Q&A: 20-month-old scratcher

Kathy writes:

"I'm sorry about the long email but my husband and I are losing ourpatience fast. It all began with a recently trip to Jamaica. On our way
there, our 20 month old son refused to nap. By the end of our trip, he
was screaming, squirming and scratching at our faces. He's never been a
scratcher but we just thought he was deliriously tired and acting out.
While we were in Jamaica, he scratched our faces a handful of times but
again it was only when he was tired. Our trip back was an absolute
nightmare. My husband and I look like we got into a fight with a rabid
tiger and lost. Since we've been back 3 days ago, the scratching has
gotten out of control.

We've tried the serious voice and stern
"No scratching. It hurts mommy/daddy." He will either not care or claw
at us again. We moved to the "Ouch. That hurts" with a fake cry. His
response is to scream at the top of his lungs… not the I'm sorry
scream but the don't piss me off scream. We even tried the time out
thing today but he was perfectly content to just sit there. We try to
intercept his hand before it gets to our face but he's like a ninja. We
rarely see it coming.

The
scratching is sort of random. Sometimes he's tired or angry but other
times we're having fun together and he'll reach out and take a piece of
my face off. Everything that I've read says to be firm, consistent and
wait it out but I'm not sure if we can wait weeks or even months. We
won't have any skin left on our faces.

Any other tactics or advice? "

First off, I'd cut his nails and then file them down as far as you can without hurting him, just to reduce the efficacy of his weapons!

I have to say that it doesn't surprise me at all that your son is 20 months and is doing this. Remember how we've talked about the whole 18-month evil phase? The kids just get so frustrated and have no autonomy so they basically just lash out. And then something seems to ease around 21 months–they get more words, they seem to have more physical fluidity, and they just seem to be more in command and less stressed all the time.

What that means is that 20 months is the end of the build-up of frustration. I get dozens of questions from people about why their 20-month-olds won't eat, and that's all about controlling the one thing they can control. I think this scratching is the same thing–he can't control things and has so much anger and frustration inside of him. It's probably exacerbated by being back from vacation and feeling tired and off-kilter, and missing all the piña coladas and warmth of Jamaica.

I don't think you're going to be able to magically stop it, but I do think you might be able to ease it until he gets older and more able to deal with his conflicting emotions and urges. I think helping him express his feelings and wants might give him a little more space. So definitely start signing, if you haven't been doing any already. (And if you've been doing it but have tapered off, ramp up again.) People loooove the Signing Time DVDs, and you can also use the Michigan State ASL browser online (you need QuickTime on your computer to use it, but you can download it free if you don't already have it).

The other thing you could do is to verbalize his feelings for him. If you can tell he's getting frustrated with something, you can say "You're frustrated. That's making you feel angry and like you want to scratch something!" and then give him a chance to confirm. It's got to be so horrible at this age to have so many complex feelings and not be able to express them so adults can understand! If a grown-up gets what you're feeling and can tell you they understand, that makes things better, even just a little. Everyone just wants to be understood, no matter how old or young we are.

The part about it coming out of the blue is, I think, also just human nature. Think about times when you're carrying around something that's been bugging you, and sometimes you can only be angry about it or mention it when things are back to being calm or happy. And the person who has to hear your anger is blindsided by it. Same thing here, only with physical pain.

Aside from this, I think it's going to help you if you can think of it in terms not of your son acting naughty or trying to hurt you on purpose, but as a problem you need to solve together. Clearly he's feeling awful and angry and frustrated and is just lashing out because he's got nothing else. So whatever you can do to help him reconnect and feel like he's got some power over himself is going to help, and shutting him off (with time-outs or other "discipline" stuff that's really just punishment) is going to make things worse. But you knew that–I just thought it was worth reminding all of us of it again. (And again, and again. Parenting is hard, y'all.)

What else do you guys have for Kathy? Stories? I'm hanging on here by a thread with a chest cough and aching head, so I'm praying my younger one will take a nap (he's in the middle of dropping it) so I can, too.

