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Twins—One That Hits


I have twins who turned 4 in May.  They are beautiful boys that get along at times but one has a temper and tends to hit his brother when he doesn’t get his way.  I know at times it is about getting my attention but at other it is because he is just having a hard time controlling his temper. He also throws things when he is angry and hits me.  I get down on his level and firmly tell him not to hit and ask him if he needs to go to his "feel good spot" which is his room.  He gets to do whatever he wants in his room.  The problem is he won't go and says right away usually "I'm sorry.  A hug will help."  We give hugs as an option when any of us lose our tempers.  In fact if I lose mine they say mom a hug will help.  The problem is I feel like he is using this now because he thinks that is all he has to do is say he is sorry, get a hug and go about his business.  His brother gets hit a lot.  I try to give him encouragement when I see him get angry without hitting but it rarely happens. I tell him that if he works at it he will stop hitting.  I tell him stories how I hit and worked at it as a child and got better.  I tell him I love him.  Now for sure I am not always consistent sometimes I get very angry-about 50% of the time.  I am so afraid he will see himself as the bad kid.  How do I help him stop?  Do I still have him go to his room when he hits?  He does not seem to get the idea of his feel good spot.  I would have to force him to go and if his brother and I leave to read a book even in the bathroom he screams and pounds the door and says he is done only to start up again if we come out. I take his brother with me for his own safety.  He never hits at preschool and both do well there.  Also, they are very protective of each other play well together 50% of the time.  Sorry this is so rambling.  Please I need some guidence.  Basically what happens if he never wants to go to his "feel good spot?"
Thanks for any help you can give.


Hi Cindy,  my name is Mary Hughes and I am one of a team of Positive Discipline Associates who answers on-line questions, esp. when they involve twins, as I am also the mother of twins! Mine are 34 this month, but I remember well when they were preschoolers!  Actually, I taught preschool from 1967-1996, and at the local community college in the Child Development Department. Now I work for Iowa State University Extension with family issues and relationship building throughout the life span.
First of all, I want to commend you for trying to help your son by sharing what you felt as a child – this gives him hope, I’m sure.  Your seeking help means you are open to helping both your son AND yourself deal more effectively with anger, and that’s a great first step!
It sounds as though you might be a bit “stuck” on the ’feel-good spot.’ Maybe you could go with him to his “feel better spot” instead of going off with the other brother – it may be that the son who is hitting needs your help to learn how he can feel better there.  Has he helped to create this spot?  Have you put some quiet music there, some good books, a stress ball, a bean bag chair, or some soft cushions?  Ask him what he needs to feel better – it might surprise you to discover that he needs more active ways (rather than calming toys/objects) to use his anger positively.
Also, when a positive discipline tool works, it is not uncommon to forget that there are MANY tools in your toolbox, and so maybe it is time to try a few others.  Here are a couple of ideas to get your creative thinking going:
What about working with your son to give him ‘active’ and empowering choices for expressing his anger without hurting his brother, such as: 
1.    ‘Tell your brother “I am angry because ____ and I wish ____.” ‘
2.    “When you feel like hitting, you can come over here and throw these bean bags into the dishpan as hard as you want to, as long as you aren’t too near your brother;  You could go outside in the yard and run like the wind until you feel better…or….ride your tricycle… or …”
3.    “When you can feel yourself getting angry (teach him about ‘triggers’ and how they are physical signs we are getting angry … such as feeling hot, hart starts beating faster, etc.), you could take a deep breath and then blow it out very slowly while you count to 5… let’s practice doing that now.”
4.     ‘When I see you getting angry, I could say, “honey, you look as though you are angry about what just happened…you could go outside and run, take a deep breath, or choose to go play with something else.’
5.    You could say to your son, “When you want what your brother has, you can ask him to share and give you a turn – if he isn’t ready to give you a turn, ask him when he WILL be ready …” then practice this with both twins how to wait until it is their turn by choosing something else to play with until their turn comes.  Some adults set timers for 5 minutes – I suggest asking the children how long it will be before they are ready to give their brother a turn – then ask them to let the other brother know when they are ready – you may have to remind them a few times as they learn to take a turn and then share.
6.    Also, you can model for him how to take care of mad feelings when YOU feel angry.  Maybe you go out for a brisk walk with both boys, or you get a glass of water, or you say, “I’m getting angry, so I am going to take care of myself by breathing long and slow.”  They then might try what makes you feel better.
7.    If he hits his brother again, for instance, you could say, “I am disappointed that you hit your brother – let’s take time to read one of our Mad Books and see what we can do differently the next time.  There are several good books for children such as, Elizabeth Crary’s book, “I Want It” is a problem-solving book that is great for showing children the consequences of their actions –  it has several endings and the child can choose the ending he wants to hear about:  … and so is the book, “I’m Mad”:
8.    Many children hit each other, even at the age of four, when they don’t have words to ask for what they want, so maybe you can use two stuffed animals who are angry with each other and let him watch you act out a disagreement between the animals that demonstrates a couple of ways to BE angry without HURTING.
9.    Special Time is a tool that can help you and the children look forward to a time when you play/go for a walk with ONLY one child – you only need a few minutes every day to help each child feel encouraged and loved.  This is one way to build up loving “deposits” in children when you are working with them to change how they are behaving to a more acceptable expression of difficult feelings.
10.    Often, when young children are angry they are very impulsive, because they are still learning how to be angry without lashing out.  So, if you can tell that their play is “heating up”, maybe you can intervene before he hits his brother and remind him of his other choices.   
11.    you could ask open-ended questions such as:  “What happens when you feel mad?  What else could you do besides hug your brother to help him feel better?  How can I help you when you start to feel angry?  What can you do until your brother is finished with what you want?  Avoid they “why” questions – but use these open-ended questions to help you learn what else might be helpful.
It isn’t the anger that is the problem – it is the hurting his brother that you want to stop, I think, and you can do it! … With some new ideas, your son will grow to use his “feel better spot” when he needs to – you don’t ever want to force him to go there, or it defeats the purpose of his learning how to feel better without hitting when he feels angry. Do you have the revised Positive Discipline for Preschoolers?  There is also a new CD series that is really helpful! You can order these at
The book and CDs have many more tools that would be helpful for you in dealing with your twins’ misbehavior.  I hope you will experience your sons growing closer and working together as they mature.  My twins are very different people, but they love each other and like your sons, are protective of each other and have a great relationship most of the time!  Enjoy them while they are young – they grow up so fast! (As I said, mine are 34 years old now!  And, funny, but they have just recently purchased homes in the same sub-division!) 
My best to you for your “parenting of twins journey,”
Mary Hughes

Thank you Mary.  You gave me a lot of other tips and reminded me again
not to get stuck on just one.    Just a simple reminder of changing my
language and questions to my boys helps so much and sets such a
different tone.  For me, I think this and staying calm and taking my own
time out to feel better will help.  I will let you know how it goes.
Again, thanks.  Jane Nelsen's style of teaching has changed my life, my
marriage and my boys for the better!

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