My Daughter the Sociopath: When Kids Hit

Hug or choke hold?

Is three too early to diagnose someone as being sociopathic? Seriously. Because I think I may have a young Dexter on my hands.

OK, that’s an exaggeration. It’s not like Elsa tortures animals or anything — although our cat may beg to differ. But she is going through a remarkably violent stage (as alluded to recently when I raised the idea of signing the girls up for martial arts). She’s doing a lot of pushing, kicking and hitting these days, frequently unprovoked. She wants to play with a toy Clio has that Clio won’t relinquish: whack. Clio is in her way: kapow. Or–worse of all–Clio is sitting there minding her own business and Elsa attacks.

And it isn’t always Clio, either. Last weekend we were at a birthday party, and Elsa apparently clocked another girl in a dispute over a toy — one of those little mechanical stuffed dogs that walk and yap (which, let’s face it, really are pretty cool). At first I didn’t realize there was actual hitting involved; when I heard the kerfuffle in the playroom I went in and it looked like Elsa and the other girl were just having a tug of war over the toy.The other girl was in tears, though, which seemed a little odd.

Anyway, Elsa admitted to having tried to take the toy when the girl wouldn’t give her a turn, and  quickly — and very sweetly — told her she was sorry. (This is another, sub-problem: Elsa loves to say she’s sorry, but seems to think it makes everything hunky dory, or even excuses her behavior.  “I grabbed her toy but I said I’m sorry, so it’s OK!”)

In the car on the way home, I reiterated (to both girls) that when they play with other kids, the rule is just like at home — they have to share, and can’t grab toys away from other kids. (Not like they stick to this at home, mind you.) It was then that Elsa said, “Yeah, and you don’t hit.”

“Did you hit that little girl?” I asked.

“Yeah, but I said I’m sorry, so that’s OK!”


We’re not sure what to do. We’ve had countless “talks” with her about it. We give her time-outs and revoke toys or special things (e.g. dessert) as punishment. Just this morning, she was kicking Clio as they sat together on the couch watching Word World, for no apparent reason. After she did a time-out in her room, I asked her why she’d done it — was Clio getting in her space?

“I did it for nothing,” she said, actually sounding a little bewildered herself. “I don’t know why.”

I suggested — as I had before — that when she felt like hitting or kicking, she could hit a pillow, or stomp on the floor.

And then I told her that girls who kick and punch lose toys and treats, and we were going to have to take the piece of Halloween candy out of her lunchbox. That didn’t go over well. But I did the whole, “I know, sweetie. It’s sad. I’m sad too, because I want to give you treats, but I can’t when you hit and kick….”

She calmed down, of course. But did she “get it”? Will it keep her from doing it again? I’m doubtful.

I should temper all of this by adding that Elsa can also be extremely sweet, kind and affectionate. She is, in fact, going through a very huggy, cuddly phase with me. (Is it possible that she’s acting this way to get more parental attention? More than we already give her, which is lots?)

Any advice? Or is it just a case of “this too shall pass”?

Best buddies most of the time...

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Photos: Elena Clamen

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