37 thoughts on “Q&A: 20-month-old scratcher”

  1. Is there a book about scratching? We went through a biting phase starting around 18 months (Pumpkin is now 21 months). The book “Teeth are not for Biting” was helpful. I know there is a “Hands are not for Hitting” book, but I don’t know if there is a no scratching book.We also did a lot of “playing it out”, where two of her stuffed animals would be playing, and then bunny would bite bear and we’d play through it. Some parents I know have the two parents play act, but Hubby and I didn’t really want to pretend to bite each other, so we stuck with the stuffed animals.
    She got time outs when she bit at day care, which is where she did most of her biting. With all of this, the biting has pretty much tapered off now (and now that I’ve typed that, she’s bound to bite 5 kids at day care today).
    Another thing- it took a while for her to “get” time out. If this is the first time you’ve used time outs, your son may just not get it yet. Pumpkin also went through a phase where she’d bite her doll and then put herself in time out, which was weird and cute.

  2. Have you tried saying nothing when he scratches you, then putting him down and silently leaving the room? I know this can help with hitting, and it also helps with my daughter’s screaming tantrums. (For the screaming tantrums when I know she’s overly frustrated, I calmly say, “If you want to come talk to me about it, I’ll be in x room.” Usually she calms down and will talk about it. She speaks in full paragraphs, but still has trouble expressing herself in those instances. It breaks my heart.)Another one that I know that works for hitting is holding his hands and counting to 20 (or whatever number). It’s something else you have to do sort of mundanely and calmly. Then afterward you can talk about the scratching, how it hurts you, what he can do instead, etc.
    I don’t know if any of that is useful in a scratching situation (as opposed to hitting/fussing), but maybe it will help someone with a hitter/fusser.

  3. I find/found that giving my 2-year-old as many choices as possible helps greatly with the “frustration factor”. Two examples: instead of putting a winter hat on her before we leave the house, I hold up her collection of winter hats (5 at last count) and ask her to choose. At lunch, I put several different things on one plate (cherry tomatoes, cheese, ham, bread) and she can pick and choose what she eats. Really, it doesn’t matter which hat she wears or whether she eats nothing but tomatoes, the point is she has a choice and the job gets done.Hang in there!

  4. Oh! And on the time outs. We started implementing that at age 2, and my daughter thought it was a grand old time. I’d say “do you want a time out?” when she was on the verge of earning herself one, and she’d get all excited and run to the time out spot. After a couple of times of being sent to time out (which has probably happened 8 times in the last 4 months) she realized, “HMMM. I don’t get to play or interact with anyone over here. This sort of sucks.”

  5. I’d try a scratching post too – okay, not quite, but we did show my son he could hit pillows and things at that age, and bite specific toys. We’d swap in the object as soon as he started and it at least confused him enough… 🙂

  6. We went through this with both of my now 2-year-old twins a few months ago (in the form of hitting.) The only thing that worked (after trying all of your current list) was being an absolute helicopter for about 10 days. I never left them alone and I watched them like hawks for the raised hand. This was often the only warning…very little correlation with anger/fatigue/frustration…super random. When I saw it coming I would really calmly restrain her/him. I wouldn’t even inturrupt my sentence…nothing…no reaction at all from me. I would just stop the behavior without ever mentioning it all. We also banned the word “hitting” from our vocab. When you say “No hitting” all they hear is “hitting”. Obviously, if one twin hit the other I needed to deal with it, but instead of addressing the hitter I would lavish attention and affection on the hitee.Have you considered wearing a hockey mask for a week or so? It will protect you and scare the living crap out of any 20 month-old. Kidding…sort of.

  7. Sound advice, all. The one thing I thought of while reading was to get him some little knit mittens to put on him whenever he does the scratching thing? Although, I do know how difficult it can be to put mittens on a 20 month old… just a thought.Similar to the biting thing, I think being cut off from attention/ interaction after an incident is the most effective way to convey that this kind of behavior is not okay.

