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Playdate Disasters: Two year old hits and screams at playmates

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Hi Dr. Markham,
Your emails are often exactly what I need to hear for that day and I really appreciate your insight and guidance. I printed off your email about not having a Martha Stewart Christmas and have put it in our Christmas decoration box so I can remind myself what's really important before the rush begins next year.

I have a 2 1/2 year old daughter and a 1 year old son and the last six months have been pretty tough as we bought a new house but had six months living in limbo before we could move in. I feel like I lost control of Sophia and she's gone from being very caring and calm to tantrums and not listening. I'm at the point where I dread playdates because she inevitably ends up hitting or screaming and I wonder where my sweet little girl went. (I feel pretty burnt out and I'm sure she wonders where her playful and patient mommy went.) Do you have a book or any tips you could recommend in this situation for us to get back on track? I have decided to be a stay at home mum and I want to make sure I'm giving my children the best parenting I can but often wonder what I'm adding when the melt downs start.

Thanks for all your help.


I'm betting that your Sophia has a lot of feelings from the past six months of instability, having a new baby brother, and the stress on her Mommy. I think she hits and screams at her playmates because kids find playing with peers stressful (even if exiting) and it is just more than she can handle.

My advice would be:

1. Center yourself. Find ways on a daily basis to restore your joyful, playful, patient self. You owe your kids the best of yourself, not the rest of yourself. Taking care of you is essential to raising well-adjusted kids.

2. Find ways to let your little girl have a good cry or two and see if her behavior changes. Tantrums are nature's way of discharging upsetting emotions. How? Wait until a time when you can really focus on Sophia, for instance when the baby is asleep or another adult is there to tend to him. Set a limit with Sophia that is normal. Be kindly but firm. When she starts to tantrum, meet her tantrum with kindness. "You're mad and sad. It's ok to cry. I will stay with you. I'm right here. You can get all your angries and sads out." She will probably cry harder, or even rage. If you can hold her, do so, but if she is too angry to be held, just stay nearby and keep talking with her. Releasing all these feelings is only possible because of your attentive acceptance. Once she finishes crying, she will either be tired or cheerful. She will want to reconnect with you, and she will probably not want to talk about her meltdown. Spend some time snuggling. She may need to "discharge" like this more than once but I think you will see a marked improvement in her cooperativeness and cheerfulness, as well as her peer relations.

3. Connect with Sophia daily in a low-key, very loving way. Make sure you get plenty of snuggle time.

4. Read my answer to a mom who wrote to me about her two year old hitting other kids.

You might also want to listen to my radio interview with Dr. Larry Cohen, who wrote "Playful Parenting." This is a fantastic book about how ordinary parents can use play to reconnect with their kids and help them work through stress and upsets. The show is posted soon on my radio podcast page.

I hope this helps!
Good luck-
Dr. Laura

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