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Children Hitting

Berkeley Parents Network > Advice > Worries Big & Little > Children Hitting


Questions - Under 2 Questions - 2 and Older Related Pages

10-mo-old hitting mom - where did he get that?

Sept 2007

I am so sad! My sweet baby boy has started hitting when he is tired or frustrated. I have no idea where he gets this from- he certainly has never seen nor experienced any sort of hitting. He is only 10 months old- I don't know what to do. Has anyone dealt with this from a babe so young? Advise please. K


A 10-month-old doesn't hit to be aggressive or hurt anyone. He's probably just experimenting with cause and effect - how do you react? Could be pretty exciting if mom gets all worked up every time he hits, so he tries it again. Or even just the feeling of his hands, and that satisfying ''smack'' sound might be enough to keep him going.

At this age, I'd just gently hold his hands to intercept hitting, say ''gentle,'' and quickly redirect him to something else. Maybe give him something appropriate to bang on, like a drum. Unless you make hitting mommy into a big exciting activity by your reaction, he'll grow out of this phase pretty soon. been there too


Mine did just this, and we found out eventually that he had an ear infection. Our awesome pediatrician gently explained that they have no other skills for expressing frustration, and he was right. As soon as the infection was cleared up, the hitting was gone. Of course, your son may have no medical problems, but it really helped me to have it validated that my son was dealing with SOMETHING real, and doing it in an understandable way. In other words, nothing wrong with him, and no bad examples are responsible. anon
Remind yourself that he is not really hitting--he is just flailing about in frustration. That's why he didn't have to learn it from anyone. There's no intention behind it except to get your attention. But you do want him to know not to hit to get your attention, so just hold his hand and say, ''No hitting.'' You'll need to do it a thousand times but he'll get it eventually. Also look past the behavior and try to find out what he is telling you. Try to look for triggers for the hitting. Is he tired? Hungry? Overstimulated? (This was when my son would hit.) He doesn't have many options for communication, and he knows that hitting gets your attention. The more you can preempt the situation, the less often he'll feel the need to hit.
Take this from an old veteran: what he's doing is perfectly normal and nothing to be worried about. He has limited means to express his overwhelm, frustration, anger, hunger, drowsiness, boredom, etc. Instead of freaking out, understand that this is the beginning of many, many lessons on how we behave. For now, tell him, ''gentle, gentle'' and guide his hand to stroke your head (or whatever part he hit) gently. In a couple months and beyond, include ''It hurts when you hit. I really like it when you touch gently'' (while always showing him the physical action that is the preferred method. You can practice gentle touching even when he's not upset. Mommy has a turn to gently stroke baby's head while saying ''gentle'', and then Mommy takes Baby's hand and strokes her own head while saying ''gentle''. It will take awhile for him to learn. Just keep the same method for as long as it takes.
Hi. My little guy is starting up with that little hitting habit too. What I do is simply hold his hand and gently touch my arm or hand and repeat the word ''Gentle.'' Now, if he tries to hit, as soon as I say, ''Gentle,'' he stops the hitting. Good luck!! mommy too
Don't worry about it! A 10 month old isn't responsible for his own behavior. He has no concept of hurting anyone else, and so it really isn't 'hitting' the way we'd define it for an older child or an adult. Just think of it as any other annoying baby behavior, and if you know he does it when he's tired or frustrated, try to limit him being tired and frustrated. It'll pass. Sarah

One-year-old hitting herself when she's upset

My one-year-old daughter is hitting herself when she is upset or fristrated. Is that normal?
In your post you said your 1 year old daughter hit herself when upset or frustrated and asked if that was normal. I don't know if it is "normal", but my son also did it. My son actually started hitting himself when he was much younger and continued up until about 13 mos. It also concerned me, but in terms of worrying about the "normalcy" of this behavior, I tried to look at my son as a "whole". He is generally a pretty happy and flexible kid which reassured me that this was probably nothing to be too concerned about. Initially, when he hit himself I would tell him not to hit or hurt himself and I would make a sad face or cringe. It seemed like my reaction encouraged the behavior so I stopped reacting. I tried to focus on dealing with his feeling of disappointment/frustration and less on his behavior. I don't know if it was because of my lack of response or because of time, but he seems to have moved beyond hitting himself. Good luck with your daughter. Linda
My son also hit himself around that age. At the time I found it very upsetting -- I wondered if this were a sign that he was going to be too hard on himself by turning anger inward. For a while we would stroke his head (where he hit) and say "don't hit yourself, nice Dylan" and other things like that. Then we tried ignoring it and that must have worked because until I read the message about it I had completely forgotten it. I think it's probably within the range of normal, and will go away after a while. I have heard of several other kids doing it (I started asking around when Dylan did it). I think with him it lasted a few months. Good luck, I'm sure it will be fine.

15-mo-old hitting herself when frustrated

July 2007

My daughter is 15 months old and she has begun to hit her head with her hand when she is frustrated. She hits herself about 2- 3 times and looks at us while doing it. We have never spanked her and are concerned and puzzled about this behavior. Also around the same time, she began to hit things that she bumped into. We are also not sure about what would be the best response.Any insights or suggestions? Lydia


The best response is probably none at all. It sounds like she's just figuring out her own body and its relationship to other objects. Once she does, she'll move on to the next crazy behavior!

15-mo-old hitting and tantrums

Feb 2007

Our 15 month old has started hitting and biting and having tantrums when he doesn't get what he wants. Is he old enough to comprehend time outs? Saying ''NO'' firmly in his eyes just seems to egg on the tantrum and hitting. Then we end up just putting him on the floor and letting him scream for a bit until we pick him up again and try to distract him. Any discipline advice for a strong willed 15 month old? anon


