Wednesday, August 15, 2012

That Kid

Peeper's tendency to hit her friends (have I mentioned this?) is something we've been struggling with for a while, but she was in rare form at the MOMS Club meeting today.

First, she stepped on little H's chest ("she was in my way, I stepped on her to get by" rather than stomping, but it was intentional), then she slammed the roof of the dollhouse down on a 2 1/2 year old boy's hand(s?).

We were already adjourned, and that's when I should have just left, but I felt like we should help clean up, and I needed to count the school supplies that we were collecting for the local women's shelter, so I didn't.

Then she tried to "hug" H (after asking her - that's progress, right? - and being told "no"). From the back, around the neck, while lifting.

She spent the rest of the time in a chair in the corner while I repacked school supplies, but then I heard that at some point, she'd hit a six-year-old boy on the head with a drumstick. ("I like to play drums.")


I take personal responsibility for the fact that she was starving, and therefore probably cranky (Altho I gave her the damn muffin she asked for for breakfast, and it was still sitting on her desk when we left. Also, not that it's any sort of excuse), and for not leaving immediately after the first or second incident.

I was really torn between just leaving (I've had to do that twice recently - at A's cookout on July 4 and at the bubble party last week), and helping to clean up, especially since she's the one who'd dumped out all the Legos. I realize now that the other moms probably would have rather cleaned up without our help than have her around their kids for any longer than necessary.

As you can imagine, she and I talked about it a lot today, and I was able to get some information out of her about what exactly happened and her motivations, none of which excuse her behavior, of course, but at least knowing where she's coming from might help us to help her to change the behavior.

We also talked a lot about ways that she can use her words instead of her body to express her feelings, whether positive ones or negative, and that she needs to respect other kids' space and their "no" when they don't want to be touched or hugged.

Of course, I felt pretty stupid when I told her for the zillionth time, "You have to ask for a hug, and if they say no, you have to respect that," and she asked, "Mama, what does 'respect' mean?"

Sigh. Again.

I have told her that if she asks for a hug and the other kid says no  that she can use her words to tell them "goodbye" or "hello" or "I love you" or whatever she was trying to communicate, and I've told her that if she just needs a hug, that she can always come get one from me, and that probably any of the other moms would be willing to give her one, too.

We've also talked about not only the nice way to ask other kids for things, ("May I please have that when you're done?" "Excuse me" etc) but also that if she doesn't get the desired response, she can stomp her foot if she needs to, and say "That makes me mad!" (or sad or frustrated or jealous) instead of hitting.

 I've also asked her to please come and tell me "I want to hit" so I can help her through that feeling without it actually happening.

To maybe help her with controlling her impulses, I talked to her about how she's "the boss of her hands" and she can make them do all sorts of great things, and so she can also make them not hit.

(I just came up with that, and then in doing some online research about this, I came across that exact thing - even using that language. Go me!)

I've also told her, point blank, that this kind of behavior can get her or our whole family kicked out of MOMS Club if it doesn't stop.

But, she's still not-quite-four, and still has very little impulse control, and it's going to take a while for her to learn to react calmly - or even with "mad words" - instead of physically, so Shrike and I have also come up with a few strategies that we hope will minimize the opportunities for her to be aggressive with the other kids.

For starters, to the extent that Shrike' work schedule allows, I'm going to leave Peeper home for both board and general meetings, since I tend to be concentrating on business, and supervising her less closely, and it's a lot harder to just pick up and leave, because I need to be there.

For other activities, I'm going to (continue to) talk to her on the way there about how to play nicely and use her words, and make an effort to watch her more closely when she's playing, not only to hopefully stop her before she actually hits anybody, but also to "catch her being good" and say something when I see her being nice or she does use words instead of hands, and if she does get aggressive, we will leave.

What I've done in the past is the first time she does something, I've made her come sit with me for a while before she can go back and play, talked to her about it, had her apologize to the kid and parent, and told her that if anything else happens, we'll have to leave. Twice I've had to leave.

If that doesn't help (or if my fellow board members - whose kids she was terrorizing today - prefer), I will go to a zero-tolerance policy on it, and we'll leave the first time she hits someone.

For now, I think it's probably better if we avoid the 0-3 age group activities, because she really is too old for that group (and will be graduating from it soon) and it does tend to be the younger kids that she's being aggressive with, whether it's because that's just who she's around more, or she finds it harder to "use words" with kids who aren't yet as verbal (although you'd think that H's "NO!" would be pretty clear) or that she's got more sense than to whack a kid twice her size (or maybe not - she seems to have no qualms about drumming on T's head!)

Oh, I will also try to remember to scan the premises for drumsticks and put them away. I swear, every time she gets one in her hand, she ends up hitting someone on the head with it. I asked her "Are you trying to hurt them, or are you just trying to play drums?" and she said, "I'm trying to play drums."

Soooo, cue conversation about acceptable things to drum on. Starting with "Not your friends' skulls!" At least she can do less damage to the big kids!

If necessary, we'll take a break from attending any playgroups, or from taking her to mom-centric things, etc, that are mostly "free play" for the kids and just stick to the more structured activities, like crafts and tours and such, and I'll attend other things solo.

Shrike and I have an (already scheduled) appointment with Dr. T. on Monday, and you can bet this will be on the agenda. Hopefully between her psychological training and her parenting experience, she'll have some good advice for us.

