybe I am not paying enough attention to him.” What I sense may be missing is a particular kind of attention that can be the most elusive for respectful, gentle parents: confident leadership. Prevent your son from bothering you and igniting your anger. Believe in his ability to handle difficult feelings. Provide clarity, protection and acceptance. There is no more loving way to connect.

***

  I offer a complete guide to respectful discipline in my book:

NO BAD KIDS: Toddler Discipline Without Shame

You might also find my podcasts helpful. Here are a couple that are on this topic:

I also recommend:

1, 2, 3, The Toddler Years (a wonderful guidebook that applies to preschoolers as well)

Stop! 5 Easy Steps to Effective Limit Setting With Toddlers by Lisa Sunbury, Regarding Baby

My discipline posts, podcast and book: Elevating Child Care: A Guide to Respectful Parenting (now available on Audible!)

92 Comments

Please share your comments and questions. I read them all and respond to as many as time will allow.

  1. I’d just like to add that I’ve picked up another clue here which may solve part of the puzzle. Children with very advanced language for their age may be intellectually gifted, and this goes hand in hand with asynchronous behaviour. So the toddler ‘no’ years may arrive at a later date! It is very difficult to understand that a child who expresses himself very clearly at a young age may have the same needs emotionally as a much younger child, but with gifted children this is often the case. Giftedness brings with it an extra load of frustration, sometimes with something as simple as being offered activities that aren’t challenging enough or peer company that isn’t interesting. Janet’s suggestions are absolutely sound and it’s really important with gifted kids to give them those boundaries, regardless of how frustrating they may find them and how ‘grown-up’ they sound when they talk. Good luck with this little one!

    1. Thanks for your perspective and sleuthing, Aunt Annie! It is always appreciated.

  2. Thanks for this! I have a question about my 3-year-old too, but I’m not sure if it warrants a blog post of its own or if maybe it could just be discussed here in the comments.

    I am struggling with how to introduce regular household chores to my child. I think it would be appropriate to expect her to put her shoes and coat away every time she comes in the door, and to help with toy cleanup before bedtime. My occasional suggestions to help thus far (I haven’t made it a “rule” yet) are sometimes met with co-operation, and sometimes met with, “No, YOU do it!” in which case I’ve just let it go immediately. I don’t want to create a standoff situation until I have a plan for how to proceed and can respond calmly and consistently.

    And that’s where I’m at now: it’s time to make a plan for these tasks to become a regular expectation in our household. Could anyone advise?

    1. I would make it your routine to do these tasks together. Consistency makes it easier to follow rules, because they become a matter of course.

    2. I agree with Janet. Make it a routine. It may be met with some reluctance at first, and your child may test occasionally, but once something is set up to be routine, it becomes easier for the child to accept.

      My daughter is 3.5 and she has a few household chores. She cleans up her toys after supper (before bed) and very rarely complains because that is just “what we do”. I clean the kitchen, she cleans her toys, and when we are done, we meet upstairs for bath. She is also responsible for feeding the cat and if she forgets, I simply state “Charlotte, the cat’s dish is empty” or “Maggie needs some food” and she deduces from that comment that she needs to go do her job. These things have become routine so she just does them as she would any other part of her daily routine.

      1. Yes. I am asking about how to create that routine in the first place. Whenever I ask her to put her shoes away or say “let’s do it together” or any other such routine sort of way, she simply says “no” and goes off to play. I’m all for making it routine, but I can’t seem to get her on board in the first place.

        1. It will definitely be tricky at first. Routines do take a little while to establish.
          Here’s what we did:
          When my daughter was younger and we started to establish the routine, we would clean up “together” but I would use games to get her to do most of the work (i.e. “Okay Charlotte, I will help put these blocks away. I need you to find all the cars and put them in the bucket.” and I just took my sweet time cleaning up my part. Once she was done cleaning up a certain type of toy, I directed her to another type. “Wow, you found all the cars and put them away! I see some books on the floor too. Those need to be put away too, please!” If she told me no, or told me to do it, I would remind her I was still cleaning the blocks.)

          As she got older, I started to encourage her to do most of it herself by talking about responsibilities. We do the big toy clean up after supper, so she knows that it is my responsibility to clean up the mess *I* made in the kitchen and it is her responsibility to clean up the mess *she* made in the living room. We talked about how her toys belong to her and taking care of them is just as important as playing with them. If she puts them all back at the end of the day where they belong, she will know where to find them tomorrow. Lately it has turned into a “race” – she jumps out of her chair at supper and tries to finish cleaning her toys before I’m done cleaning up the kitchen so she can be the “winner” (ah, three year olds!)

          My daughter has always been a very reasonable and agreeable child, so it didn’t take long for her to be on board. Of course, what worked for us will not necessarily work for anyone else. Perhaps others have some other ideas and suggestions as well?

        2. avatar Vicki Burgess says:

          ~When teaching my children to help with chores, what I did with my youngest is ask her to do one thing at a time, like giving her instructions: “Pick up all your books, put them on the shelf. When you’re done, come get me!” She had only one task to do and then she’d come & get me. I would follow immediately to check that all books were on the shelf. Then I asked her, “Put all your dirty laundry in your basket. When done, come and get me,” and so on. Break down the chores, giving one task, so in the end, the child will learn from you and know what it finally means when you say, “Clean your room!” My son easily picked up on being neat as he played and did things. My daughter is very creative and needed the extra nudge to be neat and organized. This method helped with her tremendously.

    3. I believe 3 years old is a little young to expect consistency every time you would like your child to help with a chore.

      I would start with hanging up her coat and maybe putting her dirty clothes in a hamper. Make sure these jobs have child appropriate height and skill level. Hang a coat hook near the door at a comfortable height. You might even want to put a milk crate underneath for outdoor footwear, hats, mittens and her personal outdoor accessories.

      When your 3 year old is helpful say, “Thank you for helping.”

      As a funny incident when I was living with my sister’s family she didn’t say anything to the kids that I had I had moved in. All she said was this room is Aunt Betty’s now.

      Sometime later I asked my 4 year old nephew to pick up his toys and he replied, “No you do it. You’re the maid.” So that’s how he rationalized my presence in his house.

  3. avatar Catherine says:

    Hi, I’ve done all your suggestions but what do you do if my child continues to hit me or kick me??? Help much appreciated

    1. I honestly don’t know how that could it be happening, Catherine. Do you not see it coming? How do you generally respond? These behaviors continue because of the way we respond to them…

      1. I’m in the same boat Catherine. Following Janet’s advice I began to restrain my daughter physically to stop her by sitting behind her and wrapping my arms around her. I was completely calm and in control and it felt like such a breakthrough. It stopped (and continues to stop) each hitting episode quickly. However what it hasn’t done is stop her choosing that method of venting her frustration. At the moment it is almost every time I don’t let her have her way. E.g. Last night she wanted more ketchup – I said she had had enough…so she got up and hit me. Often she gives me a warning: “well if you say that, I’m going to hit you.”. I also have a 21 month old who thinks the hitting is hilarious and is starting to copy!

