Teaching "No Hitting"

QUESTION:

I’ve read all about aggressive toddlers, but my child is the most aggressive kid I’ve ever seen! She constantly hits and shoves other kids, especially her younger brother. What can I do?

Answer:

If your child is hitting and shoving, she needs more supervision. Some women who have very aggressive children set the rule that one physically aggressive act means the child is removed from the situation, whatever that might be (the playground, a friend’s home, a restaurant). If this happens a few times, the child learns her behavior is serious. Others pull their toddler into the sling, saying, “No hitting. Hitting hurts,” but also realizing that at this age, a child does not hit with an understanding that it will hurt or with an intention to hurt. Your daughter is expressing frustration.

I wanted to share a story. When Liam was about 2 1/2 years old, he was still struggling with my not knowing about his special diet needs and he had a lot of intensity. I don’t exactly remember what had happened, but I know we ended up laying on the bed while he was lashing around and he looked at me and said, “I really want to hit you!” You should have seen the look on his face when I said, “Yeah, well, I really want to hit you right now, too!” But I followed with, “But I won’t because we don’t hit in our family. It’s not okay for me to hit you, and it’s not okay for you to hit me, either.” I was able to say this because I don’t spank him. He thought about this for a moment then said, “But I still really want to.” “I know,” I was able to empathize, and the situation calmed down and we cuddled. I don’t think he hit me after that conversation.

I think there are several things you can do when hitting is the issue. Remember, though, that nothing is a magic fix-all; it takes time to change a habit, and hitting between siblings is usually a habit of an immature response to a situation. The key is to get your daughter to use her words and say what she wants.

You might want to consider asking your daughter to “try again.” When my children respond inappropriately, I simply look at them and say, “Try again.” If they don’t get it right in the first couple of tries, I prompt them. So, the scenario might look like this: Fiona hits, Liam calls for me, I look at Fiona and say, “Try again.” She screams at Liam, “I DON’T LIKE THAT!” and I look at her and say, “Try again.” She calms down and says, “I don’t like that. That isn’t kind.” We’re using this successfully in many different situations; the key is you have to have taken the time to teach what to do. I also insist my children “make it right.” That might mean an apology, or it might mean they give back a toy they’ve taken.

Also, I would address the reason your daughter is hitting. Is someone taking a toy from her? Make sure you’re not focusing on the hitting to the extent that you’re not addressing what might be prompting it.