Monday, June 20, 2011

"THAT" Kid

From time to time, I have posted on here about Will being a biter. . . or a hitter. . . and now we add spitter to the list.


Yesterday, when I went to retrieve him from the church nursery, the person in charge (who also happens to be one of the directors for the preschool) told me that he had several "spitting and hitting incidents" during his time there yesterday. It is always a madhouse at pick-up, so I wasn't able to clarify, but it really doesn't matter what the "story" was, because I 100% trust that she was telling the truth, and hitting. . . now spitting. . . is WRONG.

When does this sort of aggression change from normal developmental phase ("Oh, it's normal! He'll outgrow it!" people love to tell me) to not-so-normal ("Ma'am, your son has been expelled for fighting at school." or "Ma'am, this is X County Jail. We have your son."? I mean, I don't think I am the best person to judge whether this is normal. A) He's my kid, my perception is decidedly skewed. B) I tend to go all "worst-case-scenario" on things and not take them in stride. I realize A) and B) might seem to cancel each other out, but they really don't. Instead, I alternate between trying to ride out the storm and assume it will pass and then freaking the freak OUT that my kid is becoming "THAT" Kid.

You know the one? The one that you don't want your kid to play with. I'm afraid that he is going to become "THAT" Kid very quickly. He starts preschool this fall (for real this time) and I am a little scared about this becoming a bigger issue. And honestly, I have no idea what to do about it. I have tried a lot of different approaches to this problem. It seems to "cure" it for awhile, but then it comes back. It does seem cyclical, though I can't tie it to anything in particular, I just notice it comes in waves. I have asked everyone (family and friends IRL, our pediatrician, you fabulous people inside my computer) for advice and most people seem to think he is "just fine" and that it will sort itself out. The things people have suggested (time outs, paying no attention to the hitter and all of it to the hittee, taking away toys, leaving play dates immediately, taking away privileges, a sticker chart for "positive (no hit) play dates", are just some examples) don't seem to have any long-lasting impact.

Since he was ten months old and started biting, then started hitting at 15 months (me first and then gradually his playmates), and now more of that plus spitting (which is another form of physical aggression), this has been a recurrent issue. I do believe he is a sweet boy, but this is worrying me.

What I find frustrating is that this is a child who has not been treated with aggression or observed it here at home. Is that my problem? Should I resort to spanking? I have never been able to understand the thinking behind "Don't hit or I will spank you". Yes, I know, children are not logical, therefore we cannot apply our logical thinking to their thought process and come up with anything close to what their little minds have brewing. But the times that I have used physical discipline, I haven't found it any more effective, and it's not a style of parenting that I* feel comfortable with, so it's very difficult to be consistent with it.


If anyone has any good advice for me or can sit in camaraderie with me (ex: "My child was a hitter but now is not a sociopath, I promise!"), I would really appreciate it. Do you think this is an issue worth making an appointment with our pediatrician for? He turns three in August and we will have his well child exam then. I will definitely bring it up at that point, but I am wondering if I shouldn't go in before then? But again, I have asked her about this before, and she hasn't given me any sort of solid advice. I know she leaves it up to parents to figure out discipline (and I think that's appropriate). I do know she isn't really on board with spanking and does employ timeouts, but I am just not finding that effective in this area. While I adore our pediatrician, I am not sure this is really her jurisdiction, you know? But then again, if it really is becoming an issue, she is the one who I would want to refer us out for other assistance.

* I am not sitting in judgment of anyone who spanks their children. Many of my friends to employ spanking and It just doesn't feel right for me, personally. And I believe the most effective discipline is consistent discipline. And I just can't be consistent in that way. But then again, my child is the one with the hitting problem, so Dr. Sears, I clearly am not! :)


HereWeGoAJen said...

We've been having trouble with hitting lately too. Like when we went to a pool party last week and I walked over to find a one year old crying and holding his head and Elizabeth standing over him with a shovel in her raised arm. Yikes.

I still think you are well within the normal range. I think my only suggestion is to hang in there and keep working on it. And if you find something that works, let me know!

Rachel said...

I am so sorry. It really sounds like you are trying everything. I heartily second that toddler behavior is in no way a sign of future delinquency.

It sounds like you've done both punishments and rewards, but between the cycles/phases have you maintained the daily reminders? I used to work for a family with twins and one was definitely the aggressor. I seem to recall that every time he took him out of his crib/out of his carseat/out of his highchair we would remind him of the rules (and consequences, whatever you pick). We would also repeat over and over again "scripts" to help him deal with situations. So we'd ask him what to do if someone made him mad, and he'd repeat, "I say STOP. Then I walk away" or whatever it was.