read the AWARE BABY & Tears & Tantrums By Author ALETHA SOLTER naturalama

16-mo-old hitting & throwing things

Some of you may laugh, but as a first-time parent of a 16-month old boy, I'm wondering if my son's behavior is normal. Starting as of about a month ago, my son has been acting really "bratty" - if he doesn't get what he wants, he screams at the top of his lungs, throws things and intentionally hits me and pulls my hair. He also scratches and slaps me frequently in a playful manner. I've tried to hold his hands and explain to him in a firm voice that it is not nice to hit, scratch, etc. and that it hurts me when he does so. So far, this technique has had no effect on him, he simply continues the behavior as soon as I release his hands. Any ideas?? I don't think a timeout would work - he won't sit still and I'm sure he would just scream if I put him in his crib. On another note, he now won't sleep in his crib at all. In the past, he wouldn't fall asleep on his own, but after falling asleep with my husband or me in our bed, we could move him to his crib for the night. Now, he either wakes up and screams when we try to move him or he wakes up and screams in the middle of the night until we take him to our bed. Help!!
Your 16 mo. old sounds extremely, totally normal. For me, this was the absolute most difficult phase (so far). Timeouts do, in fact, work, even though he will try to convince you they don't because he doesn't like them. I tried to avoid using the crib as a timeout "prison" because I didn't want him to associate the crib with anything other than peaceful sleep, but sometimes it was the only way. Another option is telling him "Mommy doesn't want to play with you when you hit" and YOU take a timeout (I shut myself in the bathroom). That will really piss him off, but it works. You do, unfortunately, have to do something he doesn't like in order to make any impact. (I didn't like holding his hands because I didn't like using any kind of force at all.) Not being able to "transfer" him from sleeping in your arms or bed or car to the crib the way you used to was also something new at this age. Personally, I'm an advocate of letting him yell until he falls asleep but mine never really pushed me to the limit on this one. (I could stand outside his door and say "Lie down, go to sleep" repeatedly until he would fall asleep -- I know other toddlers are MUCH more persistent than mine in this area.) Try to keep in mind two things: at 16 months, he understands a LOT more than you think (he's not verbalizing yet but he is comprehending a LOT), and that in about four months it will get a LOT easier. Fran
The bad news is the terrible twos actually starts around 18 months. What I found helped during that rough/hitting phase, was to take my child's hand and say, "Pet Mommy Gently" or the doggy, or whatever. I would either touch her leg gently, or use her hand to touch my arm gently. It takes a lot of practice. When she was gentle, I used lots of praise. At that age, they are just learning the effects their behavior has on others; I don't think the "brattiness" is intentional the way it is with a four-year-old. The sleeping is another matter, I gave in and did the family bed because we got more sleep that way. At four we moved her back to her room, and now at 5, she'll go to sleep on her own after two stories, and sometimes a song, or after a while to look at books in her bed. There have been some setbacks, but it's worked out.
I would like to give my sympathies as I know how horrible it can be.... As to what to do, I think the only way is to be VERY clear about what is acceptable and unacceptable to you. My husband and I tend to be on the "strict" side of discipline but very warm at all other times and it seems to work pretty well. We will not tolerate ANY hitting or other acting up behavior. The child is simply sent away from the communal space (even it that means picking him up physically and placing him in his room). It is the only "punishment" we ever use and we never refer to it as such, but rather as a "cooling off" place. We very quickly return to give the child "ladders" to rejoin the family. Good luck! Noa
I suspect, from my limited experience of one little girl, that your son is quite normal. Perhaps at this point children are wanting to exert control over any accessible part of the world. In any case, it seems to me that my daughter, now 21 months, so far lacks a fully developed sense that other people have feelings too (particularly me!), although she is fully aware that if you push buttons, things happen. Usually telling her *not* to hit/scratch/pinch/pull my hair generated an effect quite opposite the desired one, accompanied by considerable glee on her part. My preferred approach is to remind her that patting and kissing are nice, and those various behaviours are not nice. Usually she immediately switches to a pat or a kiss (the trouble with hugging as a preferred behaviour would be the unsupervised access to the hair on the back of my head, if the lesson goes awry). Good luck. Lyndsay
I am the first time mother of a 14 month old. He too has exhibited many of the behaviors you wrote about. I've asked several people about this & everyone seems to be saying the same thing. Essentially, I've been told that he's a spirited child w/ very strong sense of what he wants & that his lack of language to express himself coupled w/ his limited motor skills (i.e. he is just not developmentally able to, for example, scoop food up w/ a spoon & get it into his mouth) makes him very frustrated. This frustration usually manifests itself as screaming ("bloody murder"!) or hitting/pinching me. The advice that I was given by several people that I have spoken to about this have suggested prompting him with the language for what I think he is trying to express (we also show him the sign as well). This seems to be helping to cut down on some of the temper tantrums. I have also been trying to find ways to "modify" activities that he really wants to do, but just can't realistically or safely engage in. This too seems to be helping. When he gets upset about things, I've been trying to teach him the language for his emotions (i.e. "I know it makes you mad when Mommy has to say 'No'"or "I know it makes you sad that we have to leave") Finally, as suggested, I am not allowing the hitting or pinching. When he does, I say, "No hitting (or pinching)!" & remind him that we keep our hands to our selves when we are mad as I am putting him down. I have put him in "time out" (in his crib or in the baby-proof family room w/ the gate up) for a few minutes & he does cry. The time out really seems to be more for me that for him. When I come back, I pick him up & explain that we say sorry when we hurt someone (& help him sign "sorry"), then I hug him & tell him that I love him.

Now, you may ask, is all of this working... sort of. The tantrums are fewer, he is using more language (verbal & sign) to communicate & he is hitting/pinching less. I also realize that some of this is way over his head, but it won't be for long. It is conditioning my husband & I to be consistant, patient & understanding w/ him when he is at his worst. Lastly, I can really empathize w/ how stressful this behavior can be & it can be even more difficult if it seems like your kid is the only one acting like a tyrant. Good luck. Romy


First and foremost, yes, your son is completely normal. I used to post a lot to the advice line about my son (now 3) who, around 15 months (there must be something about that age!) started pulling hair, and graduated from that to biting, regularly, and without warning or provocation. He seemed so wild and out of control, and NOTHING I read in a book or got advice about from teachers and friends and doctors worked--not time outs or holding him down or stern talk, etc. While it's clear to me now that these are phases they outgrow, I will say that the advice I got that made the most sense to me came a bit late--he was already phasing out of his most violent stage when someone suggested that in my son's case, the attempt to get him to stop the behaviour was pointless--what I needed to do was redirect it. So toward the end, I got him a biting toy, and said, If you need to bite, you can bite this--it's not okay to bite people. This really seemed to work, and I wish I had used it during the hair pulling phase--I think with kids like this you have to work with the behaviour rather than try to prevent it. Now, at three, my son still occasionally has the urge to bite when he's very upset or having a tantrum (he remains intense, and very physical in his responses, though with so much more self-control and awareness of acceptable vs unacceptable behaviour). Most of the time he stops himself before actually biting, sometimes will lightly bite himself to prevent himself from biting others, or is capable of saying, "I want to bite something," and then I get him something he can chow on. He's not exactly easy-going, but I never thought he would develop this much self-awareness! So I advise considering a punching toy, a biting toy, a hair pulling toy, and distingushing for your son what it's okay to hit, bite and pull and what it's not okay to, rather than trying to get him to stop altogether. Good luck!
I won't laugh because I have been dealing with the same situation and I know it's not funny! My son is bigger than his friends and has been walking and very active since 10-1/2 months. Soon after he started walking, he started hitting/slapping/pushing. Since he's bigger than his friends, he can hurt them. He usually doesn't hurt them, but scares them and sometimes he hurts me. He is so strong. I have tried every single thing and nothings seems to be making a dent (quietly explaining that hitting hurts; using a deep strong voice to frighten him; taking him out of the room; walking away from him/ignoring him; making him stand in the corner for a time out (I was surprised that he actually did it - I thought he would just walk away too); and finally, slapping his hand (something I said I would never do). I'm sorry to say that none of it has worked. I've talked to our pediatrician about it (as well as reading about it and asking around) and it seems that there is really nothing that will make it stop at this point. According to my pediatrician, children this age just have no self-control. Even if they know they are not supposed to do something, they simply can't stop themselves (my son will sometimes yell, "no, no!" when he's doing something wrong, but he'll continue the behavior. I'm sorry this isn't much help. The only thing this information did to help me was to understand that it is normal and that it's something I have no control over so I stop feeling badly about it when it happens (I felt that I wasn't being a good parent because I couldn't teach him not to do this). It is still so frustrating, but not quite as demoralizing. I still stop him from doing it and try the above mentioned disciplinary tactics, of course, but I don't feel as concerned with changing his behavior.
Time for my annual ;-) plug for Rudolph Dreikurs's "Children: the Challenge". Although Dreikurs doesn't approve of corporal punishment, he does have an example you might wish trying: when your child slaps you, you say (cheerfully) "Oh, you want to play a slapping game", and slap back (he says, hard). Continue trading slaps until your child stops. He says if the child forgets this experience and tries it again, they'll stop much sooner the next time. The principle he is acting upon is that parents shouldn't act as though children have all the rights, which they are doing if they let the child get away with the activity. He says the important thing is the manner in which the game is carried out. I know this is just one issue you addressed, but Dreikurs has solutions for all of them. The one I mentioned above is just the first one that popped into my mind. Fran
Whatever the benefits of Dreikurs's book may be, this is not one. How in the world can you expect a child to understand that it's not okay for her to hit you when YOU hit HER? It's illogical and ineffective in the long run. Moreover, it is just plain scary for a child to be hit by her bigger, stronger, more powerful parent -- the person who is supposed to be safe and protective. You may stop the hitting in the moment, but the emotional repercussions are just not worth it. Instead, try to understand the causes for her behavior, then model the way you want her to act and help her learn self-control.

