Parenting a Strong Baby
January 20, 2005 4:57 PM   Subscribe

FreakishlyStrongBabyFilter: My 9 month old baby boy is so strong that he's hurting me. He's not quite as muscular as the mutant German baby in this photo, but he's not far off. He's strong enough to pull his hand or foot out of my grasp no matter how tightly I'm holding it, and he's been able to put all his weight on his legs since he was 2 months old. The main problems are that he will strain against the grasp of whoever is holding him. Mostly, who's holding him is me, and by the end of the day my wrists are usually quite painful (as in ibuprofen doesn't help much) and it's exacerbating my carpal tunnel syndrome. He also wants to "pat" me, but he's so strong that it hurts somewhat. It doesn't bug me when he's smacking me on the arms or chest, but he also likes to "pat" me in the face. I wouldn't be suprised if he gives me a black eye one of these days. He seems to be doing it affectionately, so I don't want to scare him out of being affectionate, but being thwacked in the face every day is getting pretty damn old.

Saying "No!", depending on how stern, elicts either no reaction at all, or brief crying, and a quick return to smacking me in the face. I've tried putting him down when he "pats" me or strains against my grasp, but this usually just causes him to scream and cry to be picked up again. I don't know how to make a baby this young understand "Stop that, you're hurting me" or "Pat GENTLY." Any ideas?

I've googled, but I only get pages on why parents shouldn't hit children, and what to do about toddlers who are hitting deliberately, or babies who bite.
posted by Shoeburyness to Health & Fitness (16 answers total)
Honestly, I think you're on the right track, as difficult as it seems sometimes. I don't mean to dishearten you at all, but this is really just the _first_ of many, many issues where getting the point across is going to entail a lot (a whole, whole lot) of screaming and crying.

If it's any comfort, once he learns that you mean business--that screaming and crying isn't going to work, and that to get his way he has to deal on your terms--the screaming and crying will almost certainly abate. (A bit.)

I've got a now-three-year-old who's _still_ obsessed with smacking me in the face. Thankfully, he's pretty small for his age, and I'm a big guy, but I'm still surprised I haven't sported a shiner yet. The _only_ approach that can get him to stop doing it, when the behavior comes back, is strict and immediate timeouts. He hits me, I put him on the chair. Right away, and always. He screams, but he figures it out again pretty quickly, and it's usually another several days before the impulse overwhelms him again.
posted by LairBob at 5:08 PM on January 20, 2005

Wow, Shoeburyness. I'm going through the exact same thing with a 9-month old girl. She's so darn exuberant I hate to nip her "pats" in the bud, but when she smacks me in the face, or goes after one of our cats, I really worry. "No" is just (and I say this very cautiously) starting to work. But I think it's more the shock value: "mommy was really loud and sharp." I'm not quite sure what do to either.
posted by tidecat at 5:18 PM on January 20, 2005

tidecat, in my experience (again, for what that's worth), for that sort of repeat behavior, I really do think you'll be better off finding a way of communicating "No" that doesn't work on an emotional plane. ("I shouldn't do that, because it makes Mommy mad.")

I mean, of course, everybody does that, and it's an important part of the parental armory, but when you're dealing with recurring behavior, it easily turns into a ongoing emotional cycle that doesn't do either of you any good. Sharp rebukes are great for stopping impulsive behavior, but when you're trying to change a small child's habit, I've found you're probably much better off finding a very even-handed, unemotional approach. That's why timeouts work great--you can just very matter-of-factly take them, put them in the chair or in the room, and just explain, "You don't do that." Once they've been in there long enough (the basic rule of thumb is apparently one minute per year-old), then make them apologize before they can come out, and it's over. Just don't lose your cool and it'll probably work great.
posted by LairBob at 5:38 PM on January 20, 2005

My eldest nephew is huge for his age and always was, even as a baby, and accordingly strong. He wasn't quite as much of a "patter" as your boy seems to be, but it did take a lot of firm, patient "pat GENTLY"s, along with manually holding/guiding his hand to indicate what was meant (sometimes he'd seem to get it). Also a lot of happy, smiley "YES, mommy/daddy/auntie LIKES it when you touch GENTLY" helped too.

