what do we do with this?

Our son has taken increasingly aggressive turns. He hits us, bites us, kicks, us, pinches us, and now he has started hitting and pushing other children at his little activities we attend with him (kindergym, moms’ group, etc.). I am horrified. Horrified. We’re really gentle people. We don’t play fight, play bite, etc. We praise positive, gentle touching, and lately have been removing BG from us when he begins to hit/bite/pinch.

Honestly, I’m heartbroken, and while this may seem excessive, overly dramatic, but I am. I have never in my life hit another person. Never. (And I even have two younger siblings.) I can’t believe I have a child who regularly attacks me and my wife, especially because he is also incredibly sweet and compassionate. The thought that he could be pegged as “The Bad Kid” once he goes to school, that he could be pigeonholed in that way, upsets me even more (haven’t we all seen this happen? Yeah. I’m not just being paranoid.)

And it’s not like this is behavior we have ever tolerated. He has had timeouts on his own. We have had “time-ins” with him. We have had him “do over.” We have praised his positive behavior. We have told him over and over “biting hurts!” “hitting hurts!” and so on. We have read him Teeth Are Not for Biting endlessly (he loves it!).  I have cried when he has hit/bit/pinched me. And yes, we have both yelled. I hate that we have yelled, but we have.

Today, when I told him biting makes me sad, he did it again to make me sad again. So he likes that power. Lesson learned. Granted, he also likes to comfort me, but I’m not keen on this kind of cycle.

I’m at a total loss. I know this is a lack of impulse control. I know he’s got some issues with fatigue. I even know that this is often normal two-year-old behavior. I know these things, but I don’t know where to go from here, how to find the gentle boy, how to get him to dominate and to get aggressive crazy boy to simmer down.

If you have good advice on this, good resources, please share. I’m going to be reading like I’m cramming for finals until I find the strategy that works . And please, if you have an encouraging story about a kid who hit/pinched/kicked/bit and who didn’t turn out to be a big bully/social outcast/serial killer, that would be cool too. Because he’s going to be normal-ish right?


Filed under behavior

12 responses to “what do we do with this?

  1. I am sorry, that is really unsettling I can imagine. The parents of the girl who kept biting Curly were going to be taking her to a child psychologist who specialized in very young children. I’m sure they (and you) will get past this unpleasant time, but perhaps a professional could offer strategies you haven’t yet thought of. Hopefully someone can recommend good books to read as well…

  2. I sort of feel like it’s a phase, not that it makes it any easier. I think he’s testing his boundaries and your consistency in how you handle it is key. Imvso sorry you’re going through this. We had an aggressive phase too and itsso upsetting.

  3. glamcookie

    We encounter the same behavior with our 2 year old son, but he is only aggressive toward us (for now : /). I think it’s just about being a 2 year old boy, honestly. They aren’t old enough yet to really understand that they are hurting people. There is no reasoning with a 2 year old. We are always just firm in telling him, “No biting/hitting/kicking/scratching/head-butting/hair pulling. That hurts Mama/Mommy.” And putting on a sad face (sometimes it’s not put on – it hurts!). I think you just have to be consistent and at some point, it will sink in. IMO It’s way too early to saddle our kids with labels like bully. Anyway, I’m with you on the frustration – you are so not alone. Hugs, Mama.

  4. L went through a brief aggressive phase – it was horrifying/embarrassing/anxiety-provoking and I was convinced it would never end. But… It did… I think it was a “What happens if….” thing, and lasted about 2 months (19-21mo-ish). These days, he’s over that, though when he’s really frustrated he’ll still hit us or the dog, but he looks at us while he does it, as if to say “See?! I’m serious! I’m really frustrated!” We’ve found that labeling what he’s feeling and why we think he’s engaging in that behavior has helped a lot. I’m not sure if that was useful… But I do hope whatever it is gets sorted out for you all soon.

