My daughter is almost 4. My son is 16 months. Since he was born she has done this same thing with her hands in his face and it is getting out of control. I wish I could explain it better, but she just touches his face constantly. Like she just CANNOT keep her hands to herself. It starts as just a "gentle" hand touching his face (like covering his eyes, and blocking his vision and ability to do anything else, as he tries to get away from her hand) and then gets more physical the longer we ignore it.
We have tried so many things, from ignoring (until it gets to the point of knocking him down or she sometimes will grab at him) to putting our hands in her face every time she does it to make her see how annoying it is (not hurting her, of course, just the "gentle" first stage hand touching). and everything in between...I can't think of any other option. I feel like I have to separate them when we are at home (because this usually isn't an issue anywhere else...usually) and by the end of the weekend I am at my wits end.
Sometimes it seems calculated, but then sometimes it seems like she truly can't stop. Like she will walk past him and just CANNOT walk by without touching his face. This morning it got the point where she just seemed to not have control of her body and was lying on him and holding his head/neck and rolled off him, pulling his head! It was awful. Awful.
She is generally loving with him, generally a good big sister. She is kind to other kids and mostly has no extreme behavioral problems that would ever seem abnormal to me. Mostly a normal 4 year old. It does seem like attention seeking behavior, truthfully...but I just can't imagine any way to make her feel like she is getting enough positive attention other than not have had her brother in the first place. I try so hard not to give negative attention because of it, but obviously that does happen. We can't ignore it completely.
I am a nanny for 2 wonderful but sometimes fairly aggressive boys (the younger one mostly tends to have some physical aggression towards DD and is just sometimes mean to her...and I hate that, but mostly they get along well and play nicely together and have a good time). Today she told me that M (younger boy) teaches her how to be mean and that is why she is mean to DS. WTF am I supposed to do about that?! I love these boys, they are family.... I cannot possibly leave this job right now, but part of me really wants to see if removing the M factor from her daily life might fix some things. But then I think about how I always make the best effort to treat them as if they are my own, and I truly do, and if they were my own I couldn't run away from that....so how can I even CONSIDER running away from them...
I don't know. I just don't know. Feeling a bit overwhelmed right now.
mommy to Lorien 10/17/07 and Cyprian 6/5/10
I wonder if you could redirect her in a positive way. Maybe she is somehow seeking stimulation with the face-touching. I thought of those weird barbie heads, for doing hair & makeup? Like, every time she wants to touch bro's face, redirect her to the mannequin head, and say something like, "Ooh, Barbie LOVES her face touched. Ooh, rub her cheeks, yeah."
We have tried redirecting to touch different parts of him. "Cyprian likes it when you touch his head, or his back, or his belly, or...." Lots of encouragement to use gentle hands when touching her brother and love on him, which she does...but then she forgets herself and all of a sudden is rubbing all up in his face.
mommy to Lorien 10/17/07 and Cyprian 6/5/10
This does sound like a behavior that is psychologically motivated, meaning that she can't control it. Mostly because she is only 4. Jealousy isn't something anyone likes to feel, but we do anyway sometimes. I can't imagine that there is anything you can do other than redirect her/protect your baby when necessary. Of course, you should give her as much quality mommy time as you can. But even this may not be enough to cure her of jealousy. I guess all I'm trying to say is that even the sweetest, most empathetic people (of any age) have dark sides.
If you really feel that it has become a compulsion (she cannot walk past him without stopping to touch his face like her body is on autopilot) then I would try some behavioral techniques to try to redirect the behavior to something that meets whatever needs she has going on there and gives her brother the freedom from being touched that he also needs.
If you don't feel like its compulsive behavior, then I think you should just keep doing what you are doing - reminding, keeping them apart as much as possible, supervising when they are together, just basically protecting him as well as you can until she gets older and loses interest in this particular behavior.
But if you want to try a behavioral approach, there are two parts.
First, teach her what she needs to do when she is in proximity to her brother and is having trouble keeping her hands to herself. "Safe hands" could be the directive. She is directed to clasp her hands together. That's "safe hands." Once she understands what safe hands are, set up practice sessions where she walks past him with safe hands, maybe 4-5 times, several times a day. Make a game of it. Then practicing sitting close to him with safe hands for a minute or two several time a day.
Since she can't control her touching of him, she should not touch him at all. This is not meant to be a punishment or a consequence, its kind of like not letting the alcoholic have the first drink. She can't modulate her touching of him. So I'd give up trying to get her to do gentle touches or appropriate touching - she simply cannot touch him, at all. If she wants to play with him, she can place toys in front of him, or play chase, or whatever, without touching him. When she gets older you can start teaching appropriate ways to touch him if it looks like she's developed some control.
The second part is making sure she has something that she had been using him for - it sounds like more than just touching his face, it sounds like she wants to have full body contact and roll with him. So a big teddy bear might work for her. Try to get her to do with the big teddy what she was doing with her brother - touching the face, grabbing the head and neck, rolling around on the floor, whatever. Make it fun and make sure her big teddy is hers and hers alone, not for her brother to play with.
If she does touch him, be prepared to intervene, reminding her "safe hands" and then "where's your teddy? Get your teddy." I wouldn't use any punishment at all with her. Just block her attempts at touching him, model and ask for safe hands, redirect to the teddy... over and over.
It also sounds like she might have some sensory stuff going on. Do you see any other signs of sensory issues? Sensitivity to clothing, wanting full body movement (e.g. swinging, spinning, "hugging" the wall or couch), sensitive to sounds, etc? If you do, you might ask for advice on meeting sensory needs - there's a ton of things she'd probably love doing that help meet her need for sensory input/avoidance.