19 answers

2 Year Old with Self-harming Tantrums

My son will be 2 in June. We just moved into a new house, and my son is sick. Over the last week, his behavior is completely changing!

He found a stray pacifier and even though he never used one a day in his life, he insists on having it now when he is upset or tired. I let him have it and figure it’s no big deal.
He has always slept alone and we have always just laid him in his crib and left without any protest. Now, he screams for up to half an hour and throws tantrums when I even mention bed.
He has always been mischievous and curious, but very obedient. Now, he throws an all out tantrum if I ask him to do anything, and is flat out defiant.

His fits have evolved from simply crying to throwing himself on the floor and slamming his head into the tile. You can see that his impulse is to hit us, but he always thinks twice and slams himself into something instead. I think he just doesn't know ahead of time how bad it is going to hurt. Tonight, he was so mad that I put him to bed that he started flailing around and throwing himself into the wall. He then intentionally slammed his face into the headboard and put two teeth through his lip. Oddly enough, he cried “owie”, but continued to throw himself around until I turned on the light and took him out of his room.

I have laid off him completely to keep from provoking an unnecessary fight, and pick my battles, but even something as simple as me adding water to his juice (which I always do), or telling him I am going to change his diaper sets him off. I am giving him all the extra attention I can and am trying my best to word things in a way that will not anger him, but it’s like walking through a mine field.

What can I do to keep him safe? And how do I ride out this rough spot until he is comfortable in our new house and well again without allowing him to turn into a monster or run our house?

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What can I do next?

So What Happened?™

Thank you all for your help. I read the articles suggested, and learned that depression and anxiety can be an underlying cause for self-harming behavior. I definitely agree with this. My son has always had difficulty with his environment changing, and once he realized this house was HIS new house instead of just a place we are vacationing in, he flipped out. I am sure that a huge part of it is also that he is sick! I took him to the Dr. and found out he has pneumonia. Now, on antibiotics, he is almost back to normal. It is crazy how a child would inflict pain on himself as a way of dealing with other pain and stress in his life. Hopefully this doesn't mean he'll grow up to be a cutter.:-)

Again, thank you all for the tantrum advice, I will surely use it.
...and FYI, I know it is very controversial, but I did discover that a good swat on the butt when he is in an out of control tantrum stopped it immediately.

Featured Answers

I agree with all the posts... definitely I'd talk to the ped about it... but IMO a few solid swats to the rear sound called for!

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Hey M.! Not to freak you out or anything, but I just read an interesting article on tantrums off of Web Md....thought I would pass it along!
http://children.webmd.com/news/20071219/5-tantrum-red-flags. Good luck to you!

More Answers

Moving they say is very stressful on children, even that young. My son was just about two when we moved out to WA and he started exhibiting the same behavior. So, may be the age, & the move. I would just pick him up and hold him with his back to me when he started to head bang or hurt himself. I guess it seemed like restraining him in a way, because he definitely did not want to be held. And I did not want anymore injuries, so that's what I did. (just making sure his head was not in front of my face, in case he threw it back). It was very challenging and took a lot of my strength and patience, so I'm sure if you have other children it would be even more difficult. Then I would just repeat in a calm voice "when you calm down, you can get up." It took 45 minutes plus the first few times before he got that he had to calm down. It is extremely tough, but it did eventually work, and it seemed he just outgrew that phase. Hope this helps.

By the way, when researching and going to the pediatrician, niether said anything about something being "wrong" with my child. Just to try and protect against injury. He is fine now, and as far as someone saying that at 2 if you hurt yourself once, you wont do it again. WHAT? Cause and effect when you are upset at 2 is not there.

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I am wondering if some of this might be due to your moving and he's not happy about it so he's acting out to let you know. I would not give a two-year-old a pacifier if they have never used one before, he's old enough to self-soothe without it and has found his own ways long ago. Also, I personally, do not interact with or hold my child while she's throwing a fit, this is also rewarding her for bad behavior because that's what she's wanting me to do. When it hurts, they will stop (unless there are developmenental, chemical or severe emotional issues). I remind her that her behavior is unacceptable and if she wants something, she needs to talk to me and stop throwing a fit and under no circumstances do you give them what they are throwing a fit about, if you do, you will lose the battle. Remember, THEY are training US as much as we are trying to teach them. When they throw a fit and you give in, they have learned that that's how they get what they want and will continue to do it even more. Remember, YOU are the adult and don't let your two-year-old run your house. Also, using timeout for throwing fits works; one minute for each year. When they get up, put them back and keep doing it until they sit still. No talking or interacting. As far as hurting himself, I would give him the necessary medical attention, but I would not cuddle and soothe for a self-inflicted injury, this teaches him that if he hurts himself then he gets attention. If it keeps up, I would definitely talk to your pediatrician. There is also a book out called "The Happiest Toddler on the Block" that has some great ideas.