And, to be honest, I'm also going to ask her whether we should take Peeper to talk to one of her colleagues who deals with kids; maybe they can figure out what this is all about.

Oh, and I'm going to try to remember to carry some sort of snacks with me, to avoid her being hungry, which can't help the situation.

I sure hope it works.


  1. Long time reader (my daughter is almost the exact same age). Just reading your post it sounds like you are working really hard to talk your way through the problem and try and reason with your daughter ... and I'm wondering if just maybe it's a little too complicated for her? That it might just be easier to say no hugs, no hitting, no drums, etc. until she's old enough to differentiate a bit more. My daughter is also super verbal, but it doesn't necessarily mean that she understands fine differences in context. We had issues with my daughter not being gentle with her brother (definitely deliberate behavior on her part in specific situations) and we had to go with an absolutely no to certain behaviors (picking him up, for one, which was really about rough hugs) and it helped a lot. Anger and aggression are totally normal at this age, but maybe a clearer set of yes/no guidelines would help? This is not meant to be a criticism at all as you are clearly working on the issues, just some thoughts from our experience. And hopefully you can figure out a way to keep attending playgroups.

  2. Well, as you can imagine, we've definitely said "no hitting" and I do try to find and hide the drumsticks at A's house (where it's happened before) but maybe we need to put away her drum and sticks for now, and you make an excellent point about "no hugs" versus "ask before hugging." That probably is a bit too complex for her.

  3. Oh the joys of almost 4 year olds. I have to have a strict no policy as well with mine on certain things, who is a month younger than Peeper. But it is only at home with her brother, where things tend to get out of hand way faster than when we are in public settings. She has way less boundaries with him because he is one 1 and has none with her. It sounds like you are doing a really good job of talking to her and working through it. From my experience, it may take a little while, but you will find what works best for her and motivates her to not do those things she shouldn't be.

    I swear, I feel like our life is all threats and bribes, but it works for us. I make it clear before we get there if there is a behavior we are working through that if you do XYZ, we will have to leave. If I see her on her way to doing it, I give a warning usually in the manner of, OK D, I guess we are going to have to leave if you are going to act that way and physically start gathering our stuff, and that almost always stops it with one "threat". She knows I am serious. I can't tell you how many times I have carried her out of the grocery store threateining to go home because she wouldn't sit in the cart and she pleaded that she would and it all worked out.

    Also, you might talk to the MOM's group mothers and tell them, we are really working through this particular issue. Just a forewarning, but I may have to leave abruptly to make a point, and I am sorry that we won't be able to help clean up the mess...or something like that. They are moms of kids too so they will certainly understand. But it will help you feel better about leaving and not cleaning up. I have that same personal dilema sometimes.

    Good luck! Thankfully this is just a season!

  4. I'm glad to know that my kid isn't the only one doing this.

    Interestingly, other than some over-zealous hugging, which turned into tackles, she didn't do this sort of thing with J when she was here over the weekend.

    I think that, in part, she's more likely to hit the kids that she sees all the time, because she's more comfortable with them.

    A lot of the things I read yesterday talked about being more low-key about it, so they're not doing it for the reaction/attention it gets, and if it were two siblings, I would be comfortable doing that, but since she's hitting other people's kids in public, I feel like the other parents expect me to "do something," and even if I just remove her from the situation for a while and talk to her about it later, it looks like I "didn't do anything about it."

    On the other hand, I want to do what's best for her and most likely to work, not just what others think I should do or expect to see.

    I have talked to the others about it, so they know that we're working on it and what our plan is.

    In fact, this post is a slightly edited version of an email that I sent out to my fellow board members last night.

  5. It may also have something to do with who is or isn't around parentwise, the environment, like you said, or something else like that.

    My daughter has a cousin who she adores and the feeling is mutual between the two. Anytime this cousin comes over with her dad, there is almost always a knock down drag out fight that eventually ensues with hurt feelings and lots of being ugly to each other. I NEVER have any issues whatsoever if they just drop her off and I am the "parent".

    My other cousin and I have talked about this a lot and have come to the conclusion that there is only an issue when the dad is around b/c the dad babies her. So the cousin victimizes herself. She is 6 and mine is 3 1/2. Mine is actually really good at sharing. But when cousin comes over, she always decides that what she has isn't good enough and constantly tells on D for not sharing. The dad coddles her and makes the situation worse. Eventually my child will flat out refuse to hand over whatever item cousin is trying to claim. If it is just me there, I threaten to take said item away if they can't take turns sharing it so no one will be able to play with it and remind whoever isn't doing the sharing to take their turn, then please let the other have a turn. I get told usually ONE time that someone isn't sharing and use that response, and they seem to work it out on their own. But if the dad is there, he coddles, and even sort of mochs my daughter for being a "baby", and the cousin becomes relentless and it always ends horribly.

    Like you said, she may be more comfortable with the kids at mom's group. You also commented about the free play vs structred play. I suspect that at home, even if it is free play, it is far more supervised and structured than free play somewhere in public is, especially if you are distracted. She may know she can totally push the limits in those certain situations. The kids are too smart for their own good if you ask me! lol Being a mom to a strong willed child is one of the most humbling jobs I have ever had!


What say you?