Children hit their parents for two primary reasons: testing and attention-getting. Testing is in the nature of figuring out what is and is not acceptable. Children know very well that if they behave in ways that their parents like they get approval in return. But they're dying of curiosity about just what will happen if they behave in ways their parents don't like: will they really stop loving me? They don't want their parents to stop loving them, of course, and they need to be reassured that, even when they are beastly, that won't really happen. And they need this reassurance again and again. Telling them a few times doesn't work; even if you think they "should know by now," chances are they still crave proof. This is not so strange when you think about it: after all, as any therapist will tell you, most adults still want the same kind of proof of their parents' love and approval...

Children also want nothing more than to have their parents' undivided attention all the time. Hitting and doing other unacceptable things can be one way to get it -- that's why you always hear the advice to ignore misbehaviors if you possibly can, since they will be likely to go away if they are not reinforced.

If you really want to teach your child not to hit, there are a number of positive ways to do so, all of which have been suggested on this site. But you have to understand that your child's behavior is developmentally appropriate -- even if you don't like it much -- and that it will take time for you both to learn how to manage it. Change isn't going to happen quickly, and physical punishment is not going to help your cause.

Good luck. I'm dealing with the same issues with my own 2 1/2 year old, and it isn't always fun -- but at least I know it's not going to be forever! Lauren


We have friends who did the Rudolph Dreikurs' slap your child back method. The child is now 4 years old and the slapping and hitting has escalated. We used time outs and both of our children learned other ways to deal with frustration, etc. This may have more to do with the temperament of the individual children but I'd be wary of trying to teach your child to stop hitting by hitting him. Julie

16-mo-old's relentless hitting

Jan 2008

I have read a lot of the archived advice about toddlers who hit, and I am trying really hard to be patient, firm and consistent with my son who has turned into a huge hitter. I tell him in a firm but not angry voice, ''no hitting,'' and whoever he hits immediately gets up and disengages. He understands a lot of instructions, and is very good about following our rules except when it comes to hitting. I know that getting an emotional reaction from a parent can perpetuate a problem, so I am trying really hard to not let him see me get upset. But he has given no indication that any of our actions have done anything to make him think hitting is not a good idea. He just keeps doing it. I guess I am looking for advice about how to handle my own frustration, in addition to how to stop the hitting. No hitting


My younger child was a hitter from 15 months until about 22-months. It was frustrating until a conversation with my pediatrician helped me realize that she was quite frustrated with her peer group. He suggested that I have her play ith older children rather than her own playgroup.

My younger daughter hits her milestones significantly earlier than her peers and in some cases earlier than her pediatrician thought was possible. She began group playing quite young. Having my younger daughter play with my elder daughter and her friends was less stressful (meaning that she rarely hit) than trying to schedule playdates with children of similar ages. Your own child may already be ahead of the curve in many respects and may find play more enjoyable with older kids. -been there


I have posted for advice on this topic before, and eventually found my own solution that worked quite well - but it was a number of months after your son's age, so I don't know if it would be as effective for you now. My main breakthrough was in setting a clear bunch of rules that were a rigid structure for our household, and then treating those rules like something I had no choice but to enforce - this freed me from needing emotions to motivate the discipline, and most importantly to be able to comfort my son for the suffering he endured in the consequences.

The rule I came up with for hitting a family member was a time-out, but a very specific kind. He has a rug he has to sit on for two full minutes straight (the clock starts over every time he gets up) and I explain to him lovingly and with eye contact why he's sitting there. The first few times, it took almost half an hour to get two full minutes out of him, and I almost broke, but he finally gave in and it took only two (much easier) time-outs after that until he stopped hitting me.

On the playground, I warned him that we would leave if he hit another child, and then I followed through (ouch). I packed us up and drove away, expressing sympathy as he screamed his head off, and explaining over and over why we were leaving. The hitting stopped after another two events.

Clear rule, warning before acting, acting consistently, expressing love and sympathy, eye contact, clear communication. This has DONE it in our household. But. After months of trying other things. Who's to say it isn't just the older child who gets it, and not our new approach? Best of luck.


Hi - 16 months is still VERY young so I believe your son is not capable yet of understanding that this is hurting someone. It sounds like he wants to interact in a physical way and just hasn't learned how yet. You don't say what the circumstances are when he hits so I'm guessing this isn't out of anger it is just how he is trying to communicate. I have been a family day care provider for years and have had several ''hitters'' and ''biters'' in my care. I have found two things to be very effective in stopping this kind of behavior, perhaps one or both will help with your son. One is to become very aware of what is happening before he hits and to redirect before the hitting occurs. Look for the signs of frustration or that devilish twinkle in the eye and then present him with something else to do. No need to talk about hitting while you are redirecting, just calmly redirect. Over a period of time this constant redirection will break this habit. Another approach is to take the hand that is doing the hitting and calmly move his hand for him in a gentle way. While you are showing him how to gently stroke his friends arm or back (avoid the face) say the word ''gentle'' over and over in a calm voice. Smile at him and encourage him to do it himself and when he begins to hit take his hand again, smile, show him how to stroke gently and say ''yes! gentle!'' Almost every toddler I have cared for has wanted to interact physically with others and that is good. They just need to know how to hug and touch in a gentle way. And, of course, it needs to be OK with the other child or person. My own four year old now explains to our young baby friends the gentle rule by taking their hands and showing them how. Hang in there! been there too!
Imagine you are fairly new to this world and your big people get tense and say no hitting. All you hear is no hitting. What are you to do instead? Who knows? They are obviously not happy with you, but they keep reminding you by saying hitting, and you like to do that, so you keep doing it.