  8. One of my boys (21 months) is a biter and face-ripper-offer (not really scratching, but grabbing face skin). When he does either to me or his dad, it’s always when we’re playing and having fun- with his brother it’s always out of frustration. It’s tapered off some, our usual response when he bites us has been a firm “no biting!” and ending the fun times immediately after a bite.I second the book “Teeth are not for biting”. Maybe you could draw one about scratching? It’s kind of cute, now if I hear a tussle between the boys and come in to see what happened the non-biter will say ‘book’ and point to his brother, indicating he was bitten.
    Another thing that actually helped was having him be accidentally bitten (very lightly) by our cat. We told the cat sternly “no biting!” which he thought was funny, but I could see a light go off. Not that I recommend this as a strategy, but I think it indicates that play-acting with stuffed animals might work.

  9. When our daughter hits, it take hold of her hand and refuse to let go for a 30 seconds or a minute or so. She gets mad and I tell her, “okay, i’ll let go, don’t hit again.” Repeat as often as necessary (usually not too often). I’ve learned that she feeds off of our reaction so I keep my tone and actions as calm and boring as possible. That’s absolutely key with her, she LOVES to see us get mad. It’s infuriating but I’ve learned to pretend I find her misbehavior boring and dispense the consequences very calmly and that seems to take the fun out of it for her.

  10. All my core advice is covered, though I’d enhance the ‘verbalizing the underlying emotion’ a bit – what DO we do when we’re upset, frustrated, or whatever? In our house, that is. Not what do kids do, but how can you tie how he feels to something you feel, so when he sees you act a certain way HE can feel empathy back for you? Talking through the whole process is important – FIRST I get all tight in my body, then I want to hit something or scream (or whatever), and then I take a deep breath and remind myself that I can handle it, and then I try to figure out what the problem is, and that helps me relax more, and then if I need help, I ask someone to help me work on the problem. That sort of thing – but preferably with specifics.Also, if this is a pattern (which it is), just doing that talking out whenever it happens (feelings-wise) in YOU (not when he scratches, but in situations where you are feeling that way yourself), so he can see it when he’s calm, that can help. It sets up the scenario in a calm mind, so he can observe later – in the middle of it, it helps for expressing, but not as much for setting the expectations.
    Finally, if you’re not sure what he’s feeling, check yourself – because what you’re feeling is what he’s feeling, I bet – part of that satisfaction and need (that he gets furious about if it doesn’t work right) is because he’s overwhelmed by certain feelings, and he can only get relief by seeing those same feelings expressed by another person (this is a normal part of emotional development). Sometimes being more dramatic about the acting out HIS feelings may help (makes it easier for him to understand that you get it without having to elicit the reaction). If you feel powerless, shocked, frustrated, hurt, and angry, that’s how he’s reacting to this very challenging phase of life. It may ‘sneak up on him’ as much as it sneaks up on you. The shock of it is part of what he can’t handle – things seem okay and then he’ll realize that something ELSE that he thought was reliable and true isn’t what he thought, and it scares and shocks him, and he has to get that out. It could be something as minor as realizing that the world is just a little smaller today than it was yesterday (this was a HUGE deal for me around that age – I did not understand that I was getting bigger, to me the world was shrinking, and I could tell it was shrinking progressively, and didn’t know when it would stop – I was terrified that it would all vanish, including my mom. And I couldn’t articulate that for what felt like a very very long time).
    Oh, and books with baby faces feeling different feelings – they help cement the idea that everyone has feelings, and they express in certain ways, and that includes kids. Photo books are best.

  11. I agree with Wendy that sometimes all they hear is “hitting” (or scratching, pinching, biting) when you say “no hitting.” So we focus on “gentle” and “nice,” while taking his hand and demonstrating that this is how we use our hands. He figured it out for the dog, so I am hoping it will translate to us one of these days.I also use the put him down and walk away, unless of course that is exactly what he wants.
    I’m sure you would love to hear how well all of this has worked, but we just aren’t there yet. Saw the ped this week, though, and she agreed this was the right approach to discipline at this age (15 months).