I am not a parenting expert or a medical professional so my post here is purely from my own experiences in raising my two children.

BTW, My children are 5 and soon-to-be 18. Both are wonderful, well-adjusted, smart, creative, loving kids.

Good luck!

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Some kids really have a difficult time with change. Moving into a new house can be very stressful and your son is too young to understand his anxiety, so he is doing the only thing he knows how to do which is throwing a huge tantrum. My middle son hates change also. He is 15 and we recently moved from CO to OR. He was sick 2-3x's a week for 6 months! He was not faking, he simply couldn't handle the stress of moving so he had migraines and every bug he came into contact with. He is much better now (1 1/2 years later) but he still misses CO. When he was little starting at age 2, every time we went on a vacation, he would get sick with a fever and throwing up. I am telling you this so that you will understand how strong his stress is. He can not help his fears, they will go away with time but for right now they are overwhelming. I would suggest several practicle things:
Spend as much mommy time with him as possible. Go to new Parks, go to McDonalds for an ice cream or french fries, go to the local library. If you can't leave the home then take the next month or so and just be with him. Color pictures, read books together, wrestle on the floor with him, go for walks, watch a movie together. I know this isn't easy but I think it will help. Unpacking can wait, the dishes can wait. As a mother with older kids, I look back and wonder where the time went. Believe me, having a messy house for a month or so won't hurt. And it such a small amount of time over the course of his life.
Make sure he has a night light. His new room is big and scary. I really liked the idea of a fish tank with a light. I would go to the pet store, look at the fish and implement a reward system. Tell him that if he can go to bed for one night without throwing a fit, that you will go back to the store tomorrow and buy the tank, night 2 with no fit and the tank gets water, night 3 and he gets a fish ect. Be sure to keep bed time the same every night and have a bed time rutine. This is particularly important with kids who don't like change. Doing the same thing every night gives him security. If you can't aford a fish tank then find some other reward system that focuses on rewarding good behavior and not discipling bad behavior all of the time.
I have never allowed my kids (I have 4, ages 18-6) to throw a fit during time outs. They are to go to the time out place and sit quitely for the alotted time. If they cry (not whimpering but loud crying) then they either lost a privledge (usually dessert or movie time) or got a swat on the bottom. Tell him very firmly that he is not allowed to cry or throw himself on the floor, if he does then imediately deal with it using consequences that you deem appropiate (many people don't like spanking. Half of the battle is finding something that is important enough for him to behave well for. It sounds like he may not respond well to pain, so reward, reward, reward. This can be as simple as a great big hug and telling him how much you appreciate his obedience, or even an M&M when time out is over. Adults go to work because they get paid, bribery when raising kids is a powerful tool and you only use it for a short time as they do eventually grow up and move out!
Every time he disobeys or starts to throw a fit tell him to stop and make sure there is a consequence. Again finding something that he values is often a big struggle. Make sure your husband is on the same page as you, if he can get away with something when daddy is home, he will. Being consistant in your discipline is very important, don't let him get away with a fit because you are tired. He needs boundaries and structure, it will help him feel safe.
Also, make sure you are getting time to yourself on a weekly basis. This is emotionally draining to you and in order to be a better mommy, you need a break.
Hope some of this helps, I know it's not easy!

1 mom found this helpful

I agree with all the posts... definitely I'd talk to the ped about it... but IMO a few solid swats to the rear sound called for!

1 mom found this helpful

Ouch, what an agonizing situation for you all! Beau and Erica give perfect advice. Restrain your child lovingly and firmly and with quiet patience. This is more than likely a phase as he grows toward a need for more control over his own circumstances. It will more than likely pass.

I'd add that for both my daughter, and now my grandson, being given as much autonomy as we are able to arrange can be helpful. It is frustrating having big people always telling you what to do and when to do it, and at that age, frustration is overwhelming. Find ways to give him as much free time and as many choices as possible. Be pleased for him when he makes decisions that you can approve of – and this may take some training on your part to notice.

You can always be in charge. But find room in that rubric for your son to believe he is sometimes in charge. This won't spoil him as long as you quietly and calmly require that he follow the truly necessary rules. And following those rules may become less of an issue if he's not always frustrated.

Hang in there, mama - this too shall pass. If it doesn't begin to shift soon, look into possibilites of pain, chronic illness, environmental chemicals like food additives and household cleaners, or even toiletries.

