what to do when toddlers hit themselves - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 7 Old 12-06-2007, 04:45 AM - Thread Starter
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DS is 18 mos but has been open-palm smacking himself on the head for the last couple of months. It's usually because he's frustrated at not being able to do something or if we suggest doing something he needs to do but doesn't want to do. As much as possible, we practice gentle discipline and maximize the yes's, but there are times, of course, when he needs to do things he doesn't want. We try to make those things as fun as possible, but it doesn't always work.

Anyway, this hitting-self thing is really disturbing. We do NOT hit/spank/physically "discipline" him in anyway and the only time he's been hit is by his 2 year old cousin. : They used to "play" together occasionally, and the cousin would smack him on the head if no one was near enough to prevent it. That is the only situation he's been exposed to hitting, so I'm wondering if it's because of that.

Do other toddlers do this? How do you respond? We tell DS to "be gentle" with himself and "love" himself, as mommy and daddy love him, give him a hug, reflect whatever frustrated feeling he may be having at the moment and see where that goes. But I'm not sure it's working. Sometimes he smacks himself for no apparent reason! It really disturbs me and I'm just wondering about other ways to handle the situation. We try not to get visibly upset when we see him do it, but it's getting difficult, because he seems to be hitting himself progressively harder and more frequently.

Any advice?

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#2 of 7 Old 12-06-2007, 04:48 AM
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one of my kids does this too occasionally. It's hard for a parent to watch!

I'd love to hear other peoples responses.

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#3 of 7 Old 12-06-2007, 04:58 AM
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My three year old son was doing this recently. It was breaking my heart. Someone suggested we just simply state" we don't hit" or "no hitting" each time he does it and move on. We did this for about a week, and he hasn't hit himself lately at all. I think he was just so frusterated, and wanting attention, and when he hit himself he realized thats what he got.
Has there been any recent changes lately? like a move, or new family member. I think my ds's hitting was sparked by both those things. Kids have a harder time with change than we as adults do i think.
Its so hard when you see your kids hurting themselves. I'm sorry.

E Veg*n Mom to ds 6 : dd 3
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#4 of 7 Old 12-06-2007, 10:06 AM
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DS does it when he is frustrated, the same as OP described, open palms to the head. i have found if i sit on the floor and pull him into my lap for a tight hug he will almost always calm down. i think the tightness is important, they are needing that feedback (thats not the word i mean but close enough).
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#5 of 7 Old 12-06-2007, 12:20 PM
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My son does this!...He gets both hands and slaps himself on either side of the head repededly when he is upset/frustrated!

He used to head bang too when he was upset/frustrated.

He has never been expsosed to hitting at all...not even by a 2 year old cousin! lol...So yeah, I thought 'where is this coming from!'... But I have to say I think its probably pretty normal!...disturbing to watch but normal. He is just venting his frustration on the way that comes natural to him! The fact hes not hitting out at someone else is a good thing I think and I dont see it as him 'punishing' himself either...I just think its a motion for him...frustration turned into energy needing release! I would personally like him to do something else. But it is his body. They wouldnt do it if it really hurt so I try not to worry. I treat it as I would treat any 'tantrum' (basically what they say to do in the article 'cry for connection') and hope it passes!...His head banging passed long ago and was replaced by this. I am showing him how to take his anger/frustration out in other ways that are appropriate/acceptable (such as screaming into a pillow or taking it out on poor teddy or something)...as its something that needs to be done, because the headbanging was replaced by this and one day this will be replaced by something else as well I guess! I just think...what do I do when I am angry/frustrated?...I cant just bottle it up inside! So yeah...its all well and good for me to want my son to 'love himself' and not do this to himself...but needs must be met and to acheive this I think you need to offer another way for him to vent...(if any of that makes sense!)

Mummy me : > Thats Ann! and my beautiful SONS Duncanand Hamish 19/09/05 & 22/04/10!
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#6 of 7 Old 12-06-2007, 01:11 PM - Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by ann_of_loxley View Post
So yeah...its all well and good for me to want my son to 'love himself' and not do this to himself...but needs must be met and to acheive this I think you need to offer another way for him to vent...(if any of that makes sense!)
Yes. Makes good sense. The other way we offer to vent frustrations is to sign "mad" -- he is responsive to signing and has been signing for a while, but for some reason, he hasn't really taken to using this sign. We want to give a name to his emotions, happy, sad, mad, etc., ... I guess we'll continue to do this and see what happens... Incidentally, he *does* occasionally smack me or DH, and we do the same thing, "it looks like you're mad because daddy won't let you play with the screwdriver...(hug)" ...*sigh* I'm hoping it's a "phase" and will pass soon (not to be replaced by something else!)
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#7 of 7 Old 12-06-2007, 05:33 PM
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DD does the same thing. She used to do it alot when she was frustrated. Now she seems to have gotten over the hitting-self-when-frustrated thing (in favor of throwing the item she's frustrated with across the room) and she only does it sometimes when she's really tired and trying to keep herself awake (that's my interpretation, anyhow; she usually does while she's nursing!).

If I try to put my hand between her hand and her head she usually gets really furious and has a bit of a meltdown. : I tell her that we don't hit and it makes mama sad to see Vivian hurting herself. Sometimes that gets her to stop.

Erin, mom to DD (1/06) and DS (10/09)
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