Beaten up by my toddler and so down about it

(56 Posts)
Lamazeroo Fri 22-Mar-13 21:14:32

I feel like I'm constantly being beaten up by my own baby! Not really, but I would like advice from anyone who's been through similar.
My DS is 17 months and every day he hits, slaps, pinches, bites, scratches me. A lot of the time it's when he's breastfeeding. He'll just casually lean an arm back then slap me full-force in the face or neck. If I tell him no he thinks it's hilarious and repeats it with gusto. Once he hurt me enough to make me cry, which he thought was hysterically amusing and an invitation to pull my hair and hit me harder.

I'm also having a horrible time with him hitting other children at soft play/on play dates etc. No provocation is necessary; he'll just reach out and casually slap the face of a passing child. Again, if I tell him no he finds it funny and is even more keen to go on the offence. I'm so embarrassed, and always apologise to the por child and other parent. Parents tell me it's a phase and it will pass, but my DS seems rather more into this phase than his peers. It's so frustrating as I just don't understand why he does it. Can anyone offer advice?

If it helps you to know: he's an extremely attached baby. Breastfeeds every 2-3 hours day and night, co-sleeps, very clingy to me. I'm a full time mum. He's only ever spent a couple of hours at a time away from me, and only then with my DH or family. He's very distressed if he's not with me. He breastfeeds to sleep and only I can put him to sleep. He had a very traumatic start to life and endured a lot of horrible, painful medical procedures. He's also had some ongoing health issues, and has experienced a lot of pain through these. I don't know if any of this is relevant to the hitting, but it may help to explain why he is so attached to me.
DH and I are very quiet, non-aggressive people. DS has never experienced or witnessed any violence, or even any raised voices at home.
The whole thing - him hitting both me and his contemporaries - is really getting me down and I'd appreciate any advice or words of wisdom.

mummy2benji Wed 03-Apr-13 23:50:32

I agree with snazzy earlier on - remove him from the situation, stop feeding, say no very firmly and sternly and don't lose the plot or, at the other end of the spectrum, appear too passive. You mentioned that you and your partner are both quiet and non-aggressive. If toddlers are being a bit wild and uncontrollable then that can be ineffective when trying to teach right and wrong behaviour. Whatever age, a toddler needs to be taught what is naughty and wrong. I know he is young and won't fully grasp discipline and certainly explanations will go over his head, but don't underestimate what he can learn at that age. We started using the naughty mat (I expect some would tell me that 'time out spot' would be a better term but hey too late now!) with ds1 at 2 years, and it has worked brilliantly. He has never attempted to get off it (I know that this isn't universal and it doesn't work for some, but I think 2 years was a good age to implement it) and it has deterred bad behaviour as he got older due to the threat of going on it. Just to clarify, he only went on it for the same number of minutes as his age in years, not exactly a long time. But I do think that little ones start to understand boundaries and consequences from a young age.

corinthian Wed 03-Apr-13 13:54:01

Our DS went through a hitting phase at the same age - it lasted a couple of months and was horrible (especially when other parents think that saying no firmly a few times should sort it!) It's hard to know how much he just grew out of it and how much the things that we did helped.

You have the big advantage at this age that you can physically stop them repeatedly hurting people fairly easily. They take more notice of physical actions than words when they are that young, so absolutely definitely put him down or face him away from you if he hurts you while feeding. The thing for us that made the biggest difference with other toddlers was teaching him what 'gentle' meant, and then rather than telling him 'no', telling him to be gentle. It didn't have a 100% success rate but it prevented repeated hitting more than anything else we tried.

I'd suggest minimising interactions with other toddlers to what you feel you have the emotional resources to cope with and planning in advance what you are going to say/ how you are going to deal with hitting. I found the book Easy to Love, Hard to Discipline by Becky Bailey useful for giving me 'scripts' to use that I felt happy with, that came from a loving rather authoritarian approach.

There's also dealing with the root cause of the problem - he's probably hurting other because he's got big emotions (which may or may not be partially caused by the medical stuff - you'll never know) rather than because he doesn't know that he shouldn't hit. I found the Hand in Hand Parenting site useful for this www.handinhandparenting.org/articles along with Janet Lansbury www.janetlansbury.com/tag/hitting/ . I also found the books Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne and Playful Parenting by Lawrence Cohen were also quite good at dealing with ways to make life less stressful for a toddler and deal with underlying emotions.

