Maudlin and Associates ™
Karen Maudlin
Psy.D., CPCC
Kenneth Davison
Cindy Takiguchi
Manette Galván Turner
Robert Gregory
Daniel Doebler
Trevor Simpson

"My 3-year-old son hits other children at his playgroup and at the park. I can't seem to figure out what's causing his behavior. He can be playing nicely and all of a sudden I see a child crying and my son hanging his head. Sometimes he'll apologize and look genuinely sorry. Other times, he seems not to care. I even dropped out of my mothers' group because of his behavior in the children's room. This is stressing me out, and I don't know what to do."

A. This is a common, albeit frustrating, problem for preschoolers. But there are ways you can help your son control his behavior:

Check in on his sugar intake. Is he eating sugary cereal or snacks before or during his playtime? Are there other foods that seem to trigger behavior problems for him? If you see a pattern between what he's eating and how he's acting, talk with your doctor.

Help him develop some impulse control strategies. Teach him to count to ten in his head when he feels angry or pound on a pillow when he's frustrated. This is also a good age for him to learn how to walk away from a situation he doesn't like, how to solve problems with other kids, and how to share and take turns.

Talk about anger. One of the biggest mistakes parents make is telling their children not to get angry, rather than giving children the tools to handle their anger in a productive way. Tell your son that God gave him his feelings and that it's okay to get angry. Then encourage him to use words, not his hands, to express his anger.

Give consistent consequences. Hitting other children is unacceptable and your son needs to know this is an absolute rule with no exceptions. As soon as your son hits another child, give him a three-minute time out (one minute for each year of his age). Then walk him over to the other child so he can apologize. Have him make eye contact as say something simple such as, "I'm sorry I hit you, are you okay?"

Keep a log. When your son hits, jot a quick note about what happened right before and after the event. What situations provoke your son? What situations does he seem to handle well? Be proactive about preventing the situations that trigger his actions and be ready to intervene when you sense trouble brewing.

Go back to your mother's group. Talk to the leader about your concerns and tell her what you're doing to change your son's behavior. Ask for her advice, support, and prayers. Avoiding activities will not help your son develop self-control, and it could cause you to resent him for the control he has over your life.