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4-year-old talks about hurting himself when he's told off

(4 Posts)
anxiouspater Wed 01-Jun-11 22:22:20

My nearly-5 DS has a worrying habit of talking about hurting himself when we tell him off. Not every time, but every so often, if he knows he's done something wrong.

For example, the other day he threw something at a smaller child and I told him to say sorry. He eventually did but then he disappeared only to come back and ask "what was hard enough to hurt someone" because he wanted to hurt himself because he'd been naughty.

He doesn't actually hurt himself - he'll tap himself on the arm and then say "no, that didn't do it" and then go and tap his head (very gently) against the wall. And he doesn't do it if he doesn't think he deserves telling off.

We've never used any form of corporal punishment, and he hasn't been exposed to any violence or other trauma beyond Octonauts and primary school. He's not generally a violent boy towards other children, quite the opposite (he threw clothes at this child, nothing hard). After this latest incident I asked why he wanted to hurt himself and he said it was so that he wouldn't do it again (be naughty).

He first started doing this about six months ago, and since then maybe four or five times, and we've tried ignoring it on the basis that it was probably attention-seeking, and tried explaining that he just needs to say sorry, and be kind. It feels like it's a way of coping with feelings of guilt. And the fact that he comes and talks to us about hurting himself rather than actually doing it suggests to me he is looking for a response from us. Any ideas how we should be dealing with this?

exoticfruits Wed 01-Jun-11 22:40:23

I think that he is trying to distance himself from the behaviour.
I expect you do, but make sure that you separate the 2 things, so that he isn't 'a naughty boy', it is the behaviour that is naughty. I would try and avoid the word naughty altogether.
I would tell him that we all get cross and lose our tempers sometimes ,but the important thing is to feel sorry about it afterwards and to say that you are sorry. Make sure that you say sorry to him if you get things wrong.
I wouldn't worry-I think he is just trying to deal with his feelings.

Sparklyboots Wed 01-Jun-11 23:16:40

Maybe he is just expressing his recognition of how his actions affect others and doesn't know how to deal with it? Can you help him manage his guilt/ bad feeling? It would make sense that he would come to you as you are his regulatory partners in managing emotions. Could you ask him about how he's feeling at that moment?

anxiouspater Thu 02-Jun-11 20:06:03

Thanks. I think it is something like that, not knowing how to cope with an intense feeling. I feel for him: guilt can be a hard thing to cope with. Has anyone written anything good on talking to small kids about stuff? Wife has "how to talk so kids will listen and listen so kids will talk", but I've never got round to reading it.

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