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Best of the Forum: What to Do About Hitting?

Posted By Communications Manager, Friday, March 25, 2016

I would love advice from those who have been there: my 2.25 year old nephew has recently (last 2 weeks) begun hitting (hard) his mother and occasionally babysitter at unexpected times (during a hug, getting him out of his crib, as well as while playing). My brother and sister-in-law have responded with consequences in the moment (taking away his toy) and by stating consistently “hands are not for hitting.” They have also read the book “Hands are not for Hitting” to him. They feel they are reacting unemotionally and consistently.

My nephew does not seem particularly emotional or upset when hitting. He hit his baby sister (9 months) on one occasion. Any advice on what to do? Have others experienced this, and how long did it last?

Other factors are: new baby (but 9 months old), and about 6 months ago began to say only wanted to be with daddy or show preference for daddy. His parents are also upset by this and taking it a bit personally.

Thanks in advance for advice that I can pass along to them!

Hi, this is very common behavior for a two year old. Even if the parents are not currently reacting emotionally to the behavior, I’m guessing at least initially they did which is possibly why it’s continuing. He’s doing it because he’s getting some interesting reaction. (Hey that’s cool! I hit and then they get upset!) Consequences don’t tend to work with very young children, such as taking toys away. They can’t logically understand it because they aren’t developmentally able to. I would suggest moving him away from the person he has hit without saying anything and redirecting his attention to something else. When he’s a little older, if it happens again, you can talk to him about it. We experience this with both our kids and the less you react the better. Ignoring and redirecting works best because they aren’t angry, they are just experimenting. Hope this helps!

Agreed kids go through phases and hitting (or biting) is a pretty common one. And it is so frustrating that there isn’t much that can be done. I like the idea of just moving away. Kids want to interact with you and in a calm way making space between the caregiver and the kid sends a clear message. On preferring one parent over the other – also a very typical phase! It can flip flop at any time. My kids are often all about me and I know that was really hard for my husband. Now when they go into daddy phases I try to enjoy the “break.” But it’s a moving target!

Hand in Hand, a parents resource based in Palo Alto; with easy, clear and practical information in short articles, they provide well founded advise and suggestions for parents facing this and more other issues with their kids.

I agree with the other folks who posted. It’s partly a phase and also can be due to other factors like new baby and parents reacting in ways that don’t work. When a child hits you should stay calm, but I wouldn’t say to react without emotion. On the contrary. Help the child understand that hitting hurts. When my kids hit me at that age I might make a sad face and gently say to them. Ouch! That hurts. Please be gentle with mommy. You want to avoid saying things like no hitting, because the brain just hears the word hitting which reinforces the hitting. I probably said please be gentle for 6mos before the phase wore off. You can also do things like hold his hand as he starts to hit you and then gently use it to stroke your arm and say gentle please. Always reinforce gentle, always stay calm and then redirect. Don’t spend more than 10 seconds on the behavior max and stay positive. This approach works for everything actually. Things I’ve said to my children today (instead of) …..Please close the door gently (Don’t slam the door)Please close the door (Don’t leave the door open)Please keep your feet on the ground (don’t jump in the house)Please pick up your toys (Don’t leave your toys out)Can you wash your feet before you go into the living room? (Don’t walk with dirty feet onto the carpet)
Keep the ball quiet please

Hold the ball please

Gentle with your sister please

Use your words please

And on and on and on forever…

We had that phase and I always tried to follow the “2 yeses for every no” doctrine. Kids have the NEED to hit and to bite and to push and to climb. They are exploring their body’s capabilities and the world around them. So you need to give them something that’s ok to hit or to bite or to push or to climb. So you say, “We don’t hit people, but we can hit this pillow, or we can hit the couch cushion” (2 yeses for 1 no.) We had a designated hitting pillow that she would eventually ask for when she felt the need to hit. If she bit me, I would say “Do you need something to bite? And I would get a teether out of the freezer, or offer her a bagel. “We don’t bite people but we can bite teethers or food. For pushing we said “We don’t push people but here’s a stroller to push, or a truck to push.” I even know people who had an indoor climbing structure so they could provide an alternative to climbing on the couch or up the bookcases. These activities are not necessarily aggression but are often a natural behavior at this age.

Tags:  child behavior 

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