  5. Heather M.

    It is so, so normal. I promise. We saw Bethany Prescott here in Austin (I recommend looking her up online or on FB) when our then 2.5yo son was being aggressive toward us and his baby sister, and talking about it with her completely changed our perspective. She said that parents’ biggest fear is that there’s something wrong with their child, something missing in their hearts. It’s important to remember that the crazy behavior is not your son, it’s a reflection of the big emotions and big developments he’s working on. He isn’t able to regulate himself yet, so he needs your help. Bethany told us that while we should ask our boy to stop hitting (or kicking, etc.), and while there should be consequences for the behavior, we should also realize that it’s a lot to ask of him. She described the impulse to hit at that age as something extremely powerful, so powerful that we as adults almost can’t imagine the urge. It feels good to hit. Hitting a pillow just isn’t the same, although they should be encouraged to hit something appropriate like that. She reminded us that this difficult-to-handle two-year-old was the same baby we brought home from the hospital. (I think it was around here that I started sobbing.) She urged us to think of the aggressive behavior as something that wasn’t part of our boy, but was happening to him, and to approach the problem as a team, since, she promised us, he wants to stop hitting as much as you want him to stop hitting. She demonstrated this by pretending to put her arms around him and saying to him, “We’re going to work together to help you stop hitting, okay?”

    As far as discipline, she encouraged us to remove him from the person he was hurting and take him to his room. I can’t remember all of the details now, but basically she said to tell him that he needed to stay in his room until he was ready to be gentle. If he immediately tried to leave, we were to offer him the chance to try again and then take him back if he was still being rough, repeating that he could come out when he was ready to be gentle. It worked for us, although it didn’t always feel like it at the time.

    My son is now four and a half, and we are loving four so far. It’s so. much. easier. And he is just delightful: loving, bright, enthusiastic, imaginative, fun, and funny. He sometimes forgets to use words instead of hands to express his feelings, but so do all the kids in his pre-K class. He has a sweet, joyful soul.

    I hope some of this is helpful! Hang in there.
    Heather M.

    p.s. I think people who have never had a really physical kid before might be taken aback by your description and think something serious was going on–because it’s just so foreign to them. If I’d had my daughter (who’s now 2) first, I would be one of those people. Each kid is just so different.

  6. Heather M.

    One more quick thought: do you guys eat gluten? I have several friends who’ve seen major results from cutting gluten out of their kids’ diets.

    Oh! And another thing I forgot. We never got around to implementing this much, but another suggestion we got from Bethany was to have our boy do a lot of really physical work, like help us carry buckets of water or sand for a backyard project, or even just having his press his hands together super super hard. Using all of their strength (not just energy) can help regulate and calm their bodies and often has a positive impact on their behavior. Apparently.

  7. Ani

    So sorry that you are dealing with this. It’s understandably upsetting. In my opinion, you are doing everything right by acknowledging that this is not acceptable behaviour and by communicating that to him. It may well be a phase but when the phase isn’t handled well it may become a way of life.
    But, take heart, it will very likely pass. My nephew lives in a different country so I only see him around christmas. When he was visiting two years ago, I was alarmed by his behaviour. He was extremely aggressive: biting, hitting, pushing etc. I was scared to sit beside him because you never knew what could set him off… And, our son was a baby then so I was really worried when they were in the room together. My sister was at her wits end. She tried to redirect him, time ins, time outs etc.
    Fast forward 2 years and he is the sweetest, most gentle 4.5 year old you could meet. He is an absolute doll. I was even asking my sister if they’d consider sending him here for school so that he could be around his cousins more frequently. What worked? It’s hard to pin point it but the one thing that was consistent was that they always made sure he knew that the behaviour was unacceptable. They never shrugged it off as normal 2 year old behaviour.
    We have friends who did the opposite, they didn’t like the biting etc but they assumed it to be a phase and just tried to avoid being near enough to their son for him to bite them. When it became an issue at daycare, they moved him around. He’s now the most aggressive 7 year old I’ve ever known. He’s a bully.
    All that to say, it probably is a phase and it will very likely pass but I think to ensure that it does, you can’t take it for granted.
    You are awesome parents and you’re doing all the right things. You didn’t teach him this but you’re being thoughtful about helping him over this hump. Good luck on the reading and I hope you’ll blog about it. I already know that your son will get over this because you are going to help him through it. It’ll take patience and perseverance.
    I also agree with the comment about perhaps consulting with a psychologist, it always helps to rule out any underlying issues.

  8. Merry Mouse

    It’s probably the lack of television.

    Just kidding. Seriously, it’s normal, and not a predictor of anything. It’s also not a rating of your pacifist cred. I think the keys are being consistent, being simple with your language, and withdrawing attention. The book “1,2,3 Magic” explains this well.

