My 4 Year Old Scratches And Hits
I am unsure what to do. My son is 3, and will be 4 in a couple of months. Both my husband and myself work full time, which leaves our son in preschool three days a week.
Recently he has begun to scratch and hit his friends at school over toys, and a spot to sit during story time. etc. Neither my husband nor myself can figure out where he is learning the behavior. I am also unsure of how to approach it with him.
I have tried talking to him about his anger, and have asked him why he is so mad. But he is three, and cannot verbalize the reasons as to why he is getting frustrated so easily, and mainly why he is getting frustrated with his friends.
I hope that this is a phase that he is going through at the moment, but how can I be certain? I would love some help and maybe some advice on how to break through to him. Speaking with him hasn't helped. Time-outs haven't helped. We have taken away his favorite toys for a couple of days, and that hasn't helped either.
I am at a loss as to what to do, and how to break my son of this habit. My husband believes that this behavior is a problem with the daycare not performing their job correctly. I believe that there must be a bigger issue at hand with my son.
Please help, any advice to stop this behavior would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.
Response from Dr. DeFoore
Hello, and thanks for telling your story here. I want to agree with you and your husband on several things.
There may in fact be a problem at the daycare. I would suggest that you and/or your husband take a few hours and observe your son at daycare several different days. If the staff will not allow that, you may want to consider moving him to another daycare. A good program will accommodate parents who want to observe their children at play, etc.
Also, you are correct that talking to him is not the solution. He is too young to have the verbal or intellectual skills to explain or understand what is going on with him emotionally. You need to connect with him through nonverbal communication. This page will help with that (it applies, even though the page is devoted to working with adolescents).
Appropriate, safe, loving, nurturing touch is essential to your child's needs. It is possible that his anger is associated with separation from you, and more loving, nurturing physical contact with you when you're together will help with this.
Children your son's age communicate through play, and through their actions and reactions. Your son is saying something with his anger, and you and your husband need to understand his message so that you can respond appropriately.
Here are some things to consider:
1) There is nothing wrong with your son, this is not just a bad habit, and he is not being "bad."
2) His emotions make sense for him at some level, even though no one understands them at this time.
3) When you get the message he's sending through his anger and respond appropriately, his anger will subside.
You might want to try getting some of your son's toys, spreading them out on the floor, getting on the floor with him, and letting him guide the play. He may, without realizing it, "tell his story" through his play. This could also give him a way to release some of his anger. The only rules during this are that he cannot harm himself or you, and he cannot break things. Other than that, anything goes. The point is to allow a free expression on his part, without interfering. This may or may not be helpful to you--it is actually a form of professional therapy called "play therapy," but there is no reason not to try it on your own.
One final thing...sit down with your husband after both of you have read this, and just brainstorm together about what you think your son might be saying with his anger. You might just be able to figure it out between the two of you.
Believe in yourself, believe in your family, and believe in your son.
My very best to you,