  12. I’ve got a biter, and I’m his prime target. He does it when he’s mad at times, but more often when we are playing and he’s happy. The first time this came up, I tried a number of things. Time-outs, which led him to bite me when he wanted attention. The stern voice, which he ignored. A hand over his mouth, which led to a spit covered hand. What finally worked was to place him on the floor, and walk out of the room. It worked pretty quickly. Since the first time, he has returned to biting around those bit development spurt times, and I just return to leaving the room. He just entered another one of these phases, and he’s old enough now that I can warn him first. If he tries to bite me, I tell him I will leave the room, and then leave the room if he keeps going. He stopped in just a few days.

  13. I’d suggest a scratching post too. We got my daughter a “pinching knob” (one of those stress balls) which went a long way towards helping with the stress/excitement/provoking pinching (we’ve got three types of pinching going on here). I got the idea when Moxie said she bought her son a chew toy for biting.DD started Pinching around 18-20 mos. too. She’d always been very tactile with us, and it just suddenly morphed into pinching. And it was only us (and v. occasionally her grandmothers) who were so treated.
    However it didn’t help much with the exhaustion-provoked “Im too tired to demand attention any other way” pinching, or the “I’m falling asleep but I need to touch you and do this repetative touching i.e. pinching to make sure you’re there and paying attention until I fall asleep” stuff.
    We’re treating the former with an “end to fun” tactic– walking away, allowing the hysterics to happen and then DD gets calmed and put to bed with a sharp eye if not hands on the hands so she couldn’t get us again– because the second walk-way/hysterics round killed her sleep. Frankly, the habit wound down, but I’m not sure it wasn’t do to more with language skills development and our preventive attentiveness rather than our discipline methods. Man, is was hard. For a while there I’d almost cringe if my DD moved to touch me unexpectedly towards bedtime with that certain air. Not the attitude I wanted to have to my child’s touch. . .
    The latter type– well, we’re working on that, reducing it to elbows and the place between fingers and thumb, but if he likes to scratch as he goes to sleep as some sort of calming, tactile thing, isolating it to areas it doesn’t hurt doesn’t seem to be a viable option for you. Maybe a stuffed cat, teaching the fact that cats like being cratched and stroked?
    On a practical note, I find that trimming and filing nails goes SO much faster if I do it after DD goes to sleep. A tip I think I found here. Thanks to whoever suggested it.

  14. I’ve got two fresh bite marks on my arm. I also lost a good chunk of hair on Monday as I was trying to dig something out of the bottom on the closet, the little one kept pulling my hair. I kept turning around, setting him down, saying no and he kept getting back up and pulling out my hair. I though there was a dead animal on the floor once I stood up and looked at all the hair he had pulled out. It really hurt, too but I was in a hurry and trying to find something and didn’t have time to make sure he was occupied with something other than my hair. The hair pulling, biting, face pinching – all of it can happen when he’s happy, mad, out of the blue. I’ve found no real pattern and no effective cure except physically removing myself from his reach or distracting him with something else. It’s got to be a phase. I know there is so much going on in his head and he’s growing so fast. Communication with eye contact helps with tantrums a lot more than I thought it would with a 15 month old. And we keep his nails as short as possible!

  15. File those nails! Keeping my 19-month-old daughter’s nails short is routine, but she’d still scratch me all up if I didn’t file them, too. Seriously, getting rid of any snags and sharp corners with the nail file is key! I find that glass files are the gentlest. They don’t have that same sandpaper feel as an emery board, and they don’t tear up your skin if you’re filing way down. They’re a little more expensive, but they last forever and are so worth it!