    Re simple language: you don’t want to be saying “no, dear, it hurts Mommy when you’re rough with her and makes her sad, and also worried about your sociopathic tendencies, and she would love it if you would give peace a chance ” — you want to be saying “STOP HITTING.”

    Re withdrawing attention: ask him to apologize, put him in time out and *turn your back on him*. No eye contact. Sometimes I sneak peeks at my little guy from a mirror and I can tell he knows he’s in the doghouse.

    Good luck. It’s harrowing, but it’ll be fine.

  9. My only thought is try to avoid jumping down the rabbit hole and worry too much about the future. They grow and change so much and the parenting challenges in six months time will be different.

    I am sure there are lots of parents out there who have been through this. Where are they??? I hope you get some more comments because I am sure that you are not alone:)

  10. c storm

    My oldest daughter was really aggressive as a toddler. For what it’s worth she is eighteen now and is in a great college that she was admitted to at fifteen and is a Quaker and a vegan, with a strong penchant for social justice.

    What I’m about to say worked may never work for you but it did for me, despite the fact that it flies in the face of all reason. I’m not saying you should do it, I’m saying I did and it worked for us.

    I had tried everything else I could think of. Everything. But, ultimately, I smacked her back twice, when she smacked me. I left no mark but I am quite sure it really stung. And I got right up in her face and I yelled and I scared her. And I’m not sorry. Because it worked. Being kind hadn’t worked, being patient hadn’t worked, time-outs hadn’t worked, nothing else had worked. But two solid smacks and she never hit me again. (though she certainly still had tantrums and expressed her displeasure quite vocally)

    I know, I know…it doesn’t make any sense. Except the one thing I will point out is that in the vast majority of the world it does work. And things are so out of balance when a child is hitting parents. It isn’t any better for the child to be allowed to create that imbalance of power than it is for the parent to have to suffer it.

    I’ve probably alienated you forever, but I just did want to tell you what finally worked, for us…

  11. G

    Don’t beat yourself up over his behavior at this point. He’s two and a lot, if not most, of it will turn out to be a phase he’s going through. As our son gains more words and the ability to express himself and what he wants the hitting gets less. Sometimes, he gets pretty bad with hitting us and his sister and it’s almost like a bubble he’s on the verge of popping as he’s reaching a new phase in his development. As soon as it pops it gets easier for a while until he starts his next one. We have found with our son who is the same age as yours, is that on days where we notice that he is being REALLY aggressive especially with his sister are days in which he hasn’t had a lot of physical activity. If we look at the total of his days leading up to the aggressive behavior and really look at how we’ve played with him, whether it was quiet play, heavily structured play, or active outdoor play we can usually correlate that play with how aggressive or not aggressive he is. When he has a lot of outdoor play his behavior is the best. I have found that sometimes he just needs to get his energy out in a physical way. Sometimes that means play “wrestling” or a toss on the couch or carrying him upside down and swinging him around if we can’t get outside. Whatever we wind up doing to get him out of the aggressive behavior is usually pretty active. He also learns how to have physical play which is something he will need when he gets older and has more active friends. I mention the wrestling most because (and it could be coincidence) of what I’ve seen with my stepdaughter. We didn’t do these things with my stepdaughter when she was little and she doesn’t really know how to have safe physical play, she’s the kid that when other kids are play wrestling or something similar, that actually winds up hurting someone because instead of pretending to or gently touching them she actually full out hits them while playing. She was never aggressive as a toddler or young child. She does it simply because she doesn’t know how to play that way and she was never taught. I think Heather M. had very good suggestions. We also use immediate consequences with him whether it’s that he gets taken out of the situation for a time out/bedroom time/step time, we remove ourselves and stop playing, or the item he is using to hit with gets taken away. We don’t do a lot of reasoning with him when he hits or gets his consequence and there isn’t a lot of time in between his action and the consequence. We tell him “uhh-oohhhh, that is so sad you chose to hit” then consequence. After the consequence is over and everyone is calm then we might have a talk with him about why he shouldn’t hit or kick people or the dog.

  12. poppycat

    I know how upset and worried you are about this and while I have no advise I am really glad that so many others do. It sounds like pretty typical behavior and not indicative of what he will be like as he matures and has more experience with his emotions. He’s a great little boy and you are wonderful moms.

    I’m thinking of you and hoping you get some great advise that sets your mind at ease.

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