Our 3.75 year old son is super sweet and loving most of the time, but he gets *really* wild sometimes. He hits and throws things, he screams, he might pull your hair, or poke things in your face in an infantile fashion. This usually happens when he is tired, or maybe wants more attention – and he doesn’t usually do it angrily … he just kinda goes nuts and out of control. He *usually* reserves this behavior for his parents, but it makes us nervous that he might act this way to another kid sometime and hurt somebody. First of all, is this a common developmental thing for boys his age, and do you have any advice for how we should handle it when it happens, and try to ease him through this phase as quickly as possible?
These are all good questions! Yes, it’s common for 3 1/2 year old boys to get “wild.” These behaviors seem to be at specific times…when he’s tired or wants more attention…which is good in that you are noticing the change in his behavior. One way to try to help him manage himself and his acting out is to give a time out. The time out should last as long as his age. The location of the time out is dependent on the situation and knowledge of your son. Maybe he needs quiet or alone time and maybe that doesn’t work for him, therefore you might want to play around with different location options. If you find that these behaviors more often happen in your home, you could designate a “time out” space. If your son cannot be left alone, you can gently guide him to the wall and sit with him, but don’t engage once the time out begins. The time out is meant to give him an opportunity to sit quietly and “reflect” as much as one can at his age. However, you can teach him by modeling it yourself. Verbalizing his feelings helps him understand his behaviors, such as “I know you are tired and it’s hard to … when you feel so tired” or “I think you are feeling frustrated because you are wanting my attention and I’ve been busy doing other things. You need a time out and when you are finished, we can spend some time together.”
Try not to worry about how he might behave toward other kids until he actually does something that you need to address. I hear you saying he reserves these behaviors for you. Rest assured that kids usually gift their parents in this way.
I don’t believe you can ease anyone through any phase faster than s/he is ready to move. All you can do is notice your son and his behaviors, all of them, and help safely guide him at his own pace, using your expertise and awareness.