Middle Child Acts Out

Q: We have 3 boys: 3 years old, 2 years old and 10 months old. Our second son has recently been hitting, biting, pushing and kicking his brothers but not other kids when we are out. He is also a very affectionate and loving boy who has a sweet side, but he can get angry fast, before I even know what is going on. He slams doors, throws things and has the tendency to get angry with everyone. Sometimes it is unprovoked, and other times it is provoked, even if it is just the baby crawling by. The hitting is sometimes followed by tickling and he never seems to show any remorse. I’ve tried taking away his coveted teddy bear and putting him in short timeouts in his room away from his brothers. His brothers have had minor injuries from these altercations, and I am hoping to make a change before anything worse happens. This behavior seemed to start when our 3 year old started preschool in September, the baby started becoming more mobile crawling around, and I started having two different part time babysitters help me during the day.

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A: You are in the thick of things and I understand you just want this problem to go away! However, your 2-year-old is acting like, well, a toddler tyrant. This is what 2-year-olds do—they hit, slam doors, throws things, get angry at the drop of a hat for no discernible reason. In short, when he’s upset, everyone knows it.

You could spend time investigating the why behind his behavior, but really, what will you do with the answer? You can’t very well put the baby back, or keep your 3-year-old home from preschool, or stop having help over.

So, what to do with your toddler tyrant? Here are some suggestions.

  1. Make sure you spend time with him several times during the day. A five-minute snuggle time after big brother goes off to preschool, a book read after you’ve tended to the baby for a while, etc., will go a long way toward making him feel noticed and loved.
  2. When he starts having a temper tantrum (hitting, biting, throwing things), simply remove him from the area and confine him to his crib (or room) until he calms down. This isn’t as punishment so much as it is depriving him of an audience and helping to teach him how to calm down himself.
  3. Don’t use the baby as an excuse, as in, “We can’t do X because the baby needs a nap.” Instead, say, “We’ll go do X in 15 minutes. I’ve set the timer so you’ll know when it’s time.” This will help him not resent the baby.
  4. Involve him in baby’s care. Have him entertain the baby when you’re cooking dinner, bring you diapers, etc. Exclaim what a big boy he is to help baby brother out.
  5. Make sure you keep the baby away from his favorite toys when you can. In fact, let him pick two or three toys to be “his” and don’t let the baby play with them.

Finally, remember that at this age, he’s doesn’t understand why he’s acting this way—that sort of self-reflection isn’t possible in a toddler. At this age, he’s all emotions and action. So keep that in mind as well.

This too will pass—it is only a stage. I know it seems like it’s going on forever, but it won’t.


2 thoughts to “Middle Child Acts Out”

  1. My son n law began hitting our two grandsons, they are not his kids and he is an alcoholic and meth addict, with a violent temper, then the hitting really turned to real abuse, then when they got older he got real violent with them, until the abuse got. More and more controlling, he has a felony record including statutory rape on 14 year old girl from before our daughter was with him,now the two boys are very damaged, depressed and angry, our daughter never protected them from this torturous abuse, he was told to leave them alone multiple times, but he still bullies and picks on them, he has the mentality of a childish bully, spits on them, says mean an nasty things to them, their is a child abuse case against him, but he refuses to stop, what can I do to stop this monster.

    1. I am so sorry. This is a very hard and difficult situation, especially because it’s obvious how much you care for your grandsons. As we know, we can’t make a person change or stop a person from terrible behavior. But that doesn’t mean you’re without options. Call social services immediately to report any new abuse or to add to his case file. Drop by the house unannounced as often as you can, and record any abuse you can (with your phone or just writing down specifics, etc.). Offer to take your grandsons as often as you can manage. Open a dialogue with their teachers if you can. Contact the police immediately if you see abuse happen or come right in the aftermath. Don’t be afraid to be their advocates–your daughter is unable to fulfill this role for whatever reason. I would also talk to a family lawyer to see what steps you could take to gain custody of your grandsons, even if it’s just temporary, if that’s something you can do. Get to know the neighbors of your daughter and leave your phone number with them, so they can call you if they see anything as well. Don’t try to make your SIL change–focus on the safety of those kids.

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