Wednesday, December 21, 2011

My Son is Beating Me Up

It's getting official.  My sweet little boy is turning into a TERROR.

He hits.  He kicks.  He throws.  He screams.  He pulls hair.

Sometimes it's because he doesn't get what he wants (aka, wrong Gabba episode, juice in the wrong colored cup, shirt he wants to wear is dirty - you know, the real tragedies).  Other times, it's just because.

To his credit, he will give me a fair warning.  I.e., "I'm going to hit you today." or "I'm going to go kick Casey."  And then, the simple, yet poignant, declaration of:  "I'm going to be a bad boy."  Yes, my boy tells it like it is.

I have tried various approaches to dealing with this, none of which have been successful:

Approach #1 - Time Outs
I've read parenting blogs and watched Supernanny, so time outs were my first plan of attack. Every time he hit or acted aggressively, I would calmly put him in his time out chair, explain to him why I was placing him in time out, leave for a few minutes, come back, ask for an apology, and then hug and make up.  Simple enough?  Nope!  For some odd reason, Braden loved these time outs.  He would get a huge smile on his face as he would sit on the chair.  He liked it so much that he ended up hitting me, just so he could get a time out!  How do I know this?  Because the little s#@! would say, "Mommy, I'm going to hit you and then I can go in time out."  APPROACH #1 FAIL.

Approach #2 - Yell Really Loud
I've never been a huge yeller with my kids.  I'm from that school of thought that it will harm their wee little minds and spirits and make them untrusting, miserable adults.  But I figure that it is okay to yell on occasion, when you save it for the really important things - the things that you really need to drive home.  And wouldn't domestic violence be one of those things?  So I tried it for a week or so - when Braden hit me, I would kneel down, get in his face, and very firmly, and loudly, yell:  "No hitting!"  At first this seemed to do the trick, and Braden would start crying and want a hug and apologize.  But with having to yell every 20 minutes or so, after a few days the novelty wore off and the yelling wasn't so scary.  It was just how mommy was talking.  And then I just became that mom that was yelling all the time, with nothing to show for it. APPROACH #2 FAIL.  

Approach #3 - Ignore
He's doing this for attention, right?  If I don't reward his behavior with attention, even negative attention, then surely he will stop.  Surely!  Um, no.  Instead, I spent three days sitting around the house getting beat up, kicked, and manhandled whilst I sat there with a pleasant, neutral expression on my face, gritting my teeth, and cursing my son out in my head.  APPROACH #3 FAIL.

Approach #4 - Hit Back
No, you do not need to call child services on me.  I didn't hit hard.  I gently pat - but with enough force to get his attention and let him know that no, you can't hit people, or they will gently pat you back and maybe you won't like it.  (And I have to admit, after enduring Approach #3, this Approach was a bit satisfying).  Guess what - this actually worked - Braden stopped hitting me!  But sadly, he just transferred his aggression to someone who wouldn't hit back - Casey.  So if I told Braden - "No, you can't have a cookie until you finish your dinner" he would promptly run over to Casey and smack him on the head.  And then I had to revert to Approaches 1 and 2.  So, APPROACH #4 FAIL.

And today?  Today I have no approach.  I'm just spent.  We had been having a good day, and then after an errand Braden decided he didn't want to get in his car seat.  After some pleading and bribing and threatening, I had to resort to physically putting him in, which he did not like.  He proceeded to knock my glasses off of my face, smack my forehead, and pull my hair in all kinds of directions.  Some security guard at CVS was watching in horror, and I just kind of waved and smiled through a flailing mess of fists and hair and flying spectacles.  "Nothing to worry about here, Sir.  All perfectly normal!"  

Today, I give up.  He wins.  I am approach-less.

The other day, as I was leaving a playdate, Braden pulled his antics.  Because he didn't want to leave and he wanted to play and oh, you're making me leave, then I will throw my shoes at you and smack your head!   As my glasses went flying once again, the other mother jokingly and sympathetically said to me:  "Don't these days make you wish you were working and you just had a nanny to deal with them?"

In a word?  Yes.

(And by the way, I'm open to any suggestions, as I clearly am not doing something right.  But please don't leave me a comment telling me of your darling angel child, who come on, is probably a girl, who has never done such a thing because right now I just don't want to hear it.)


  1. My girl, who was NOT an easy 3 year old (as witnessed by many blog posts) went through this. I would physically hold her until she would stop, basically wrap my body around her. I'd say, "I'm going to help you get control of yourself until you can get control." (See: T. Berry Brazelton's Touchpoints.) It didn't always work. The other thing that helped was her giant stuffed kangaroo. I'd give her the kangaroo and she'd use it to help get control.

    It really didn't get better until 3.5. Six months of misery, and then she slowly found her way out of it.

  2. Did you ask Braden why he likes going into time out? Because maybe you can incorporate what he likes about it into other parts of the day... and try to change the time out so that it doesn't include whatever it is that he likes. I nanny for 3 boys (8,6,and 3 yrs) and I use the supernanny style time outs, but I find that when the time outs aren't working on their own (the behavior is immediately repeated after timeout, or the kid says they don't care if they are in time out), it is more effective if I start doing something fun right after they've been put in time out... where they can see their brothers and me getting started, but they can't participate.