        1. Hi Theo! I’m sorry that it seems you’ve misinterpreted something I’ve written… I do not advise restraining children, especially from behind. The “calm and in control” part is crucial, but why not confidently face your daughter as you block her or hold her wrists?

          “I see you want to hit. I won’t let you (*yawn*).”

          This isn’t such a big deal, is it?

          The message children need in these instances is that we are totally unintimidated by their anger and impulsive, lashing out behavior… It seems she is continuing to “threaten” you…and that indicates to me that she senses your discomfort in this situation. Perhaps that’s because you’ve been using this restraining technique, which makes a much bigger deal of this than it is. And I think that may be why your toddler finds this amusing… If this was a large 10 or 12 year old attacking you, maybe, but a 3, 4, 5, even 6 year old? The restraining technique is overkill and sending the wrong message. Again, Theo, I apolgize if something I’ve written has confused you! :/

          1. I think I’m in the same boat as Catherine as well. I try to remain calm and hold my child’s wrists and tell him I will not let him hit me, but he just keeps trying to break free to hit me, or he starts kicking me. (Sometimes I worry he is truly a bully, as he seems much more aggressive than his peers, but I try to tell myself that this is normal 2 year old behavior.) Yes, I can restrain him, but he is very strong and he hits with all his might and it does HURT. If he continues to try to hit/kick over and over, should I just get up and leave the room (and tell him that I don’t want to be near him if he is going to hurt me)? I’m kind of at a loss…

            1. Kate – you are much bigger than he is, though, right? This is normal to a point, but it becomes much more fierce and common when children sense we are unable to handle their behavior. Remember that at the heart of your two year old’s anger and aggression is fear. He is not a bad person or a bully, but he needs parents that can handle his behavior with relative ease, so that he doesn’t need to continue this behavior. Be sure to acknowledge his feelings, (You didn’t like it when I said ___. That’s made you very angry.”) But also take control, so that he can let go and relax…and be the tiny, safe two year old he needs to be…safe in his parents’ nest. With respect, it is very hard for me to understand why an adult cannot contain a two year old…and doing so is extremely important.

              1. Janet I find wrapping my arms around a child from behind extremely calming to a child. For some people eye contact is threating or intrusive. I talk quietly and reassuringly in the child’s ear while hugging from behind.

                I am a person who has low vision and I only look at people with one eye at a time. This can be unnerving for some people.

          2. avatar Stephanie says:

            I have a similar problem with my 4-year-old, only she runs away (sometimes) when we try to stop her from doing hurtful things to us or her little sister (14 months), or when she’s doing something we’ve told her not to do. At home that’s not such a problem, I generally let her go because she’s stopped the behavior and I follow her to reconnect and empathize with her feelings. But sometimes when we try to set a limit she runs away or continues to dance/jump/spin and basically ignore us. I feel that my only course of action is to physically stop her from dancing, etc, and insist on the limit, but it almost always turns into me or my husband holding her from behind so she won’t run away or hit us. And it feels like and awful power struggle, and I hate it. Recently she did the same thing in church – during the closing prayer she was spinning in the lobby (where we were sitting, there wasn’t room in the chapel), and I told her to come sit down, because it was time for the prayer. She gave me a look from the corner of her eye (seeing what I’d do if she kept spinning, of course). So I told her “I won’t let you keep spinning. It’s time to sit down.” and she immediately turned to run down the hall. I followed her and had to carry her back to the lobby and she struggled to get down and wouldn’t stop. I had to hold her on the couch while the prayer finished, then she suddenly stopped as soon as everyone said “Amen” and was happy to go right up to primary. I don’t like restraining her at all, but I feel like sometimes it’s the only way to get her to comply with the limits we’re setting. The rest of the time things go very smoothly. For example, tonight she asked for a second book and I told her no, we had already agreed on one book and now it was time to sleep. She whined that she wanted another but I just said “I know you want another book. It’s hard when you can’t have two books before bed.” and she grumbled for a moment and then settled down to sleep. So I don’t understand why sometimes she’s so outrageously defiant to the point we feel we have no choice but to restrain her! Any ideas on what we could do/say/change?

        2. Then she needs constructive ways to vent her anger. Punching a pillow is a good release for many kids.

    2. Try using the same words each time.

      I always journal a difficult behavior when a problem arises. Keep a pen and some scrap paper in your pocket. Then you will always remember to write down the incident.

      What you need to write down is the following:
      date, time, what the child did and how you corrected the behavior. Check your notes at the end of the week.

      This should give you a clear picture of the underlying need.

      1. Oh you may need to journal for at least a month before a pattern arises.

  4. Have you had him assessed for something like a mild form of asperger’s? this sounds so much like my son!

  5. avatar Maryam Mansoor says:

    Hi janet,

    I have a 5 yr old with the same problem…
    but he hits me when ever hes denied of something he wants, he gets angry vrry easily….Though not always, at times he will respond in a much better way by understanding what im saying
    but when he does hit I cant stop him him …I try to hold his hand , tell him I cant let u do that..but to no avail..
    plz help

    1. Hi Miriam,
      I’m not sure what you mean by “I can’t stop him”. This isn’t really about making him stop hitting and flailing, so much as confidently blocking him and preventing him from hurting you. Also, what do you mean by “try to hold his hand”? Don’t let your 5 year old overwhelm you!

      I’m not sure I understand what parents are so afraid of…but I do know that young children cannot feel secure and comfortable when their parents are overwhelmed by their behavior… Are you afraid you will be too rough? Honestly, what are you afraid of?

      1. I feel for these moms, Janet, and think maybe you just don’t understand the situation. Let’s compare this to something else, like a cat from hell attacking you! Can you physically stop the cat? Sure you can, but you will sooner or later end up with a few nasty scratches or bites until you get that cat whisperer guy to tell you what to do. A chil who is DELIBERATELY AND HAPPILY trying to hurt you will occasionaly get that kick into dad’s grlin or pull out a hanfdul of hair. My friend’s son LAUGHS when she grabs his hands or blocks his kicks, and explains that he isn’t allowed to do that. LAUGHS.

        1. I feel for these moms, too, Sharon, but I don’t agree that they have evil children. Parents unwittingly cause this behavior by not confidently assuming their role as gentle leaders. Do you honestly believe children are “happy” when they are behaving aggressively? Nothing could be further from the truth… These behaviors are the expression of their discomfort.

          1. avatar know the feeling says:

            Actually i don’t think they think their kids are evil and i think thats very judging to assume that. Its parents under stress trying to weigh out what is the cause and one cause is that some kids have a more aggressive personality. However that doesn’t mean the behavior is okay or that the kid is evil.
            yes the kids aren’t happy when they behave aggressively but just like all of us have habits or addictions we aren’t proud of doesnt mean its the parents fault. Does it mean they need to try a new strategy? YES but i dont think its fair to say the parents caused this 100% blame on them. kids are just as unique as us. Each one wiht its own temperament, etc.

