Our son just turned two at the end of August, so I get that he is very young. He is being pretty rough in general the last week or so (it has been going on longer but to a much lesser extent). Grabbing the pets, testing boundaries. He's always been really interested in physical reactions - knocking something over, throwing a ball, banging on a drum, etc. It seems like now he has realized he can make the puppies yelp, the cats meow, his sister squeal, and he's exploring that. It's really hard! I just have no idea what to do.
I feel like there are kind of several issues here. He doesn't rage, but when he is frustrated he will hit or kick his sister. Sometimes he pulls her hair. She is almost seven, so she's able to respond helpfully (most of the time) with "That hurts me" or "Can you be gentle" that sort of thing. I have been trying to find the perfect phrase to use but I haven't found one yet. He doesn't really respond that much to direction, although it is happening more and more every day. He also gets very upset when told he can't nurse (this usually only happens in the morning when he has already nursed both sides and it is physically uncomfortable for me to continue) and at that point he hits and kicks like a wild thing. The kicking almost seems like instinct, he doesn't do it any other time than in bed and I almost feel like he isn't aware of it. We've been dealing with it by telling him it hurts and if he hurts he'll have to get off the bed, and then gently moving him to the floor. For a few months now. It hasn't gotten any better at all. This morning I did get him to practice gentle touches, which was awesome. A lot of times if he knows he's in trouble he will immediately say "hug?" I try and always respond, but sometimes it is very hard for me. Especially when he hurts our kitten, which was diagnosed with a fatal disease last week.
The other issue is that he is just rough with everyone. I think he likes to see the reaction. He pulls on the cats, hurts the puppies, the chickens. I don't think he's being mean but he doesn't have that sense of empathy, which his sister did in spades at his age, and I desperately want him to care that he is hurting our animals. I know he's really young for that, but what I'm saying is emotionally for me, seeing him hurting animals and howling with laughter over it (even though he doesn't understand they are in pain (although I tell him so, but I get that he can't comprehend what that means yet)) is very, very hard. I sometimes feel like he is mean, although I know he isn't.
I have PTSD and am feeling really triggered at times when he hurts me, to the point I've wanted to slap him back twice. Which I am NOT comfortable with. I haven't, and I am not really worried right now that I will (it wasn't close, but just it popped into my mind as if it was a reasonable choice) but just the fact it has been close to the surface tells me this is something I really need to find a new way to handle.
Help! Tell me my son won't grow up to be an evil animal torturer.
At that age we had good success with the Love & Logic "uh-oh" technique.
He hits or kicks or whatever, you simply say "uh-oh" in a sing-songy voice, pick him up and move him out of the situation. We moved DS to his room with a baby gate in the doorway. In public I did the same thing but moved him to a bench or somewhere where I could wrap my arms around him until he calmed down for a minute.
It's a very simple, "if you're violent, what you're doing will stop." The talking and explaining part comes after he has calmed down. He will make the connection as long as you're consistent about it.
My almost 2yo is a big time tester. I know its because she's comfortable and the more comfortable they are (ie they haven't experienced punishment) the more they test, and it really sucks sometimes. She will chase the cats in an attempt to grab at tails or chase the dogs around, well the one that she gets a reaction out of, and he will eventually growl at her, and as a dog trainer I'm torn. I want to correct his behavior by training more acceptance and rewarding him for ignoring her, but at the same time, the mother in me almost wants that natural consequence to occur and let him snap at her and hope she takes it seriously since no matter how many times I parrot "Q is getting angry and you are hurting him, please stop, listen, that sound means stop" she takes it as a big joke. BUT, I do see the occasional empathy peak through when she's not worked up, so no worries about raising a future psychopath here. I think rough behaviors are normal for some kids and obviously being rough back to these particular kiddos might just backfire and make things worse. Sounds like you're doing your best, and I also do like PP said and remove DD from the room when she gets too wild with anyone so she understands that her actions are not acceptable and she needs to be the one to leave the room.
Posting a quick reply about the action -> response issue. I know this may not sit well with everyone because on the surface it seems like "doing nothing" but we have managed some of that action/response curiosity by not responding at all to those things and have had pretty good success. If DC does something unpleasant that is pretty obviously about response we as a family just do not respond, quietly move away or whatever. Then we are careful to give some attention as soon as the behavior is over.
So, with the animals, I may just pick him up every time he hurts an animal and move inside or otherwise away from the animals. I don't think you need to talk - 2 is I think often too young for verbal re-direction. Physical works better, IMO.
Another observation I have seen with kids who like rough play is that it can be so fun for caregivers as well. It's energetic, cute, funny, and intimate in some ways to do rough play. I think there may be some research in this being quite beneficial for kids too. But, it's SO easy to take it too far. I think I would experiment with either some controlled roughhousing where you or another adult initiate it and form some good boundaries about when, how long and what sorts of things are appropriate. If you choose to do that, I would be very, very consistent about when you're doing this activity and when you're not. Another way to go is to just not go there at all - but because it may well be good for your DC, maybe try the first idea to see if he can "get" when it's appropriate and when not, yk?
Also, remember time, time, time. This is a phase and will just go away on its own. If you can get a bit of energy together to wait it out and just focus on protecting the pets and family members and make these actions as boring as possible, it will just pass (not tomorrow but maybe in a month or so). Of course parenting life's cruel joke is that then something else comes along.