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Please help with my 2-year-old lashing out

post #1 of 4
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My husband and I are lost with what to do about our toddler.  She's generally a happy girl but every now and then (actually, a few times a day) she seems to get very violent.  She'll claw at our faces, try to bite us, pinch us, kick us.  When she realizes that she's done something bad, she'll turn the tables and try to hurt herself, biting and pinching herself.


We are looking for solutions for handling this.  She's going through a ton of changes at the moment (new baby at home, wanting to learn to use the potty, wanting to sleep in her own bed . . .) so we understand why she's acting out . . . we're really looking for techniques for showing her how to behave.  My husband is a stay-at-home dad and I'm on maternity leave with the new baby so she gets a lot of individual attention.  Any help would be greatly appreciated.

post #2 of 4

I didn't realize how hard the birth of a new baby would be for our ds1 either.  It's a huge transition.  Ever since his brother was born, I've been reading and researching all sorts of GD.  So I can share with you what we do and what I've found, but I highly recommend one book in particular- Helping Young Children Flourish.


My guess is that your daughter has some pent-up feelings, anger, jealousy, and so forth.  It's totally normal, she just needs to release them in a safe environment.  Next time she starts acting destructive, or violent, first stop her.  Then just hold her and say, "I can't let you do that."  Try not to put blame on her, or make her feel guilty.  You may not need to say much else, and just listen to her and hold her.  At this point she may be screaming and thrashing around, or maybe not.  She may start to cry and tantrum.  This is good, this is what she needs to release her pent-up feelings.  Try not to stop her from crying, just offer love and support, she will stop when she needs to.  But don't leave her alone to cry.  She needs to know that you are there for her, to listen.


When ds1 gets this way, I see it as a cry for help.  He may start yelling, or doing other things to be obnoxious and get our attention, or even be destructive, or violent.  I then take him, hold him and say, "You seem to be having a hard time today.  I'm just going to hold you for a bit."  He may start to squirm, and even laugh, then he'll say, "No!  No!"  And I respond, "But I can't let you do the things that you are doing, they are disrespectful/hurtful."  Then he'll start to cry and tantrum, at this point, if he still wants me to let him go, I will because I know he's not going to hurt anyone or anything.  I sit with him, and offer support until he has stopped on his own.  After that, he's fine, and very pleasant to be around. 

post #3 of 4

It sounds like less of a behavioral issue and more of just an inability to process her emotions. She's still pretty tiny to expect her to process complex situations. Kids who can't process big changes or big feelings can show it in different ways. It sounds like your DD shows it with violent outbursts sometimes.


My first son was like this at that age and what worked best for us was a gentle "holding time". I'd hold him in my arms on my lap just tightly enough so that he couldn't get loose but not so tightly as to be scary or painful and I'd tell him that I loved him and I understood how hard it was and I was there. Eventually the anger would give way to sadness or grief. It took no time at all for him to bypass anger entirely on his own and just run to me for comfort when he was upset, which was the goal.


My other kids were able to process easily or differently so just plain ole compassion was really all it took. Every time she reacts in that way, just hug her and tell her how much you love her, how hard it is to be 2 and how you'll continue helping her however you can. It sounds hokey but honestly consistent compassion is one of the best discipline methods I've ever used. And in the meantime you are modeling to her the behavior you are hoping she can learn to emulate: looking for a hug and some love when she's upset instead of hurting herself or others in anger.

post #4 of 4

Yeah, your DD is too young to be able to deal with big emotions and has no impulse control yet. Hold her away from you when she tries to scratch, hit or bite and label her emotions verbally for her. Tantrums are actually how small humans learn to deal with big emotions, so they do play a very useful role in your DD's development. We were verbally sympathetic and gently comforted my DD. We said stuff like "You are angry, being angry can be scary, but it will be ok, mommy's right here". Talking very quietly seemed to help lower the intensity. Different things work for different kids. Just be sure not to punish or isolate her because that can lead to her ignoring her emotions instead of learning to how to deal with them. Once she's able to label her emotions herself the tantrums are on their way out. For our DD it was a month or so after turning 3. Some kids have them longer.

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