Good luck! It's a tough stage to get through, but may well make you a more confident parent in the long run.

xigris Tue 02-Apr-13 15:57:06

Afternoon! I have 3 DSs. The older two (DS3 is only a few weeks old) definitely went through rather 'Physical' phases. DS1 (now 6) was a real shover and used to push other children while DS2 (now 3) used to hit. I say 'used to' because from an early age they were taught that this behaviour was not ok. Like many of the previous posters have suggested, when the pushed or hit other children they were removed from the situation with a very firm no. They are happy, well adjusted boys and although aren't little angels, play well with lots of different children. I believe that children are not born understanding what's acceptable behaviour, it's up to us as parents to teach them. This is just as much a part of their education as learning to read and write. OP - you sound like you've had a tough time over the last 18 months, best of luck with it all and you're definitely not the only one who's had to deal with this situation!

ItsallisnowaFeegle Tue 02-Apr-13 15:40:17

IME & IMO We, as parents, need to begin to instil the morals and values we have at an early age and the first 3 or 4 years are crucial for beginning to set boundaries for our DC.

I don't think any of the pp's have been harsh or needlessly blunt. I think you've had a lot of sound advice.

It's yours and your DH responsibility as loving parents (and it's obvious from your OP, that you are) to begin to mould your DS into the person he's going to be, now. He needs your guidance and that means being firm in these instances. That's good parenting.

You could continue to do nothing in the hope he grows out of it but you seem really quite upset by this already. Alternatively, you could decide that now is the time to take positive action and show him how to grow out of it.

Ultimately, you'll do what you feel is best and that's ok. I hope whatever you choose sees an end to this behaviour, soon.

rednellie Tue 02-Apr-13 12:25:08

No I know that, what I was saying is some posters were sort of implying the behaviour was out of the ordinary and that this boy was somehow aggressive, using that word as a label.

I have a daughter who gets very angry and can be very physically aggressive but she's not defined by that. And we are working on it

becsparkel Tue 02-Apr-13 12:00:47

Rednellie, infants do feel anger, just as they feel hunger or joy - it's perfectly normal. And toddlers do act out these big emotions, sometimes by being aggressive. It is nothing to worry about because it's totally normal.

rednellie Tue 02-Apr-13 10:39:11

Lamazeroo - I think some of the posters here are being a bit harsh to be fair. You sound like a lovely mother and have obviously had a rough couple of years. Watching your child be unwell and in paincan not have been easy. It is totally understandable that he wants and needs you.

Having a child that hits is very hard, but he is still so little that I very much doubt it's 'aggression' or anything to worry about. He does need to know that behaviour isn't nice and some of the suggestions above are great - staying calm, removing from situation, stopping a feed. He will get it. And you're not alone!

My DS does exactly this but is only 9mo. He is doing it more as a habit of feeding though, he's trying to get more milk/faster flow and he's extremely strong so it hurts. He's been walking for ages so we had to teach him 'no' early on. He went through a stage of finding it hilarious, but now will walk away from whatever I am saying no to 60% of the time, so they can understand 'no' very early. With the bf I would say 'no' calmly 'it hurts mummy' or something similar, take him off and wait for it to register. When you put him back on, say 'gently' or similar and lots of praise when he does it right. Don't give much attention when he hurts you, just repeat the same steps, I think anyway!

OpheliasWeepingWillow Mon 01-Apr-13 12:21:14

When they slap put them down and walk away for thirty seconds. It's the lack of attention which will make a bug difference IMO (parent of a biter)

becsparkel Mon 01-Apr-13 10:29:37

Oh, I meant to say, he might need another outlet for his anger/aggression. Check out "roughhousing". A friend's little girl was hitting and they started roughhousing or play fighting and the hitting stopped because she had an outlet for her aggression.

becsparkel Mon 01-Apr-13 08:40:52

How about seeing if there's a Toddler Calm class near you?

I agree that you do need to say something to him, otherwise you're giving out the message that it's ok to hit and ok to be hit. I don't like the idea of ignoring though - he's obviously acting out big emotions, possibly due to whatever happened early on, like you suggested. My DS is also 17 mo and bites/hits/hair pulls most days, though not excessively. I also practice attachment/gentle parenting and when he does bite or hit, I firmly say "no biting/hitting, biting/hitting hurts mummy" if he's bitten, ill say "you can't bite people but we can find something you can bite", then we look for something together, like a think wooden block or something. If he bites me while breastfeeding, he comes off straight away but I don't ignore him. With hitting I say "gentle touch" and he does the face stroke thing too, it wasn't intentional but it does stop him hitting/grabbing. Hair pulling is a new one, we're still working on that!