Hey M.! Not to freak you out or anything, but I just read an interesting article on tantrums off of Web Md....thought I would pass it along!
http://children.webmd.com/news/20071219/5-tantrum-red-flags. Good luck to you!

A couple of things come to mind: Change. You just changed his whole world. By moving into a new and different home his whole world is not safe and secure in his mind, like the home before where he knew every nook and crany. It's different. His way of communicating (acting out) is screaming, kicking and throwing a tantrum. Do you like change? I don't like change - especially when I'm comfortable with what I have and going on around me.

2nd thing - with his room. Have you asked him why he doesn't want to go to bed? Do you like your room? What's the matter with your room? Maybe something in there is bothering him?

3rd thing - He also may just pushing your buttons....seeing how far he can push you. Testing the boundaries. It's hard to stay consistant. But consistantcy works and it's routine and it's secure. My son will try to throw a tantrum and I either laugh at him or mimick him or just ignore it. If he tries to get your attention by attaching himself to you while crying and such - then walk away and tell him to go to his room to cry. "I don't/want need to hear it. You can talk to me when you calm down, there is no reason for this." and such. You communicate with your son in your own way. We also do time outs too. sometimes we use the chair, but we found "Nose to the wall". My son goes to his "Place" stands there until I tell him he's done. Then he goes and does what he is suppose to do. I don't have him there for very long, just long enough that it breaks his attention and I re-gain control. But yes, you need to re-gain the control before he does. Good luck - it will/should get better. Stay strong.

Also - remember to always follow through. If you use the counting 1, 2, 3-getup and follow through. By following through you show your child you mean what you say and are consistant.

Maybe an idea would be to make his new room special... by painting a scene or something on it. Maybe he could be in on that process.. We painted our 2 year olds room in a jungle theme and now when she goes to bed she has to kiss the monkeys and wave to the giraffe. When she fusses I tell her that not only will she wake up her sisters... (Not a big deal in her eyes) but that she'll wake up her bedroom "friends" as well. She's talks with them sometimes at night, and we can refer to them if she gets scared etc. etc. It may sound a little cheezy, but it really worked for us. If it's any consolation, all 3 of my kids went through a weird sleeping phase around 2 years old so hopefully this too shall pass. I'm thinking that if he has his own special space, then maybe he'll feel secure in his new home and some of the tantrums will subside as well as an easier bedtime. Just a thought. Good luck!

Well it sounds like the terrible 2's. On I have a older daughter then my son. My daughter went through them fine,my son on the other hand. WOW what a difference. I was always about to pull my hair out. I would sit in the chair after they were in bed and just cry. I know we think that there is no end BUT when he sees that you are not feeding into the tantrums he will come down on his own. It does take a while, but if you just stay with your same routine he will do the changing. I hope you keep your sanity. Good luck it WILL get better.

Just give it some more time. Sick babies act so different from normal and change is sometimes very difficult for them. I have to small kids and go through this every time one is sick. Fits, crying, acting out(breaking things, banging head on wall,saying terrible things) and generally turning into a monster. I still reprimand them and mostly put them in time out. I think the biggest thing is to make sure they get sleep and drink water... and when they are better you will see your sunshine again. The binky will go away too eventually, but 2 1/2 really is still a baby and chewing and sucking is still a reflex for them. Hang in there!

Terrible twos? My daughter is 2 & learning to throw tantrums. Not as severe. If you just moved recently, my suggestion would be to just hug him close when he starts a tantrum. My 2nd son did the same thing the first time we moved. We would hold him close, reassured him that this is our home now & we'd be ok. However, we couldn't give in totally, because they figure out how they need to act to get what they want. So, try a little camfort & understanding, but stick to the schedule.

Karen S. has an excellent point! I would certainly check in to what what done in this house prior to you moving in. I would also suggest an appointment with your Pediatrician right away. This does not seem like typical behavior especially since you say you've seen such a drastic change in the last week. Something is not right. Good luck.

I love the book "Making the Terrible Twos Terrific" by John Rosemond. He gives a lot of great, common-sense ideas and strategies for regaining control, and he is funny to read. Good luck!

This is beyond not getting used to a new house. Something is WRONG. Take him to a DR NOW. Usually a child will do the tantrum thing and when they hurt themselves in doing it, they learn from it and not harm themselves again. Your child keeps hurting himself, badly I might ad. PLEASE TAKE HIM TO A DR.

