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It’s time for another Ask Dr. Leman: “My 4-year-old is hitting Grandma!” Listen in for Dr. Leman’s advice on how to deal with your in-laws on this episode of Have a New Kid by Friday Podcast.


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Doug: All righty. Can you imagine this? Grandma comes over, you put your little sweet four year old son to see grandma and he rears back and hits her. And he hits at school and he’s hitting his sister. What do you do? You’ve tried everything, but you won’t know how to get your four year old to stop hitting. That’s the question that Whitney asked that we get to ask Dr. Leman today.
Hi, I’m Doug Terpening.

Andrea: And [00:00:30] I’m Andrea.

Doug: And we are so glad that you are with us today. Welcome. If this happens to be your first time with us, want to let you know this is for your education and entertainment purposes only. If the subject matter raises any concerns for you or your child, please go seek a local professional for help.
Well, it is a joy to be with you guys today. And I just want to remind everybody that we get Whitney’s audio question today and you can go to and put slash any number from 325 on down and [00:01:00] go to the bottom and you’ll see a little microphone right there. You can click and leave your audio question right there. just about any number under 300, and you can see some of our old episodes. Well, let’s jump in and hear Whitney’s question for Dr. Leman.

Whitney: Hi Dr. Leman. My name is Whitney and I am I’m from Arizona, from Prescott, Arizona and I have two kids. A daughter who’s almost seven and a son who’s turning four here at the end of the week. And my question is [00:01:30] regarding my four year old son. We are having quite a problem with him with negative behavior, particularly hitting. He’s hitting kids at school, he’s hitting kids at church, he’s hitting my daughter, he’s hitting his grandma and we’re just kind of at a loss on how to deal with it. Especially in the school setting. At home, I can evoke immediate consequences, but at school I can’t really do anything to deal with it in the moment, [00:02:00] apart from dealing with it when he gets home.
I’ve definitely read your books and I listen to your podcast so I’m aware of your methods and we’re trying our best to respond instead of react and deal with the hitting in the moment. But it doesn’t seem to be getting any better and I just wondered if you had any other suggestions, possible things that we could try to help [00:02:30] him understand that it’s not okay to strike other kids. Can’t wait to hear from you. Thanks.

Dr. Leman: Well, Whitney from Prescott, Arizona, if you’d never been to Prescott, Arizona people, it’s a wonderful little western town nestled up about an hour and a half above Phoenix, Arizona. High elevation, nice place to be from. Whitney, I’ll tell you if that were my four year old, I’d consider two things, [00:03:00] Amazon Prime or eBay. You could probably get a good price for him. I don’t know. That kind of kid, four year old. Can you imagine he’s hitting everything in sight? At Sunday school, school, grandma, anybody in sight. Okay. Lehman, what do you do with this kid?

Well, is hitting an inborn trait? [00:03:30] No, it’s not. It’s learned behavior. The question becomes, he’s just turning four at the end of this week, when did he start hitting? Was he hitting at 13 months when he was just beginning to walk? I’ve seen kids 13 months, 16 months, 18 months, hit their parents and the parent thinking it was sort of cute. [00:04:00] And again, this is a learned behavior. The first thing I would do, if I’m a parent, I’d do a little thinking and say, “Now, wait a minute. How long has this really been going on? And what were any of the circumstances that could have taught him to hit other people?” It’s very unusual for a four year old. This is an unusual question in many ways.
There are kids who strike out at other people, but it’s usually in anger [00:04:30] when they don’t get their way. But the striking of other people on a continuing basis is odd. And doesn’t happen that often. With that in mind, just got to sort of trace back to see if you can put that puzzle together in your mind so at least you have some understanding that, wait a minute, this was learned behavior. He’s learned it somehow. And kids learn through trial and error.
[00:05:00] You don’t have to teach a kid to say that, “No, I didn’t take the cookie from the cookie jar.” That’s the carnal self that’s in all of us, but this kind of behavior, like I say is unusual. In the moment, let’s start with that. In the moment he strikes grandma, who’s over to the house or your husband. Now, my guess is you’re doing this, [00:05:30] but we can probably talk about how to do it best. You pick him up, physically pick him up. You put him in his room. You have a lock on that door. One of those little slider locks you can put on the outside of the door to make sure he stays in there. Now, again, as I said, many times you could hold the door, but that gets old for you. Might as well make [00:06:00] it convenient for yourself.
Just isolate him, put them in that room. And you do not let him out of that room until he quiets down. And I’m saying quiet down, because chances are with this kid, when you pick him up and put them in the room, he’s going to display some kind of a power tantrum and you’ll wait until he’s completely quiet. And until he initiates something. In other words, he initiates, ” [00:06:30] Mommy, Daddy, I’m sorry.” Or something along that line. Then he comes out. You can imagine a powerful kid. He could be in there for well over an hour. That’s what you do in the here and now. Without words. You don’t have to repeat, “It’s not nice to hit people. Mommy doesn’t like that,” at this point, because this guy is [00:07:00] he’s Rocky Marciano in miniature. He’s hit and everything in sight. Anyway, that’s in the here and now.
Now when you talk about school, Sunday school, you have to give people permission on that end to do what they need to do. And that would be some kind of social [00:07:30] isolation. If that means that he has to be in a thinking chair in the classroom, far removed from the other kids, so be it. If it means he has to go to an office down where the administrators hang out at school, so be it. But he doesn’t get to be in the group per se. Again, it’s really important that you understand that there’s nothing you can [00:08:00] do, that you can physically do yourself when he’s in school.

