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My 3-year-old son is hitting his 4-year-old female cousin. He is bigger than her. I am constantly on him, I have tried time outs, I always make him apologize and give her a hug, which he loves doing as well. I just recently started to give him something like a pillow, and told him to hit that, so he can get his frustration out, and explained that it's not okay to hit people. I have noticed that it's a territorial thing with him. Once she comes around his things he gets mad and reacts that way. He normally shares, but with her I don't understand why he reacts.

So I started noticing her older sister (8 years old) doing things to him, such as not let him play with his own stuff. Once she shoved him as she was by him, and said she was just trying to grab something that was on the opposite side of him. The other day we were all at the park and he was waiting for his turn on the swing, when she got off he was going to get on and she pulled the swing and got back on.

What should I do? I already tried talking to their parents and they get offended and get mad at me.

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    Welcome to Parenting.SE, Maria! Are you more worried about helping your son deal with the older cousin, or how to prevent him from bullying the smaller cousin? (Both are OK questions, and you may want to separate those two problems out to help focus people's answers -- it's OK to ask more than one question at a time!) – Acire Jul 1 '15 at 19:30
  • Way after the fact, but I am surprised that no one brought this up-- As a child I was mostly pretty laid back, but regularly got very aggressive with only one of my younger cousins. Why? She was habitually picking on my little sister without repercussions from the adults, and I didn't know how to deal with my defensive/protective anger aside from 'revenge bullying'. As any elder sibling knows, we are the only one allowed to pick on our littler siblings! ;) – Meg May 8 at 19:34
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If he loves giving a hug after hitting her then you could be accidentally reinforcing the bad behavior. I'd keep with time out instead. It helps to teach him other ways to show that something is "his". Our daycare really emphasizes that the kids need to say "mine mine" when another child tries to take their toy. It gives them a way to express themselves. Without expressing their feelings verbally they will do it non-verbally by biting or hitting.

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Honestly, it sounds to me that you're largely doing the right things already. Getting him out of the situation (Time outs), re-engaging his empathy for his cousin (hugging afterwards), and giving him alternate ways to express his frustration (hitting the pillow) are exactly the same three steps we do with our (very aggressive) four year old - not quite the same way, but the same principles are there, and I think that's the key.

A three year old is never going to be able to control his every reaction, and that's okay. He won't be perfect, and it's not reasonable for you to expect that. Not that you shouldn't make every effort to change the behavior - I'm just saying, don't feel that you have a "Bad kid" because he loses control occasionally. I've yet to meet a three year old that doesn't occasionally hit other children, and if yours is bigger than others, well, it's going to happen a bit more. Work with him to develop his empathy, to develop other alternatives, and he'll get there. Do try to be consistent - don't change from one attempt to a different every time - as things will take time to sink in.

As far as the eight year old, it sounds like you need to talk with her parents further. Non-confrontational discussion of behavior is perfectly possible; it's very important to phrase things in a positive light (how you can help improve things, for example).

It also sounds like your three year old may need some tools to help deal with the eight year old. When you see issues like you describe above, right then, talk to him about what happened. Give him suggestions for how to deal with it - whether it is using his words to express his frustration, letting her know she should say excuse me, or getting help from adults when it's necessary to avoid physical conflict.

That's also a great way to work on the empathy on his side - at least with my four year old, it's very helpful for him to see examples of when other kids push him around to understand how it feels for other kids when he pushes them around. I see remarked improvements (at least in the short term) in his behavior when he's had an issue with an older kid pushing him or not being nice to him, and we talk about it.

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Confront the cousin bullying him first, then explain to him that the way he feels when the older cousin bullies him is the way his four year old cousin feels when she gets bullied.

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If you are having the two cousins for regular visits and play dates in the park, you need to be the authority figure for all three children. The cousins need to learn that when you are taking care of them, you are the one in charge, and they need to play by your rules (e.g. no hitting).

If you are going on two-family outings together, and you can't get on the same page with the parents, you may want to take a break from getting together with them.

I suggest you look into time-outs as possible consequences for hitting. Getting the time-out right is a bit of an art -- see How should I conduct a proper timeout?. Note, timeouts can also be applied at the park.

  • (1) The OP stated she has tried time outs. (2) It's not necessarily clear that the OP is the only one at the park with the three kids when this behavior is going on. – Acire Aug 3 '15 at 12:09

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