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Hitting himself?

Posted by on Apr. 8, 2013 at 1:18 AM
  • 10 Replies

Lately, whenever DS2 gets upset, he starts hitting himself in the face, punching and slapping. I can't stand to see him do it. He gave himself a black eye last week. Does anyone else have this problem? SS5 never did this.

by on Apr. 8, 2013 at 1:18 AM
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by Member on Apr. 8, 2013 at 1:36 AM

Grady does that when he gets overwhelmed or anxious and he always apologies afterwards..he's 3 and i am not the best mom for him but i am trying to figure out what to do with him.

by on Apr. 8, 2013 at 1:39 AM

3 year old hits himself

Dr. Laura-
I wrote to you months ago about sleep issues with a 3 year old, a one year old, and a new baby on the way. I have a new question. I have observed my three year old exhibit some concerning behavior. I have seen him hit himself (he only hits himself once) when he trips or is frustrated by his inability to do something he wants to do. And then today, I heard him say "I hate myself" when he was unable to get his socks on by himself. What should I do?

Dear Diana,
It is so hard to be three. They see what they want to do, and often don't have the skills yet to do it. Using the scissors, dribbling the ball, pouring the juice. They expect so much of themselves. Every person is different, of course, and some of us seem to be born more perfectionistic than others. When three year olds get frustrated, often they act out those feelings physically. Since he knows he can't hit others, he hits himself.

Your goal is to help your son to find other ways to manage and release his frustration, as well as to help him learn to be more forgiving and compassionate to himself in general.

How can you help him with this?

1. Model compassionate behavior to everyone, including yourself.  I know, that's a tall order, particularly when you're pregnant and have two children, which by definition means you're exhausted. But it's the work we all need to be doing in life anyway, and it's what your son needs to see from you. You are his primary teacher. That means extending understanding toward others, AND noticing any time you're hard on yourself. The next time you make a mean comment to yourself, stop in your tracks and give yourself compassionate understanding instead. Aloud.

2. Give your son language for his frustration. "Those socks are so tough. I know, that's frustrating."

3. But give him hope too: "Don't worry. Most three year olds can't do that by themselves, but you're getting really close. Soon you will be able to do this."

4. Evaluate your parenting style.  When kids hit themselves, it is often a response to a discipline style that includes punishment.  That may not be what's going on in your house, but if you're punishing at all (including timeouts or consequences), your son's behavior is a signal to find a parenting style that supports healthy emotional development as well as good behavior.  He is going to be harsh enough with himself already, don't reinforce his tendency.  Check out the section on Positive Discipline on this site for more info on coaxing cooperation out of kids without punishment.

5. The next time your son hits himself, tell him "We don't hit in this family, even ourselves. " I know you're frustrated. Let's find another way to handle it."  Then teach him to breathe deeply to handle stress: "Good air in. (Deep breath). Count to ten. Breath out through your mouth." 

After that, don't make a big deal when you see him hit himself so that you don't reinforce the behavior. But do immediately address the feeling that is causing the behavior and offer him an alternative: "You seem pretty frustrated. Let's breathe deeply together."

6. Help your son learn to manage his emotions.  Check out the section on this website on Emotional Intelligence for more ideas on helping your son develop the ability to handle his feelings.

I think your son will outgrow this behavior pretty quickly, but it's a great opportunity for you to teach him to start managing difficult emotions. Good luck!
Dr. Laura

by on Apr. 8, 2013 at 1:41 AM

What Kids Say About: Handling Stress
KidsHealthParentsEmotions & BehaviorFeelings & Emotions> What Kids Say About: Handling Stress

Compared with what adults face, it might seem like kids don't have that much to stress about. But kids have their own concerns — and sometimes feel stress, just as adults do. And kids' stresses can be just as overwhelming, particularly if they don't have effective coping strategies.

A KidsHealth® KidsPoll explored what kids stress about the most, how they cope with these feelings, and what they want their parents to do about it.

The poll showed that kids are dealing with their stresses in both healthy and unhealthy ways, and while they may not say so, they do want their parents to reach out and help them cope with their feelings.

The poll underscored how important it is for parents to teach kids to recognize and express their emotions, and to use healthy ways to cope with the stress they experience. By guiding them to healthy coping skills, parents can help prepare kids to tackle whatever stresses they meet throughout their lives.

Results of the Poll

We asked kids to tell us what things cause them the most stress. Kids said that they were stressed out the most by: grades, school, and homework (36%); family (32%); and friends, peers, gossip, and teasing (21%).

These are the coping strategies kids said they use the most (they could give more than one response):

  • 52% play or do something active
  • 44% listen to music
  • 42% watch TV or play a video game
  • 30% talk to a friend
  • 29% try not to think about it
  • 28% try to work things out
  • 26% eat something
  • 23% lose their temper
  • 22% talk to a parent
  • 11% cry

About 25% of the kids we surveyed said that when they are upset, they take it out on themselves, either by banging their heads against something, hitting or biting themselves, or doing something else to hurt themselves. These kids also were more likely to have other unhealthy coping strategies, such as eating, losing their tempers, and keeping problems to themselves.

The idea that kids would do things to try to harm themselves may be shocking to parents. But for some kids, feelings of stress, frustration, helplessness, hurt, or anger can be overwhelming. And without a way to express or release the feelings, a kid may feel like a volcano ready to erupt — or at least let off steam.

Sometimes, kids blame themselves when things go wrong. They might feel ashamed, embarrassed, or angry at themselves for the role they played in the situation. Hurting themselves may be a way to express the stress and blame themselves at the same time.

The poll also revealed important news for parents. Though talking to parents ranked eighth on the list of most popular coping methods, 75% of the kids surveyed said they want and need their parents' help in times of trouble. When they're stressed, they'd like their parents to talk with them, help them solve the problem, try to cheer them up, or just spend time together.

by Member on Apr. 8, 2013 at 1:49 AM


by Member on Apr. 8, 2013 at 1:54 AM

i was doing deep breathing with Grady tonite meditating to help him relax before bed and he went to sleep no questions asked..we are just learning from our babies.

by Member on Apr. 8, 2013 at 9:17 AM
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by on Apr. 8, 2013 at 11:09 AM

There was a cartoon on last week on PBS that I was watching with ds called Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood. The episode was about anger and how to manage it. There was a song that helped explain what to do on my 3 year old's level. So now when he (or I) get angry, we both stop, take a deep breath in, and count to 4. When we do this, I demonstrate how my body relaxes with each number, and ds usually mimics me. It was pretty helpful, since ds and I have been butting heads lately.

by Amber on Apr. 8, 2013 at 6:15 PM
Tough! Scary. Looks like some good suggestions were put out there. :)

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by on Apr. 8, 2013 at 6:47 PM
Oh my gosh! Thank you for this post! My 3yo(4 next month) has been hitting himself too! He'll smack his forehead with his hands or bang his head on the floor when he's laying down. I hate it too and tell not to hurt himself it doesn't solve anything. :-(. And have tried talking to him but he hits himself more so I let him calm down for a bit and try talking to
Him again about what might be frustrating him and then he'll calm down and be okay again. But I don't like to see him hit himself.
by on Apr. 9, 2013 at 12:48 AM

In my Autistic son.

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