When he’s in church, they can bring that child to you. Now that’s an embarrassment. I’ll give you that. But in a church setting, I don’t think you’re going to find that place to put him other than with a parent. Which means then one of the parents [00:08:30] has to obviously be with four year old, whether that’s in a car, maybe you’re out there for 45 minutes waiting for church services to close so your husband can join you. That’s a huge inconvenience. What I don’t like about that is he sort of gets paid off so to speak for his antisocial behavior, by having mommy or daddy auto himself in a car.

Anyway, those are [00:09:00] openers. This is the kind of a question that I would hate to take on national TV.

Doug: Why is that?

Dr. Leman: Because it’s like biting. What do you do with a biter? Those are the tough questions because they’re so difficult to deal with for so many different reasons. And it all gets back to isolation. When you go on national TV and you say, “Listen, pick up this [00:09:30] kid and put them in a room and lock the door.” Hello. Here’s 1.2 million emails coming your way because parents today, again, I’ve said it to so many times, they’re just clueless. They think that this is going to damage the kid’s psyche for life and they’ll read everything into that. The point is you cannot continue. This kid cannot continue to just bite people or hit people. Because if he does, before long, somebody’s going to clean his clock.

Doug: Right. You came out [00:10:00] saying that he learned this behavior from somewhere. Are you implying that he saw someone hit somebody? He saw it on television? What does that mean?

Dr. Leman: Well, that’s a good point, Doug. Sometimes as parents, we let kids see things that are inappropriate. Somebody did a study once. This goes way back that the average cartoon that kids saw had a 109 acts [00:10:30] of violence in it. If you can believe that. And that goes back, the study that was probably 30 years old. Violence on screen. And again, kids should not have screen time. Kids, young kids have way too much screen time today. It’s not good for kids. But he has learned. Maybe he just struck out like kids will do. It’s not uncommon for a little kid to strike out and hit somebody. But it was reinforced [00:11:00] in such a way that somehow the kid said, “Oh, I get it. I get it. This is a game we can play real good.” And it grows into a habit and he gets great response from it. He gets attention from it. It’s not positive attention, just negative attention, but nevertheless it’s attention.
That’s why I say, it’s the kind of question you wouldn’t want to answer on Oprah Winfrey. There’s no real clear cut bing, bing, bing, here’s what you [00:11:30] do. But the one thing I can guarantee you is the sooner you isolate the kid without words and you do it consistently, you ought to see a change in behavior because this kid is a social animal. He wants to be around other people.

Doug: The reason this question caught my eye is this is not the first time we’ve heard about a kid hitting somebody. But hitting grandma seems extreme to me. [00:12:00] Hitting sister, okay. Hitting schoolmates, fine. But really? Unless grandma’s horrible, but usually grandma’s, is that uber unusual? Or is it nah, hitting grandma’s just like hitting sister and everybody else. It’s just to get attention.

Dr. Leman: No, no. It’s unusual because he hits every place. He hits in Sunday school. He hits in school. He hits at home. He hits grandma. That’s why I said at the very beginning, it’s a very unusual question. I’m not suggesting [00:12:30] that this kid needs to be evaluated by some shrink. You didn’t hear that. You didn’t hear me say, “Take him to the local hospital, to the psych unit and find out if there’s someone there who specializes in pediatric psychiatry and somebody evaluate the kid.” I don’t think that’s what we’re talking about based upon her question. And by the way, I want to say, I think Whitney, she sounds like she’s a great parent. She doesn’t sound like she’s flaky [00:13:00] or weird, or she sounds like she’s on top of her game. She’s trying to be responsible parent. She mentioned in her questions, she’s trying to respond and not react.
The only thing I would tell you there, Whitney, is just be sure that your response isn’t so soft that it gets misread by little Rocky Marciano. I’m not trying to make light of a tough situation, but it sounds to me like mama bear [00:13:30] is doing the best. Now, we haven’t heard about dad. I’m trusting that you’re both on the same page, but again, the permission thing don’t overlook what I said about permission. The school has to know that you give their permission to act with him swiftly and in a plan that you and your husband and are in accord with.

Doug: Yeah, well, let’s do this now because I have another question to ask about this. Before [00:14:00] I forget, our friends at Bigger Books are offering you a brand new ebook, which is a great one called, Under the Sheets, for a buck 99 between now and the end of August of 2020. Under the Sheets and Andrea, do you have a review?

Andrea: I do, by Adrian. I highly recommend this book for any couple that is looking to improve their intimacy. My husband and I have been married 10 years. After having three kids I just don’t view sex the same way I did before [00:14:30] kids. This book has completely changed my thinking. Dr. Lehman shifts the focus from how to be a good lover to how to communicate so everybody’s needs are met. It’s very funny and upfront. I look forward to having my husband read it as well. He also tuned me into understanding what my husband is thinking. I can’t say enough good about this book.

