Q&A: hitting

Shannon writes:

"I have a 22 month old son (Henry) and a 7 week old son (Myles). Henryis a sweet, loving boy who loves to cuddle and hug. He has such a huge heart, but he also hits constantly. It started about 8 months ago, and he was hitting me and his Daddy, it has slowly progressed to him hitting everyone. Sometimes its when he doesn't get his way, other times (mostly with other children) just when he feels like it. He is excited all day to see his cousin, and then when we get together, he just walks around beating on her, and then watching her cry. Sometimes he's hitting me over and over again when he is mad, and I feel like he can't even control it. When Myles was born, Henry seemed to adjust wonderfully. Lots of kisses and he always wants to hug his little brother. But he can be so aggressive and I really have to watch that he doesn't smother Myles, but as soon as I restrict him in any way, he immediately starts hitting Myles. Or sometimes he'll just scratch his face for no reason.
I feel completely lost. I don't know what to do anymore. I feel like I have tried everything. Stern talking to, time outs, time ins, yelling. Unfortunately, I have also been aggressive back with him, out of pure frustration. I am brought to tears almost daily, because he has made Myles bleed or tormented another child. Sometimes I loose sight of the fact that he is my baby, that I gave birth to him and he is an innocent child. I just get so upset and protective of his younger brother.
I feel like speaking with him gently and explaining that he loves Myles and that he doesn't want to hurt him works to a certain extent. It prevents further hitting for the time being, but it hasn't been a cure all, and to be honest, it is so hard to be patient and soft after this long.

What do I do? Where do I go from here? Nothing has worked, and everyones advice that he'll grow out of it seems to be totally inaccurate since we are coming up to almost a year of it. Any advice would be greatly appreciated."

Henry sounds a lot like my second son. He has extremely intense emotions, and is the most loving child I've ever met. But his emotions are so intense that he has a truly hard time dealing with them, and that results in a lot of hitting (and sometimes biting) and now threatening with words. It's been going on since he was a toddler, and it seems to me as if his aggression just flares up when he feels misunderstood or thwarted and he doesn't know how to make himself feel better about a situation.

The only thing that seems to help is to talk out his feelings with him, to allow him to be angry but to express it verbally instead of physically. When he was littler and not verbal what helped was saying what I guessed he was feeling, about being angry or frustrated. He could nod his head when I hit the right emotions. Now I can say, "How does that make you feel?"

I've also started noticing that when I do a more general debriefing of the day at night and in the morning of what happened that day or the day before and how he felt about it, he seems to do less aggressive acting out. It's almost as if he knows he's being understood and will have his chance to state his emotional case, so he can control the lashing out a little more.

Have you ever felt like the world was on your last nerve? That must be what it's like to be a really intensely emotional child. Anything is going to set you off, and you won't have the emotional space to pull back. So I think trying to make your child feel understood, and taking the focus off the kids he hits and more onto his own emotions just might help. But it seems like a more constant process (of daily check-ins) than just stopping it at the time.

I'm going to try it out even more over the next few weeks, and if any of you with intense kids who are physically acting out would volunteer to try it out, too, we could see if it's a plan that helps. Because that feeling of not knowing how to stop your child (who you KNOW is loving) from hurting other kids is horrible.

Any comments?