My 3 1/2 grandson has started kicking and pinching his mom and today he urinated on the floor twice and laughed when it made her mad. Up to now he has intermittently hit her over the past several months but his behavior has escalated. He is potty trained and has been since approx. age 3 yrs. She has worked 3rd shift at a local hospital for a yr.and moved out of our home in March of this yr and in with a girlfriend. Up until then I was his other primary caregiver for 3 yrs. He stayed with me when she worked nights. Now he stays with me some nights, the girlfriend keeps him some nights and then his dad on other nights. I don't know if this is affecting his behaviour. He goes to a sitter Mon-Fri from 9a - 5 p and he has had the same daycare provider for 2 yrs. So when she works nights he may not see too much of her. She works 8 nights on and then has 6 off. He has never tried to hit me. He doesn't act this way with his dad. It seems to directed toward his mom only. We are at a loss on how to approach him as time-outs and talking to him haven't helped.
There maybe several reasons he is acting out. Some of which you have already mentioned. The most common reason children hit is because they are being hit by someone whether by an adult or another child.
Because of the complications of his lifestyle with all of the childcare givers involved (this isn't necessarily a bad thing) he maybe reacting out as you say because he is angry at mom.
I strongly suggest some counseling with a professional who has successful expertise working with children 0-5 and who has been trained in play therapy. Often children can act out their anger in a healthier manner when they are exposed to play therapy.
Another suggestion is to get him some feeling picture books. There are many now in the children's section which will help him identify and express his feelings. The wider the range of vocabulary the better he will be able to express his feelings with his words rather than his actions. There is a great little book I use to read to my grand-daughter which is probably available at any bookstore. It stated things like my hands are not for hitting others they are for throwing a ball, that sort of thing. It really helped with hitting, biting and some of the usual acting out behaviors that pre-schoolers resort to when they are angry.
He is lucky to have so many people in his life who care about him. I suggest you all get on the same page with regards of how to handle him and share the books. Encourage him to use his words and praise him when he does. Make sure the adults are modeling the behavior they want him to do.
If he doesn't already have a massage as part of his nightly routine I highly recommend massages for children before they go to bed. It releases lots of happy hormones into the body. The happier he is the less likely he is to act out.
M Kay Keller