  16. I like all the advice. We had a biter and for him and all his other negative things ignoring them actually worked best. So sort of the opposite of pretend crying about the hurting, because the reaction is fun! Though the balance there is hard.Telling him WHAT to DO with his hands (or teeth etc.) is really more effective with my kid than telling him what not to do (after a month or two of telling him to not lick his upper lip (he keeps his tongueon his lip all the time and it gets chapped, rince repeat) we’ve started reminding him where his tongue goes and he VERY excitedly shows us that his tongue goes in his mouth and he is SO HAPPY that he knows the answer.
    Of course, he was a biter at 18 months, and no longer bites anyone. He occasionally bites his toys when he is frustrated or angry.
    So, big yes on telling him what his hands are for, and reminding that when he’s calm. Thanking him for the times he uses his hands in a kind and gentle way. And yes on talking about his feelings and your feelings so he knows that feelings that you can’t control are normal for everyone.

  17. We have a 20 month old and we went through a very similar phase a couple of months ago (although perhaps not quite as severe…and he would grab a little fist-full of our faces rather than scratch…).All advice given thus far has been great. My only addition is to say what we did (and it seems to have worked) –
    Every time he gabbed/pinched us, we would hold his hands firmly (the length of time varied – enough to send a message so it would be frustrating for him but not make him really mad…it usually was only about 10 seconds). Then we would say, “Can you give Daddy/Mommy a gentle pat?” and we would help him to give us a gentle pat or stroke on the face. I think this modelled a positive, appropriate behaviour and we didn’t have to say the negative part (i.e., “No pinching/scratching”). It didn’t take long before he would give us a gentle pat on his own. Also, if both of us were present, the one who wasn’t being grabbed would say something like, “Oh – be gentle with Daddy! Poor Daddy. Can you give him a nice pat?” and that seemed to work well. The re-direction came from an ‘advocate’ rather than the ‘victim.’
    Anyway, hope this passes soon for you.
    One other thing – like with you, it happened at all sorts of times. Our son sometimes seemed to do it almost out of boredom just to experiment with our reaction.

  18. Argh, my 3-month-old does this! She loves to lay her palm on my chest when we’re having tender cuddly moments, but when she gets upset that little hand turns into a vicious weapon and I have scabs on my chest to prove it. When I wear high-necked shirts she reaches up and drags down the collar so she can get to the skin-to-skin contact she wants, whether positive or negative. It is so hard for me to keep reminding myself that she’s not trying to be mean, just to communicate with me. She’s too young to understand, but I do make a little yelp of pain when she scratches me so that at some level she knows I don’t like it. When I hold her hand away from me so that she’ll stop it makes her scream louder. This usually happens when she wants to communicate “I’m not really tired, stop trying to make me slee…zzzzzzz” and “I swear I’m hungry even though I just finished a 6 oz. bottle!!!!!!!!!!” And it is so hard to clip her nails at this age. Anyhow, hopefully she’ll grow out of this and not just continue the same behavior for the next 17 months or more…

  19. oh man, I’m so sorry this sucks and it hurts. we go through phases like this often and I have to agree with the posters who said no attention, except a firm, be gentle and showing him what gentle means works. well, it worked for us. The hard part really was controlling our emotions to the pain and frustration. which i now see is the cycle that will repeat itself my whole parenting life. good luck and do check back with us! it is a phase and it will pass. oh, we also made a game out of being gentle by taking out all his stuffed aniamls and stroking them and being “nice’ and “kind’ and ‘respectful’ (thanks hedra). we’re trying to do this now with the screaming and the throwing. oh the throwing. onestepahead needs to market mommy helmets. wouldnt that be a hoot?

  20. i dont want to hijack the thread at all, but can folks share their tips on how to cut the mini’s nails? we have to use handy manny to distract him.

