ihave3kids asks:

Why is my 2 year old son so mean?

I have a 5yr old dghter, 2 (3 in april) yr son and almst 1 yr old son.  My 2 yr old has become so mean to everyone.  He used to be the sweetiest little boy anyone could ask for. But within the last few months things have turned to ugly All he ever seems to want to do is what hes not supposed to do.  He hits both his siblings constantly. He runs around yelling "I'm mean Batman" or "im mean spiderman".  I dont understand this because he doesnt watch these kinds of movie or shows.  Im not sure where the idea came from. When I tell him to do or dont do something he ignores me. When i phisically make him stop by pulling him away from whatever or whoever he is hurting he just pulls away from me and tries to do it again or runs off to find something else to do hes not supposed to. I am a parent that believes in spanking but i try to use other means of disapline first so I have tried talking with him about the things he does and how it affects the people hes doing it to.  Ive explained it hurts his bro and sis when he throws things or hits them. doesnt seem to matter to him 30secs later. Ive tried time outs in seperate room, on another piece of furniture from everyone else, and as my peditrician recommends time out in the corner and have also even tried the spanking. I really dont want to spank him because i feel like that reinforces to him that hitting is ok. His father started a new job out of town 5mnths ago and my sister replaced his old babysitter(live in).NE advice would b appr
In Topics: Discipline and behavior challenges
> 60 days ago



Boys Town National Hotline
Feb 25, 2009
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What the Expert Says:

I wish I had a magic answer for you!  It sounds like you are very frustrated in dealing with your son not getting along with his siblings, and not following your instructions.  Since you have already been trying to use consequences for his inappropriate behaviors, you may want to consider looking at the antecedents—what happens before the behavior occurs.  Ask yourself, the 5 questions of “Who, What, When, Where and Why?”  Through your observations of his behavior and an evaluation of his environment, you might be able to evaluate what is causing your son’s problems.  

1. Who is he interacting with, how are they responding to him?  What may have changed in his relationships, or time spent with others?  
2. What has changed in the environment?  What is going on in the home or in his life when he misbehaves?
3. When does he act out?---are there certain times of the day or week?  Is he tired, hungry, sad, or anxious about something?
4. Where does his misbehavior occur?—at home or in public?
5. Why is he acting this way now?  Is this a developmental phase that he is going through? Is there any physical problem that is affecting him?

Once you have evaluated the situation, you may want to consider the following:
1. Give your son a lot of positive attention—hugs, positive messages. See if that prevents the negative behaviors from occurring.   Sometimes kids will act out just to get the attention.  I am sure the other 2 kids keep you busy; he may be a kid that needs extra reassurance and attention from you.
2. Do something individual with each child and make sure that you are unable to be interrupted by the other one.  Avoid distractions, relax and enjoy your kids as individuals.
3. Consistent schedules are huge to kids at this age; make sure that you are keeping a familiar routine in the home.
4. Catch him being good--praise him when he is getting along and being nice to others.

My guess is that the change in your husband’s job, a new babysitter, and a younger sibling that needs attention due to his age, are all impacting your son’s behaviors.  Frequently, sibling rivalry is caused by jealousy or competition for your attention.  He is at a challenging age as well, so try some positives along with the consequence.  Consistency, understanding and affection from you may be just what he needs right now.  Please let us know if these ideas are helpful or if you need additional input--hang in there!
Kris, Boys Town National Hotline

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Additional Answers (1)

Hand in Hand
Hand in Hand , Teacher, Caregiver, Parent writes:
Dear Parent:

You have been so observant and thoughtful in trying to figure out how to help your son. Good for you for watching carefully what the results have been when you've tried various strategies. And I think you have hit the nail on the head regarding spanking: it does teach children that grownups think hitting is OK. It adds to the tension they feel, rather than resolving that tension so they can play well.

The kind of change you've seen in your son can easily be brought on by added stress. The two changes you mentioned--his Daddy being gone much more, and his babysitter leaving--are likely to be part of the reason his personality seemed to change. Both events mean that he has lost a sense of connection with people he counts on.

When that vital sense of connection and safety frays, children's minds don't work well any more. It's kind of an on-off switch: when they feel connected, they can feel your love and caring, and they can play well and be relaxed. When they lose that sense of connection, their behavior shouts that they can't tell they're loved, can't tell that they love anyone, can't tell that people are on their side. This is true of all children. They don't turn "bad." They (sometimes in an instant) lose a vital sense of safety and closeness, and that loss fills their minds with an undercurrent of fear and/or grief. It's fear that drives children to be aggressive and mean. Your little guy has been scared by the changes in your family. And his behavior is signaling that he's been jostled out of touch with the love you offer.

Here's how to help him feel connected again. As soon as you see the first hint of this kind of behavior, move close, put your arms around him, and gently say, "Son, I can't let you do that." Be warm, but firm. Set the limit by enclosing him, not tightly, to prevent him from hitting or hurting. Keeping him loosely in your arms will probably do. Then, offer eye contact, and stay with him. He'll want desperately to get away. He'll begin to fight you, most likely. He will scream. He might sweat. He won't cry tears, but will enter into the "fight" response that has been stored inside him, causing behavioral trouble. Stay with him. Let him fight and struggle, but keep yourself safe. Give him room to battle. He's letting out the fear response that is directly tied to losing contact with the people he has counted on. It will be like trying to stay with a wild animal, because it's a very early part of the brain that stores fear. As he fights, that part of his brain is releasing tension.

Stay close, stay calm, and let this process run its course. He's draining a tension swamp as he struggles. You're pouring in warmth and connection. You pour in warmth, he pours out poison. You pour in reassurance, "I'm not mad at you, son. Stay here. There's no better place to be right now. You're safe here. I'm watching over you." And you listen to his outrage. Try to let him vent until he relaxes and realizes that he's safe in your arms, that there's no one out to get him, that you've been loving him the whole time.

This is challenging to do. That's for sure. But the rewards you'll get if you can manage to stay all the way through are enormous. A child feels loved. A child feels relaxed. A child feels lighthearted again. A child feels close to the person who listened, and to others, too. His mind unloaded that primitive "Yikes, I'm threatened, and I'm going to fight to the death if I have to" response to fear, and now, he's free to have fun and feel loved again.

Here's a link to a parent's report of handling a situation very much like yours. I hope it helps.

We have a booklet, Healing Children's Fears, that's part of a set of 7 called Listening to Children, available on our website below. It will fill in  the picture.
> 60 days ago

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