With gentle parenting (or any parenting) it is important to set boundaries - he needs them to feel safe.

wintersdawn Sun 24-Mar-13 14:48:55

I understand your thoughts that 17months is to young for no etc but you really aren't that far away from terrible two tantrums and whilst not everyone suffers them if he is already hitting its likely to get a lot worse once he reaches that stage.
My daughter is a biter/ kisser - to begin with the kissing was cute but randomly it would turn into a nasty bite. The same with if we were out and she went to kiss someone else and they pulled away it would become a bite. Shouting or getting cross did nothing for her, we through trail and error came to the tactics that if we realise which way its going in time say "no biting mummy only likes nice kisses" which normally changes the bite into an over the top sloppy kiss or if it doesn't or if she catches you by surprise I immediately get up and walk away from her. It's the one thing she really hates.
In public it's keeping constant attention and interrupting before it happens or grabbing her straight away and making her say sorry to kid and parent concerned and then out of play area. She learnt sorry and that it means she's done wrong at 19 months because of this.
As someone else has said they understand an awful lot more than they can say.

coffeewineandchocolate Sun 24-Mar-13 10:31:56

My ds went through the same stage at around this age although it was just to me. We found that by putting him on the floor without saying anything or racing and ignoring him until his behaviour changed (ie when he came over and was gentle, brought a book). We then praised the positive behaviour.

We found alot of the time his behaviour was attention seeking or him clumsily trying to learn how to socialise. By making a big deal if the behaviour it gave him the attention he wanted.

(this is what the hv also recommended)

As he gets older and develops speech we then got him to apologise for any hitting etc but we still use the controlled ignoring for temper tantrums etc

Spero Sun 24-Mar-13 10:31:13

My daughter went through a phase of biting me or trying to bite - think she was about 9 months? I said no! Very loudly, very firmly and put her alone in a cot or five mins. She understood 'no' perfectly well.

I have other friends who refuse to discipline a 3 year old because he is 'too little' to understand. I think they are very wrong, but I know their intentions are good. But there is no magic switch in his brain that will make him 'old enough' at 4 or 5 to understand. He has been allowed to be aggressive for a long time now and I worry for him and how this will impact on his relationships with other children.

Maybe the problem is that you have a child who is not merely a toddler with toddler's energy, but he is developing into a person who is temperamentally very different to both you and your husband? He may react in ways differently to your understanding of the world and that can make it hard.

But I agree with everyone else - he has to understand and conform to the rule that you don't just whack others when you feel like it, or this will bring serious problems all along the line.

Alibabaandthe40nappies Sun 24-Mar-13 10:20:31

Of course he is old enough to understand 'no' and being removed from the breast if he pinches or hits you.

Don't make the mistake of thinking 'he's only a baby, he's only a baby'. He is a baby, but they understand an awful lot by this age and now is when you need to introduce a little gentle discipline to steer them away from undesirable behaviour.
Otherwise in another few months you will be 'that mum and toddler' that people start to avoid.

I'm sorry that your experience of motherhood has been so traumatic, and I can understand why it has made you feel as you do about your son - that you can't discipline him.
But please do, for your own sake, otherwise you are in for a tough few years of trying to control his behaviour.

BertieBotts Germany Sun 24-Mar-13 10:18:33

YY I don't agree with the logic of replacing hitting with stroking - it's not a natural response. That works for tiny babies who don't understand how to vary the force by which they are grabbing someone, not for toddlers. Toddlers need a way to express their frustration without hurting.

BertieBotts Germany Sun 24-Mar-13 10:16:20

I think that you do have to do something to show him that this isn't acceptable. I am also an attached/gentle parent and I thought that it would pass as DS got older and was more able to understand his actions, how to get stuff across better etc, but this wasn't the case. I wish I had started showing him some kind of consequence for his actions. Luckily he never hit other children, but it's still not great that he is hurting me.

