We have a spirited 4 year old girl and 9 month old twin boys. DD is fairly well adjusted, as well as can be expected, but she is still doing things to them on a daily basis that either hurt them or have the potential to hurt them (hitting, pinching, squeezing, kicking, etc). Nothing we are doing seems to be helping and we are at a loss to help her grow out of this phase.
Our current strategy is to immediately remove her for a chill out time. We do so without raising our voices or getting angry. The thing is that she just runs away laughing and won't stay wherever we've placed her. I'm assuming this is developmentally normal (the running away) but it has the effect of aggravating me so much that I respond to that in a way that just continues to escalate the situation. And she ends up getting a ton of attention from me, which is like the opposite of what I am intending with the chill out time. We spend a lot of the day 'filling her cup' in positive ways so theoretically she shouldn't be lacking for attention/affection from us, but obviously she is in some way! She seems to have this insatiable need to be the center of attention at nearly all times.
What am I doing wrong? How can I encourage her to be kinder to her brothers, or at least to stop hurting them? Any strategies, tips, resources will be much appreciated. At this point, it's the only behaviour of hers that I have such a hard time with. All her other boundary pushing I feel I can manage in a gentle and effective manner but the hurting her brothers makes me see red.
That's one idea. Hopefully you'll get some more people replying with some more!
To look at it from a different perspective - are her brothers hurting her? I understand that they're a bit young to understand correction and I hesitate to use the word discipline since what they would be doing at this point isn't intentional behavior, but it can be quite difficult for a youngster to understand that a baby isn't doing things to intentionally hurt and it may seem that her brothers are doing these same things to her with no consequences. My DD is 17 months, and she's going through a phase when she sees her older cousins (4 and 6) playing with something, she wants it. She will snatch it away from them, and often, if DH doesn't see what has happened, he ends up reprimanding the cousins if they snatch it back from her. Sometimes, even when he sees he takes DD's side and talks to the cousins about how DD doesn't really know better. My tactic is to talk to DD about how her cousins had the item first, and if the behavior persists, move her to another room to play with something else. I don't know if that perspective might be useful in this situation, or whether it is your daughter who is always instigating this behavior, though.
I don't know how you speak to her when she does something wrong, but this is what I do. I speak firmly to my child when he does something wrong, using the word 'No'. It's my correction voice & it leaves no doubt to what I want from him. I don't have to yell or get frustrated (most times, he is two). I pull him from the situation at that point, sit him on my knee & tell him in my teaching voice why it was wrong... 'you could get hurt,' 'that hurt grandpa,' or 'you could break that & then you'd be sad.' Then I tell him what he can do instead... 'you have to be careful,' 'we have to take care of grandpa,' or ' we have to take care of our things.' My husband, however, doesn't use that type of voice, & our child thinks he's playing a game, so he doesn't take daddy seriously. He continues to do what he was doing before & then runs away laughing, only to come back & do it again. There is a lack of communication & I think it's very confusing for the child.
Clear communication & consistency is the key. I hope this helps.
Thanks for the thoughts/suggestions everyone.
To answer some of your questions, she is a highly articulate and verbal child, almost precociously so. We frequently attempt to validate her emotions but don't always. She is actually pretty good about naming her emotions and we talk a lot about how sometimes people get lots of "bubbles" inside them which makes it hard to listen, control impulses, etc. Her brothers do hurt her at times (pull her hair, grab her nose, etc) and we intervene and tell them gentle hands and help them to touch her gently (and remind her that they are babies and just learning and don't intend to hurt her). However, her hurting them is almost never in retaliation for them hurting her. I am nearly always in the same room as all 3 since I don't totally trust her around them so I need to keep watch closely. The reasons I think she is hurting them is because she is either bored, seeking attention from me, or they are getting into stuff she's doing. She is an extrovert and doesn't like to be away from us so does 98% of her playing in the main living areas which we have designated family areas and all members of the family are allowed to be here. That said, I do encourage her to move her activities up to the dining room table or other places out of their reach if it's something that isn't for them to participate in. We have taught her how to interact with them gently and remind her frequently about it. She is good right after the reminder but not for long.
She just gets so wound up so quickly and plays so roughly with them and has such a hard time calming down and actually listening. She does have some sensory stuff going on and I do wonder sometimes whether she just can't differentiate between gentle touch and deep pressure touch. I'm starting to talk to her about the differences between the two and who likes what kind of touch and when it's appropriate. She is also struggling to learn about personal space.
I think I just I am really struggling with how to react when she just completely disregards my boundary. (i.e. "i'm not going to let you hit your brothers. it's time for you to chill out for a bit."). She thinks it's totally hilarious. She has told me in the past that she likes the argument (i.e. power struggle) too much (like I said she's a pretty articulate child). I am an introvert and I need space from her when she gets like this but she just will NOT respect that and will not engage in anything that I attempt to calm her down so that she can listen. We both just get totally wound up and lose sight of the original reason for intervention (hurting her brothers), which means that I don't think she's learning anything useful and the hurting happens several times a day. I am totally at a loss and at times I wonder whether this is purely normal 4 year old developmental stuff or whether there's something else going on with her.