Hi M. - Please take your son to the doctors as soon as you can. there could be a lot of medical reasons for him harming himself. It's not normal for a child to hurt themselves and then to continue to do it again and again. My son will throw a tantrum, but if he has ever hurt himself it stops. I really think it would be a good idea to get him looked at (ie neurosurgeon) I don't want to scare you, but my friend's son was doing that as well, and it turned out that he had a tumor in his head and Asperger's (which is a high functioning form of Autism). However, it could just be what someone else said and that he is in the "terrible Two's" (which I actually thought it was worse when they were 3, but that may just be me!!), and he's testing you. That's why I suggest the drs. Good Luck, L.

RE; someone saying kids don't understand cause and effect

Sorry, at 2 they do understand that if they hit themselves it hurts. They understand that if they hit someone else it hurts. They understand that if they are running and trip, it hurts. And my son understands that if he hits me or someone else, he's going in time-out. THAT'S why I said that it didn't seem "right".

This is what the terrible two's are about. I wanted to pad all the walls in my house from the waist down because my daughter did this too. I wanted to put her in football pads and a helmit with a mouth piece. Looking back I think alot of it had to do with the pain of teething. If I didn't give her motrin right before I gave her a nap she woke up trying to slam her head in to everyhting to relieve the pain. If I gave her the motrin all was fine. Her favorite thing during this very hard teething period while she got her molars was a vibrating/massaging star by first years, I would stick it in the freezer when I put her down for a nap and give it to her when she got up. I don't know what else to tell you other than I had to weather alot of that behavior, teething was just part of it. In hind sight I would have bought the football helmit, they have chin straps than snap that little ones can't get off. He could throw hinself all he wants that way and his head and mouth should be safe. Boys also are usually more aggresive than girls. Maybe after you feel you have given him enough time to adjust you might just have to start fighting your battles again. If he can steam roll you now it will be even worse for you as he gets older. I reccomend the site Loveandlogic.com.

There are a few different things that can cause this behavior in your son. The move,a phase, illness, or just trying you and pushing the limits. When my son was about that age he would do the same thing and it was a combination of these, though he did get worse if he was sick. I suggest taking him in to the dr and have him checked out and discuss the behavior with him/her. Our pediatrician told me that one of these days he would realize it hurts and will stop (he would throw himself backwards to the ground and also hit, kick the walls too). HE did outgrow this!! My son hated (and still does)sleeping by himself and hates the dark. Being a new surrounding, maybe your boy is experiencing some fears/anxieties. We did a fishtank with a light and it helped the bedtime issue. Watching the fish seem to have a calming effect. For the behvior in general, be consistant and dont cave in. When he has calmed down explain to him that it is not ok to act that way and show him the consiquences (his owie, or loss of something). Let him know that you love him but his behavior makes you sad and it hurts your feelings (little ones usually dont like it if mommy is sad or if they hurt their feelings). So basically find the cause of the outbursts and dont let him run the house. Oh yes, it is much easier if you and hubby use the same tactics!! I would lay down the law and send him to his room till he was done, and his dad would get in his face duringthe outburst. My son responded better (and still does) if you let him calm down then talk to him (but his dad never got that through his head till now and my son is 10).
Hang in there I know how difficult it is!!!!!

it sounds like he could be extremely sensitive emotionally, and this is of course physical too,as we are all reactive entirely to any experiences. but he's so bent outa shape at the moment that he doesn't feel pain ...adrennelin..? maybe as a very young person, he hasn't incorporated coping skills yet to these very uncomfortable emotions. it seems that anger is overwhelming. also, there is that "terrible twos" rebellious stage... what is his diet? sugar and white bread, and refined foods can wreak havoc for behavior in not just kids! and other food allergies can contribute to extreme irritability. have you held him on your lap and asked him about how he feels at these times? or why he gets so upset..and how you could help him? a code word, like"grasshopper" to say to him when he begins to flip out may sorta work sometimes... but this sounds like perhaps going to a psycologist (child) with him to talk about it might help him. i hope you can find a solution, it sounds very difficult. yrs. K., a mom of 22 yr. old triplets and 3 other sons.

The only thing I can think of is CHOICES. My son throws fits as well, he hasnt hurt himself more then bonks and bumps though. The one thing that prevents tantrums is choices. I rarely TELL him to do something, but make choices like "do you want to put on your pjs and THEN read a story, or read the story FIRST and then put on the pjs?" That way, things get done but he feel like it was HIS idea. Like with the Juice, "should I put the water in first or the juice?" It usually works like a charm. Good Luck, Jen
p.s. The move probubly really upset him, changed his environment and his routines. He needs lots of one on one time, and fun new things to do in the new house. When we moved, my son hated the house, but as we were getting things in we talked excitedly about his NEW room, how much more space he had for toys (we could build train tracks in his room) and all the other NEW perks. It seemed to work well for us.

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