  21. Oh my, ugh. I second the recommendations for walking out of the room and refusing to interact–and you can also do big, big time praise for the desired behavior. It’s kind of hard to remember to do it when the desired behavior is “not scratching” but try and make yourself smile, get excited, and praise him at least some of the time when he touches you gently. “Wow, sweetie, I really like the way you’re touching mommy’s arm right now–so gentle!!!”Somewhat related, and not to really hijack, but anybody have any idea how to get a 4 1/2 to stop squeezing my arm to show how mad she is? She only does it if she’s been cooped up or not gotten enough exercise, but given she’s fully capable of stuff like “mommy, I am so mad that you won’t let me X–I am 100 times madder as the world is tall” (direct quote) I don’t think she should need to do this and all my gentle “I can hear how mad you are, your words really told me” or “no, we don’t hurt people no matter how mad we are” doesn’t seem to cut it off. Sigh…

  22. @Biwani – DH is the nail trimmer at our house. He bought a Safety 1st brand infant nail trimmer with a nifty light on it that turns on when you flip the clipper into place. It was under $3 at that ubiquitous big box store we jokingly refer to as “Wally World.” The light is very handy because the only time he can get 14 mos. old DS to be still enough is when he is sleeping!

  23. @Biwani- Hubby is the nail trimmer in our house, too. We use the TV to distract Pumpkin while he does it. He usually has to break it into two “sessions”. Sleep is too precious in our house to do anything that might inadvertently wake the sleeping toddler….

  24. No time to read comments–I have a 2.5-year-old–sorry if I repeat anything, but I wanted to second the verbalizing the kid’s frustration part of Moxie’s answer. I always thought it sounded goofy when I first read about it, here and elsewhere, but every time I make the effort to do the verbalizing, it works wonders. Tone of voice helps sometimes, too–in my case, especially with my second kid–mirroring what energy she’s bringing to the whining/crying, but with words. Your mileage may vary, of course, but it certainly works over here, despite my skepticism. Best of luck.

  25. @Karen, at 3 months old, I’d definitely try a nursing necklace for the chest scratching thing. It’s worked wonders with my DS’s breast-pinching-while-nursing (ouch!). You can get them in various places, including etsy.com, or if you’re handy, you can make your own with a donut bead and some cord, and maybe some other beads if you can tie the whole thing securely. When baby starts scratching you, redirect her to the necklace.

  26. I’m exhausted by my day today so I hope this makes sense. If it doesn’t all the details for this method are on my website in seminar #1 called No, we don’t do that.The components of this method are:
    1. Stopping the hitting/biting/scratching immediately.
    2. Setting a boundary.
    3. Showing the child how you DO want him to touch you.
    4. Allowing the child to repeat the scenario without scratching etc and touch you the right way. Having the child repeat the situation again, in the moment, by using the right kind of touching allows you to see if there are any holes in his learning.
    All of this takes 10-30 seconds, yes it really is that fast, and works best if done exactly the same way each time so a child this age really understands “oh, this IS what happens when I hit/bite/scratch.”
    1. You stop the hitting immediately by using your words like a transition-warning. You say “Uh, Oh.” For some reason those words work like magic. The Academy of Pediatrics and the Audiology Association all use them to get a child’s attention, and Love and Logic made the words popular. The repetition of these words and actions create a sense of safety for a child. He comes to know that each time he hears “Uh, Oh,” a correction is coming and he needs to pay attention. If your habit is to say No first, then simply say Uh, Oh after that.
    2. Setting a boundary. Do this by saying, “Uh, Oh you hit—you sit” or “you scratch—you sit” and gently have him/guide him/gently fold him in half so he is seated. No need to go anywhere special, just have him take a seat on the floor, and you join him there. Keep your gentle hands on him at all times and pull your body back so you don’t get hit etc. Then count 3 -10 seconds. Having a fully mobile child take a seat is the part they don’t like, but it’s only 3-10 seconds.
    3. You know your child’s temperament best so you decide if they need to sit for 3 seconds or up to 10 seconds. After 3-10 seconds stand him up and kiss him on the forehead. This shows him you love him and it’s almost over.
    4. Now, the try again. Share with him how you want him to touch you. Tell him “we don’t hit. You need to use gentle hands with mommy.” Watch how many grown-up words you use; try to reduce them to preschool size words. He’s already frustrated by his lack of language and may lash out again if he doesn’t really understand the words you’re using when he’s this emotional. Any other time is a perfect time to introduce big words and increase language; but it’s better for the child if you use preschool size words when he’s emotional.
    5. Now have him show you the way you want him to touch you. You can say, “show mommy how you touch her gently. Good job.”
    6. Then say thank you, and you’re done. It took less than 1 minute.
    The key to this method is to repeat the same words and action each time he hits/bites/scratches. The repetition is what helps him understand he can’t do this.
    By using this method you’re sending very valuable information to your child about how you want him to manage his behavior. Your words and actions send the silent message “I need to correct you, it’s my job, I can’t let you hit me, bite me, scratch me. But I can make loving gentle respectful corrections, and send you all the information you need to help you manage your frustration.
    I’m wiped out, so if I wasn’t clear and you need more information it’s all on my site. Good luck and yes this too shall pass, but unless information about how you want him to touch you is included in your correction a little one at this age can be confused and consumed by his feelings and may keep returning to the only way they know how to reduce frustration—to hit, bite or scratch.