What I'm trying to show you, is that you're reinforcing the concept of hit, by repeating it over and over. Little ones are fairly simple. Imagine them as little blockheads that you are in the process of shaping. They can't reason beyond your no request. All they hear is the repeat of that term they understand. They don't know how to pick something else instead. You have to show them what their options are. You need to start putting a lot of focus into what you DO want him to do. This is how you re-direct him, and it may take some time.

How about, next time Junior hits, you say ''Oh, I really like it when you touch me gently.'' Take your child's hand and stroke your face or arm nicely with his hand. He may hit again. He's still learning how to be delicate. You may say ''no'', but don't repeat that dirty word - hitting. Instead direct him again to what you like, and as you stroke your own face with his hand, remark how much you like that!

You're not only giving him something else to focus on, but he gets positive feedback with your praise Gentle, gentle


16-mo-old hitting mommy

How do you dicipline a 16 month old? I have a little girl who has started to hit me and kick me when she is mad. When I tell her ''no-no,'' she'll cry and then do it again. I've tried blocking her hits, re-directing her and even a time out after many many hits. Does anyone have any suggestions? It was my understanding that she is too young for time outs, so what are other ways to help her learn good behavior at this age? I've been talking to her about things that may be bothering her, teething and her issues around her parents divorce (i.e. rescheduled/missed visits from dad.) Any practical suggestions? Thanks. single mom needing advice


I've tried to use natural consequences for disciplining my son, and for him it's usually worked. In the case of hitting, I think that your daughter is old enough to understand when you tell her that nobody likes to be hit and that if she hits you, you will have to stop playing with her (reading to her, sitting with her...whatever it is that you are doing at the time). Once you make this announcement, the next time that she hits, just calmly say ''I don't like to be hit. When you're ready to stop hitting me, we can keep playing'' and walk into the next room. I like this technique because it shows the child that it's the behavior that you don't like, that how she acts will affect how others react to her, and that by controlling her negative behavior she can get what she wants (ie, to spend more fun time with you) Best of luck. Been There
What worked for us was for me to look shocked (wide eyes, sharp intake of breath) and say ''I will not let you hurt me. Hitting me hurts my body.'' and then get up and walk away. As soon as I left my son would be very upset and follow me whereever I went. I'd ask if he wanted to try again, and then we'd start some new activity. Variations on this work, too. I will not let you hurt so-and-so; that hurts so-and so's body. I found he got the hang of it pretty quick and did it less and less frequently. I think he got 2 important things here: I won't let you hurt me/ mommy's not a doormat and this particular ''no'' (hitting) is a bigger deal than lots of other ''no''s. Good luck! Sue
Here's something we've used with our son since that age that seems to help (we adapted it from a technique that is used to train puppies not to bite!). I let my son know after 1 bite/hit, that if he does it again, I will go away. If he does hit me again (usually it is in an exploratory way) I either leave the room (if I think he's safe), hand him to his dad, or stay in the room and ignore him for a little while. This is very distressing to him, so I keep these ''goings away'' pretty brief (a minute or two), and let him know afterwards also that it was because he hit me and that now I am back, but if it happens again, I will go away again. Once he got the idea, I didn't give him a warning the first time, I just left the room (and left daddy to explain it!) It is hard to do this as a mother as ignoring your child (even for a minute) is extremely distressing to them, but it is a very effective technique and my son almost never hits or bites. In your case, there might be more going on (with the divorce etc.) --you might also want to talk to a child psychologist if it doesn't stop. Mama of 2year old and puppy
I'm no expert but I'd say:

1) Maybe your daughter is trying to share with you her anger and sadness at all the changes happening to her world.Sounds like these feelings are valid and getting them out would be good.Since she's so little these may be the first times she feels sadness, longing, missing, helplessness, anger.She has very little experience with how to deal with any of these feelings so this is your time to help her learn. Maybe you could start by taking about feelings with her. A friend of mine made her own laminated cards with pictures of babies and children with expressions of emotions on their faces. Then she'd look at them with her son and while saying ''She's crying. She's sad'' or ''He's happy. He's laughing'' or whatever. Also at the park you can comment when someone is laughing or crying that that's what it is.

If you think that she's missing her daddy, which would be reasonable, you could make a picture book of pictures of him with her for you both to look at together.

Maybe when she's hitting you, you could say ''you are unhappy. That doesn't feel good ( to feel unhappy). I'm sorry'' and give her a hug.This begs the issue of how to get her to physically stop hitting you, but this isn't as important and I'm sure you'll get other postings helping you with that. It does address what her emotional needs may be that underlie the hitting. Learn to listen to what she's telling you (thru actions and mood). These are skills you'll need for years.

2)My second set of thoughts are about you.You might want to get some therapy to deal with your own feelings of the split up- this way you will be carrying fewer of them around to rub off on your daughter. Your daughter is also entitled to her feelings and it'll be up to you to help her understand them and make sense of them and learn to comfort herself (over the years). Your reflex action might be to try to deny her her feelings because you feel so guilty and bad about the split up. Wishful thinking would have her be a happy kid without any notice that daddy's gone, but that's fantasy. Your challenge will be to put your own feelings about the split up aside enough be able to accept her feelings not deny or minimize them, and then to help her to learn to tolerate them, process them and comfort her. Hint: one way kids process feeling and anger is thru play. Dollies can hit dollies. Towers of blocks can be knocked down. Sand can be blasted! Books can be bashed!

3)At 16 months the child enjoys daddy but mommy is the center of her world. Without you the world doesn't happen. So, do you think she's afraid of loosing you (now that daddy isn't there as much maybe she's started to think that you might go too) Is some of this fear? Try to keep to a predictable schedule. Children find comfort in predictability. Try maintain as many elements of the schedule that you had with daddy around. Don't be late picking her up.

4) I'd generally try to increase the amount of cuddle time you have with her.

Good luck,she's asking for your help. JM


18-mo-old hitting & throwing things at my child

Aug 2006

I recently had a play date with a friend who has a 18 month old son. (My son is 19 months old.) When she came in she told me that her son has been hitting other kids and sometimes throwing things at them. She says she ''has tried everything'' to get it stop, but it continues. During our 2 hour visit, he threw blocks at my son's head twice and hit him three times. Usually it was over some object or other desire. My son didn't respond (except for some crying) but the hits and throws were fairly hard. The mom was very distraught and on the verge of tears. It seemed to me that she was not as 'scary' as necessary when telling her child 'no' after each incident. She almost tried to discuss the situation with him rather than telling him ''that is NOT ok'' forcefully. Since my son has a very good ''no'' switch and responds well to a simple ''don't do that'', I didn't know what to tell her. But I did tell her I would ask you all. Any tips for her? Rachel


