My wife and I have a situation that we would like to get your thoughts on. We have a 4 year old girl and a 2 year old boy who attend preschool. Our problem is that whenever our kids get together with a certain 2 year old child he ends up hurting them. This child hits and shoves other kids for no reason at all. At a recent gymnastics class my two year old son was sitting by himself and all of a sudden this boy snuck up behind him and shoved him so hard that he choked on his drinking water and flipped over his head. From our perspective these actions are premeditated and malicious. Many of the parents in our group settings have been commenting on this child’s behavior because he has also hit or shoved their children. Everybody agrees that you really can’t blame the boy, after all he is only two! The problem is that his parents do absolutely nothing! This child suffers absolutely no consequence for his actions! His mother keeps telling us that she does not believe in “time outs” or instilling any fear in her child regarding discipline. My wife and I use “time outs”, as do many of our friends, with unbelievable success. Hitting is hitting. It’s wrong! There should be a consequence for hurting another person. We are concerned for our family as well as for any mother or father who has just seen their child shoved off a slide or pushed face down!! We would like have a friendship with the parents but don’t know what to do about this. Let us know what you think!


Dear Exasperated,

Wow! There are so many issues here I hardly know where to start. Firstly, you’re right, we cannot blame the boy. Secondly, yes there should be a consequence for hurting another person, one that is related, respectful and reasonable. For example I recommend that the parents apologize for the child in the moment and then the child should be removed and taken home. After a cooling off period an apology note including an amends on how the child is going to make up for his actions is written and delivered to the other child. Both sets of parents and their children then role play and model how that incident can be handled appropriately. Thirdly, “time outs” do work, that’s the seduction of punishment, it works for the moment. Consider what your child is feeling and thinking about during that time out? Try anger and resentment, and, “How can I get away with this the next time?” OR, “How can I get back at my parents?”. Believe me, the last thing your child is thinking is “Gee, I really blew it, I deserve this time out! From now on I am going to do things differently!” Unfortunately you are left with the long term consequences of punishment (and these are NOT a maybe, they are a GUARANTEE!) resentment, rebellion, revenge or retreat.

Wherever did we get the idea that in order to make a child do better, first we have to make them FEEL WORSE!?! DO YOU feel like doing better when you have been humiliated? Fortunately, there is hope and a respectful way out of this for all concerned, so here goes...

To begin let’s talk about Child Development.........Toddlers tell us through their actions what they need. So a 2 year old who hits and shoves is telling us, “I need a vigorous body outlet to deal with my frustration in learning how to be part of my group! AND I need your help to give me the training that I need to be accepted into my peer group!” From 0-3 years your children are operating from a subconscious, absorbent mind. This means that they are absorbing everything in their environment and from everyone around them like a sponge, without any judgment, classification, logic or thought. During 0-3 years we are directed by a combination of human tendencies, sensitive periods and an inner blue print that dictates our every move. Our inner blue print is personal, we arrive in this world with it, it is infinite in it’s wisdom and holds in it all possibilities. Tendencies and sensitive periods are universal and follow us through life. These include, and are not limited to:

Tendencies: Universal principals which guide development from conception to growth: Love, security, gregariousness (seeking out other humans), independence, exploration, curiosity, order, orientation, communication, movement, work, repetition, creative imagination, concentration, self-control.... These tendencies are so strong that if one is thwarted, there are significant consequences. For example, if one’s need for purposeful work is not met as a young child the possible outcomes are, laziness with no desire to expand, or frenzied activity without achievement as an adult. Another, if creative imagination is not met in an environment that allows for SELF DIRECTED (NOT ADULT INITIATED/CONTROLLED/DIRECTED) activities, the child will live in a world of fantasy, divorced from reality.

Sensitive Periods: Transitory periods of development during which a child is drawn to acquire a determined characteristic:

  • Language: 3 months - 5 1/2 years
  • Order: 1 - 3 years
  • Small Objects: 2nd year of life
  • Sense Refinement: 0 - 5 years
  • Social Behavior: 2 1/2 - 5 years

These sensitive periods are so strong that sometimes a child appears to be obsessed with a certain aspect, ie during the acquisition of order your youngster might go around reorganizing your home. The great thing about these is that while in action the sensitive period makes acquiring that skill effortless. The down side, is that if a period is missed the child has to learn the skill the way adults learn, with a lot of hard work and effort.

Now let’s apply this knowledge...... Our troubled 2 year old is in a period of language development, and learning how to vocalize his needs, thoughts and emotions. This is often the time children will manifest aggression. We must ALWAYS deal with the physical body needs first. His actions have shown us that he needs a physical outlet, so we offer a mini trampoline to jump on or to pound, or a punching bag. Next we recognize that he is coming into a period of learning social behavior guided by his tendencies to be curious and explore repetitively. Top this off with his need to be significant and belong to the group. In a nutshell, here is a pre logical 2 year old, without much training, trying to figure out how to make social connections and exploring his options repetitively. Granted his efforts thus far are clumsy to the point that others are getting injured in his enthusiasm to grasp and understand just how one interacts. Phew! This two year old child is developmentally incapable of premeditating or maliciously planning out these incidents.

This is where we, the adults, come in. It is our responsibility to take time for training, and teach our children how to interact Following the belief that “it takes a village to raise a child” our part involves not only our children, but the other children and adults around us. It comes down to this.... We have the responsibility to educate ourselves about developmental cycles and the long term effects of the techniques we employ. We have the responsibility to care enough about the other folks in our lives, young and old alike, to take care of ourselves emotionally so that we can be honest, loving, kind, respectful and compassionate while we work together on finding solutions to mutual problems. something to help yourself feel better and process all the emotions you have around this issue.. Then, making sure the message of love gets through, make a date to tell your friends how you feel, and do some problem solving together. We are all partners in our children’s experiences and learning. It is most important to step in to protect your children whenever the need arises. Blaming other children or parents is only half the story.