            As for the mom’s who are struggling, i suggest you take a look at what your kid can finds calming…i have a son who finds being read to very calming. Since a yougn age it was one of the best ways to calm him. He also sees the glass half empty at the 2 yrs age and the world with a straight simple fair is exactly equal/same treatment. With siblings, thats a challenge you give each kid thier special time at different times in different ways. You handle each child based on who they are. So even when i read to him i had picked books that talked about how much he’s loved, and how he’s loved to remind him that he is and just cuz theres a baby in the house he hasnt been forgotten.

            Over time and careful observation i’ve also realized he cant handle crowds for too long or being in the spotlight. So we work on those and also understand that they are triggers for him.

            recently i felt like we were regressing again and needed to show a stronger leadership towards him and teach him how to handle emotions and behavior. We also are tryting to help him understand emotions happen and its okay. We started a calm down corner with a few books and a pillow blanket adn sometimes some paper and marker/crayons if he asks for them. Its his space to channel that negative energy in a better way by lookign at the pictures in the book or drawing or sometimes just covering himself int he blanket. Initially i let him come out on his own and jsut start playing but now when he starts to come out i bring him to me for a quick chat we try to talk about what happened. I dont blame him but ask him what bothered him or made him upset. He doesnt always give an answer but i see it helps him start to think about himself adn be more aware of his emotions etc.
            Hope this helps…

  6. I

    My son is two years and three months. He started hitting, kicking, punching ect after his sister was born which coincidentally started at age two. I expected him to act out because this was a big change for him. Yet it seems like there is nothing I do that works to get him to stop. I know he does it for a reaction because he will look at me right after he does it to see what I am going to do. I have held his hands or feet when he has tried hurting me, I have picked him up and sat him down somewhere else and told him it’s not ok to hit and when he keeps coming back to do it over and over again I start to get frustrated. My husband is able to take a much more calm approach and keep reminding him it’s not ok to hit as well as holding his arms and legs. Either way he still keeps at it. The behavior has not stopped. He also does it to my grandma and other relatives. I would love some good insight. Thank you

    1. Karynne – have you acknowledged his feelings while preventing him from hurting you? “You seem super angry right now. I see how much you want to hit…” I would focus on welcoming his angry feelings and also responding to the hitting in a calm, almost bored manner. Don’t let this push your buttons at all. It sounds like your son is looking in your eyes because he senses intensity from you around this behavior. When there is none, this will become uninteresting to do.

      1. And what if they are NOT doing it out of anger. What is the outburst (throwing, hitting, biting, etc) is completely random. Sure there may be some big picture thing bothering them, but in that moment they may not be responding to something specific and in fact they may be smiling or being silly or testing your reaction. What do you say then in order to acknowledge?

        1. “You feel like hitting. I’m going to stop you.”

          Children will tend to continue to test our reaction when we’ve overreacted or gotten angry, etc. It’s unnerving to them when they have such power. So, I would still focus on creating a sense of safety… physical and emotional safety

  7. Hi Janet,

    First off, thank you so much for sharing your insight and experience through this blog. I stumbled upon RIE accidentally, and its pragmatic philosophy aligned completely with my off-the-beaten path approaches to interacting with my infant daughter (treating her with the respect she deserved), and my objections to most of the more common parenting practices I see. It’s incredibly validating to have someone (even someone I’ve never met) support my choices!
    I agree that it appears that the poster’s son is begging her to take a stand. He most likely does have big feelings that are difficult to articulate, but I think he’s expressing himself quite clearly through his behavior. I can relate, because we’re going through a milder version of the same interaction with my nearly three-year-old. My husband allows himself to become so provoked by her display of tears or head-hanging that he alternately appeases her or yells/lectures her. As a consequence, (I think) she displays the very behavior he wants to extinguish MORE when he’s around. I’ve been unable to convince him that if we can calmly and firmly set and follow through on limits, this will be a stage that passes more quickly. I think it’s far more difficult to deal with age-appropriate testing issues when you have trouble managing your own anxiety. I don’t enjoy knowing that my child is upset with me either, but I think she needs me to say what I mean and do what I say, much more than she needs me to give her everything she asks for.
    She, like the poster’s son, tries to get a reaction out of me at times (usually when I’m inattentive, but sometimes when we are quite pleasantly engaged together) by poking or otherwise annoying me physically. It’s so tentatively done, however, that it seems clear that she’s asking me to assert my authority. “How far is too far, and do you really mean it when you say enough is enough?”, she seems to ask. She knows that when I tell her I want her to stop, and what will happen if she doesn’t, I mean business. I can see her weighing the decision carefully, and sometimes she does decide to continue. Because I’ve drawn the line before I’ve become upset, it’s easier to calmly follow through on the consequences. Her indignant display of displeasure is short-lived, and seems to provide the release-valve she needed, because we go on with our day as soon as she calms back down.
    I hope this perspective will help the poster realize that she has a right to be unmolested, her son has the ability to comprehend this, and that they’ll both be happier if some real action is taken to change this dynamic. Please treat yourself with the same level of respect you try to display toward your son — he needs you to.

    Respectfully,
    Sara

    1. Great insight, Sara. Thanks for your comment. I’m happy we found each other.

    2. What are your “consequences” so that your daughter “knows you mean business? I feel that you seem to be saying that consistently, confidentially, and ho-humly setting the limit is not enough of a response to her testing behavior.

  8. hi Janet,
    This article has been helpful, however, whar do you do when the child hurts herself-not you?
    My 18 month old pulls her own hair out when she gets impatient. . Ill be making her lunch and she’ll be sitting watching and then look tense and pull her hair 🙁
    I’ve tried hand-overhand teaching the sign for “gentle” while explaining calmly that I understand she is frustrated and that waiting is hard sometimes but hurting herself is not good. That I love her and luncg will be ready soon… but she keeps doing it 🙁 I hate seeing her hurt herself and I was wondering if you had any suggestion of what I can do to help her..

    Thanks, Jen

    1. Jen – I know this is challenging, but it is vital that you relax about the hair-pulling behavior. As with head-banging, the more you say about it, “hate” it, etc., the more inclined she will be to do this. Let it go.

  9. The “I don’t know how to talk” is fascinating to me since my 3 year old has started saying that too. He insists he is actually his younger sister, and that he doesn’t know how to talk or walk. I’m not entirely sure how to respond.

    1. He is enjoying the fantasy of being nurtured the way his baby sister is. Welcome this behavior…and don’t judge it.

  10. avatar Elanne Kresser says:

    Just a big “Wow” from this corner. I’m so amazed by what you were able to glean from this mama’s question. So insightful and helpful. As the parent of an almost three year old I have to say that I’m finding this age, in some respects, the hardest of all. My daughters wishes and desires as well as her limit pushing have only intensified as she has become more verbal and articulate. And I think I’ve started to expect things from her that are perhaps beyond her age because she seems so bright, capable and intelligent. Being a steady, calm and unruffled presence is so darn challenging. Takes everything I’ve got. So appreciate the wisdom and encouragement you share. It’s making a difference!