Doug: If you are in a marriage or in a relationship and you’re thinking, man, I want to prove our intimacy, Under the Sheets [00:15:00] is a great book for it. Get it now. Between now and the end of August of 2020, wherever eBooks are sold.

Dr. Leman: That book. I’m going to say this as plainly as I can. If you have any voyeuristic tendencies and you want to look into real life drama of people’s sex lives, this is the book for you. It is, [00:15:30] I wouldn’t say it’s in your face because that’s not my style, but it’s very blunt. You’re going to hear the real words of real people and how they feel about sex. You’re going to hear from people who are disgusted with sex, people who think sex is filthy dirty. You’re going to hear stories of women who are the aggressors, who love [00:16:00] sex. You’re going to hear of men who are very timid and avoid sex. You’re going to hear stories of victory and you’re going to hear stories where the best thing we can say is to be continued.
But if you’re interested in this area and you need some help, for a $1.99, the entertainment value in this book is very high. It’s very good. Try to make you laugh [00:16:30] as we tackle the tough subject to sex. I don’t know a better endorsement that I can give for you to read Under the Sheets. You will like Under the Sheets, trust me.

Doug: There you go. Get it now until the end of August of 2020, wherever eBooks are sold. And now a no nonsense parenting moment with Dr. Kevin Leman,

Dr. Leman: Who doesn’t want to be a winner? Well, let me guarantee you a way [00:17:00] of being a winner. Be the first born in your family. I wrote a book called Born to Win and if you look at any empirical data, you will see that firstborns rule. Higher IQs, they’re the movers and shakers in life. They’re most likely to be the physician, the attorney, the accountant, the architect, the engineer. Okay, you win. This is a book for you. If you want to feel good about yourself, pick up a copy of Born to Win and forget the rest of us. [00:17:30] Seriously, Born to Win is a great little book for any firstborn and it points out the fact that yes, you have so many things going for you, but there’s a theme throughout that book that says too much perfection will nail you. It will stop you in your tracks. It’s an easy read. It’s offered to you at ridiculously low price to download it. Why wouldn’t you do that today?

Doug: [00:18:00] Dr. Leman, your advice to Whitney is isolation to help him get this. The question I have is, this kid is getting tons. I would imagine this kid is getting tons of attention over this and that’s what the payoff is for him. Should Whitney be thinking, I should be paying off this kind of attention instead to try and redirect him? Or just totally focus on isolation?

Dr. Leman: Well, I think isolation is your key. But I think [00:18:30] vitamin E is always good for kids. And so a statement where you had a great day, for example. And let’s say Rocky VIII hasn’t taken a swipe at anybody and you’re tucking him in, that’s where you slip him the commercial announcement. You don’t overdo it, but it’s sort of like, “I was thinking about something. You didn’t hit anybody today. [00:19:00] Honey, that’s got to make you feel good inside.” Just a simple thing like that. Again, don’t overdo the vitamin E. Vitamin E is a glib statement that just says it like it is. It’s putting water on the delicate plant. And those words you choose are really important. That being said, you always add vitamin E, but I think [00:19:30] isolation is your best bet and that has to happen immediately. There’s no excuses. There’s no, “Mommy, I didn’t mean that.” Don’t ever fall for that. You deal with the behavior.

Doug: You briefly touched on something that we’ve heard from parents too though, is that if I isolate my kid, if I keep the door closed, which sounds like, oh my gosh, my kid’s going to [00:20:00] grow up to hate me or be more violent because of this. Why would this not create A, them not loving me and B, them being more violent by doing the isolation?

Dr. Leman: Well no. Parents don’t look for ways of bringing guilt into your life. Guilt again is the propellant for the lousy decisions you’ll make as a parent. You’re doing the right thing. You’re holding him accountable for his actions. What could [00:20:30] be healthier than that? Tell yourself, talk to yourself, hey, I’m doing this for him. I’m doing this for his future. If he just continues to be the tyrant he’s becoming at age four, you don’t need a PhD to figure out by age 14 wow, nobody’s going to want to be near this kid. And again, if he’s like that at 14, somebody 16 or 18 is going to clean his clock big time. That kid’s going to get hurt.

Doug: [00:21:00] It’s an interesting phrase you make that we’re going to hold a four year old accountable for their actions. That is a great phrase. At an inappropriate level, that is fabulous gold. Well, Whitney, a great question. You’re not alone in this hitting incident. I just want to let you know, you are not the only one that is dealing with this. This is one of the more common questions so I appreciate you a lot for asking this question. And a reminder to everybody out there, if you want to leave your audio question, go to birthorderguy. [00:21:30] com/ just about any number and you can leave it right there. And we would love to answer it.
And again, Under the Sheets, if you want to revive and understand each other, now you can get it between now and the end of August of 2020 for only a buck 99. Well, it was great to be with you guys. We look forward to the next time that we get to hang out with you and add to that parenting toolbox so you can love those kiddos more and more and more.

Andrea: Have a great week.

Doug: Take care. Bye bye.