  3. I'm having the exact same experience with my soon to be 3 year old. I've tried everything you mentioned to no avail. My current approach is to ask him to use the words, "Mommy, I'm not happy" when he feels like biting/scratching/hitting/etc. I'm just hoping that he can transition the connection between his feelings and a verbal process vs. a physical one. Not much of a success with that one yet but...consistency will win the day, right? Please agree for my sanity's sake.

  4. I have Approach #5 that might help. I have a girl who just turned 2. She is in an all-boy preschool class and runs them (and me) ragged. She seems to love timeout. The child of two lawyers, she started trying to negotiate with us a few months ago, so I realized I had to up the ante from the epic fail that is timeout. She is very attached to wearing specific items of clothes (wears them 24 hours a day save for the bath). If she misbehaves, the clothes get taken off of her instantly. Bad behavior stops dead in its tracks. Now the threat of taking the clothes and the counting of 1, 2, 3 stops the behavior. If Braden has a commodity that is important to him, go ahead and start taking it away immediately when he hits. I always thought this strategy was for older kids, but so far it is working for us.

  5. If he is hitting his brother, the brother gets all the positive attention. "Oh! Poor baby! Did your brother hurt you? Oh my!! You need hugs and kisses!!" Turn your back on Brayden and POUR attention on his brother while telling Brayden, "You'll have to wait. I have to make sure Casey is Ok. I can't play with you right now because you aren't behaving." Take Casey in another room if you have to.

    For hitting you, his absolute favorite toy goes in time out. Does he have a batman figure or Thomas the Train or something he LOVES to play with? Every time he hits, the toy goes on top of the fridge for x minutes.

    Also, for ending playdates or any other transition that you can forsee, try a timer. "When the kitchen timer dings, it is time to put on socks and shoes and coats to go home." "When my phone timer rings, it is time to get in the carseat!!" "Let's race! How fast can you get in the car seat? I will time you on my phone! If you can make it in under a minute you get an extra video/story/a high five/more bath time!"

  6. Your day sounds like mine was.

    All I can share is that when we have had a particularly rough day (i.e. such as today, when I lost my cool and yelled at my eldest in response to her calling my youngest "a nothing," or - a real parenting low - when I grabbed my eldest's tongue when she stuck it out at me, I elect to give my self a time out. "Sorry kids, mom needs to take some space for a minute, I love you and I will be back in a moment" (then proceed to the other room, bathroom, deck whatever/wherever it takes to get out of the wounded adult child boots and into my generic "mothering" boots so that I can breath and re-establish control over my own emotions so that I can then be available for my kids to figure out what is really going on. At the end of the day (usually before bed)I also try to clear with them any possible unresolved feelings/tensions that might still be lingering from a particularly tumultuous day. It is hard to be a parent, particularly one that is all hands on deck 24-7, but I think (and I certainly hope) that all this early negotiating and reasoning leads to emotional intelligence that will help us parents during those teenage years and help set our children up for life.

    I also find psycho-analysis a pretty interesting tool - i.e. discovering the sensitivities we carry as adults and learning how our children/spouses etc. can trigger reactions in us that go all the way back to our own childhood experiences. Unconsciously, we may make negative transferences onto our kicking, screaming toddler, of a time when we may have felt unloved or conditionally loved by our own mother/father.

    Wishing you a well-deserved sleep!

    And, Happy Hanukkah!

  7. Thanks SO much for the advice. I am definitely trying some of these tips!
    And also thanks for the stories of commiseration... helps to know I'm not the only one!

  8. Don't be mad at him, your son is jealous. Of his brother. So far he was a baby, no real competition, but now. He's three, how could he explain? He wants attention. From you. And he just knows this way right now. That's why he likes time out, because he knows that in that moment all your attentions and thoughts or feelings are for him. Find a babysitter, a friend, a neighbour who takes care of Casey for a couple hours and do something with your son. It doesn't have to be something really great, let him decide, let him be important. When you stay at home you think it's your job to manage two kids, you must do it without help. But I think it's human that he doesn't want to share you sometimes. He is at daycare and his brother is alone with you! You also don't want to share your husband with your children, right? Of course you don't hit anybody, but you are not three. Give him me-time. He won't hit. Let me know.

  9. When I was a kid, my mom excitedly asked my siblings and I to make lists of our favorite things in the world. Favorite books, favorite clothes, favorite things to do. Any time we acted badly, she would pick something off the list to take away. Something else she would make us do when we hit each other was to make us sit on the couch together with our arms around each other, or - even more humiliating - walk up and down the street holding hands. If we tried to hit each other again during this time, we a) had to start the 10 or 15 minutes all over again, and b) lost a privilege. Your kids might be a little young for the humiliation aspect of hugging each other, but taking away privileges was always the #1 form of discipline for us. I'd say a combination of that and approach #4 for when he hits you. Good luck!

  10. Would a book help? I like "When Sophie Gets Angry" by Molly Bang.


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