    And as far as people not understanding you I think we all take what you say and put it through our own filters. Or speaking for myself I know I do. Sometimes I read something you’ve written and I’m reading it for the 5th time and only then does the lightbulb turn on! Only then do I see that I’ve only been kind of getting what you mean. It takes a lot of practice, and a lot of making mistakes to get to a fraction of the clarity and ease you seem to have with all of this!

    1. Thank you, Elanne! This is exactly the way I felt about Magda Gerber’s work in the beginning: “Sometimes I read something you’ve written and I’m reading it for the 5th time and only then does the lightbulb turn on!” And 20 years later, I am still absorbing and digesting!

  11. Hi janet! When I wrote to you initially I was explaining how no, I physically cannot stop my daughter hitting me by holding her wrists in front without really hurting her. She obviously pulls and twists and to stop that I have to hold really really tight and I know it hurts because she tells me! Plus it feels wrong it’s so right. So I wrote that doing that to stop her was uncomfortable because it felt like restraint… And you wrote “Confidently preventing your daughter from hitting you is REALLY important, even if that means you have to restrain her.”! This is why I looked for a way to do this without hurting her. Trying to hold her from the front had been going on for months. Obviously now I see you don’t recommend restraint from behind either. I’m a bit stuck really. Obviously I have a chronic behaviour issue on my hands…! I can do “bored” believe me… But only if I physically can stop her… Any ideas? (Ps I am of course doing all manner of reading to work out what the triggers really are and deal separately with those – sibling rivalry, tiredness and hunger are 3)

  12. Typo in that last entry- I meant “tight” not right. Maybe could you explain what you mean by “blocking”? You mention that quite a bit and I can’t visualise what you mean. Maybe it would help others? My guess is maryam feels similarly. You ask her whether she is afraid of being too rough- from the front I absolutely am! Maybe I have a mini contortionist in training…

    1. Theo, thank you for elaborating… So…your daughter is hitting you, but you are afraid that stopping her will hurt her? I don’t understand this. It sounds like your daughter has you over a barrel. I think it’s okay if preventing her from hurting you ends up hurting her a bit. You are not intentionally hurting her…and she is being rough with you! What’s more concerning (and perpetuating this issue for you, in my opinion) is that you are being too careful and tentative. No matter what you do, this worry about hurting her transmits the message that she is in control. That is a scary place for a young child to be…and this behavior will probably continue as long as she feels that way. So I would stop worrying about being rough. The key is to stop her RIGHT AWAY, so you don’t do it in anger, because that is when you might lose control of yourself and be too rough.

      1. I think his worry about hurting her by holding her wrists from in front is a valid one. I’ve heard of children dislocating their shoulders from being restrained in this way. My daughter (4.5 yo and 30 lbs) is too strong to be restrained from in front – she will bite and kick if I try it. I would like to just block blows when possible, but I’m not sure that it communicates “I will not let you hit me” if she is hitting my hands while I “block” her. Is that something to be concerned about? PLEASE elaborate on what you mean by “blocking.” I feel like I only have two options when my daughter is hitting and kicking: to restrain her from behind or to put her in her room and hold the door shut. I feel like holding her is better, but I don’t like either option and need HELP.

        1. Espri – where do you think this anger stems from?

          1. It seems very anxiety based. She has twin sisters who recently started walking, and when they started their separation anxiety phase around that time she really started to act similarly to them. We’ve identified several areas where we’re not being as consistent as she needs, and we’re working on tightening up our limits in these areas. I’m seeing some improvement, but she’s also had a lot of tantrums reacting to these stricter limits. I’ve really struggled to find ways to enforce limits and offer natural consequences. Somehow we ended up mostly taking away privileges as a way to enforce limits and it has stopped working. We’ve always tried to do time-in’s, and they help with out of control behavior, but they don’t help her respect limits. We’ve actually started doing time-outs now, and she seems to be almost relieved to have a consequence that she can count on more concretely. BUT half the time she throws a major tantrum when placed in time out and has to be held in place – which she reacts to with hitting and kicking and has to be restrained.

            1. I’ve been thinking hard about where we may have gone wrong with gentle discipline. I honestly feel like I’ve done my best with logical consequences – they work for many things, but there are still many instances where I can’t find an effective logical consequence. But an area where I think I really made a mistake is in helping her learn to follow directions. Hand-over-hand assistance in following directions has always triggered a tantrum for our daughter. Even as a young toddler she reacted really strongly to physical coercion of any kind. So if I needed her to get in her car seat to leave somewhere I would offer “you can climb in yourself or I will put you in the seat.” She would refuse to get in the seat and then when I placed her in it she would throw a 30 minute tantrum and arch her back so strongly it was impossible to buckle her in. She even threw up one time when my husband and I (it took both of us) managed to buckle her in. I feel like I do a good job supporting her through tantrums in a loving manner, but they are still no fun for anyone. So over time we have avoided doing things that trigger tantrums, such as hand-over-hand assistance and physically moving her where we need her to go. So what have we done instead? We fuss at her to do things, yell sometimes, count to ten and if she doesn’t comply she loses a privilege. None of it works very well. Now we are trying time-outs, which may or may not be an answer in the long run, but are very difficult for everyone involved right now.

              1. avatar Elisabeth says:

                This sounds very much like what I am going through with my toddler. Looking forward to hearing any learned responses.

                1. I have found, especially with carseat battles, that the underlying issue had nothing to do with the carseat or even compliance…but we had a sleep deprived toddler, having sugar crashes. A consistent wake up, thus meal times, really helped with this. Consistent sleep happened after making sure our daughter had enough physical and mental stimulation throughout the day. In our case she needed more time running around outside in ‘yes’ space, free to be wild and make her own choices. Take a close look at your toddler in general and see what they need…find the underlying triggers before the tantrums happen.

  13. Thank you Janet. I certainly hadn’t felt I was being tentative in the past holding her wrists while she flailed about, but I suppose I instinctively responded emotionally to the “you’re hurting me!” by letting go. No-one wants to hurt their child! And once that’s happened once… I will start again today with my best unruffled demeanour and see how we get on. Thanks again.

    1. Please keep me posted on your progress, Theo. 🙂

  14. Hi Janet
    Thank you for this post, like everything you write it is a weekly dose of sanity for me!
    One thing I have been wondering for a long time is whether you could at some point perhaps send us something relating to the difference between allowing feelings and encouraging rudeness?
    My 3 year old son often expresses his anger towards me in very rude and insulting terms which I try to let roll off my back so as to avoid a lecture or emotional reaction…. But surely I can’t continue just letting him talk to me like this? But at the same time it is essential that I allow him to fully express his emotions and verbalise his anger. I am a bit stuck with this… I know how to (mostly) calmly prevent him hurting myself or others physically but honestly, I find some of the things he says to me emotionally hurtful and also disrespectful.

