3 year old daughter physically hurting me - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 2 Old 09-08-2012, 05:42 PM - Thread Starter
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My 3 year old DD has fairly recently started physically hurting me (usually biting, sometimes kicking) and then laughing about it and refusing to stop. She doesn't do this with anyone else in her life.... not her dad, not her "auntie", none of her friends, just me. I suspect this is likely related to a number of big transitions in her life this year but I'm really at a loss with how to proceed and how to understand it and how to teach her to stop hurting me so that she actually stops.


Some background: Up until this past May, I was able to be home with her 2-3 days per week and she had a sitter (her "auntie") for the other days. I worked some weekends and her dad was with her then. Beginning of May, I started working 5 days a week, and she was in a small cooperative daycare then, with several other kids, most of them younger than her. For a variety of reasons, this daycare wasn't working for us and we switched her to a larger daycare at the beginning of August (so about a month ago). It was a bit of a rough adjustment for her, but I believe she's quite settled there now and has bonded with her primary caregiver and made several friends. However, she is still there 5 days per week. There was a younger child at the first daycare who bit our daughter (and other kids) to the point where she needed to verbally process it a lot.


The other major new thing in her life right now is that I am currently 27 weeks pregnant with twins and even when I have time off (evenings, weekends, the occasional day I can take off during the week to spend with her), I have nowhere near the energy or physical ability or patience to do all the fun things that we used to be able to when we had days together. The heat of the summer and the sheer discomfort of being pregnant with twins has been really rough on me. When I was first pregnant and we told her, she told us that she "didn't want that to happen" and then refused to engage in the subject for a couple months (we didn't push it at all). She actually did go through a period of hurting me then too, although I don't remember it being as bad as now. She does seem to be more adjusted and accepting of the idea of having 2 babies around and being a big sister. She talks to them sometimes and talks about how she's going to look after them and she has told me "I like the babies" a few times.


I am grieving the change in my relationship with my daughter as our family changes and unsure how much of that loss I feel she feels too. I'm sure a lot!


She is very active, smart, sensitive, usually mature for her age (although since turning 3, she's been a handful!). She was a fairly high needs infant, needing a lot of physical in arms touch. DH and I have always focused on attachment parenting and responding to her needs and gentle discipline with her but the last few months have really pushed our patience a lot. With everything that's been happening in our family this year, I'm not sure what of her behaviour is related to being 3 and pushing boundaries and what is related to her being really sensitive to all the changes that are happening. The last few months has brought some really challenging behaviours but the biting/kicking me and laughing about it is the one I would most like help with because I'm really at a loss.


Some things we've tried: obviously telling her no and moving away (she follows me, laughing and continuing to try and hurt me), telling her "I love you and I'm not going to let you bite me/kick me etc", talking about it after the fact and telling her that if she's mad or sad or whatever at me, that she should use her words to tell me instead of hurting me, using time outs (not a parenting strategy that we like to use! and doesn't seem effective anyway - she laughs the whole time and spends most of it trying to get away from her spot), taking away things (like today we took away some new library books for a couple hours). I lie with her at bedtime and when she does it at bedtime, we switch and her dad lies with her instead.


It's really escalated in the past few weeks. Her nanny (my MIL) passed away a few weeks ago.... although they weren't very close, I know she is likely still processing it. We talk about it when she brings it up (which isn't often).


I just really need guidance on understanding why my daughter is engaging in this behaviour and how I can gently and lovingly, but firmly help her stop it and help with her processing and managing the many transitions in her life right now.


Thank you for any suggestions you might have!

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#2 of 2 Old 09-11-2012, 10:23 AM
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I'm so sorry that your daughter is giving you such a hard time right now. It's very challenging when your child hurts you. I think it's obvious that she's having a very hard time herself. She's not laughing because she feels good about hurting you. She's laughing because she is anxious about hurting you, and the laughter is part of how she distances herself from all that pain inside.  I would say that her aggression is a red flag that she is angry at you (for not being there for her the way you used to be), frightened about the twins, and maybe still reeling because of all the changes.


Three year olds can be a handful if you have parented in a more strict way, because they may obey initially but then become more defiant now that they're a bit older (meaning three instead of two). But that does not sound like your situation. So I am not seeing any reason why being three would make your daughter more aggressive.


The solution is to help her process those feelings that are upsetting her and causing her to lash out. Of course, those feelings make her feel pretty awful, so she doesn't want to go anywhere near them. When they start to come up, she gets anxious and aggressive (the best defense is a good offense.)  Your goal is to help her tolerate the feelings enough to feel them and express them, after which they'll evaporate, as feelings do -- and she won't have any reason to be aggressive.


So you can help her feel safe enough to express her tears and fears by overdoing it on the empathy in a huge way.  Everything that happens, try to see it from her perspective and offer your understanding. "You are so disappointed...."  I have seen just this one change make a huge difference.


Playing games that get her giggling also builds safety.  Since you don't have the energy you did before, you will have to be creative about how to play with her.  Be aware that this is almost certainly a sore spot for her, since she is probably grieving (as you are) the loss of your old relationship. There are lots of game ideas on the Aha! Parenting website:



Once you've built more safety with empathy and giggling, you're ready to help her cry.  Do that by setting an appropriate, kind limit and nurturing her through the resulting meltdown. 


This may be something you need more support to do, so you might want to consider a coaching session.  There are also a number of articles on the Aha! Parenting website that help you with this process. You might want to begin with this one: http://www.ahaparenting.com/_blog/Parenting_Blog/post/When_Your_Child_Won%27t_Let_You_In_Building_Safety_Through_Play/


Good luck, and please let us know how it goes!

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