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My toddler has started hitting! Any suggestions??

By December 9, 2008 - 3:07pm
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I thought I would be the lucky mom who's son did not start hitting when he reached the ripe age of 2. My son has always had a gentle touch, especially compared to other toddlers his age who are rough with toys and other objects. So, I thought this would translate into us getting past the hitting phase without incident.

I've read the books and watched the nanny TV shows, but time-outs don't work on him yet (he thinks it's a game; it's impossible to reason with a two-year old). He has started hitting me if I'm not giving him 100% attention, 100% of the time and/or if he doesn't want to do something (like get his diaper changed).

The books say this is a good developmental sign, that he is exerting his opinion...and I'm all for that! He has been so gentle, that I've been worried that he would be too much on the passive side. Well, I don't like the aggressive side any better! He has now hit another toddler because he wanted a toy that the boy had, and I have a no tolerance policy for hitting others! However, I also realized that by reacting to his hitting, I'm giving him attention. It's a lose-lose situation either way, as far as disciplining him. At this age, he books say either isolate or redirection are the ways to discipline, which sound good...but I'm not sure how to put them into practice.

What have you done with your toddler to teach that hitting hurts/is bad, that negative feelings are okay, to apologize to the victim AND to give them other words to express themselves (or other behavior to express themselves)...all within about 30 seconds (the amount of attention-span a 2 year old has). Plus making sure the victim (and mom) are OK (more "OK" emotionally, his hitting is more of a slap).

Hope to hear some ideas soon!!

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EmpowHER Guest

I have a 15-month old daughter who has been hitting and pushing in daycare. This has been such a disappointing experience for us. When I go into the daycare in the afternoon to pick her up, I fear the daily report I'm going to receive. She is such a little angel to be acting out at daycare with the other children. It has been brought to mine and my husband's attention twice that she pushed a child down in front of the parent and one of the children were new to the daycare(first day). Of course, as any parent would be the mother was upset and did not feel good about leaving her child in a new daycare where she is being pushed the moment she walk in the door.

We constantly express to our daughter that hitting is not nice and she will get in trouble. She will smile and play with us as if it is a game. Her curiosity level is very high and everything catches her attention. Her words are not clear but she is very expressive.

We are first time parents and fear not being good parents to our daughter. How do we discipline her after she get home from daycare when the incident happened hours before? We don't want to ignore this situation but we feel she doesn't remember why she is being disciplined when she get home, therefore, it becomes a game to her.

Any suggestions:
Also, I have to add that she rough play with daddy and I'm wondering if maybe this would cause some of the hitting and pushing although her dad doesn't allow any hitting during rough play.

July 13, 2009 - 11:17am

Thanks for all the positive support!

I wanted to provide an update of what has helped with our son (and yes, I have to agree with Alysia that he is "irresistibly cute"!) :-)

He is so young, just turned 2, that reasoning with him is not possible (explaining situations is possible; but not "reasoning"...toddlers are not capable of this higher function yet!). Also, time outs did not work, as he thought it was a game, and it turned into an act of attention-getting from him. For our situation, we'll use time-outs as he gets older (and will still practice them, for major infractions...like hitting others).

Right now, he is mainly hitting mom (me!), and has hit dad. His hitting is not out of anger (only once was it out of anger, when he hit his friend, and that did result in a time out). When he hits me or my hubby, it is usually when we're having fun and laughing, so I was confused. Turns out, "confused" is a toddlers' middle name! Toddlers are riddled with conflicting feelings and behaviors, as they are trying to figure out their world. Think about it: he just gained control of his arms a year and a half ago!

So..what worked for us? Right now, when he hits either me or my husband, or even himself (and is the situation with all of us laughing), I can see that my son is trying out his scientific experiments of "cause-and-effect", as well as "what gets mommy and daddy's attention?". After a hit, or before if we catch him winding up, we say, "I like soft touches" and then take his little hand and demonstrate a soft touch wherever he was about to hit. My face, his own head, my husband's arm...whatever. My son gets a good giggle out of it, and then continues to do the "soft touch" for a while afterward. THIS feels like a great parenting alternative to us, as there is no formal discipline, but more teaching and redirecting.

yeah! I feel successful, and hope this feeling lasts for at least a week! :-) Susan, thanks for making me feel like I am a good parent and have a "normal" situation!

December 14, 2008 - 8:50am

Every kid is different. My two boys weren't hitters; but, my daughter, the youngest, was. The boys weren't allowed to retaliate if she, a toddler at the time, passed by and slapped one of them "upside" the head. It didn't seem fair to the boys, but they had to learn that hitting is not allowed. My daughter eventually dropped the habit sometime after someone at pre-school hit her. She apparently told the antagonist that hitting wasn't allowed, lol!

When the boys were in high school, they were still restrained and reserved, and would rather walk away than engage in confrontation. My older son was physically attacked in the hall by a school bully. His grade level principal witnessed the event and called me to praise my son for never returning a blow and standing his own ground, and not even saying a word. That same son was also a brown belt in shao lin do and trained in the tai chi sword form, making him that much more disciplined and cognizant of the potential of harming the other kid.