Also, how much wild running around time is Will getting? We have a friend in the city whose son frequently pushes/hits and it's usually a sign that he just hasn't had enough time to run of his energy for the day. Do you have time to take Will out to a park before Church next week and see if he's a bit calmer? The "sensory disorder" literature (if you just google sensory disorder in toddlers you'll find it) has a lot of suggestions about different ways to physically stimulate toddlers/let them work off some steam (not at all suggesting he has any sensory issues, just that some of their ideas seem really clever).

good enough said...

I'm a school psychologist and work with kids with behavior issues. At his age, Will's behavior is developmentally "normal," even if it isn't acceptable. It sounds like you're doing all the right things. Reviewing the rules prior to time with other kids is a great idea, as well as trying to teach him alternatives to hitting, spitting, or biting. Preschool will probably help a lot. Kids want to fit in, and most learn the rules very quickly once they're in school. My five-year-old went through a phase where she was verbally bullying other girls at daycare. I took a small notebook to daycare and asked the provider to write down any incidents in the book so I could discuss them with her. Will may be too young for something like that, but it worked great with my daughter. At nearly three years old, much of Will's behavior is impulsive, and it's going to take lots of reminders and practice to help him control his impulses. I have no doubt that with practice and maturity he'll find alternatives to hitting. You're doing a great job!

Anonymous said...

Hi again! I'm the potato salad horror story commenter from the other thread. My name's AJ by the way!

I won't give advice, because honestly I know where you're at. Most advice won't work long term, and chances are he will just grow out of it.

For reference, I have two who is five and the other will turn three in August.

So here's my story that will maybe make you feel better. My son started preschool at four years old. When he started school he was a quiet but active kid. He loved to talk, ask questions, and was really great with other kids. I don't know what the heck happened, but he started having problems at school. Talking too loudly, running around the room, and rough housing with the other boys. I'd never seen him do anything like that before, and felt really stupid telling the teachers, "but he's not like this at home!" I suddenly felt like I had "THAT" kid.

I tried every manner of disciplining I could think of..(and I have a undergraduate degree in Child Development and am currently a doctoral student. so I have some academic knowledge as well). Nothing worked. It didn't bother the teachers too much, but I could tell they were getting annoyed with him.

I felt like I was banging my head against a wall for a few months. Slowly, over time he's gotten better, but he still requires a lot of reminding. I know he's a a different stage than your son, but sometimes kids just act in ways that we can't predict. Or control. And what was really funny was at the end of the year party, literally every parent came up to me to tell me my son was the joy of the classroom and each one had a story about him helping other kids, being a leader, etc.

I was so caught up in his acting out behaviors I had completely failed to see all of the positives that were happening. I'm a total worst case scenario person, and this experience taught me to take it a little easier. But keep on keeping on. Keep with the discipline because consistency is key. Even on days where I was exhausted with worrying about my son's issues, I kept on talking and using timeouts and the like so that he wouldn't think his behavior was acceptable.

Good luck! (Parenting is tough)


Sophie said...

It's good to read these comments. My just turned 3 year old son also has bouts of hitting and spitting, but mostly at home (not yesterday tho) He is so active and curious and good natured, I'm often at a loss when this behavior happens.

What I've been doing is just "hitting hurts, I won't let you hit mommy" and then disengaging. Logic seems useless but the message is clear I hope. BTW, his 6 yo sister is so gentle and non physical, I've never had to deal with this before. But at least I can be a little reassured that it's kid dependant and not 100% parenting. Yesterday at the grocery store I was one of *those* parents, with a writhing hitting 3 year old as I was putting him into the big cart (he had lost his "pushing the kid cart around" priviledges after a warning, and he wasn't happy). I felt so watched and judged, even at TJs.

Whatever. I try to remember (hope) this too shall pass, and try to not to squash his expressiveness or be a heavy hand ruler. Hitting a child for hitting doesn't make sense to me personally. It's hard. the book "positive discipline" has useful ideas. I also like the advice about kids running around and a having a good energy outlet, especially boys. Boys and girls are different, at least mine are:)

Hoping others can shed some light!

Mel said...

I have zero advice, but honestly? I think you are doing a marvelous job at being a mother. I'm not a professional, but I think children who are developing abnormally in this area are ones with problems at home and parents who simply don't care or bother to attempt and raise them up properly. I do my best to NEVER judge other parents because really? Parenting is so hard. But then you see people who just let their kids run amuck and practically destroy the world while they sit by and don't even notice or care.

I think the fact that you care and want to correct the behavior speaks volumes. It is surely just a phase.

Stephanie said...

Its normal.

It will probably get better when he gets into school. My son started preschool at 2 1/2 and his behavior around other kids really improved. He's not perfect, but better.

Rebecca @ Unexplained X2 said...

We're getting increasingly violent in my house too.

I hate "that kid" a few weeks ago when I picked Matt up from Kids' Zone at the gym. He had hit another child. I told them my discipline policy at home so there was no confusion about what to do if this happened again...we go straight to time out (they do a warning first).