Part of it, I think, really is the age -- at 9 mos., he wants to initiate physical interaction with you, but doesn't necessarily have the motor control to do it appropriately. It's just exacerbated with a kid who's unusually strong! But I think at this age kids can start computing really obvious communication cues and pick up on some words -- "mommy" "happy" "gentle" etc. -- coupled with some physical guidance. Patience, repetition, and consistency seem to be the keys (I know, easy for me to say as an aunt!).

If it's any consolation, in the meantime, Nephew 2 is going through the same thing -- but at age 2, it's less because he doesn't understand that it's inappropriate and more because his main babysitter for the past year thought it was "cute" when he hit -- so she indulged him and now it's become a bad habit that he thinks is funny now. (My sister and BIL are just starting to experiment with the "time-out" strategy LairBob mentions above to see if that works.)
posted by scody at 5:44 PM on January 20, 2005

A nine month old can be very strong, no doubt. Just express your displeasure with your tone of voice. It won't "work" at least every time to stop the behavior but your baby can understand much more than he can say at this point and it will sink in. Consistency, consistency, consistency - start now as it is a long road ahead.
posted by caddis at 5:56 PM on January 20, 2005

Oh, and lots of hugs, even when he seems way too aggressive. He may actually be feeling pain or stress or some other distress and this is his way of telling you. Lots of hugs - always good with babies and even when they are older - never stop with this.
posted by caddis at 6:12 PM on January 20, 2005

Try teaching him to stroke instead of patting and say "gently" when you stroke him as well (probably best not to pat him unless necessary since he'll imitate). Be sure to do the same when he "pats" you on the arm or chest etc. too, just to be consistent that you prefer "gently".

Stroke and have him stroke stuffed animals/dolls/pets(if safe/appropriate), too, also saying 'gently'. Basically, model stroking as a sign of affection instead of patting.
posted by duck at 6:35 PM on January 20, 2005

We have an 11-month-old boy who is similarly strong. Around 4 months my wife developed pain up her wrist like you are talking about, from stabillizing his squirmy head for feeding. The pain was pretty bad, but it has subsided now. I think LairBob is right that timeouts are best for both of you. Ours is now starting to get a grasp on "No" and "Stop". Hang in there, and congratulations on having a strong baby.
posted by planetkyoto at 7:13 PM on January 20, 2005

Just going through a similar stretch with our 2-year old boy (went through it a couple years ago with our girl). The best you can do is to make sure they get that you mean business. Putting him down and stopping the play should put that across. No shiners yet for me, but a couple bloodied noses.

For what it's worth, I noticed that my girl got a devilish glee out of my reactions - when she'd claw my face or smack my nose, I'd usually say "Ow!" really loud, and look at her angrily. Well, that's Power for an infant - to get such a rise out of a big person. I learned to mute my reactions to a quiet disapproval, and took some of the fun out of it for her. She outgrew that phase pretty quick (thankfully).
posted by kokogiak at 8:40 PM on January 20, 2005

I'd third the "Pat Gently" method described by both scody and duck.

You don't need to worry about " to make a baby this young understand..." A 9 month old can easily understand such concepts when reinforced with a demonstation on a stuffed animal and rewards of "There that's very good, well done".

To the point that they'll sometimes go out of their way to show you just how gentil they can be.
posted by ModestyBCatt at 3:04 AM on January 21, 2005

Gently re-training a child works great, if the child is just trying to be affectionate or playful, and just doing it wrong.

That's not always true, though--some little kids just do really get it into their heads that it's funny smack people in the head as hard as they can, because they can tell it hurts. In that case, you can't just nicely insist that they stroke you're just indulging their behavior by letting them get away with inappropriate behavior. (In. That. Case. Please don't lecture me that I'm being unfeeling or a martinet because I suggest that children sometimes need guidance.)

My youngest is definitely different from my oldest on that front--when my oldest did things like that, he was definitely just engaging in play, and it was very easy to just re-direct his behavior without disciplining him. My youngest, though, very clearly thinks it's entertaining to make Daddy say "Ow!"