I'd recommend that the child is not told ''no'' or ''don't do that'' because he won't know what he shouldn't be doing. Kids respond better to directions such as ''keep the blocks low, if you want to throw something, here's a soft ball.'' Also, he should be shown how his actions effect his friend--''when you hit your friend, it hurts...see? he's crying.'' If the child has language, encourage him to use his words if he seems to be throwing/hitting when frustrated or angry. Even if he doesn't have language but seems upset, model for him: ''it makes you mad when your tower falls down...but it's not safe to throw the blocks.'' The other thing is, when a child is going through a stage like this, it's the parent's responsibility to stay very close to him and try to anticipate when he might start lashing out so as to intervene before someone gets hurt Amanda
Hitting is not okay, and being firm and forceful, and giving a kid consequences, is important. Time outs, removing him, telling him that if he hits, we go home (then follow through with it) would be good. If he hit your kid 3 times in 2 hrs, I'd say there's probably more she could do. Like leave. She does need to make it clear. I'd say you could say ''NO'' the first time, but follow it up with, ''if you hit again, we have to go home.'' (or have a 2 minute time out by ourselves in another room) Then go home (or have the time out). The kid will probably have a tantrum, and eventually will get the message that hitting is not ok, and carries undesirable consequences. The toddler may be enjoying mom's distraught reaction, too, and is too young to empathise naturally. Mom needs to get strong and forceful. Beyond that, if I were you, I'd probably tell her that it might be a good time to let the kids take a break from each other if he hits the 2nd time. Or the first time. You can be gentle about it, but forceful yourself. ''You know, maybe we need a little time alone. Can we get together next week?'' I have zero tolerance for kids hitting my kid, and for my kid hitting others

18-mo-old hitting when mom is around

Sept 2003

I've read the indexed advice on hitting but I wanted some more specific advice. My almost 18 month old has been an exuberant happy little boy from day one. He is social and physical, and when he started walking (at 11 months) he immediately started getting physical with other kids. His first reaction to another child was to touch them, lay on them, hug them, hit them or pull their hair. This was not malicious behavior, just his instinct as a way to connect with others (but disturbing none the less because it often scared or hurt other kids). We have worked with him (saying NO and modeling gentle behavior) and he is now, at 18 months showing a little more restraint in this area. It happens now mostly when he gets over excited or is in a new situation.

The problem is that now when he gets physical, the motivation seems different. As I said, he is getting better, but mostly with people other than Mom. He will be with his babysitter all day and she will say that he was really gentle, then when I show up he will immediately hit the other child he shares with, obviously for my benefit. Also when I take him to the park he is more rough with other kids than when anyone else takes him. I feel I am doing something really wrong.

One of the problems might be that I get so very upset about this and maybe he picks up on it. Its just that I feel like I am doing something very very wrong, being the main person who he acts this way with. I am at a loss. I don't know whether to get more strict about it or maybe I am giving him too much of a reaction and need to ignore it more. Basically I am at the point where I can't read the situation any more and I often feel like I have no idea how to deal with it. Its also very isolating as I feel I don't want to take him to the park or classes where he might ''attack'' other kids. That's another question. Some people say to avoid those situations for a few months till he grows out of it. Others say to put him in those situations so he learns. I am getting so much advice and so much of it is contradictory. Should I go to some sort of a behavioral specialist who can watch us together and give me some feedback? if so, who? I just need to feel that I am using the right approach because frankly, its making me feel like a bad mother. at a loss


When my son was 18 mos. (also a happy, lovely child in mnay ways), he also went through a hitting phase, especially when in our company. Though many say hitting is because of linguistic frustration, this did not seem to be the case, as he was quite a good talker already. This had us in despair, and we avoided situations where hitting might take place for a while, then enroleld him part-time in pre-school (he had a nanny previously), in the hope that might mature him socially. (We also talked to him, time-outed him, etc.) By 2 1/2 he had entirely stopped hitting -- but I don't think anything we did was the cause. Rather, I think it was pretty clearly just a stage, and while we had to express positive (and negative) reinforcement for the behavior, he was pretty much bound to come out of it. With a bit more time under my belt, it seems to me that these periods of difficult behavior come in waves, lasting a few months or so, followed by periods of wonderfulness . . . so don't despair, just ride it out. anon
First of all, please do not feel that you are a bad mother! I think this situation is very common. Young children very often misbehave the most in the presence of mother. In some cases it may be because of the way mother responds but I think it is usually because kids trust that mom will be there no matter what, so they can test out bad behavior with her and know she'll still be there. I don't think very rough or aggressive behavior should ever be ignored, but you are right that showing how upset it makes you (it would make me upset too) may be reinforcing his behavior. What I would try if I were you would be to calmly end whatever fun activity is occurring when the hitting starts. Leave the park or separate him from a playmate or remove favorite toys his is playing with, and make it clear that playtime ended because the hitting started. Also realize that child aggression naturally peaks between 18 and 24 months. Eventually he will learn other ways of interacting with others, but the learning will happen much more quickly when he is older and more verbal. Given that, I would also avoid situations that may really trigger his rough behavior - just for a few months. Good luck! You seem to be very thoughtful and are definitely doing the right things. Liz O.

19-mo-old hitting whatever is near

March 2007

I am very frustrated with a new development with my 19mo old. Normally a sweet and obedient little guy. He as taken to giving me a swipe or hitting things like a chair, door, refridgerator, what ever is nearby when he gets frustrated. I don't want him to hit me, anything and especially anyone, but I can't tell him ''No Touch'' like I would with a plant or a lamp. Because, me or the refidgerator, or chair are not forbidden objects. I've looked through many books, I've tried a modified timeout - he hits and I tell him ''No Hitting'' and move him facing a wall for 30sectonds or so. Then kinda ignore him or another 30seconds. He just keeps hitting things and looking at me. So I do it again, up to 3 or 4 times. It has not abated at all.

I was thinking about what works with him on other stuff -- like when he throws a book, I say ''Put it down gently'' and he will pick it up and put it down nicely and clap for himself.

Can I show him to stomp his feet when he is frustrated? I don't want to ignore the emotion but I definately do not want him to hit. Would anyone have some advise? He is young and I want to nip this in the bud - both the hitting and continuation of it. Thanks, Upset Mom


I don't know how verbal your son is but his likely lack of communication skills might be frustrating him. How about helping him to use words for his feelings? For example, he's mad and hits you, tell him ''you look mad!'' And tell him the things he CAN hit--couch, pillow, stuffed animal. ASP
In my world -- hitting people is not okay, but hitting things is okay. My kids use most things in our house at one time or another as 'bongo drums,' so I would be hard pressed to punish them for every time they hit a 'thing.' Actually, part of our discussion on hitting is direction to 'hit the sofa' or 'hit the pool.'

Both of my children went through the lovely 'hitting' phase beginning at 22-months and 17-months respectively. I think that your idea of 're-directing frustration' is a good one. Verbally recognize that he is angry and tell him to stomp his feet if he is not verbal or give him an easy word to use like 'help' if he is verbal. If he stomps his feet or says 'help' then you need to respond to his situation EVERY TIME (patience is something you can work on later -- right now you are working on hitting) If he hits a person, then put him in time-out EVERY TIME! It sounds like you are already doing that. It will pay-off. After the time-out give a few word reminder of why the child was put in time-out ('we don't hit people) and then model 'gentle' hands (we stroke an arm much like petting a cat) and then I ask where hands belong. The answer is always 'too self.'