When we got home, we had a serious talk and I told him that every time he hit someone, I was taking a truck away (he loves his truck) and he would sit his time out. He'd get the trucks back the next day and start fresh.

The first time, it was like I ripped his arm off. When he realized that he wasn't getting it back, it was like I ripped both of his legs off. He lost 4 trucks that day. It got better and he's down to maybe losing a truck a day (if he's not completely overtired). So, my advice is take away with he loves the best...his freedom with a time out and his fun with his toys.

This is hard, right???

Kristina said...

I agree with something one of the previous poster's said. My kid is not much of a hitter/biter/spitter, but I have noticed that when he does get aggressive, I can usually attribute it to two causes he is either 1) too tired or 2) not tired enough!

Our kid has a ton of energy and if we don't take him out and physically run him out he gets angry and (sometimes) aggressive. For us this means we do a lot of horseplay with daddy, running in the yard, swimming in the little blow up pool, going to the beach and running in and out of the waves and whatever else we can think of to keep him physically active. When he is directing his physical energy to something positive he tends not to do the negative stuff we don't want him to.

It sounds like you are doing what you can and honestly I do believe some kids just go through this phase so try not to worry yourself too much!

Julie, Todd, Kate and Miles said...

We've also had issues with hitting, pushing and biting. We went through a really rough patch a few months ago when Katie was 2 1/2. Sometimes she randomly would push/hit someone if they were too close to her (even just walking down the sidewalk) or would do it to her brother if I was trying to take care of him (like changing a diaper). We go to a preschool co-op and our parent educator gave me a great book rec: Positive Discipline. Sounds a bit hookey, but it really resonated with me. We've been going with it since then, and while she still has times where she hits/pushes/bites, the frequency is much less and she and I both know how to handle it better.
Some of the things the book talks about are: kids do better when they feel better. So instead of time out, they have "positive time out" (we call it personal time). They suggest that a misbehaving child is a discouraged child, so when they hit/push/etc, they must be feeling sad/frustrated/discouraged. The book talks about saying something like "wow, I can see you are feeling sad/hurt/etc. Lets go have some personal time so you can feel better." and then after that you go comfort the 'victim.' I know it sounds counter-intuitive, but it seems to work for us.
So when Katie pushes/bites/hits (mostly her brother), I'll say, "Katie you seem to be feeling sad. It's time for some personal time so that you can feel better. Would you like to go to the couch or the chair?" then after I snuggle her in with blankets, I say "when you are feeling better, and are ready to use a gentle body, you can come apologize to Miles, & come back and play." Then she'll take anywhere from 2 minutes to 10 to decide on her own when she's ready to come back. Sometimes it seems like too much coddling from teh outside, but it really works and feels good too (for both of us). Toinght we were out and she decided to take some personal time on her own when she realized she needed to cool off.

sorry for the long message--one other thought. I used to think that when she was getting really riled up (like in croweded spaces with lots of kids) that she needed to go run around and burn off energy. What actually works instead, is taking her to a quiet place and read books or do something else quiet, actually works amazing well. That comes from the "raising your spirited child book.' Normally I'm not a big parenting book, but after our rough patch this year, I checked out a few. Those 2 have really resonated with me and have given me good perspective on her behavior--which is still normal toddler behavior.
I'm happy to talk more about this if you have questions.
Hang in there,

Ludicrous Mama said...

My daughter was doing that, then LAUGHING while the other child cried in pain. My pediatrician said he thought it was nothing, but gave us a referral to a therapist. Then her behavior immediately improved, so I don't know if she magically outgrew it upon turning 3, or if discussing it with her doctor in front of her (they won't let me go in without her. Grrr.) made her change, or what.
Another option, though, that I just heard from a friend, is milk. Apparently she was a monster until her parents cut dairy out of her diet as a toddler. And she was having a problem with her son, but stopped the milk once her mother had told her about her childhood, and within A DAY noticed immediate results. My daughter has been preferring water to milk lately, and so her behavior change may be due to less milk in her diet as well. I'm going to be paying very close attention now, whenever she gets milk or cheese or ice cream. Just something else to think about/maybe try.

Ludicrous Mama said...

Another option is to look into the "Raising Your Spirited Child" book by Mary Kurcinka and/or "The Highly Sensitive Child" by Elaine Aron. I reserved them and checked them out from the library before buying them, but they have made a HUGE difference. They have great tips for any parent, even if they don't have a "highly sensitive/spirited" child. But they gave me some amazing insight and great parenting tools. And they helped me understand myself better (apparently I'm a highly sensitive personality too!) and my husband (they talk about introverted vs extroverted people - not in how social you are or aren't, but in how you recharge your energy. I recharge by talking, but my husband and daughter need alone time to recharge. So now I can help them both by giving my daughter the tools she needs to recognize when she needs some "alone time" and give my husband a break when he needs it too!)