It can be a tough call, for sure, when you're trying to respond (as opposed to react) to your child's apparent call for attention, while still trying to teach him/her that certain behavior is not acceptable. If time out doesn't work, you just have to keep trying something else until you find the action that works. Sometimes, it's as simple as a physical activity.

For unruly behavior, my mom always said "hit them in the pocketbook" - meaning, teach them the meaning of consequence by docking them something they wanted or wanted to do. This goes along with the idea that practical methods work better with kids.

All the best with your perfectly normal (and probably irresistibly cute) son!

December 10, 2008 - 6:22pm
HERWriter Guide

Congratulations, Alison - your child is...normal!

Hitting is normal. Not hitting is normal too but please don't think you or your child are failing miserably because he is two and hitting. Many toddlers hit. Why? Because they cannot verbalize their emotions, so they act them out physically instead.

Two of my three have hit. We don't spank our kids but nor are we permissive or afraid to use kind discipline (although they might not always think of it as kind!) but I don't think it's something to worry about as long as it's a phase. If he continues, you might want to change your tactics.

You sound like you have a handle on it, though and are aware that he is hitting others (as I was, I was on top of it all the time!) but if I could suggest one tip that someone gave me and it works well -

A two year old does not understand the concept ofsaying "I'm sorry". They are just words to him (to some adults, too, unfortunately). If my kids hurt someone else, even very slightly, they have to help make them better. They get the ice pack, or the band-aid (neither are necessary but it's a good learning tool for empathy) and they can stroke the child's hair or arm if the child is ok with that, and stay with the child they upset until the child feels better again. This will allow your son to take charge of his mistake, take charge of making it better and show the other child that he really does mean he is sorry! Why? Because he stuck around until the child felt better! If it's an emotional upset, maybe your son could sing a song to the child, recite the ABCs or just allow the other child to say why he or she is upset and listen to him/her.

Too many kids just bleat out "sorry!" to satisfy all the adults, sit on a step for a few minutes and and run off and the other child is left there, upset. While I would like my kids to say they are sorry (I'm not saying that's not important), it's much more important to show it. Now all my children (in an age appropriate manner, of course) have to do the right thing to amend their mistake. All the sorrys in the world are nothing compared to seeing the child who hurt another place a band-aid on the boo-boo or place an ice pack on a knee. It really works and is a champion of allowing a kid to own the mistake.

One of my children was also a dream child and when he started hitting I was beside myself! Where was my angel?? But utilizing these and other nifty and PRACTICAL tools worked.

I was a different parent when I had one kid. I don't want that to sound patronizing but when my oldest was two, he had two younger sibs! So I got used to juggling things and not over-analyzing too much. Your son is perfectly normal! And if I could tell any first time parent anything, it would be to throw all those instructional books and manuals for parenting out the window! Ok, not really but I've read many from Ferber methods (yikes!) to Sears (yum!) but just remember that these books are generalizations and not specifically geared to you, your son or your environment. Read them, absorb them but don't follow them all - you'll end up intellectualizing your son's childhood and your own mommyhood and you'll miss the fun!

I've no doubt your kid is a little doll and you are a great mom, if you weren't, you wouldn't worry about these things.

But try the 'empathy' way of handling things and see if it helps.

I have found that practical methods work a lot better with kids, especially younger ones.

December 10, 2008 - 1:37pm
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Susan Cody)

Excellent reply!!

February 10, 2009 - 11:47am

Alison, my two children never hit me or anyone including other kids. I consider myself a very strict parent and my message was always clear and set boundaries at each stage of development. However, each of my kids required different strategies and I made mistakes so I had to work hard at learning that what worked for one did not necessarily worked for the other. My kids are now 15 and 12 and teachers want to clone them. I think that is a compliment to my husband and I. But the main thing was that we were very consistent with our message. Time out was not punishment but time to reflect on what their inappropriate behavior was about. We always talked about it afterwards and they came up with their own corrective action. It was not always perfect but I made sure they owned up the responsibilty of their actions. There was (and still is) lots of hugs and loving words after a "tough love" session. I also learned to apologize when I was wrong, even when they were little. They always appreciated that mom was vulnerable and made mistakes too.

I have heard of children who are more emotionally needy and some of this starts in-womb and acting out behaviors will manifest later on as they begin to identify with their human presence in their world around them. Remember, if you believe in a soul, each of us regardless of age have an ageless soul. What is young is the physical body, correct? I suggest an open, honest communication with your child about your own feelings when he hits you and try to have a soul to soul conversation from time to time. You may find out very interesting things about your child "being"

Another aspect is the Emotional Intelligence development process. My kids' pediatrician is well-known and he has a great website along with very good books that I read over the years. You can find something helpful here: http://www.askdrsears.com/html/6/T060100.asp

And here is a quiz you can try online to take your child's emotional intelligence pulse http://www.kidsemotions.net/ Natural Family Online also has great resources and articles http://www.naturalfamilyonline.com/go/index.php

December 9, 2008 - 10:47pm
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