  27. In Moxie’s archives, she talks about biting and how she had “Toby” – a toy that was okay to bite instead of biting people. It’s worked really well with us, and we also have a different toy that he’s allowed to physically maul when he gets frustrated. Maybe a scratching toy? (Yes, I am aware that kids aren’t cats)

  28. Moxie, I hope you’re feeling better.Kathy, everyone’s advice is great. I’m especially a big fan of choices, of staying as calm as possible, and of explaining about why the behavior is not okay during a calm moment, because they understand so much more than they can convey to you at that stage.
    One thing I think I didn’t see (and maybe b/c it goes without saying?) is to warn the other mommies about this issue if kids are playing together. My 2nd daughter went through an ugly biting phase, and it helps if the other mothers can watch out for it, too. Plus, that way, the unbelievably vigilant mothers who are more prone to get upset can decide what level of contact they’re comfortable with for their own child. Yes, it makes you feel like people know you’ve got a demon child–but it feels a lot better than apologizing and explaining after an Incident.

  29. While I pretty much agree with what everyone’s said here, I have one other thing to add…You say this happened when you went to Jamaica. Well what changed between the time you left and the time you got back? What was the inciting incident? Was your child tired from a long day of travel? Sick from a change of diet? Sunburned? Something let him see that this would get him what he wanted.
    It seems to me that maybe if you can figure out what that thing is, you can maybe turn back the clock.
    …and to the poster that mentions a 3-month old, with all due respect I think that might be a slightly different thing…

  30. @Biwani, we had to go to nail files for some of the kids (Miss M had super-thin razors for nails, nothing but filing worked). Trimming while they sleep is also a good idea. I’d still get slashed regularly.@Karen, Nursing necklaces help for the nursing thing, but it depends on the child – I had one who would go ‘oh, look, pretty! PINCH PINCH PINCH’ – she just got a lot of body feedback from the pinching. And she ended up both a pincher and a biter later – so while it is a different reason now, later it can be a similar outlet. Try hand massage, too – I sometimes could get a pause in the poke/scratch/pinch mommy thing when I would do a mini hand massage, but other times I’d just get a mad baby yanking back their hand.
    Oh, and listen to your letdown or baby’s suck pattern after the scratching – oddly when I’d get pinched, I’d let down soon after, so it became partly a ‘poke mommy’s body so I get more milk’ thing. I eventually got used to the need to pinch with Miss M, though we still worked on reducing it (and we did NOT allow biting – biting got the calm, quiet, firm put-down-on-floor reaction – and that response was so clearly set that one day Miss M bit me, then let go, started crying while she climbed off my lap ON HER OWN and then reached out to ask to get back up… she knew the pattern. It became her own version of ‘I blew it, I’m sorry, please forgive me’).

