Is My Toddler's Behavior Normal or Cause for Concern?

Updated on September 30, 2009
S.A. asks from Oviedo, FL
15 answers

My almost 2 1/2 year old son displays some behaviors that I have chalked up to just being a toddler but my husband thinks is a problem. I thought I would ask all of you for your opinion. When my son becomes mad, he'll look right at you and hit himself in the head with his hand. When we say, "No Hit" he'll then hit the table, the chair, etc., but keep on hitting. We have tried replacing this behavior by saying and modeling, "No hit, HUG!" and show him how to hug himself or hug us instead of hit but he goes back to hitting. Also, when he's mad, we correct him or even if we just "change our tone" with him he will yell at us. Not a specific word, just a "Yell!" but he'll keep doing it until he's redirected to something like a toy or TV. When he does this we say, "No yelling at mommy or daddy, it's okay to be mad but no yelling!" He'll typically just lower his tone but continue with the yell a few more times, as though he wants the "last word." I want him to be able to express himself but he needs to do it in an appropriate way. He attends pre-school 2 days a week and the teacher says he does the self-hitting and yelling in response to being disciplined there as well. Any suggestions? Is my son just being a 2 year old or should we be concerned?

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answers from Miami on

IGNORE IT! DOn't say anything or look in his direction. He is getting a rise out of everyone as any small child would do. Tell the teacher the same and it should go away in a few days.

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answers from Miami on

before going crazy over this a thought or two:

when you see him hitting, I would gently take his hand & say "No hitting!" but you've got to give him something ELSe. a Hug is 'nice' but the poor little guy is MAD, you know? imagine if you were mad & someone told you to hug?
so what i would do is actually NARRATE what he's going through: "You're MAD. MAD MAD MAD. So ANGRY that I reminded you that we do not throw things! Hmm...what CAN you throw (hit, etc- this is the chance to replace the behavior)? Well, you can ROLL a ball inside. You can ___"

Nonstop TALKING and NARRATING for him so he will have the words eventually and be able to express himself.

As for him yelling: again, he's trying to TELL you he's angry! What better way than to yell at you? You obviously get the point (heh heh), so give him the words. SHOW him how to emphasize, without yelling, his words to express that yes indeed he's MAD! try & get him to repeat what it is you think he wants to say. get silly. make 'serious' faces and show him he's MAD and how to SAY he's MAD.

He doesn't seem out of the norm- it seems to me he's just looking to adults to help him express himself...

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answers from Orlando on

Oh bless you! I totally understand your concern! My two year old daughter used to do this a few months back. I found that completely ignoring the incident and diverting her attention elsewhere did the trick and she has since ceased doing it!

Good luck!

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answers from Miami on

My son does do the hitting of his own face out of frustration and the hitting in general is even more normal. (Hence the terrible two stage) At this age they are testing you, this is a good time to start a consistent form of discipline. Just because he's hitting himself and not someone or something else does not mean that he should go without consequence. His actions are a form of a tantrum. I have started time out with my son. For the first two weeks it was difficult and would take an hour to just have him sit in the naughty corner for two minutes. Now, he knows that his actions result in consequence and the tantrums and harsh reactions to discipline have subsided. I have noticed that the timeout actually calms him now. Good luck with your little one !!

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answers from Orlando on

My guess would be that he's continued to act this way because you probably reacted quite strongly to it (and continue to do so) and he likes having this attention. Probably the best thing to do is completely ignore it.

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answers from Tampa on

It sounds like the repeated negative attention is reinforcing the behavior. If you ignore the behavior, he'll probably stop on his own. As long as he isn't a true danger to himself, I would tell him once and literally walk away.



answers from Gainesville on

Hi S.

I hjave a now 4 yr old boy . He would Stick his hands in his mouth like almost clawing his face when he got mad .. sounds pretty normal to me. He is FINE now if not great. good luck .



answers from Jacksonville on

I don't think his behavior is at all abnormal. My daughter will be 3 soon, and she used to do that also. It was only when she was disciplined. She would sometimes pull her hair. For the most part, she has stopped it on her own. She still gets mad, but she will kind of sream a little or put her hand in her mouth. We used to say to her something like, "please don't hit yourself baby. Be nice to yourself, you're our little girl and we don't want you hurt".

They just feel intense feelings and are so immature in the process of how to deal with those feelings. I really think the less of a deal you make of it, the more it'll wear off. Maybe you could take him outside and let him "run it off". I think kids have pent up energy, and if it's not released through enough play, it'll come out some other way.