    1. Hi Jane! How successful do you think you are at this? “…which I try to let roll off my back so as to avoid a lecture or emotional reaction..” I ask because children tend to choose their words carefully…based on what they’ve learned pushes our buttons. It will always be tough to control what our children say, but removing the power from these words makes them disappear. And we do that by ignoring the words (not the child) or underreacting, i.e., “that’s a bit unpleasant.” Ho-hum. La, la, la.

  15. Thanks Janet, I think my success on this front has been mixed. I am extremely aware of faking my calmness. I don’t actually feel calm, I feel angry and upset and I guess he sees through my disguise. He is incredibly bright, perceptive, and sensitive. But faking it is my only option as I can’t exactly afford to book myself in for therapy!! I wish I could attend one of your classes so I could watch how you do it and then maybe the “unruffled” tone would be easier to emulate.
    Also, I was wondering if you could recommend somewhere to go to get an RIE perspective on how to care for preschoolers and beyond. Your blog obviously has some articles but understandably it is mainly baby and toddler oriented. Did Magda write a book aimed at parents of older kids?
    Apologies if you have covered this elsewhere, I am skimming rather than attentively scouring.

    1. Jane, you gave me a hint with your other comment. You are too worried about everyone’s feelings. SET LIMITS (like you did when you told your son to leave the kitchen) BEFORE you get angry. Screaming in anger is one thing… Screamining in your face when you are busy juggling things is quite another. Notice that he left the room of his own volition when you set the limit! He finally got the answer he wanted. First you tried asking him politely, but that wasn’t authoritative enough for him to be able to let go of testing. Be a calm leader. Take care of yourself. If something is bothering you, be clear about it.

  16. Hi Janet
    I think I have had mixed success with the staying unruffled because honestly, I feel ruffled and find it incredibly hard to fake it in a way that washes with this little chap, who is so perceptive and sensitive. The other question is what exactly I can do about the angry shouting he aims at me and his siblings. Do I allow it on the grounds that it is a valid way for a preschooler to express his anger and frustration? Obviously it is better than hitting. But just now I was trying to cook dinner and keep an eye on the baby whilst the 3 yo was leaping around the kitchen shouting in our faces… I told him that if he wants to shout please can you go to another room. He didnt. Then I said (as it continued) if you shout again you will have to leave the room. He did, and I told him to leave, which he then did. I know this is leaving him alone with his emotions but right now I dont know what else to do.

    1. That wasn’t “leaving him alone with his emotions”, Jane. That was a fine choice. Seems he wanted you to set a limit.

  17. Janet, Once again, your post has been enlightening to me and helpful in the parenting place where I am at right now. The phrases that got me the most were: “Worries about upsetting our kids can prevent us from seeing that their undesirable behavior is a question that needs to be answered clearly…If we are reticent to be our kids’ teachers and leaders, ***we burden them with an uncomfortable amount of power,*** especially when we allow them to drain us of “all the patience in the world” and cause us to yell. That isn’t fair. Rather than yelling at our children to stop, they need us to confidently stop them.” I really watch my yelling or strong tone in recent years, but I still loose my cool when my eldest doesn’t follow directions especially where upmost safety (parking lot, swimming area) is concerned. I too feel like sometimes I too walk on eggshells trying to be respectful of their feelings but yet then it turns into a whining war between my two sometimes and this definitely enlightens me to stay true to the issue at hand and not let it continue when they need strong guidance. Thank you so so so very much again!!!

  18. Wow thanks Janet! I feel much better now…. I felt like sending him away was almost like timeout, but maybe not??
    Sorry I commented twice, I thought the first comment got lost
    Appreciate so much all you do, I had rubbish parenting and this would be a minefield for me without you.

    1. So glad to hear this makes sense to you! I usually delete a repeat comment, but your comments said different, interesting things, so I kept them both. Hope that’s okay?

  19. Thank you, Janet.
    I guess what some of us find hard is clarifying what is a valid expression of feeling, and what is inappropriate behaviour. Bearing in mind the mantra of “allow feelings, limit behaviour” and also that we should not be afraid of our children being mad at us, it is hard to know where to draw the line. Can we really expect our angry preschoolers to express themselves more considerately? But equally we cannot allow ourselves or others to be abused even by a little person. I really struggle with what to say. Is “I can’t let you shout” appropriate??

    1. “I can’t let shout” will not work, because it is impossible to follow through with…unless you gag your daughter, which I don’t recommend! 😉 I understand your concern about allowing yourself to be “abused”… The best way to prevent that is to rise above this immature behavior rather than getting engaged iwith it. These behaviors lose their power and become useless as “weapons” when they do not spur our reaction.

      But I also believe that there are times we can (and should) offer what I call an “honest consequence”, as in the scenario with the girl screaming in the car (#5) in this post: http://dev.janetlansbury.com/2013/07/truths-about-consequences/

      I hope this helps!

      1. Hi Janet,
        I’m going to check out this link that you have posted. But, I’m wondering if you have written anything explicitly about toddlers yelling? My 3 yo is going through a lot right now (2 mo old baby sister and big sister is very ambivalent about her arrival, and I have also been home much more, and we are planning an out of state move in the next 6 mo)…so obviously she is stressed/angry/confused, you name it. Along with hitting/kicking (which I use your guidance around), she has begun yelling/screaming often at the top of her lungs often. Sometimes she just screams out random words/thoughts, for example at the dinner table, sometimes she is screaming ‘MAMA’ again and again (whether I’m close by or in another room), sometimes it’s just yelling about her displeasure with whatever we have asked her to do or limits we have set. I tell her that her yelling “hurts my ears, please don’t yell”, “please use your normal voice”…but other times it’s beyond acceptable and feels intolerable. We also live in an apartment (another frustration for all of us), so we have neighbors to think about all around us. Sometimes talking to her about how she is disturbing the neighbors helps, but only momentarily. Tonight I told her if she had to yell she had to do it in her room with the door shut, which she did. But, I didn’t really feel comfortable with that as it felt like I was leaving her alone with her tremendous feelings. But also, the screaming like that is truly just not ok (in an ongoing- all the time way). Thoughts?

  20. avatar Maryam Mansoor says:

    Hi janet.. I agree with theo… im not overwhelmed by him but maybe I now understand what u mean that I do have to stop him from hitting… and if I restrain him he starts screaming…how do I deal with that….and is it normal if he takes way toooo long to forget and calm down

    1. Hi Maryam – yes, it’s normal for it to take a long time for him to calm down, especially if you have been avoiding these explosions. Screaming is the way children this age can safely express their feelings. In other words, they aren’t ready to sit in the therapist’s chair and calmly explain how upset they are… 🙂 I recommend trusting him to explode as he needs to, which will help “normalize” this experience for him. When these expressions are normalized for him, they won’t happen as often or last as long. He will be more accustomed to clearing his feelings and moving on..

  21. Hi Janet,

    Thank you for this helpful posting and discussion. When my daughter (3years 3months) doesn’t get her way, she often turns hostile and yells “I don’t like you!” and starts hitting, biting, kicking. I can general restrain her calmly, but I have no idea what I should say. It sounds like you recommend staying calm (I do), staying totally unflustered (I can work on this), acknowledging her anger (this is hard to do in the heat of the moment and but I try to do this once she has calmed down a bit), looking her in the eye and telling her firmly something like “Do not hit me please because it hurts me.”

