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Child Caring

Respond to pinching quickly and consistently

My 2 year old grandson DOB 4/18/11 is an only child, no others on the way. He pinches people; his parents, and other adults. He gets a certain look of mischief (a little scary) before he pinches. His parents have tried ignoring it not reacting when he does it didn't work, giving him time out didn't work, have tried talking to him as to why and how it hurts when he does it nothing seems to help. Need help, he can also be such a love gentle and sweet. HELP!

From: GG, Burbank, CA


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Dear GG,

At 2, he's too young for time-out and too young to understand about empathy.
But he will get this: physically distance yourself from him when he pinches. No child is happy to have the loss of your attention. I would treat pinching the same way I would biting:

1. Anticipate that he's getting frustrated -- you said you can see a look come into his eyes -- and name his emotion: "I can see you are getting really unhappy because you want to...."

2. If possible, divert his attention to something else. "Let's do this instead."

3. If that's not possible, remind him of the rule: "No cookies before dinner. After dinner, you can have a cookie."

If you can't stop the pinching from happening, then:

1. Literally stop what you are doing and physically move away. For instance, if he's in your lap, place him on the floor, stand up and turn your back or walk away. Do this immediately. Timing is important so he can make the connection that you can't be with him because he pinched you. Don't try to teach the lesson that it hurts. Instead tell him, "I can't be with you if you pinch." Keep your voice calm but firm.

2. The first time you do this he will be surprised and probably angry, which can make a tantrum initially worse. Let it run its course.

3. When he calms down, ask him, "Let's try again to play together. But remember, no pinching!"

4. He will likely test out now, "What will happen if I pinch again?" Your response needs to be exactly the same: quick, decisive, firm.

5. You may need to repeat this a number of times before the message gets through because he's at a stage of development where he's learning about cause and effect: What happens if I do X? What about X+Y? What about this time? And this time? Your consistent message about the behavior and its consequence-- that pinching always turns you away from him -- is what will ultimately fuel him to stop.

Btw, you mention that he's a singleton with no likely sibling to follow. I don't think it has any bearing on the behavior of a 2-year-old but here's some food for thought on the subject of raising only one child.