Question: My 4 year old son hits me when he can't get his own way and very often has a tantrum. This is very embarrassing particularly when we are out in public. What can I do when this kind of behavior is taking place and what can I do to head off this behavior before it starts?
If he is already four, we need to fix this quick - the older he gets, the worse it will become! Generally, by four years old, you should be home free when it comes to tantrums and hitting. So let's nix this!
1. Look to my website for the TAG (Toddler ABC Guide) - just click on the fridge icon. It will give you a very basic overview of how to use the three step method and figure out why he's acting that way and how to address it correctly. It sounds like you are unknowingly reinforcing the behavior you don't want to see - we do it all the time and have no idea! You have to retrain yourself - step back and be objective about the behavior (I know...very difficult when you are near tears with embarrassment) so that you can stop giving him what he wants. When he gets his way, it reinforces the behavior; he will do it again because it works. So we have to stop reacting the same way we always react. If you always do what you've always done, you'll always get the same results! So turn things around. Change your reaction, address the behavior correctly, and it will stop.
2. My book is written specifically for this very thing - he is a bit old, but the methods will still work wonders if you present it correctly. It's all about setting up a positive, structured environment, heading off trouble before it starts, and SHOWING your child how you WANT them to act, instead of getting all worked up and focusing on the negative ("stop that!" "cut it out!" "no!"). Yes, they absolutely have to know that the behavior is unacceptable, of course...but how? And then what? If we don't address it correctly and provide guidance on what we want to see next time, he simply won't know. So, A) we have to custom-address (so to speak) the negative behavior - figure out what he wants in that particular situation and make sure he does NOT get it, and B) we have to guide him on how to act appropriately.
The Toddler ABC Guide on my website really needs to be used in conjunction with the book - taken as a whole, you learn how to figure out their needs, approach problem behavior, and turn it around for good. There are tons of strategies and examples of how to plug in the TAG and approach different situations.
Your son is looking for some strict structure and limits - he may pitch a fit when you provide them at first, but it gives him the security he desperately needs to make him balanced and happy. It is difficult for parents; the intention is honorable - you think you are making him happy by giving him what he wants all the time, but it actually does the opposite and makes him feel more and more insecure...which leads to more negative behavior because he is desperately trying to find out where his boundaries are so he can feel secure. It's a big, messy circle. So stay firm and loving, but don't cave in!
Best of luck! I know you can do it!