It's pretty clearly part of the larger complex of control issues a younger sibling can have...the little guy doesn't get to control much in his world, and there are a lot of behaviors that are obviously attempts to exert control anywhere he can. That's totally understandable, but the specific behavior is unacceptable, and has to be addressed firmly and calmly every time it shows up.
posted by LairBob at 5:20 AM on January 21, 2005

My daughter wasn't a strong kid, but we had a biting issue for a bit around the same age.

I did the cold affect thing -- basically, pull her away from me (while still holding her) so she'd stop and then ignore her.

At that age, often they're just looking for a response to their actions, so just shutting down seemed to really piss her off, but it worked fairly quickly.

(I initially tried, "Ow!" and looking sad, but she took great glee in that.)
posted by Gucky at 5:37 AM on January 21, 2005

I think he's too little to understand "You are hurting me, stop it." I realize it's unpleasant to listen to a baby cry, but when he hits, put him down and let him cry. He can still see you, so he knows you haven't abandoned him, but don't pick him up again until he stops crying. Then, you can reinforce with "Don't hit," which will eventually mean something concrete.

Right now, what he knows is that if he hits you, you may get annoyed, but nothing really happens. You will still hold him, he knows that if you put him down, he can cry and get you to pick him up again. The more you reward the behavior (you're essentially saying, "If you hit me, then I will put you down for a minute, then pick you back up again,") the longer the behavior will occur.

You can also try to demonstrate gentle pats by guiding his hand. Allow him to pat your face guided a few times, then let go. If he pats gently, then he can pat away. If he goes back to smacking, put him down. He'll get the cause and effect sooner or later, and more likely sooner.
posted by headspace at 7:13 AM on January 21, 2005

Lots of good advice here, so I won't repeat what's already been said.

One thought: you said "I've tried putting him down when he "pats" me or strains against my grasp, but this usually just causes him to scream and cry to be picked up again." Does that mean you immediately pick him up again when he screams and cries? I know it's hreat-breaking to hear him upset like that, but it's important that if he's getting a time out, he gets a (short) time out that he can't scream his way out of. The screaming just becomes a way to for him to 'win' and all he learns from that is that he gets his way if he cries.

When you start with timeouts, their feelings are hurt. It gets worse before it gets better. But stick to it. The first half dozen times I put my (then) 13 month old in a timeout chair she threw an absolute fit. We had ignored her. It was hard! But we ignored her, other than to pick her up and put her back on the chair when she wiggled out of it. After the screaming didn't get her way, she tried pouting and reaching out sadly asking for "Hug, Mom" "Hug, Mom" that was even harder to ignore. I had to leave the room. But we stuck to it, and now we usually only have to ask "do you need a time out" and she'll quit whatever the undesirable behaviour is.

Something to remember: kids understand so much more than we give them credit for. This can be wonderful that they can surprise you with how easily they learn some things. And it can be challenging when you realize they know what you're talking about even when you spell.
posted by raedyn at 7:30 AM on January 21, 2005

Our son did this too, more to the cats than to us though. So, in order to ensure he didn't get too rough with them, we started gently taking his hand when he approached his target, modulating our voices to be very soft and gentle and then guiding his hands to slow, gentle strokes instead of excited pats. We also would say "gentle" or "soft" to reinforce the concept. If he switched to the excited pats, he was put down or the cat removed from his reach. Wash and repeat a billion times.

He quickly grasped what we were saying and (generally) adheres to it. Now, if only we could be this successful in other areas with him.
posted by onhazier at 8:09 AM on January 21, 2005

My father used to tell me a story when I was younger. Apparently when I was a baby I was a biter. One day I bit my dad and he gave me a firm spanking. I never bit him again, but continued to bite my mother, until one day she had enough and smacked me while I was biting her.

Apparently I stopped biting then.

I still like my parents, and I turned out OK. However, this isn't much of a data point, because Dad's now passed on, Mom doesn't admit to recalling the story, I can't remember any of it, and I've never raised kids of my own (or hit a kid, in fact.)

I wonder about this myself, though. I don't want to hit my future kids, but I don't want them to be undisciplined monsters like so many I see running around, either.
posted by ikkyu2 at 3:58 PM on January 21, 2005

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