The girls, have relapses every now and again -- usually when VERY tired or after some other disruption to their lives -- vacations or visits from the grandparents that last a few days. Consistent discipline (something I view in a positive way) gets them back on track. -been there


Anger is a tricky emotion. it's very uncomfortable both for him and for you but it is in us. let him express it but try to teach him to channel it in ways that won't hurt himself or others. Stomping his feet may work for you but it may not for him. I WISH I could get mine to hit a chair, I encorage it. as long as he's not hitting a person or something that could break I say let him have at it. anon

19-mo-old hitting everybody

March 2007

My 19 month old is a hitter! I know why he does it, he's frustrated when something doesn't go his way and he doesn't have the language or the self control to keep himself from acting out. He'll hit anybody and anything that happens to be in his path, even if the person had nothing to do with the event! For instance, he wanted some chips that his brother was eating, they weren't sharing well, Dad took the chips away and he hit his brother! I've read the archives about aggression and I've tried every good idea that I found there. Usually what I do when he hits me is go completely expressionless or I turn my back and give him absolutely no reaction. (His brother does the same thing, but not intentionally, that's just how he processes things.) So he's not getting a big reaction, but things are just getting worse. And the older he gets, the stronger he gets and the more painful things get for the rest of us. It's frustrating, but mostly because it's been going on for a good 3-4 months and doesn't seem to be getting any better. Any suggestions? Jill


My son was also a 19 month old hitter. There should be a support group. I really came to believe that it was just a matter of impulse control mixed with temperment. Its the worst. I really feel for you. My advice is to pick him up and put him in his crib, or another time out place immediately. No hesitation, no warnings. Calmly tell him that we don't hit because it hurts and when he hits, he has to have a time out. Don't spend a lot of time talking to him or anything. Don't even make a lot of eye contact. Just pick him up, say we don't hit, and put him in the crib. Then come back in a few minutes, say we don't hit again, and get him out. Make sure everyone in the house and all childcare providers do the same thing every time so he gets the same unpleasant reaction. Also if he hits with a toy or other implement, take that away. Also use the same wording for the ''we don't hit'' talk.

Its not going to cure it. My bet is that you are in for this for awhile, basically until he develops impulse control (around 2 1/2 or 3, sorry) But when he does develop impulse control, you want to make sure this is the thing he controls first. In the mean time you will just join the ranks of the anxious mom's shadowing their hitter boys at the playground at close range. Oh yeah, and at the playground, if he hits, leave immediately. That really hits home. no pun intended.

the good news is that my son is 5, and despite the occasional battering of the little brother, he is no longer a chronic hitter. He grew out of it with lots of reinforcement. been there


I have three boys under 8 so there has been a lot of hitting in my house (and not by my husband or me). The most effective technique, I have found is a calm, firm response. When your son hits his brother and you ignore it, you are teaching your older child he is not worth protecting. He learns that his brother can get away with it and in a few years your big guy will really resent the little one. When my kids hit each other I go to the offender. I ask the injured one if he is ok and say something soothing, while holding the arm of the hitter. Then I turn my attention to the hitter. I say, ''In this family we are not allowed to hit each other, until you can control yourself, I will have to help you.'' If the hitter can form words, he needs to say sorry. He then gets a timeout. Those who can't/won't stay in timeout or keep hitting get to sit on my lap where I gently restrain them by holding my arms around theirs. Kids hate this but I just calmly repeat that he can't hit and I will be glad to let him down when he can control himself. They usually calm down in less than three minutes and I let them play. Those who transgress again are removed from the area and put in bed. It will be tough the first few times but letting them know who is in charge is much easier than when they start school. Firm but fair

22-mo-old with a serious hitting problem

Sept 2007

Oh, boy. My darling little boy, once known as the ''Zen baby'' for being SO chill and sweet, has become such a hitter and, for the first time, my mommy instincts are not steering me confidently.

His sister was born six months ago, and I suppose you could say it started then, or even a little earlier when he wanted to climb on my belly and would kick it in retaliation because I couldn't let him. Sometimes his hitting is clearly direct jealousy - he wants to be on my lap but she is there, so he pushes or hits her. But now it's an awful habit, and if there is an object in his hand, I know it will fly at her head at some point. Yesterday his hitting morphed into punching with closed fists, and tonight he even tried to initiate play with another toddler at a wedding by double punching her in the chest.

The books I've consulted either don't address such aggressive behavior, or have very short sentences about making it clear that it's unacceptable. What I really want to know is that I haven't done something awful to ruin this poor kid - that there really are other peace-loving parents whose kids have violent streaks. And WHAT DO I DO?

When I respond drastically, with emotion and shock and frustration, he detaches and gets worse. I can see that diffusing the issue and changing the subject is helpful, but I feel these days like I can never turn my back or my littler baby gets hurt.

ANY THOUGHTS? sad mommy


He's not getting the attention he needs and is used to. I'd be jealous and upset too in this situation. You need specific one-on-one time with your toddler where the baby is not around. As regularly as possible. Hire a sitter if you need to, or do a trade-off with another mom. anon

Two-year-old keeps hitting everyone - help!

Feb 2008

AHH!!! We have tried everything to get our otherwise delightful, funny, loving two year old to stop hitting. He doesn't do it a lot at school - mostly some pushing if someone is in his way. But when he is with us (at home or out at a museum, etc) he hits us and others. We can be walking down an aisle at the grocery store and he will push a grownup standing there. If we are telling him not to do something, he might take a swing at us. He is only 27 months, so it isn't a fist or anything... but it hurts and is embarrassing when he does it to other people. Most kids don't seem to notice when he does it to them.

What we do is say ''no hitting'' very sternly and stick him in time out or leave wherever we are. We have tried some brief lectures just letting him know how upset we are. I know that logically, spanking does not make sense (don't hit, but I can), but I am about to try it because I am so mad and nothing else works. Help!!! j


The good news...you are probably at the peak his hitting or near it and it will get better soon. The bad news...he'll be a teenager some day and wreck your NEW car while driving after curfew...but, between now and then...

Your son is so normal, though some will dub him aggressive. Most of us are kind people who understand your pain even if we were lucky enough to avoid it in our own children -- mine split it for me so I got to break my arm patting myself on the back for my superior parenting with child one and then got to deal with the heartbreaking description of my younger child as 'bad' and 'aggressive.'