It doesn't have to be harsh - I'm not advocating banishing him to another room - just something which gives him a clear message - this is not OK. Something that has worked well for my AP friends is having a "calm down" or "thinking" chair, corner or step, so that the emphasis isn't on "naughty" or it being a punishment, just that the child needs to be removed from the situation to give them a chance to calm down without hurting anyone. And referring to it as the thinking chair/calm down corner etc means that they can go and use it for themselves too if they want to because it doesn't have a negative connotation. You can make it cosy with blankets etc if you like.

I also agree with withdrawing the positive attention e.g. playing/nursing etc if he is hitting or scratching you. Again this does not need to be done harshly/accusingly, but if he hits other children, they won't want to play with him. You're just showing him that he needs to behave respectfully towards people when they are being nice and spending time with him.

Good luck! smile

BuddyButters Sun 24-Mar-13 10:14:48

Oh and if your little menace hit my child and instead of you doing something constructive you tried to make your child STROKE mine I'd be less than impressed.

BuddyButters Sun 24-Mar-13 10:11:32

Thing is, what does NO mean, really? He's hearing "blah blah blah" because there are no consequences to his actions.

When he bites or hits or whatever, either plonk him down on the floor (if you're BFing for eg) or if he's at a play date shut him away/naughty step or whatever.

It always amazes me the number of parents who wring their hands and say "I always say NO but it doesn't work...."

Of course it doesn't if it isn't accompanied by some sort of consequence.

Blessyou Sun 24-Mar-13 10:07:21

This is the link for Kellymom nursing manners

Both of mine were biters while bf for a short time at around 9-10 months. While not old enough to appreciate they were hurting me, they certainly understood it meant they lost the boob and were placed on the floor every time they bit me.

I think the same should apply when he hurts you.

Unlatch, say 'no hurting' and place him on the floor - turn away and give no other reaction. If he is doing it to explore your reaction then don't reward it! I don't think you need to shout or scare him, just a firm 'no hurting', loss of the pleasant snuggle, and mum busies herself with something else MN

acrabadabra Sun 24-Mar-13 10:06:35

How will he ever understand no if you never say it to him?

Presumably you and dh have been speaking to your ds for 17+months already. If you think he can't understand what you're saying - why bother?
<genuine question>

I think you are heading towards a hard few years if you continue on the path you're on. Yes, kids grow out of things but, usually with guidance from their parents. They don't bring themselves up. That's your job.

I know he's had a very hard start in life and I'm sorry for all of you for that but it doesn't mean you have to compensate by being soft with him. You are really not doing him any favours. He won't just magically 'get it' if you don't teach him.

ChompieMum Sun 24-Mar-13 10:05:33

Ps also agree with other posters that play dates may become a problem. I would be ok with my son hanging out with a hitter perhaps if I felt the parent was taking appropriate steps to prevent it. I would not be happy with it if I felt not enough was being done to stop my Dc being hit.

spiritedaway Sun 24-Mar-13 10:02:16

I agree with the stalking Alan. . Still do it, up on the play frame with the toddlers. I feel like doing a David Attenborough commentary at times.

ChompieMum Sun 24-Mar-13 09:58:35

I have one almost the same age. I am a softie with toddlers but the following 2 things persuade me that it is important to be firm:

1. Toddlers' understanding is many months ahead of their speech so he may understand a lot more than you think; and
2. It vital to teach them to do what you say as soon as you can or they won't listen when they are in dangerous situations eg running towards the road. So it's really about keeping them safe.

bumblingbovine Sun 24-Mar-13 09:56:04

First tackle the hitting at home, and stop going to playgroups for a while until the hitting at home has stopped. otherwise it is too much to tackle at once

When he hits you when breastfeeding, remove him calmly from the the breast and put him down, look away from him and say calmly "no hitting". If he is just crying but not hitting, give him your attention again after only a few seconds and show him how to touch you gently when breastfeeding.

He may get upset and try to hit you again, if he does this turn your back and refuse to look at him. When he stops hitting you can give him your attention again and how to touch gently. Put him back on the beast. If he hits again, repeat etc.

Use a similar technique when he hits you at other times. He wants your attention or reaction and hitting is working, make sure it doesn't.

As well as doing this technique I would look into a play therapist. Your son has had some traumatic events happen to him and he has no verbal skills to process his feelings about this. He can do this through play. He needs help to process with his emotions and he also needs firm but gentle boundaries from you to help him feel safe. In time and with effort this will resolve but it won't if you just ignore it.

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