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Father/Son Relationships


hoping this is a good place to post this....didn't see any obtusely psychological forums

our almost three year old son has been a live wire since around 6 months of age, and while it is more often than not a good thing, his sanguine nature is complete with the hitting, biting, etc of stereotyped toddler boy behavior...

over time though, this act manifested itself mainly toward my husband (he would only pull my hair or pinch me occasionally, if we were playing more on the rough side)...these days, he'll just walk up to DH and hit him--seemingly for no reason. the worst is when DH goes in for a kiss--or worse yet, when he kisses me--and DS flips out and usually smacks him in the face.....

we're trying to stay as GD with him as possible....but I know DH is really feeling the "attack" personally, and we've resorted to 'taking something away' when he does hit....we totally hate that approach (reminds us of crappy teenage year punishments from our parents, to boot) but are at the end of our tether....

is this some kind of oedipus complex--lasting for a bizarrely long time? some mammalian behavior? anyone know of any good books to read up on the mother/son versus father/son relationship?

just trying to figure this out without being too pyschointellectual about our developing little one......

thank you in advance for your thoughts.....!


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My 3.5 year old DS loves to randomly hit my DH; mostly, though, it's an invitation to play. However, a lot of the time, DH just wants a hug/kiss or a snuggle, but DS doesn't feel affectionate right then. DH has a really hard time with that. And DS also loves to try to hit Daddy in the face (when they roughhouse, pretty much the entire body is fair game, except for the crotch and the face).

When I give DH a hug/kiss, if DS sees it, he wants in on it =). We got lucky on that one.

I'm linking a thread from a few days ago--in particular, check out LynnS6's post for some ideas on what might be motivating your son--competing for your attention:

A similar thread to the one I linked above was posted soon after that in the parenting forum (I realize these threads are more focused on verbal attacks than physical attacks, but the underlying issues may be the same)--in particular, check out what LionTigerBear wrote:

I would suggest changing how your DH interacts with your son: right now it seems like your DH will go in for a kiss, and in response he gets hit. Stop going in for a kiss. Instead, have DH ask your DS, "Is it okay if I give you a kiss right now?" That gives your son the option to say no if he doesn't want a kiss right then (respect his space bubble!), or, if he is ready for a kiss, to receive it w/o being surprised by it. The hardest part for my DH when he does this is when our DS tells him no...but sometimes DH just needs to wait a couple minutes for DS to finish a task before DS will give a yes.

The natural consequence of hitting someone, especially in the face, is that the person being hit doesn't want to be near the person doing the hitting. So every time your DS hits your DH, your DH should try to calmly tell him, "Stop hitting. I like gentle touches," (or something along those lines that tells DS it's not okay to hit Daddy right now, and it's NEVER okay to hit in the face, and gives DS something to do instead--using his words to express an emotion, or some other okay physical release of energy that doesn't hurt somebody else--talk it over in advance w/ your DH to figure it out now so that you're on the same page, and you can remind DS about it before DH gets home, or whenever it seems appropriate)--then DH needs to walk away/go into a different room to keep DS out of hitting distance (DS may or may not try to follow DH to keep trying to hit him--if he does, morph it into a game of chase or tag to turn the energy positive, and hopefully distract DS from hitting). Repeat ad nauseum. DS needs to learn that it's the new way of doing things and there will be no exceptions, so DH has to be consistent with this. (My DH isn't consistent yet, so DS still tries to hit him in the face; DH doesn't get to spend as much time interacting w/ DS as he'd like, so even if it's negative interaction, DH prefers it to walking away from DS. DH's choice--I just provide gentle reminders.)

Now, how does DS get access to DH's face when DH kisses you? You might want to change how you kiss for a while (only standing up if DS is nearby) so that DS can't reach DH's face.

I can understand why you're uncomfortable with your current approach of taking something away when DS hits--it's not a natural or even a logical consequence (unless DS was using that thing to hit DH, which doesn't seem to be the case). So, good for you for seeking out alternatives!

Another approach you could try is a time in to give DS a chance to calm down in a secure, loving, safe spot. (Time out is kinda like banishment/exile; time in can either be done in Mama's arms, or a comfy, cozy corner of the living room where the child can breathe/listen to music/pet a lovey/read/do whatever helps him calm down.)

I've also read advice from mamas of multiples that they comfort/give all their attention to the one who got hit (which models empathy/compassion for the victim, removes attention from the attention-seeking behavior, and usually makes the person who got hit feel better)...but I'm not sure how well that would work when it's a father/son dynamic...might just make DS more jealous of the attention you're giving DH.

I'd also spend more time playing emotion games with DS so that he can recognize different emotions (from facial expressions and how they make him physically feel), describe emotions, and label emotions--the goal being that he'll ultimately be able to express how he's feeling with words so he won't have to resort to hitting. Take turns making faces--you will learn a lot about how your child perceives emotions from the faces he makes.


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You can't forget the little Oedipus kicking in. He might see dad as competition for mom's affection and doesn't otherwise know how to react. And no it's not lasting a bizzarly long time. You said that over time it manifested towards your DH, so over time he grew into the "mommy is mine" type of boy. He's actually the right age for it.

Unfortunatly I'm completely blanking on any advice, but taking things away doesn't seem logical to me. I think most likely though, the worst case senario is that none of the redirection or efforts do much and you have to wait until he grows out of it. It won't take too long. Soon he'll be following Dad around trying to be just like him.

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DS seems to do this with his dad as well. It seems to me like is an attempt to connect and possibly frustation that dad is not around as much (he works a lot). It will often escalate after they have had a good day or evening together. I interpret it as "this is a lot fun, why can't we do this all the time darn it!?"
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