I was at wits end...then a friend told me about the books called 'children: the challenge' and 'positive discipline.' I got some techniques that really helped me manage my younger child's behavior. The change was quick -- within a few weeks. There are lots of examples (the former book is outdated -- it was written in the early 70s, but I felt it to be more complete and was able to look past the examples that I considered outdated...) My younger child is now almost three (35 months). Everyone thinks that she is sweet, charming, funny, lovely and no one believes me when I tell them that she was such a challend. been there


This is a VERY unpleasant phase. My 2.5 years old did it at 2 as well...it lasted about 2 months. First i tried speaking to him but it really did not do anything. Once i actually acted it took litteraly no time to fix this issue. Every single time he hit, something or someone, I removed him from the situation and gave him a time out. Someone said recently on the post time out don't work...well they work very well for us. FOr the first time since he was born i got a book because i was so desparate as to what to do. The book said to always create a consquence for the issue and also to explain once, twice and then no more. So if he hit once, i would say ''we don't hit, no'' and then give him a 2mn time out. If he did it again, i would do that again. The third time i would remove him without a word and so on. I am not kidding one day i had to do this 11 times. We had guests and he probably thought he could get away with it more. SO i explained to the guests, apologized and said i had to keep on doing it. This was the last day. After that he pretty much stopped. He tried randomly and the same consequences happened and he gave it up. For that matter when other have come up since all i do is say ''do you want a time out''...somehow he remebers what happens and that's enough to remind him. I wish i had done something a lot faster because when i di it worked well magaliusa
Based on my experience with my extremely defiant and sometimes violent child, I can tell you that telling him no, time outs, and explanations will not help. A lot of people will probably say to give time outs, but timeouts never worked at all with my kids. For mine, it just became a power struggle to get them into the time out in the first place, which totally defeats the purpose and makes them even more defiant the next time. Also, you may not be able to imagine it now, but it is really really easy to go too far when punishing your kids. Maybe it starts with a time out, then they won't go to time out so you gently push them into time out, and the next thing you know you're spanking them out of rage. That not only doesn't help, it makes it worse. Take it from me, you do NOT want to start down that path. I've been there and it is the worst feeling in the world to know that you have hit your child, the one that you supposedly love more than anyone in the world. If your kid is anything like mine, the only thing that will work is tons and tons and TONS of praise and positive reinforcement for not hitting. For instance, when you are in the grocery store, literally every minute that he doesn't hit or push someone, say, Wow! you are doing so well and keeping your hands to yourself! Great!, and give him a hug or a high 5 or something, etc. When he does hit or push, which he will, just ignore it. Completely. Not a word, not a look, nothing. Eventually he will start to get it that not hitting is good and earns him positive attention, and then he will get out of the habit of hitting people, and you won't have to praise him for it anymore. Good luck. Been there
Keep saying ''no hitting'' to frustratedly continue getting the same results. ''No hitting'' is counter-productive, as it's harder to process negative instructions. Advice is two-pronged: allow him more choice in life, and adjust how you guide him.

You have the power to control every moment - how frustrating for him! He's told what to do, and forced to do things not on his agenda a lot.

While maintaining the boundaries you need to make life function, also make space for his rhythms, and understand he is part of the family. His desires and needs are just as important as yours, and must be factored in.

A day being dragged around, nagged, and told no constantly... well, imagine the resentment WE would feel in that situation. I would feel sullen at never getting my way, and that I could never do anything right. I would act out too. Life needs to be fun and tailored to my interests at least some of the time. Same with your kid.

Make time for your child's agenda. Get up earlier and let mornings be a relaxed, joyful experience. Make a concerted effort to phrase your guidance in the positive - focusing on what you WANT him to do, rather than nots.

Hitting is an ongoing opportunity to learn about personal space and appropriate touch (and using our words to express if we're unhappy!). Teach him that everyone has a bubble around them. He wants to hit ppl at the store? Instead of un-usefully saying ''no hitting'', become a parrot who repeats over and over ''We always respect other people's bodies / personal space'' or ''Please keep your hands to yourself/by your sides/in your space''. You may think these things are awkward or too sophisticated, but I use these phrases with good (not perfect) results.

Oh yeah, and I praise to high heaven, everytime kids do something right. It can get old to you to be so exuberant about every little thing, but it yields very good results. anon


It sounds to me that ''don't hit'' is not working. There is an answer to that one. Most people ignore the don't and hear the other word that goes with it. For example, ''don't run.'' Most kids don't hear the don't and they continue to run. So, tell the child what you do expect. In the case of ''don't run'' say ''walk.'' That is what you want the child to do and it works. In the case of no hitting or shoving or what ever there is usually a desire for somebody to move or to get what they want. You can try saying, ''use your words'' or ''we touch people gently,'' or ''when somebody is in our way we say, 'excuse me.''' If your child continues and is not listening or stopping you might hold your child and put their arms down at their side and look them in the eye and say ''that hurts *mommy* when you hit,'' or ''use your words'' or ''we touch people gently.'' Keep in mind that when you do hold your child down that this is upping the anty because it is getting into their body space and is confrontive. Say this firmly and lovingly. Nanny in the know
I was spanked as a child, sometimes unnecessarily, but I still love my parents to death and am very close to them. I also consider myself to be a mostly fairly happy, content, and well adjusted person. If you have tried everything else and nothing works and you think spanking might, then do it. I don't think any parent really wants to spank their child (although, I suppose in some ways we all do at certain times), but I really believe that it is occasionally the only disciplinary measure that works for some kids. I doubt that you need to do it very hard to catch your child's attention. I also don't think that it is an illogical form of punishment - you are simply showing your child that being hit hurts and that they shouldn't do it to other people for no reason. There are also plenty of things that you have a right to do as a parent, that your child does not have a right to do (driving, voting, making rules). Spanking, used occasionally as a disciplinary measure and not out of anger, is not abuse and it does not warp children or cause them to be violent and aggressive. In fact, I wonder if not forcing children to abide by certain boundaries is not more damaging in the long term. Anyway, EVERY child is different and every parent is different. You need to do what works for you and your child and not feel guilty for making the choice that you make. No parent is perfect and we all make mistakes. I love my parents and am close to them because they really loved me and cared deeply about the kind of person I became. At any rate, this behaviour is unacceptable. I would be VERY angry if a 2 year old came up and hit or pushed me or my child. Just do what you think is best and do it out of love and concern for your child and don't let anyone tell you what you should or shouldn't do. They will thank you for it when they are grown. There is WAY too much peer pressure in the Bay Area parenting community to raise your kids according to some set of predetermined rules, half of which are too extreme to make sense in the first place. Follow your instincts, love your kids, and do what works best for your family. To hell with everyone else. The Follow Your Instincts Method of Parenting
It's hard when you feel angry/embarrassed by your child's behavior and it's pushing your buttons. Your son may be hitting because he's overwhelmed with his own emotions so he acts out. When time outs don't work and you think you'll start hitting your child you may want to consider different approaches. See Aletha Solter's article Twenty Alternatives to Punishment on http://www.awareparenting.com/articles.htm

When you say ''nothing else works'' you sound desperate and frustrated. Could you find support/someone to talk to? You could use some empathy or even self-empathy. This article about helping children with aggression might be useful too: http://www.handinhandparenting.org/csArticles/articles/000000/000027.htm

Try redirecting him by teaching him what he can do when he feels like hitting, e.g. punching a pillow instead. Tell him we don't hit, hitting hurts, you may not hit people. Tell him you feel upset when you see him hurting people. Ask him to say sorry. If you can catch him when he pushes, say what you think he's feeling, e.g. I know you're impatient when people are in the way but you need to say excuse me and go around. Practice doing it with him at home using stuffed animals. Or model the behavior by saying excuse me when he's in your way.

