Today again after being in a children's museum for 5 hours he wanted a cookie they were selling by the door as we were leaving. I told him I didn't have any money with me and we could have some cookies and milk when we got home. Seems reasonable right?
Instead he screamed about wanting a cookie and hit me. Many people in my circle are of the "Hit him back" or "You can't let him do that to you, spank him". I know I can't have him doing this. I also know it's ridiculous to hit him for hitting me. Also I am much better able to deal with it when we are home and it isn't in front of people.
Truthfully, I know he was exhausted after being there so long. (It was a new place for us and he was having so much fun) I also generally always keep food with me but we had just eaten and I figured we wouldn't be more than an hour or two. When we got in the car he started crying. Again I know he was tired. Hell, I'm the one who got hit. I should get to cry!
He later apologized on his own and was so sweet, but I'm starting to worry he'll still be trying to hit me when he's 15. I feel like I'm in an abusive relationship with my son.
Interestingly, he NEVER hits his friends, just me.
You sound like you feel frustrated and powerless. Does this happen a lot? How often? Does he have some sort of developmental issue with impulse control? And what sort of consequences does he face for hitting you? I don't mean like spanking, I mean consistent, predictable consequences and boundaries. It's okay for you to protect yourself.
What did you do and how did you feel when he hit you at the children's museum? It seems like you can see some of the root cause of the hitting - frustration and fatigue - and that you usually take measures to avoid the trigger situation (carrying food with you) but that doesn't mean it's okay that he hits you.
This may or may not apply to you, but I thought I'd throw out my own experience. Feel free to disregard if nothing is relevant. :)
My DD is only 3, but when she was around 2, 2.5, she was experimenting with hitting me. I was hit/beaten a lot as a child. I wanted to avoid repeating my own upbringing, so I wasn't going to spank her. I remember one time simply losing it because she would NOT stop hitting me because I was sick and wouldn't play with her. I kept saying, "please stop," over and over. She couldn't understand. I lost it and smacked her on the butt. Not proud of that, but I learned that it was really important for me to set clear boundaries with her, for both our sakes. So even though it felt mean to either get up and leave the room or get up and put her in another room, I began to do that. (It didn't damage our relationship, although I was worried that it would!) I also began to take better care of myself so that I could respond clearly, and to ask for help when I needed it. She now knows, "I said it with my words, not my hands," or "I'll show you with a drawing, not my hands," and I think mainly just getting older has helped her develop impulse control. But I think the biggest thing that changed was not her, but my perspective. Being hit was triggering me. When she would hit me and I was also feeling tired, I would just freeze and not be able to respond as an adult. I would respond as a child. So when I felt empowered to set boundaries and protect myself, I also felt far less frustrated, powerless, anxious, and fearful for her future. I also had the emotional energy to reconnect with her, but I couldn't do that until I set good boundaries.
I'll tell you what I've done and what I do. That doesn't make me right or an expert but - this is my experience. My older son has the tendency to act out his frustration/sadness/embarrassment/hunger etc... by hitting. Generally aimed at me, or (less and less) his brother. It started when he was 2 - right about when little brother showed up, but who knows, he might have started it anyway at that age. He didn't learn it from me or anyone he was ever around. It's just his own physical way. And I, too, have figured out over the years that I need to keep him well-fed, rested, getting his energy out periodically, outside time and all that. None of this makes it ok to hit, but I do tend to come to it from a place of understanding, that he has a hard time with that, he's learning. It's a process....
He's improved a lot. Things I've done that I think may have contributed are: Telling him every time seriously and clearly "That's NOT okay. If you're mad (frustrated, etc.) you don't hit. You use words to tell me." or "I do not accept hitting. You can TELL me what's bothering you." Also I would say "I don't take hitting. But I'll take a hug anytime." and I extend my arms for a hug. I'm amazed that I saw this working. He started to sometimes replace a hitting reaction with a move-in for a hug! I often send him out of the room or upstairs to "cool off" and "take a break" so we can try again talking about it when he comes down (not after the hug, I mean after hitting!).
I've also much more recently looked a food sensitivities as a possible trigger. I know there are moms more experienced here in this than me at this point. But reducing/eliminating gluten is one thing I'm doing now. I *suspect* it could be helping.