    Can you shed any more light on what I should be saying? As I try to restrain her there she is pure emotion (rage) and it doesn’t feel an easy moment for a conversation. Sometimes I have to hold her back from attacking her 3-year old friend.

    BTW, she is otherwise a delightful, happy and kind child who loves people.

    Thanks! Ahna

    1. Hi Ahna- I wouldn’t be firm to the point of being stern because she already knows she shouldn’t hit you… and your sternness can make this more of an interesting thing to do. I would try to project more of a “don’t worry I’m on top of all this” message. You are so unbothered by this that it is almost boring. Then maybe say something like, “I won’t let you hit”… or you could say nothing at all and just look at her calmly and nod your head until she’s done exploding. When is calmer and can listen, you might say, “You didn’t like it when I said ____. You got very angry.”,

  22. Hi janet, just wanted to update you with our progress. I’ve really appreciated all your recent advice on these issues- I think it’s actually a very complex issue. So I have changed to holding my daughters wrists from the front, and your advice of internal “yawn” has been helpful in staying as unruffled as I can be. Face to face she can now see me genuinely looking calm as I stop her. She hits less than she used to – much less in fact – but she has not stopped completely and I think it’s a learning process for us all. Interestingly my 22 mo has started hitting me AND her big sis – i often find myself having to step in to stop her hurting my older daughter using the same calmness, and I think this has been very positive for my eldest! Looking back, restraining calmly from behind felt necessary because I was SO emotionally triggered when I was hit and I couldn’t hide it until this technique helped me regain some control again. I have a tricky relationship with my mother who I’m pretty sure didn’t set many limits at all – when I was being hit I was overwhelmed with fear of what I was doing to trigger the reaction, fear of having a bad relationship with my daughter etc rather than fear of her per se. Looking back it’s also amazing how quickly the hitting had negatively affected our relationship and I had started to withdraw physically without realising. Part of the repair has been to initiate more physical closeness like hugs and knee-sitting. So we are getting there. Thank you for your support. I also really value your willingness to clarify things where there had been misunderstandings. I continue to learn from you!

    1. Sounds like great progress, Theo. Your children are lucky to have such a thoughtful parent.

      1. Theo, I’m so glad you updated us all. I was reading your posts and hoping to hear how everything turned out. It’s helpful to hear that the changes Janet suggested are working. I’m happy for you and your family!

  23. Hi Janet – I’m so grateful for what you are contributing to the world by being a voice and teacher of these principles. This thread has been particularly helpful in many many ways. One thing I am seeing is the importance of the “ho hum” attitude. I often have the word “unruffled” in my mind, but I think “ho hum” takes it to an even calmer level.

    My 2.4 yr old repeatedly pinches both of his great grandmothers, who are 98 and 80, and this has been going on for a few months. Clearly not ok. He does it very calmly and matter of factly, with a small furrow on his brow, pretty much as soon as he sees her. Mostly I just calmly block him. If I don’t get there in time, I sometimes have a wee charge in my voice when I say “It’s not ok to pinch Grandma”, and I’m wondering if perhaps I am saying it too sternly, not ho-hum enough. I think I’d been feeling too ho hum and thought I needed to convey my seriousness by adding some sternness to my voice. Also it doesn’t help that both of these beautiful elderly ladies actually try to pinch him back, in a confusing playful/angry kind of way. So they definitely have an interesting charge about it, which I don’t think I can do much about.

    I think I’m seeing that I need to be firmer in my boundary, like perhaps not only calmly block his moves towards them (he once spent a whole 20 minute visit just trying to get past me – that was an interesting game for him), but set a consequence, like we just leave. But that is probably not so sad for him, but would be sad for my Grandma. Any thoughts appreciated if you have time.

    1. Thank you for such kind words, Erin!

      Hmmm… it does sound like the great grandmothers’ responses have made the pinching into a very fun game. The toddler in me wants to play that, too. I would acknowledge at least several minutes before your visit, “I know you like to pinch grandma and have her try to pinch you back, while I say, ‘no, it’s not okay’. But grandma is very old, and even though she smiles and laughs, it isn’t safe for you to pinch her. So, if you feel ready to pinch, please look at me so I can stop you.”

      In other words, make this into something you are working on together. Change the story into one that you will both manage. I’m not 100% sure this will work, but it’s worth a try. 🙂

      1. Why can’t you just flat out say, ln the way there “If you pinch or hurt grandma while we are here, I’m going to put your behind in timeout mister,” and if you do it AGAIN you will get timeout again and no…(whatever).” They DO remember this; he sure remembers how much fun it is to pinch her!

  24. Hi Janet. What to do when the raging hitting happens during nursing the new born?

    1. I would move with the newborn into a safer place while saying, “I see you letting me know you aren’t safe around the baby right now, so we will need to move until she’s done nursing.” Or, better yet, if you have a safe, enclosed play space for you child, I would calmly escort him or her into that area. Don’t make this punitive, but rather, protective.

  25. This started happening in my house too. Unfortunately it turned out that when he was being put to bed — bad things were happening. I couldn’t make out why my previously sweet kid was suddenly acting out until I asked a direct question. Then he told me about what was happening when I wasn’t in the room. It happens, sadly, don’t assume that just because you love someone that they don’t have a (purposely) hidden struggle with something that happened to them as a child that is now coming up for them (as the opportunities arise or are created).

    Seriously, people who do this go out of their way to put on the better than average guy act so that they will be less likely to be suspected / detected. They know they are going to do it so they start preparing by acting extra nice and extra wonderful as a shield behind which this behavior can occur. It’s a mental health problem that many can not control — even if they wanted to. Don’t assume it couldn’t happen to you. Don’t assume that because the guy in question has a good job and good persona and is extra polite etc that there is no way.

    It’s often the people you think are too good for it that are going out of their way to make you think & feel that way so they can get away with it. As I said, for some of them, despite any internal struggles or mixed feelings they may have about it — they can’t stop themselves — all they can do is invest heavily in a good cover story persona to avoid detection as long as possible.

    Prepare yourself for the possible answers, talk to your child alone when the possible perpetrator is out of the house, and ask if anyone has been touching his private parts (or making him touch theirs, kissing etc.) It sucks but better to catch it early than have it go on and destroy your child.

  26. so my son is 3 as well and he has started throwing things at me when he gets upset. I will put the things away but he just finds more things to throw. I hold his hands and talk calmly to him and it seems to makes him more upset. Eventually I walk him up to his room and sit on his bed where there isn’t anything he can hurt me with. But the next time he gets angry which could be just a couple minutes later, he does it all over again. This happens almost every day so am I missing something? Thanks

  27. Hi Janet,
    Could you please respond to Espri’s inquiries above? I was hoping to hear your thoughts on her situation(s).

    Much appreciated!

    1. Christa – my thoughts are that she is going down a road that I have stated in my articles and books that I do not recommend… so it is understandable to me that she’s having issues.

