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Posted on Mon, Jan 23, 2012 : 5 a.m.

Mother is told son is too physical with other children

By Carolyn Hax

Dear Carolyn:

Last week I took my son to play group and was told by one of the other mothers that he has been biting, hitting and otherwise being too physical with the kids.

I would be alarmed if I believed this were true, but my son has exhibited none of these behaviors at home, and, as one of three kids, he has every opportunity to do so. Furthermore, I don't know how this other mother could even have this information (moms don't stay at play group, they drop the kids off with one mother and leave).

Not sure what to do at this point. I feel the maternal instinct to deny, deny, deny, but if there's a problem I want to correct it. So far I haven't gotten corroborating details from any of the other moms.

-- Play group parent

Get corroborating details from the other moms. That and staying at play group to observe are the only ways you'll know, because kids are notorious for having different sets of behaviors for different environments; just ask the dismayed parents who have watched their otherwise stubborn kids magically fall in line with the rest of the class when they enter a school or day-care environment.

If you confirm that your son is hitting and biting, then you're going to have to keep coming to play group for a while to intervene on the spot, and guide him to new ways of dealing with his frustration. A lot of kids do hit and bite, and it's not a Bad Kid rubber stamp on his forehead; it just means he needs to be taught how to channel his emotions in a more productive way.

If you think about the consequences of poor emotional regulation -- partner abuse, substance abuse, passion crimes, job loss, social isolation, the list is long and ugly -- then you'll recognize that teaching emotional resourcefulness and resiliency is actually the most important job a parent has, and you'll need all of the 18 years (plus/minus) you're allotted to accomplish it. Possibly more important than what you do to achieve this is what you don't do: DON'T succumb to the impulse to deny, deny, deny. Don't model an emotional mistake by getting defensive, and don't become the parent who refuses to acknowledge any negative information about her child.

All kids make mistakes and have shortcomings compared with other kids. They just do. And if you get angry and defensive with everyone who tries to point out where your child needs extra help, then (1) your kid will never get the needed help, and (2) people will stop telling you the truth about your kid -- that is, until it's too late and the problems are out there for all to see, after years of missed opportunities to correct them early.

You also don't want to overcriticize or overcompensate -- certainly there are parents who are so dismayed that their kids don't appear perfect that they needle them to the point of neurosis -- so aim for a balance: Listen with an open mind to what the other mothers say, bring your own eyes to the scene, then remain present, patient and firm until you're confident that your son's behavior is on a healthy path.

Email Carolyn at tellme(at), follow her on Facebook at or chat with her online at noon Eastern time each Friday at

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