My wife is at home with my son. The biggest problem that we have is that he pinches us (or even himself!) non-stop. I don't understand why this is happening. The worst is that he does this to himself and then others. It's as if he comes in contact with others and then immediately starts pinching.

Is this due to poor communication on our part? How can I teach him that this hurts and it's not acceptable behavior?


He usually pinches himself when he's really upset. When he pinches us we say that what he's doing is bad and that it hurts. The pinching started about 1 year ago, but only recently became much more frequent. In terms of development, he reached all of his milestones normally.

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    he... pinches himself? How does he react when he pinches himself? (Does he hurt himself when he pinches himself?) How does he react when you respond with "OUCH!" when he pinches you? Commented Dec 21, 2017 at 18:59
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    We need a bit more information. How long has this been going on? Does he pinch himself hard enough to cause small bruises? Does he do anything else out of the ordinary? Did he reach all of his developmental milestones normally? What have you tried to do to discourage him so far? Thanks. Commented Dec 21, 2017 at 19:20
  • Please remember that if you have an answer, even a simple one, it's best as an Answer not as a Comment. Thanks!
    – Acire
    Commented Dec 22, 2017 at 12:21
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    god bless you for not saying "30 month old" Commented Dec 26, 2017 at 6:10

3 Answers 3


RE: " ...I don't understand why this is happening. ...

You'll get a headache trying to figure out why people in general do irrational things. So don't focus on why.

Frankly, if he kept pinching me, I'd say "No! That hurts", swat him on the butt, and give him a time out to think about it. Then discuss after the problem after the time out.

If he pinches himself I'd ignore it at the moment so as not to give him attention for bad behavior. But be sure that you interact often with him so that he doesn't use bad behavior as a means of getting some sort of attention. (Remember that even being scolded is better than being totally ignored.) The next time he gets disciplined for pinching someone else then ask why he pinches himself and try to discuss it.

What you're really trying to do is instill some emotional maturity. Your son is entitled to his feelings but he has to understand that his feelings can't be used to justify actions that hurt others.

  • Thing is, at 2.5, he can't really express himself or talk very well. He usually becomes very tense and clenches his teeth. If we scold him, he finds it funny/amusing.
    – gp443
    Commented Dec 23, 2017 at 3:19
  • All I can really tell you is that isn't any one strategy that works. You just have to keep trying different things until you find something that works. The swat on the fanny isn't to hurt him but to startle him and get his attention.
    – MaxW
    Commented Dec 23, 2017 at 5:43

This is a bit like biting, which is not an uncommon behavior in young children. How do parents stop a child from biting? They do the usual: discussions, time outs, etc. (You might search the biting tag and read some of those answers.)

Your child is communicating by pinching. At this point, I would prioritize giving him a very strong emotional vocabulary ("feeling words"; aim higher than his age level), so that you might communicate about his feelings when he does this. Being able to name a feeling is the first step in dealing with it.

He knows pinching hurts; he does it to himself. Telling him it hurts doesn't give him any new information. Finding out why he feels the need to hurt you or himself is the most important thing here, and that's going to take time.

Whenever you have an opportunity to talk, start exploring his emotional terrain. Use faces (happy, sad, surprised, angry, loved, frustrated, confused, etc.) when you need to. Make faces when you're naming your own feelings. Etc. Then, when he pinches, start by asking about his feelings, running through the list if need be. Eventually you will learn to anticipate the emotions that precede pinching and dealing with them through language rather than pinching. Replacing the pinch with words will follow.

It will take time and trouble, but it's a lifelong a gift to the child.

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    Another thing to consider is a behavioral evaluation. It's possible the child is getting overwhelmed and has a sensory processing disorder. Consider speaking to your pediatrician if this continues after consistent and timely interventions.
    – Marisa
    Commented Dec 22, 2017 at 19:20

Whatever you choose to do, understand that the reaction needs to be immediate and get his attention. Even waiting a little bit can dull the efficacy of the consequence and, if the intervening period is too long, may just confuse him.

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