      I will share this with Espri (above) as well…

  28. Janet,

    So glad you exist!

    I have a very willful, bright, and energetic 3 year old daughter who has a very large vocabulary and a wonderful ability to express herself at such a young age.

    She began pushing and bopping her closest friends whenever they either snatched her toys or didn’t want to play in the way she wanted to play, at around 2 years and 3 months of age. An escalation of this behavior coincided with the birth of my son a few months later and has since escalated even more to her pushing these friends down, running away and laughing, etc., and, now, hitting mommy and daddy.

    I have always consistently acknowledged her feelings about a situation (I know you don’t like it when your toys are snatched, it makes you sad and angry, etc) and set a limit by “firmly” (unfortunately, for me that translated into sternly) telling her that we don’t hit, hitting hurts! I definitely haven’t used/feigned the ho-hum attitude and I now see that I’ve greatly contributed to both the duration and escalation or this behavior (oy!). I am eager to see how this major tweak reflects in her behavior but I have some crusty old idea that keep surfacing.

    When she hits me, I have no problem physically stopping her, but I do have an issue, as already mentioned, with how I sound while setting the limit. (I tend to sound annoyed or frustrated and, when I’ve reached my limit, I go nuclear and “talk loud” as my little one says and I likely draw too much attention to what she’s done by lecturing her). I’m working on my anger/frustration issues so that I don’t scare her and/or escalate these issues or cause any others, but what I am wondering is how do I handle her hitting other children? Is setting the limit in a ho-hum way enough? (And, yes, I just ordered your book, “No Bad Kids”).

    I always have this doubt in the back of my mind that I am not doing enough to guide her; that she is not taking me “seriously” or that she doesn’t “respect” me (whatever that means! Can a 3 year old “respect” you?). I feel like this is mental junk that creeps in when things get challenging and/or when other moms criticize (I’m often told, in a pejorative way, oddly, that I have so much “patience”). It’s a euphemism for being too soft on my child. It does make me wonder, however, if there needs to be additional “consequences” when she hits other children? In addition to ho-humly setting a limit, should I end the play date if she continues to hit her friends, put her in her stroller for “calm down time,” separate them for 10 minutes, etc? Or, is it enough to ho-humly set the limit for this kind of behavior, which may or may not be “testing” behavior. (Could it be something else?).

    Many thanks!

  29. Brilliant answer to this difficult situation I agree guidance and leadership are the key. On a physical level another thing to keep in mind is the huge influx of testosterone for boys aged 3-5 a lot like being a teen and the feelings can be very difficult to understand and express. Just a thought 🙂

    1. This is a myth culturally circulating as scientific fact. There’s actually no good scientific evidence to suggest that this happens.

  30. Hi Janet,

    I know this was an older post, but I’ve been searching for topics on your website that could be helpful. I hope you still get this reply even though this post is from last year.

    Our daughter will be 3 in a few months. She has a few issues happening and they may be related to setting confident limits and her receiving “airtime” or attention for negative behaviors. Here’s what’s happening…

    1. If she gets physically hurt (i.e.: yesterday banged her head on the toilet paper wall mount as she was standing up) and I walk over to say, “what happened sweetie?”, her reaction is usually to hit me. She will look furious that I’ve asked if she’s okay. She is obviously hurting from what happened and frustrated. Maybe even embarrassed? I’ve explained to her that its my job to keep her safe and help her when she’s hurt because I love her. This behavior continues though.

    2. She is also incredibly resistant towards my husband on a fairly regular basis. His work requires him to travel weekly and he is usually gone from Thurs-Sunday. He will walk in her bedroom to read and snuggle with us in the evening and she’ll say, “daddy, go away.” Sometimes her frustration towards him involves a hit towards my husband. When the three of us are together and spending some family time, she always opts for me to be with her, help her, pick her up, etc. I’ve tried to explain to my husband that he needs to step in and be confident and firm and proceed as her parent, but most of the time it ends with him giving in to her request.

    3. In public, she is also going through a period of saying (out loud), “I don’t like that lady.” Or, “That man doesn’t look nice.” For weeks when these situations came up,I was telling her we NEVER say something like that out loud, because it could hurt someone’s feelings. When that didn’t work at all, we started checking out children’s books from the library about ethnicity, all the beautiful colors of skin in the world, how we’re all different and special in our own way… While she enjoyed the books, no progress with the verbal filter. She has now started spotting kids at the park and pointing to them and saying, “He doesn’t look nice.” I’m concerned that this will pop up in her preschool setting (if it hasn’t already without my being aware) and create problems between her and her peers.

    So, although I was hesitant to bombard you with these three somewhat different issues, I really feel there is a common thread. I feel she knows how to get my attention and upset me. When I say “upset” I mean create a conversation around these undesirable behaviors. She knows there is button she can push which will illicit a response. How do I stop this cycle from happening? She is an incredibly smart and very verbal child for her age and I just wonder if she’s creating a form of testing/entertainment for herself.

    Please help!

    Thanks so very much.

  31. Hi Janet,

    I am having a slightly different issue with hitting. My three and half year old son has recently gotten into superheroes, Star Wars etc and has started pretend fighting the air with fake light sabers etc. occasionally someone else (mom, dad, sister) will get hit from his pretend fighting, not necessarily on purpose, but he is clearly not being aware of his body and others bodies.

    We are very clear that he never hits other people or hurts other people but there is this slightly grey area I am trying to figure out where people are inadvert hit during his play or other boys want to play fight with him.

    So I guess my first question is what is your view on this sort of play anyway, it seems so common place especially among boys. My inclination is that fighting is bad, but it also just seems like innate play. And then what are your views on the limits that should be set on it.

  32. Hi
    My daughter is 3.5. She also developed language skills very early and loves to talk. But she has difficulty putting feelings into words. She has always been a difficult child. Everyday activities like brushing, bathing, eating were a struggle with her. She is more co operative with those things now but is extremely defiant and will only do what she chooses. I am trying to control this behavior. But meanwhile she has started hitting. Funny thing is she doesn’t hit for loss of privilege etc. whe I deny her something she simply cries and throws a tantrum. She hits ( more often my husband than me) whe he comes home and wants to spend time with her. She climbs him like a mountain and jumps on him then hits kicks bites and licks . We tell her to stop , restrain her , tell her it hurts etc. she cries and fights us . After a lot of crying she stops for a while and then starts all over again. I don’t know why she does this but it seems worse when she is tired.

  33. My daughter started to hit me when she turned three and knew I was pregnant again. I tried everything, stopping her, holding her, getting her out of the room – it just got worse. The only thing that worked for us was a) a book about emotions, teaching her to hit cushions instead of people if she is angry b) a story I made up about her favourite book character who hit his mum badly, she had to go to hospital and the character had to go to bed without her and got sad and drew her a picture and apologised. It sounds a bit drastic, but I think it helped that it was one step away from our family and we could talk about what the character did without getting too emotional again. She has totally stopped hitting now but still requests that story from time to time.