I can see how much more mature he is now at 7.5. He would never hit a friend now. But at 4.5 or 5yo, after a morning of preschool, hungry and tired, he sometimes ended up hitting somebody if we tried to join the group that continued to the playground. I was wondering then if he'd ever stop!! He's much more likely to hug me if upset now, and I actually see him stopping himself mid-hit sometimes. He still has his moments but I know he's come a long way and has way more control now at 7.5 than he did at 6, he was better at 6 than he was at 5, and so on. I just truly believe he'll continue to grow out of it in an age-appropriate way. Just stay firm, calm, and consistent and keep on being as preventative as possible!
I just posted in response to someone on the Toddler board who had a very similar thing with her daughter so I'm repasting part of my response below but hopefully I took out all the stuff that doesn't apply. I'm kind of evangelical about spreading the word about this since it worked so well for my daughter and me and I really feel so calm and in control of every situation now even if my daughter loses it, now I'm able to stay calm about it and help her reregulate instead of getting mad or frustrated myself because I don't know what to do. Hope this helps!
I'm a mom of a 2.5 year old and these 3 sources have been invaluable to me:
Janet Lansbury (janetlansbury.com or Janet Lansbury - Elevating Childcare on Facebook)
Dr. Laura Markham (www.ahaparenting.com and on Facebook as ahaparenting.com) and
Patty Wipfler - www.handinhandparenting.com (on Facebook as HandinHand).
All of their websites have tons of free articles that specifically address these questions or you can go onto their Facebook pages (or Yahoo group in the case of Hand In Hand) and ask for guidance. They do not advocate any sort of punishment or artificial consequences but setting gentle but firm limits with very practical step by steps of what to do in lots of different situations.
For me personally Janet Lansbury resonates most deeply with me, but all 3 of these sources recommend very similar things to do in this situation - it's about the parent (or caregiver) stepping in and staying calm but in control and not letting the child hit or push - you validate the emotion behind it ("I know you're mad but I won't let you hit.") I've used this with my daughter when she was very angry at me setting limits back around 20 months old and I only had to do this about 3 times - it really seemed to resolve it for her that "Mommy won't let me hit" so she would usually throw a fit instead to get her anger or frustration out. I would let her do that as long as she wanted as long as she didn't hurt herself, someone else or break something. The fit would only last 2 minutes MAX and she had it out of her system and moved on to doing something else as if nothing had happened. I might just be very lucky that she resolved herself so quickly
I know you said your daughter does understand know what she is doing (gentle touches vs. hitting) BUT the part of her brain that helps her rein in her impulse to hit isn't developed yet so keeping herself from acting on a very strong emotion, even if she knows it is wrong, is very difficult until that matures.
This is an excerpt from Janet Lansbury's article "Common toddler discipline mistakes":
There was a toddler in one of my parent/toddler guidance classes whose behavior could be considered “bad”. He was compelled to push limits, probably because his adoring, gentle mother struggled to set them confidently. She admitted that his behavior unnerved her. That, in turn, unnerved him, and “acting out” was the way he demonstrated it.
Some days I would have to calmly follow this boy, shadowing him so that he wouldn’t push or tackle one of the other 18 – 24 month olds. When I sensed an aggressive impulse coming, I would place my hand in the way and say matter-of-factly, “I won’t let you push” or gently move him away from the friend he was tackling and say, “That’s too rough.”
There was no point in reminding him to touch gently (in fact, that would have been an insult to his intelligence). He knew exactly what ‘gentle’ meant and was clearly making a different choice. But what I would often end up asking was, “Are you having a hard time today?” “Da”, he’d answer a bit wistfully, a hint of a smile on his face, recognition in his eyes. This simple acknowledgement coupled with my calm, consistent limit setting would usually ease the behavior.
Toddlers love to be understood. They also need to know that their discipline “teachers” are calm, unruffled and understanding, not thrown or upset by their behavior. And that is the way that I have come to understand misbehavior. It is not intentionally bad, mean or a way to upset parents. It is a request for help.
Help me, I’m tired. Help me, I have low blood sugar. Help me stop hitting my friends. Help me stop annoying or angering you… better yet, stop me before I do those things. Help me by remaining calm so I sense how capable you are at taking care of me. Help me by empathizing, so that I know you understand and still love me. Help me so that I can let go of these urges and distractions and be playful, joyful and free again."