She Says… Slap. Hit. Whack. Poke.

I bet it’s getting old hearing me talk about Owen’s issue with using gentle hands. Believe me, I’m tired of talking about it. But honestly? It’s this one recurring issue that won’t seem to go away. And while I know it’s a totally normal developmental phase, I have the momentary nightmare that he’s going to grow up to be a bully and to use his own strength to hurt others. And the thought of that just kills me.

Every kid has their “thing”, right?

In almost every way, Owen is a total joy. He’s sweet and funny and follows the rules (ahem, most of the time). He sleeps like a dream and is super social and fearless in all the best ways. He’s an adventurous eater and smart well beyond his years. He remembers amazing details about just about everything and his imitations of people bring me close to wetting my pants with hysterical laughter.

But y’all? The kid is ROUGH.

When he was a baby, this quality used to be a source of pride. “He barely even cries when he falls/bonks/tumbles. He’s so resilient.” I loved the way he would pick himself right back up, brush himself off, and try whatever he was trying again. I much preferred this rough-and-tumble style to others who I saw crying on the playground because someone cut in front of them in line at the slide, or melting into a sobbing mess when someone brushed past them as they were running by. And I’m sure I reinforced it by praising his strength and impressive motor skills. Being tough was a good thing, right?

And then as the months went by, we started filling out incident report after incident report at school. Owen got a bloody lip from running into a bookcase. Owen jumped off the climber and scraped his knee. Owen got a black eye from hitting himself in the face with a book during playtime. And after a while the incidents began to center around altercations with friends. Owen scratched a friend when they both wanted to play with the cash register toy. Owen grabbed a friend by the neck and pulled him to the ground when they were both using the bubbles. Owen kicked his teacher when she told him it was time to clean up his toys.

Don’t get me wrong. I do not think there is some huge issue here. I’m not actually worried about my kid becoming an axe-murderer because he’s going through a rough phase. I think he’s just learning how to control his body. And I wonder if it’s partly because he is so advanced in other areas, that this body-control area is one that has taken a backseat, so he has some catching up to do. Kind of like kids who walk early and talk late.


Like all phases, I’m sure this too shall pass. In the meantime, we’re using the sticker chart with some success, and talking constantly about what gentle hands look and feel like. And we’ve been instituting “rest your body” times (aka time outs), with limited success, when his behavior could hurt other people.

Last night after dinner, Owen walked right up to me and SLAPPED me on the back. I spun around and said, “Hey! Buddy! That hurt! We do NOT slap people like that. Do you need to go rest your body?”. He responded, “No. I was just BURPING YOU LIKE A BABY, Mommy.”.

Benjamin and I died laughing. At least he’s creative!


8 responses to “She Says… Slap. Hit. Whack. Poke.

  1. The burping like a baby is hilarious!
    My 4yo is a very physical kid too. Super sweet, but he just likes to run and jump and crash cars and grab stuff/people. I worried a bit that he would be the bully when he went to preschool, but he has surprised us by being one of the most docile and cooperative kids in the class. Also, from my observations in the classrooms of our co-op preschool, the incidents of hitting, biting, shoving etc. become fewer and farther between once most of the kids turn 3. They gain a much better understanding of how their actions might affect others, and they eventually understand why it’s not OK to be rough with other kids (or adults).

  2. So funny how life works. I followed your blog religiously when I was pregnant because I was having a Boston born baby boy just nearly a year behind you and loved the possible glimpse into my future! How little did I know that 2 years later, after losing track of all my blogs in the flurry of mommyhood, I could have written many of these posts myself! My Kellen is rough and tumble and at 19mo is already challenging us like this! Not only that but I laughed out loud to see you were pregnant again since I am too and just ahead of me to remind me of the next steps as always 😀 Congratulations! I look forward to following again and having a blogger who’s reflecting so many of my own issues both good and difficult!

  3. We also have a precocious little boy named Owen and he went through phase of dog stomping. He is very sweet to people but we found that asking him to show us how to be nice really helped and we would quiz him out of nowhere. We praised him when he was being sweet even for the smallest acts. Having worked in a daycare in the toddler room I can say there isn’t much you can do until they grow out of it. It doesn’t help that they have to compete for every toy/activity so he most likely learned this from his classmates. But some of the most challenging toddlers turned into the sweetest 3 yr olds so I’m guessing that will be the case for him.

  4. I wouldn’t even sweat it. To tell you the truth, after having taught for 6 years, I have kindergartners that still have a hard time with understanding “gentle touch”. They’re not “bad” kids, they’re very sweet, but some of them just don’t quite understand how to communicate their frustration using words instead of hitting or slapping.

    And I have to admit the incident reports absolutely cracked me up. Reminds me of a LOT of kids I’ve worked with back in the daycares as well as the ones I see in school now. Those are the kids that just melt my heart. Love it!!

  5. I’m with you Kate. My little one is 17 months and hitting. Yesterday she even bit!! It’s so hard as a parent not to worry that this is part of a larger trend toward eventual bullying. It takes a deep breath and reassuring mantras of “This is totally normal and a phase that she will grow out of.” Lots of mantras 🙂

  6. Ethan is definitely the rough and tumble boy — picks himself up without pausing for a second, and even if he does actually get hurt, he’s trying it again in a matter of seconds. (When he was a baby, I was convinced he just didn’t feel pain!) However, he’s never been rough with his peers and I gotta say — sometimes I wish he had more of that in him! I know, I know, that sounds weird and awful. But I’ve seen him internalize his frustrations at school, on the playground, at home, etc., and it usually comes out later in the form of tears or a tantrum. Sometimes I wish he would just let it out in the moment. I’m not saying I want him to hit his friends!!! I just wish we could find a happy medium so he wouldn’t bottle it all up. On the other hand, Miles lets it all out every moment of every day! Tears if someone so much as LOOKS at him the wrong way, and he has begun hitting and biting his brother. They could not be more opposite. Maybe #3 will be somewhere in between? 🙂

  7. Sounds like Owen may be a bit of a spoiled brat…

  8. @Julie, It still makes me giggle. I’m so glad to hear that this may die down after age 3. As much as I tell myself “this is normal”, it still means the world to hear others with the same stories. Phew, I’m not alone.

    @Melissa, Welcome back and congrats!

    @Amy, Ooh, I hear you on the dog stomping. Lately it’s been climbing our dog like a horse and wanting to ride him. Oy, boys play rough 🙂

    @Sarah, I LOVE hearing from teachers who have seen this behavior and so much more. Thank you.

    @Daniele, This too shall pass. In the meantime, we will all sustain some bumps and bruises. Ha. Comes with the territory, I guess.

    @Carly, I totally hear you. I think no matter how they express their frustration, they are all learning to process it appropriately. For one kid, it’s hitting, and for another, it’s internalizing. I’m sure as they grow they will both figure out some other techniques and will meet somewhere in the middle. So interesting to hear about your experiences with #2 and I can’t wait to see how #3 fits in!

    @Kate, Thank you for your expert opinion 🙂

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