  34. Hello, My 3.5 years old daughter is very smart, talkative, and at the same time very shy and very strong minded. I tried everything so she will hear me and listen to me and I know that what is working for me is talking. Sometimes I raise my voice to say her name and then lower it to talk confidently, to show her she needs to respect and listen to me, and she does listen and if not I usually start to count to 3 and she is there beside me. Whenever I do shout at her or get angry, I alwasy say sorry to her afterwards when I’m calm and explain why I did that (for example that I asked her nicely so many times not to do something, but she did not listen, so I lost my temper for a second, but it was not nice and mammy should not do that and I’m sorry). I believe I have very strong and close relationship with her, I try to pay atention to her and listen when she is talking, offering a hug and kiss whenever she needs it. I’m mostly in charge or morning and evening routine, and also Im collecting her from preschool, and play with her still at the school playground for around 30 mins. Unfortunately I’m not playing with her much outside that ( honestly I dont know how). She is very interesting person, very happy and bright with great imagination but after few minutes of having not distracted fun with internet or anything else, Im getting bored and I’m starting to make excuses, which makes me feel like a horrible mother. The problem appears when her daddy is coming home from work or over the weekend. She is rejecting him, she hits him, she is horrible to him, saying go away, yucky daddy, I dont want you and so on. I believe she is doing it so she will have me just for herself. So in that situations, when she runs to me, I say go to daddy, sort the problem with daddy. Mammy and daddy are on the same side, so mammy won’t play with you becasue you were not nice to daddy. In this situation she will go say sorry to him, becasue I want her too, not becasue she mean it. In other situations she will hit him and she will not say sorry unless she wants something from him. I wanted to pointed out that her daddy is very good to her, playing actively few hours a day, and he would do everything for her. I dont think he knows how to handle it though, its been nearly 1 year since she is totaly openly rejecting him, which makes me sad too. I need say that I’m more sensitive about what way she behave and why she might do that, so sometimes I know how to react to the right situation, where my husband would consider that it was wrong, and doesnt matter was she tired, upset or whatever, he would react the same way, usualy by saying, strongly dont hit daddy, or walking away till she say sorry ( just becasue she wants something). I think Im somehow part of her behaviour, that she is pushing him away to have me just for herself. Even if I play with her for good while and say in advance that when daddy comes home is daddy and her time, as soon my husband is entering the house she is really angry with him, even before he opens his mouth. She doesnt have respect to him at all, if he will hurt himself, she will say good, that he is hurting, when she would run to me and ask am I ok if I would get hurt. Please help. Sometimes I can even feel she is angry with me, which Im allowing ( becasue I believe all emotions are good, just expressing some of them might not be right), but instead being angry with me she will be angry with him.

  35. Hi,
    I have two sons, one is 3.5 years old and the other is 2 months. My concerns are with my older son and his behaviors have been ongoing, long before his brother was born.

    My concerns are in a couple of parts.

    He is much more physically capable than his peers. He started walking at 9 months and has been doing flips on bars at the playground for at least a year. He hits balls without a tee. But all of this physical ability comes with a scary level of confidence. He has been in swim lessons but can not swim on his own yet. Multiple times this summer while he was waiting for me to get his swimmies out of the swim bag he went in the pool without them (even though we told him to wait for the swimmies and an adult) and we had to jump in after him. He isn’t phased by this at all which is terrifying. He also was in our neighbor’s treehouse and jumped out on the side without the ladder. His impulsivity and inability to see the danger and fear in things is really scary.

    The second part is that he can go from being the sweetest boy and so loving to exerting such anger. He’ll also laugh right at us when we are trying to talk to him or punish him which is extremely frustrating! We’ve tried timeouts, taking things away but he doesn’t really care. Once he gets wound up, it can take him 30-45 minutes to calm down. Lately he has started biting and hitting which he hasn’t done before. We’ve really been trying to include him with his little brother and make sure he is still in his routine and getting attention. He has never taken his anger out on the baby, just on us, his parents. We’ve also spoken with his teachers at his school and they are shocked when I tell them these things, they tell me he is quiet and well behaved!

    He is so active that I’ve considered talking to the pediatrician but I don’t know what is normal for a 3 year old boy and his teachers are telling me that he’s fine. We’re very concerned and feel like we don’t know the best way to address his behaviors right now. Thank you for any advice you can give!
    Debbie

  36. Hi, I know this is a very old post, but I’m still struggling with this and haven’t been able to find any advice that has helped. My 2.5-year-old had just entered a thoroughly uncooperative stage. He’s always been stubborn, but since we’ve moved, he has begun not just ignoring my instructions, but flailing, screaming, stomping, banging his head on things and hurting me. When his father is home, he isn’t always cooperative, but he’s an entirely different person. (Nothing new here, my husband did the exact same thing as a child, but it’s beyond frustrating.)

    I read that the screaming, flailing, kicking etc. is a safe outlet, but we’re in an apartment and that simply isn’t feasible if we don’t’ want to be kicked out. Our neighbors have already complained more than once, to us and the management. I have tried to restrain him, both from the back as a tight hug speaking into his ear and from the front, holding his wrists when he hits me, but his skin is sensitive like mine, and holding him tight enough to restrain him leaves marks that genuinely frighten me. I know I’m not abusing my child, but we live in an age of mandated reporting, and I obviously don’t want anyone to call CPS on me! And when he pulls my hair there are times when I honestly can’t pry his fingers out, especially while he’s still yanking and flailing.

    The scary thing is, you mentioned before that no kid enjoys hitting and hurting people–I’m not sure this is true. Sometimes he seems to hit out of anger, but other times he’ll just hit or kick out of the blue. Nothing is funnier to him than the word “ouch,” and telling him no and that he’s hurting me is even more entertaining.

    Do you have any advice on getting a two-year-old to calm down enough to even listen to reason when he’s hitting, flailing and pointedly ignoring anything the parent says?

  37. My 3 year old son has recently developed a habit of hitting as well. I know exactly what triggers it, but I’m still not sure how we can help him. My son gets very shy and uncomfortable when visiting with people. When someone begins talking to him he responds by turning towards me and hitting me. After a while he warms up and is back to being himself, but it’s hard to start a visit that way. I don’t feel like we are putting pressure on him to talk or interact, but I would still like to find some way to make him more comfortable during this time of transition.

  38. Hello, I need advice.
    My 4 years old started hitting since starting his new preschool.
    Not sure what triggers it but most of the time it happens when tired, hungry or things don’t go his way (we say no to his request). So he starts hitting, kicking if we try to stop him he would spit in our face. All this while smiling/giggling.
    He shows this aggressive behavior only towards grown ups (no kids).
    I was a little tough once and he stopped the major spitting but if I try to stop him from hitting and ask him to (for example) to clean up he would just lie there ignoring me.
    He does this in school too and the teachers have no idea what to do (they are also young and inexperienced).
    Any suggestions for me?
    Teachers like the easy way out by labeling him with whole bunch of disorders (SPD etc) but I know he is fine just a strong willed child.
    Thanks

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