  31. The only thing I’d like to add is that at 20 months DD was goign thru a doozy of a fussy period which was also mitigated by jet lag as we had just returned from our holiday in Australia (to Italy). Don’t know if there is much of a time difference between Jamaica and where you live ( we had 8 hours), but I’m sure even the smallest time difference does not help a fussy child. Anywya, just to say that 20 months is in the middle of one of the nastiest fussy periods my daughter has experienced. In a month or so, you will probably notice an improvement in his shitty behaviour

  32. Our little one would put himself in “mineout!” when he’d catch himself being uber-bratty, although now he’s 4 he thinks nothing of being bratty (dangit!). Around the 2 year mark he’d pinch/grab/scratch when he was frustrated and sometimes the only thing that got through to him was putting him down and walking away. It’d piss him off but at least he knew dad and I didn’t like it.

  33. I got nothing for the scratching, and am very interested in everyone’s responses. I do, however, have to advocate for the signing.OMG, signing is AWESOME. I’ve been trying signs with my DD since she was oh, about 4 months old. Absolute nothing for ages. At a little past 9 months, she was finally able to apply “all done,” and that alone was a breakthrough. I can’t nurse another second? “All done!” and no problem. Solids finished? “All done!” Can’t read the same book for the 101st time? “All done!” Miracle. Now that she’s 13 months, we’re having days where she suddenly picks up three words/signs in one DAY, and I now know I’ve been feeding her breakfast an hour too late for her tastes. (Oops. Hey kid, your peers aren’t even AWAKE yet.)
    Use the signs! And if that’s not enough: http://scienceblogs.com/cognitivedaily/2005/03/teaching_babies_sign_language.php

  34. My 20 month-old is certainly at the peak of his frustration. He’s always been a hitter/kicker, at least until we introduced time-outs about two months ago. This was very effective. We still have hitting bouts, but most are curbed by a “be gentle” reminder, or the soft threat of a time-out. All of this hand in hand with clinginess and a lot of whining. Just waiting for those words to kick in and take the edge off!

  35. We used a very different strategy that actually worked wonders in just a couple days for our daughter, who was a biter at that age. She is pretty verbal and would tell us who she had bitten at daycare. We and her teachers wanted to nudge her into handling the situation with words, so we hit upon a counter-intuitive strategy of acting like biting was the most ridiculous thing in the world. If she told us she bit Jack, we’d say, in a very exaggerated, somewhat silly tone, some variant of “Oh no! We don’t bite Jack! Jack is our friend! We hug our friends!” Within a couple days, her biting urge was completely satisfied by *talking* about biting, and she had stopped the actual behavior. We always kept the talks she initiated about biting somewhat game-like in tone (she’d use her “ferocious” voice, we’d make exaggerated exclamations of surprise, etc.). We also designated a couple toys as ones she could bite if she was in true distress, and she only needed to bite those a few times over the course of the 3 or so weeks that she talked about biting.

  36. We used a very different strategy that actually worked wonders in just a couple days for our daughter, who was a biter at that age. She is pretty verbal and would tell us who she had bitten at daycare. We and her teachers wanted to nudge her into handling the situation with words, so we hit upon a counter-intuitive strategy of acting like biting was the most ridiculous thing in the world. If she told us she bit Jack, we’d say, in a very exaggerated, somewhat silly tone, some variant of “Oh no! We don’t bite Jack! Jack is our friend! We hug our friends!” Within a couple days, her biting urge was completely satisfied by *talking* about biting, and she had stopped the actual behavior. We always kept the talks she initiated about biting somewhat game-like in tone (she’d use her “ferocious” voice, we’d make exaggerated exclamations of surprise, etc.). We also designated a couple toys as ones she could bite if she was in true distress, and she only needed to bite those a few times over the course of the 3 or so weeks that she talked about biting.

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