When does the hitting stop?

I will be the first to admit that as my daughter gets older my expectations change and I find it harder and harder to tolerate some behaviors. I have to continually remind myself that my daughter is only four and that she still needs lots of emotional and behavioral support. I recently read Peaceful Parents, Happy Kids and found it really helpful in putting my daughter’s difficult behaviors into perspective and giving me some tools to handle my own reactions (I promise to write more on this book later, in my new space).

My daughter is what the parenting books call “spirited.” She’s also pretty smart, intellectually, and can be frustrated that her emotional maturity is not up to par with other ways she processes things. At four years old she still struggles (mightily) with disappointment and we’re still working through the best ways to process her big emotions when she doesn’t get her way.

I honestly don’t mind tantrums. I don’t mind yelling, or flailing on the ground. Obviously I don’t enjoy these behaviors but they don’t push my buttons. They don’t leave me seeing red.

The stuff I do mind? Aggression, specifically when it’s calmly and cooly directed at me. When my daughter hits me, or spits at me or even sticks her tongue out at me with a face that says, “oh yeah, I’m doing this right now, and what are YOU going to do about,” it makes my blood boil. When my daughter is physically aggressive toward me I totally lose my shit.

The good news is I’m WAY better about extracting myself from the situation and walking away. I try to stay and be with her but if I start to see red I leave, and I forgive myself for needing to do so.

We talk about it later. I don’t come back until I can be there for my child in a supportive and forgiving way. Sometimes that takes a while. Sometimes she’s alone, on the floor, screaming for several minutes, until I can pull myself together and come back.

I’m getting better at this, but I have to admit, my patience for this willfully aggressive behavior is wearing thin, really thing, threadbare, actually. At four years old, I KNOW she knows not to hit and I guess I have the expectations that she can use the YEARS of coaching and do overs and play acting we’ve done to practice responding differently to good use. If she has the presence of mind to look at my in the way she does before she does it, she should have the presence of mind to stop herself from doing it. The older she gets, the less tolerance I have for this behavior. At this point, when she hits me or kicks me or scratches me or spits at me, I have a REALLY hard time holding it together or showing empathy. I’m starting to wonder if this kind of behavior is “normal” for a kid her age. Should we be looking for outside support on these things? When does the hitting stop?

(I want to add that while it rare for her to direct this kind of aggression toward her peers, she does blow up at school occasionally and twice so far this year we’ve gotten two reports of her hurting other children. Also, she has never acted aggressively toward her brother, but she also doesn’t interact with him much in ways that would upset her. Mostly she acts out when she is denied something she wants, so it generally happens with us.)

If you have any advice or suggestions, I’d really appreciate it. I’m at the end of my rope.

4 responses

  1. I saw this essay after I read your post and it made me think of your situation (and mine – very familiar in my house this week): http://www.brainchildmag.com/2014/05/idle-threats/

    No great advice. D is doing similar things, and I have a very hard time with the defiance and impulsivity right now. He’s gone to bed early and lost privileges twice this week for not listening, hitting us, etc. We try 123 Magic. We have a behavior chart and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. Sending you commiseration and a hug.

  2. I seriously read this while I was hiding from C because the hitting, pinching, and hair pulling was about to send me over the edge this afternoon. I know our girls are at different stages, but I can totally commiserate on your seeing red and just being totally fed up with it. The only thing I have to suggest would be trying some diet changes- artificial dyes are a big behavior trigger in some kids. sending hugs, friend.

  3. When does it stop? wish I knew! I will say—I know the experts say to “be there for them” and “help them through it”, but to some extent, I think leaving the situation briefly, and letting them know why, and that they are hurting you and you won’t allow it, teaches an important lesson. That yes, I still love him, but he has to show at least THAT degree of respect to not hit me. That it is NOT OK. (I read something that said to hug them and tell them its OK). Because if you don’t do that now, how about 5 years from now? 10? When they are bigger than you? It HAS to stop, and new ways to control emotion need to be developed. And the only way they can develop them, despite all the role-playing and modeling, is when they are FORCED to because you won’t allow the other option.
    Reading back over this, it sounds really harsh, and I don’t FEEL harsh when I’m being abused like that, I feel broken & helpless, and part of me thinks its easier to sit there and take it, but I don’t think that sends the message I want to send.

  4. I think I’m the harshest one here. I believe the last time my daughter hit me was when she had just turned three. I felt like we were done with it– or should be –at that point. Like you I felt like we had done a lot to cope with it in kinder more forgiving ways. When she hit me that last time when she was three though (with the deliberate affect you describe) we had a big “come to Jesus” moment about hitting mommy and daddy. Basically made it very clear that meant instant punishment for her and we didn’t hide how angry we were. This probably comes out of my background in dog training. I try my best to avoid anything that may be degenerating into nagging since that just leads to escalation of both behavior and response, continual boundary pushing, and frustration for all of us. So when I’ve had it and she should know better and it is something I think of as a big deal, the response is instant and not really kind or forgiving (we don’t spank, but I will yell, get big, project severe disappointment, and go to a very strict time out). However we do always make a big deal of talking about it later and showing love and forgiveness then. I do recognize this style is not for everyone, and as a disclaimer I do not read parenting books, which I’m sure would tell me I’m doing it wrong :). But it worked for us, she does not ever try to purposefully get violent with us ever since then (she is 4 now). Also worked with being gentle to animals and at an earlier age, biting.

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