By SHAUNA ANDERSON
I have the loveliest four year old in existence. He crawls into my bed in the early hours of the morning clutching his stuffed green dragon and says: “cuddle me Mama.”
He plays dolls with his baby sister and dinosaur slayers with his older brother.
He yells passionately across the soccer field “I love you Mama” with a four year old’s lack of self-consciousness.
He paints flowers on erupting volcanoes at preschool.
And he hits other children.
I never thought I’d have a child who hit. I always thought I’d be able to control my children no matter what.
But from the age of two, despite trying to distract him, punish him, encourage him, he still hit. He never bit but he hit and pushed and threw things.
My angel was that child other mothers talked about and avoided. The play dates dried up, the kids stopped dropping in, the mums in the playground started standing on the other side. I became that woman at playgroup who followed her child around, on edge. At home he was fine, but at preschool he was struggling. No one wanted to play with the hitter.
It wasn’t until his preschool teacher suggested I take him to a speech therapist that things changed. It turns out that no one could understand him and hitting was his way of getting attention. Nine months into speech therapy he’s a different boy. He has friends, he smiles. We have a way left to go, and the play dates haven’t yet started dribbling in. But he’s happy.
It’s a form of social ostracism, having a child that others don’t understand. And it’s heartbreaking when other kids are terrified of yours. Lisa is mum to two-year-old Oscar. She says she was horrified when her son started hitting other children:
“I can’t go anywhere, so I don’t. I make up excuses as to why Oscar and I are busy. All the other kids in my mothers group are placid. I wonder what I did wrong.”
Child and Educational Psychologist Andrew Greenfield says that there are many reasons that very young children become violent:
“Sometimes they are frustrated, sometimes other kids provoke them, sometimes they are overtired, and sometimes they don’t have good social skills to know how to interact.”
For Lisa the worst thing is often the other parent:
“One actually yelled at me and asked if he was learning hitting at home.”
She says she has tried everything, and she is at breaking point.
While some children do copy behaviours learned from parents or siblings, for the majority of very young children it’s attention seeking. However, in many cases it’s actually the parents who suffer the most.
Lisa says that she has lost friends over her son’s behaviour. She says, ’They don’t want to be around us. And I can’t blame them.’