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3-Year Old Assaults Baby

“My 3-year-old daughter headbutts her 7-month-old little brother. We have looked for advice (pediatrician, parents and books) but she is very strong-willed.”

“We have tried calmly explaining what could happen to her brother (why she can’t headbutt, hit, pinch, scratch, kick, push on his belly hard, throw toys, bite.), time outs, a sticker chart for when she is nice to her brother. I’ve even picked him up and left the room saying we don’t play with kids that hit. I lock the door and when I come out she has to tell me why I left. I’ve shown her how to be gentle. I’ve had her say sorry to her brother and kiss where she hurt him while saying I love you. Nothing works and I can’t seem to keep him safe from her even if I’m holding him! This goes on all day and I end up loosing my cool. I play referee all day and can’t get anything done. I’m home alone with both of them so giving her one-on-one attention is difficult. Any suggestions?”

Every person on this planet wants and needs attention, especially children, especially children whose mother’s attention must now be shared with a baby brother.

I have some suggestions for you to help end the mayhem at your house. They involve a change in your parenting attitude and skills. But you can do it!

First of all stop trying to explain things to a three-year-old. Do not try persuasion, cajoling, or pleading. Make it easier for both you and your daughter by having rules which must always be obeyed or there are consequences.

When a child is repeatedly hitting or otherwise hurting a smaller child this is a “crime.” Stop playing “good cop” and play “bad cop” the one who always enforces the law, the no-hurting law. Enforcement must never use the same behaviors you want to extinguish so no hitting, spanking, yelling, etc. Pick up the child rule-breaker and quietly but firmly say, “No hitting, hitting hurts!” Immediately remove the hitter from the scene.

Put her in her room, or in a “naughty chair” saying you can’t play with us now because you hit the baby. She tries to run back to the scene of the crime? Take her back and close the door to the room or hold her in the chair without talking or even looking at her. Repeat as many times as a consequence is needed. Your letter tells me you are giving her just what she wants (your attention) instead of removing her from the scene. She has learned how to manipulate you into doing this. Don’t lock yourself in, if needs be lock her in her room (be sure room is safe) .

Separate the children. 7 months and 3 do not make a good play group. Use a playpen or a gate with baby in one room and her toys in another. Help your daughter play with big girls toys and games, praise her when she plays well by herself, spend as much time with her as you can when baby is sleeping.

Finally, expect the best from her. Right now she is driving you nuts but look for the good things she does and guide her to helping you instead of hurting the baby. Folding clothes, setting the table, putting toys away. If she feels she is your helper instead of your naughty daughter things can go better.

I sympathize with you. It’s tough to be home all day with two small children you have to referee. Get out of the house once in a while!

Let me know if this works for you. (My Inbox a few days later: “Thank you!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”)