We don't allow it, but there is not much that stops it--we have tried everything, and no, we don't let him walk all over us. It just is what it is, and aside from hitting back, there seems to be nothing that works. Does anyone have any suggestions besides time-outs, time outs in the corner, time outs with hands in the air, taking away toys, bum spankys on the diaper, telling him we are disappointed, going to his room for a period of time, taking away desserts/chocolate milk/brushing of teeth independently, etc? We need something creative here for a kid that seems to want to "fight to the death" so-to-speak. Obviously he is 3, but I am trying to make a point about how strong-willed he gets.

asked 22 May '10, 22:51

Alysia's gravatar image

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edited 23 May '10, 12:53

Emi's gravatar image



You're not hitting anything unusual or doing anything wrong. It's a damaging myth when everybody says "terrible 2's" as if suddenly all the testing behaviors are behind you once you hit 3.

(24 May '10, 21:15) lgritz

Tricky one, sounds like you have tried most things I would.

Have you identified when is he hitting and kicking. I know that sometimes if I pick up my son to take him somewhere he doesn't want to go then he will kick or hit me. Sometimes he simply wants to finish what he is doing so if I give him a warning that we will be doing something in five minutes it sometimes helps.

Also identify what it is that motivates your son. For a while taking away toys worked really well here but now if you take away one toy then he will just play with another. So time out works better.

We did a really helpful parenting course called Toolbox. It has some great ideas for gaining cooperation and dealing with the hot spots. A couple of things you haven't mentioned are:

  • behaviour charts for reinforcing good behaviour.
  • Praise the good behaviour
  • Use of timer
  • Walking away until they ready to behaviour.
  • Acknowledge their feelings (Let them know that you know how they are feeling.)
  • Anticipate the trigger
  • Be consistent with the behaviour you expect

answered 24 May '10, 00:58

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edited 25 May '10, 00:36

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Scott ♦♦

We faced this recently, too, both at home and also overreacting to altercations at school with other kids. One strategy that worked really well for us was the good old "sticker chart." We made a chart together out of construction paper that marked off the days in a 7xN grid. Every day where he goes the whole day without any serious infractions (hitting us, shoving a kid at school, or doing anything else "bad" enough to merit a time-out), he gets to put a sticker in one of the squares. He loves this, it's fun and he feels really proud of his accomplishment. And whenever we fill a whole 7-column row with stickers, he gets to buy a toy of his choosing (up to $10). By about day 2 or 3 of the week, he's usually got something specific in mind, so he works really hard to make sure to have earned it in time and not delay when he can get it.

Of course this is combined with other post-facto discipline methods such as time-outs and losses of other privileges. But this is the component that helps him focus on preventing bad behavior, not merely regretting his actions after the fact.

Don't tell him, but this has the added bonus of completely eliminating the whining over wanting to acquire new toys every time we are in a store -- he knows he's 3 more stickers away, or whatever, and that there's no point in asking for it or whining for us to buy him something. So we're actually buying less stuff overall, and with no constant nagging. And when he does get the toy, he knows it's connected to his good behavior and feels great about it.

I'm sure it varies from kid to kid whether this approach will work, but for us things pretty dramatically improved within just a couple weeks of this.


answered 24 May '10, 21:13

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accept rate: 14%


+1 for finding a way to tackle the whining as well

(25 May '10, 00:15) Tammy ♦♦

Personal opinion warning! And, plus, this may seem really counter intuitive!

Fist let me say that I'm a hugh proponent of peaceful play, but... I think that sometimes when you're three, and you're words arn't very good yet, you really need to hit something.

I've always noticed that on the days when myself or my partner spend a lot of time wrestling with our kids when they are pre-schoolers we have a lot less discipline problems like you're experiencing. (Don't get me wrong, we have them here too, it's part and parcel of having a three year old!) Getting down on the floor with them and letting them get some of that agression and energy out in a safe, fun way seems to diffuse all those really big hard to deal with emotions that they just don't know how to deal with on their own. (Imagine not being able to explain that you're angry, or frustrated, or even being able to identify that that's what you're feeling. I think if I was in their boat, I might sock somebody too!)

Not that we don't have time-outs for shoving or hitting each other, just fewer on the days when we've let them go at us in fun for as long as they want, which is a long, long time! I really do think a three year old is where they got the idea for the energizer bunny! (I also have an unfair advantage, when I get tired, I call one of my teenage sons and in their words "Toss them to the wolf cubs!" Hah! The advantages of my inability to space my kids in any coherent way just keep growing!)

One of those toy tool benches that they can smack the heck out of helps sometimes too.

On the plus side, it's a completely normal phase that most of us grow out of when we learn to use our words. Or run into another kid who hits us back and we suddenly make that connection that holding our temper and using our words just may be a really good idea! Just like Mom and Dad have been saying.


answered 25 May '10, 07:47

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accept rate: 30%

I wouldn't call this personal opinion, just personal experience, which is always welcome! ;)

(26 May '10, 01:34) Scott ♦♦

When we've exhausted all the usual remedies you've suggested, we physically restrict them.

This is probably controversial as it can be considered a form of corporeal punishment, but we try to make it as simple, safe, and understandable for them as possible:

"You're not allowed to hit people. If you can't use your arms or legs well, then we won't let you use them for a little while."

If they continue, then we sit down, put them on our lap, and (gently!) hold their arms or legs. They can still move a little, we don't hold them hard enough to prevent wriggling, just enough so they can't hit us or those around them. We never use other restraints - just our lap and our hands and arms.

It usually only takes 5-15 seconds of this before they give in and say they won't hit people again.

Of course, it may happen again and again, but we've found that they usually only need a warning after a few punishments like this. The immediate physical restriction seems to work well, and we don't have to resort to spanking or other corporeal punishment.

The root problem seems to be lack of communication. When this has happened we spend the time trying to understand why they are mad, helping them say the reason they are mad out loud (so they know the words to use), and affirming their desire for happiness, while explaining that sometimes things don't go the way they want them to. When applicable, we help them understand what to say to others when they are stuck in this position again, "Please don't take my toy," "How long until it's my turn," etc.

Three years old seems to be a somewhat tricky age because they have a hard time vocalizing their wants/needs, but they aren't old enough that normal non-corporeal punishments have much effect. They don't associate the punishment received later (no games for a week) with the bad behavior, and consequences have no meaning unless they are immediate, and often physical.

We focus on communication, and trying to give them the tools to talk through their problems rather than fighting through them. It seems to work faster and seems better in the long run than many other things we've tried, but we haven't had to go this far with all our boys, and we work really hard when they are 1-2 years old to talk through problems.


answered 25 May '10, 15:32

Adam%20Davis's gravatar image

Adam Davis
accept rate: 31%


+1, yup, been there done that too! Sometimes the only way small people can get their emotions back under control is with physical help from their big people.

(26 May '10, 04:13) Neen
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Asked: 22 May '10, 22:51

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Last updated: 25 May '10, 15:32