I'm no psychologist, but I really think your son is just fine and trying to find his way of dealing right now. I think communication and empathy are 2 things to really emphasize.


answers from Fort Walton Beach on

It sounds to me like it's his way of communicating that he doesn't want to be disciplined. That's totally normal for a 2 y.o. Try to teach him some basic sign language... that will still be using his hands, but not in an aggressive sense. I wouldn't get too worked up over the yelling though... that is so normal. My kids try to yell at me all the time - but I make sure to nip it and discipline them for it. My son who is five, he yells for no reason. We have no idea why he does that, but we will discipline him for it because we don't act like animals.

Good luck (boys are so different LOL!)



answers from Tampa on

we rely on see if she can help you, very sane ways of handling things.k



answers from Orlando on

Totally normal! My daughter also went through a little phase around 13mos. A great book that has helped us is "The Happiest Toddler On The Block" I still reference it as she's getting older, now 23mos. it's aimed for 1-4 yr olds, very easy to read and great at teaching us how to understand and communicate w/ our toddlers! The biggest thing w/ the hitting is teaching them how to vent their frustrations, letting them know it's ok to be MAD MAD MAD! and Stomp their feet or clap their hands hard(instead of hitting themself or someone else)even let out a yell! It sounds silly, but it works! Get the book, you won't regret it! good luck!



answers from Tampa on

very good advice from Laura H!

I'm not a paid professional, but I am a former licensed home daycare, current preschool teacher of two year olds, mom of 3 (age 10 - 4), have past and current early childhood ed college credits, have my CDA teaching certificate and my daycare center director certificate.

So here's some of what I know on the subject:

Our brains are somehow wired to filter OUT the NEGATIVES we hear. Tell a child "don't hit" and they'll likely only hear "hit!"

These behaviors you speak of with your child are not desireable BUT ARE EXPECTED AND DEVELOPMENTALLY APPROPRIATE behaviors.

There are several methods to "deal with" hitting. Sometimes, parents have to try different methods. However, some experts say pick a method and stay consistent.

Modeling is best. I find the most effective thing to say is describing what hands ARE for: "hands are for smashing playdough" (then give playdough or something they CAN take aggressions out on). Kids simply HAVE TO get their emotions out and often in a physical way. They use their large muscles to get out frustration much like a man may take a jog to destress. A self-hug apparently is not doing the trick.

You could say "I see how mad/sad/frustrating that makes you. Do you want to jump until we're happy?" Or some other physical activity.

Not all two-year-olds can physically respond "in an appropriate way". Positive reinforcements sometimes help. For example, praises when he does reply in an "appropriate way", stickers, gummy bears, etc. Be careful of the "reward system" though: the moment you run out of said reward, he may regress because he's not "getting paid to behave".

The main thing is to stay consistent with your modeling, no negative descriptives, redirect, and most importantly in my opinion: prevent said situations if at all possible. Prepare him for situations that have been known to cause issues, keep him close by to prevent acting out, etc.

Couldnt hurt to keep an eye on his diet as well.

To be honest, when my kids were having "tantrums" or "melt-downs" at that age, I physically turned my back and let them finish without an audience. For some kids, even negative attention is good attention.

And as Laura suggested, be descriptive as possible when talking to them. They have only the vocabulary we give them. They dont know how to "use your words" or "behave appropriately" etc until we teach him this.

Also, it's not that you're giving him power if he does have "the last word." You're simply modeling to him that you will not participate in such an ugly interaction. "I'm not going to talk to you if you are going to act ugly. When you are ready to talk to me in this kind of voice, let me know and I'll have hugs for you."

My suggestion is to do internet research on the subject and contact coordinated child care ###-###-####) to get a free evaluation of his development and reactions.



answers from Tampa on

My youngest was about the same age when he did that as well. The attitude still hasn't stopped, but the hitting stopped. Personally, I think it is his personallity (both yours and my son's). Does he communicate well? Does he have any kind of speach or communication issues? If so, this could atribute to it. This is his way of communicating his anger and disagreement. It's rough to deal with, but he will start to grow out of it. No worries! Just keep constant with the punishment and repremands (sp).



answers from Boca Raton on

My 32-month-old will do similar things, especially when he's tired or hungry. He usually does it only with his dad or me. I'm no specialist, but I think it's normal toddler stuff. I have found (generally) that if he gets distracted with something in the midst of acting out, it tends to short-circuit the concerning behavior. My mother's intuition tells me that a lot of this is frustration on the toddler's part as well as his desire to exert some degree of control in his environment and life. If you or your husband are still concerned, maybe you could ask your pediatrician about it at your next check-up?



answers from Tallahassee on

If he's mad and needs to express it, tell him he could hit stuffed animals and pillows, mattresses. It's hard to just hug instead when you are angry and your inclination is to act out anger...

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