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My Toddler Hits Himself When He Gets Upset

Questioner

Anonymous

Reply Date

Aug 23, 2019

Question

I have observed my 3- year-old son exhibit some concerning behavior. I have seen him hit himself when he trips or is frustrated by his inability to do something he wants to do. And then today, I heard him say "I hate myself" when he was unable to get his socks on by himself. What should I do?

Counselor

Answer


Toddler Hits Himself

In this counseling answer:

•Investigate his environment, who he is with, the friends he is playing with as well as any family dynamics which could be influencing him.

•You may also want to check out any TV he may be watching.  Especially cartoons which are oddly violent at times.

•As 3-year-olds cannot control their emotions yet, they are beginning to understand how they are feeling.

•By helping your son to see construct positive role models and teaching him to express frustrations and insecurities properly


As salamu alaykum sister,

Shokran for writing into us.  I am sorry to hear of the issues you are going through with your son.  Three year old’s don’t just start hating or harming themselves, they learn to.  What you may be seeing is a learned conditioned response.

While I do not know how you or your husband discipline your child, if you do hit him or say “I hate you” (and I am not saying you do!) he could be getting it from your behavior towards him.

My Toddler Hits Himself When He Gets Upset - About Islam

I am sure that you and your husband are not treating your son like this but I needed to use it as a prime example as to why some children develop low self esteem or self abuse.

So let us explore other ways he could have learned this behavior.  Sister, is he attending a pre-school wherein he could see this behavior or even worse be a victim of this behavior?  What about baby sitters?  Do you leave him with others who may have influenced him in this way?  What about his playmates?  Do any of them exhibit this behavior that he may have learned from them?


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Sister, I kindly suggest that you investigate his environment, who he is with, the friends he is playing with as well as any family dynamics which could be influencing him.  For example, if he spends time with a depressed auntie who says she hates herself or one who slaps him/herself when mistakes are made this can be where he has modeled the behavior from.  You may also want to check out any TV he may be watching.  Especially cartoons which are oddly violent at times.

As 3-year-olds cannot control their emotions yet, they are beginning to understand how they are feeling.  However, impulse control is still poor, thus you will have to intervene sister and teach your child more appropriate actions and words to use when he is frustrated.

For instance, if you see him struggling with something like putting on a shirt or manipulating a toy, you may want to say to him “Good Job! Can I  help?” This illustrates that he is doing a good job yet conveys that the task may be complex.

Insha’allah this may help with both his confidence and reduce frustration.  If you see him hitting himself, you can stop him with a gentle grasp of his hand and tell him “no, no don’t hurt my precious son”  and kiss his head or the place he is attempting to hit.  Depending on his level of vocabulary you may want to ask him where he learned to hit, or who does he see who hits.  The same when he states “I hate myself”you may want to ask him “what is hate” and why do you hate yourself.”

At this age, however “hate” is not a concept well understood by children and thus as stated he may have heard someone else saying it during times of stress. Self harm-such as hitting oneself even as an isolated incident can be a sign of maladaptive self soothing during stressful times and it needs to be addressed and replaced with positive self soothing techniques such as holding a favorite toy, blanket or another substitute.  Encourage your son to talk to you about things that may be bothering him as well as continue to provide a positive role model within your home.

Sister, children around your son’s age often go through periods of insecurity, frustrations, and fears.  So while your son’s behavior is disturbing, it is not uncommon.  In fact, the Center for Parenting  states that children may “uses tensional outlets more frequently: nail biting, eye blinking, nose picking, facial tics, grabbing genitals, thumb sucking may increase – 3/12 is a peak time for usage of tensional outlets.”

I would kindly suggest finding out how your son learned these behaviors (hitting) and verbal responses to frustration (I hate myself) and eliminate it from his environment.  Secondly, insha’Allah, re-enforce your love for him and praise him for his ability to do things.  Acknowledge that some tasks are hard and offer to help.  Replace inappropriate behaviors with positive ones and when he complies, reward him.

By helping your son to see construct positive role models and teaching him to express frustrations and insecurities properly, I am sure sister that insha’Allah in no time he will out grow these alarming but often common behaviors.  Please do read the Center for Parenting article to help you better understand your son’s development both emotionally and cognitively.

We wish you the best sister, you are in our prayers!

Salam

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About Aisha Mohammad

Aisha received her PhD in psychology in 2000 and an MS in public health in 2009. Aisha worked as a Counselor/Psychologist for 12 years for Geneva B. Scruggs Community Health Care Center in New York. Aisha specializes in trauma, depression, anxiety, substance abuse, marriage/relationships issues, as well as community-cultural dynamics. She is certified in Restorative Justice/ Healing Circles, Conflict Resolution, Mediation, and is also a certified Life Coach. Aisha works at a Family Resource Center, and has a part-time practice in which she integrates healing and spirituality using a holistic approach. Aisha plans to open a holistic care counseling center for Muslims and others in the New York area in the future, in sha' Allah. Aisha is also a part of several organizations that advocate for social & food justice. In her spare time she enjoys her family, martial arts classes, Islamic studies as well as working on her book and spoken word poetry projects.

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