Maybe he's feeling needy and can't express it. Encourage him to express his anger if he needs to cry or rage. Or gently remove him, sit with him and ask, are you feeling upset? What do you need? You might want to try to get to the root of the problem. When he's trying to push people out of the way, think what he might be trying to tell you with that kind of action. What's going on in his life at large or his environment? Is he tired? Going through a growth spurt? Responding to being controlled? Books with lots examples of other things that might work for you: Playful Parenting - Lawrence J. Cohen (many fun solutions) Connection Parenting - Pam Leo Parent Effectiveness Training - Thomas Gordon

Pam Leo says ''When you get too stressed and feel yourself about to hit, announce loudly, 'I'm feeling angry, I need this behavior to stop and I need a hug.''' Why not? attempting nonviolence


I just wanted to chime in and say that I think there are a lot of good ideas here about how to make your kids happier, how to get them to behave by praising them when they do something well, etc.

My perspective is different because I am currently parenting a teenager who was raised this way. When he was about 13, he got completely out of control - to the point that his mother could not longer handle him. He became extremely mean, disrespectful, over sensitive, and self-centered. Now, every child is different, but for him the only thing that worked to correct these problems was being quite strict. We tried to be extremely consistent with punishments and sometimes were overly strict (because when we aren't things start going downhill again). Now, he is almost a different person - happier, actually doing something in school, not always fighting with his parents at home. So, this may seem like a long way off, but I think it is important because those first years do set the stage for what the future will bring. My suggestion is that whatever you do, be consistent and don't not punish your child for inappropriate behaviour just because you feel bad about hurting their feelings.

My feeling is that this is part of life - sometimes there are unfortunate consequences to our actions. In general, our responsibility as parents is to help our children become functioning members of the society that we live in, and I think that taking an approach with that in mind is important, even at such a young age. So, my advice is that do what you think will make your child aware that certain behaviours have consequences.

Please, don't turn your child into a monster by catering to their wants and feeling too guilty to punish them. In my experience, it does not make them happier and it does not make you happier. Dealing with the consequences


Two-year-old won't stop hitting other kids!

Jan 2006

I have a two year old that won't stop hitting other kids! He started hitting when he was about a year old. He does not hit adults normally, but when he is around other children he hits. He has been in daycare since he was three months old, so he is used to being around other children. He is not hit or bullied at daycare. While dropping him off at daycare one time, a baby crawled up to him and he kicked her! There is no provocation or ''reason'' for him to hit, he just does. We have tried to stroke his arm and explain to him to be gentle, but it does not work. I am at a loss. I have been around many children, but have never had such a young child hit so much. He is otherwise a very sweet good natured child, who rarely cries. Please, any advice would be appreciated. anon


Oh my, I could have written your post 2 years ago. I also had a hitter. I really feel for you. But let me assure you of a few things. 1) This is not your fault. 2) he will grow out of it 3) there are some things you can do that will help him grow out of it faster and will give you more of a sense of control over the situation, but he's not going to stop until he has more impulse control.

Our son started hitting around 1year just like yours. We tried everything. He was a happy friendly kid who hit others without provocation. Basically, having a kid who hits (and being a parent who decides to deal with it) is just a hell of a lot of work, I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy.

Our strategie was three fold. First, you have to montor them constantly. You can't sit at the park and chat and expect them just to play. You've got to stand within arm's reach and protect other kids. Second, we adopted the policy that if he hit, anyone anywhere, we just up and left immediately. I would warn him before we got there that that woudl happen, then if he hit, off we would go. Finally, we named the behavior. We said, ''that is rough play. Rough play hurts'' etc.

Also, we put him in a slightly more structured preschool. Free play and having no direction was the kiss of death for him.

But I want to assure you that this is going to make you a better parent. With constant vigilance, and always removing him from the situation when it happens, he will slowly get more impulse control and it will slowly dissipate. With our son, he stopped hitting, but then, because he craved physical contact so much, started ''accidentally'' bumping into other kids. We explained to him that this was also ''rough play''. But it was encouraging because it was an indication that he was trying to stop but just couldnt. Then at around age 3.5 he really mostly stopped.

Sometimes now, we go to the park and I sit down on the bench, not having to follow him around anymore and I think, ''this is heaven'' And we were forced to work with him so much on interactions with other kids, that he is actually much better now than many other kids his age at sharing and cooperating. It was a long road, but it did pass. Thank god. recovering mother of a hitter


Hitting at this level is serious. Take the child to a pediatric behavioralist; it is a sign either of something wrong in the home environment or maybe something physically wrong with the child.Please seek advise ASAP. Seen this before

Two-year-old hitting baby brother

June 2005

I am writing on behalf of my friend who has just added a new member to her family. Eight weeks ago, she birthed a healthy baby boy. She also has an older son, now 27 months old. She has been having great difficulty with her first born son and his behavior of hitting (very hard at times) the newborn. My friend is a very active parent and has read many books and spoken with her pediatrician several times about this behavior. Needless to say, she understands WHY this is happening, but is at a loss as to how to control it. She has tried every strategy in the book, and finally, last week she even spanked her first born. This situation is greatly distressing to her and she has felt horribly about spanking her oldest. So, spanking is not the answer, but does anyone out there know of a solution that has worked? Any advice would be greatly appreciated. Blessings


Try the book ''The Happiest Toddler on the Block''. Someone recommended it to me and I just got it. It has great advice about toddlers and how to communicate so that they know you understand what they want...not how to give in to them...but how to make them understand that you understand which helps relieve their frustration. Cecilia

Two-year-old kicking and hitting mom

Feb 2004

Hi, I am wondering how to stop my 2yr old son from kicking / hitting? He doesn't do it all of the time but ges into moods and he is very strong- sometimes it starts out as play while changing diaper and we try to stop him from getting to riled up.The other AM he kicked me in the eye twice... luckily my glasses are plastic lenses but it really hurt, or he swings his hands and hits us also. How do I discipline this. I usually give him a timeout holding him still talking to him, telling him We do not kick, it hurts. Asking him are you going to kick mommy -NOOOoo is what he usually says but the other Am he kept saying yes... and kicking, he still wanted to be on me crawling in my lap crying the whole time trying to nurse-I wouldn't let him, until the end of like 7 min.and he calmed down. We walked to other room to change setting but he still wouldn't answer no he wasn't going to kick me- He is a very bad teether and is getting molars, could he just be so miserable, his sweet personality is being grumbled? Does anyone have some advice or stopping kicking beside just holding his feet and hands while trying to hit us?
tired of being the punching bag


One thing that really works well with any kid is to tell them what they CAN do, not what they cannot do. You can try, instead, saying, ''you can kick a ball,'' ''you can hit a drum,'' and so on. You can even turn it into a game until he gets it. For example, say, ''Do we kick mommy? NO! Do we kick balls? YES! Come on, let's kick a ball!'' My toddler niece used to chant to herself as she was coloring, ''only on the paper, only on the paper...''. I think it helps to emphasize what IS okay to kick and hit (and color on), not what NOT to do. I also tell my almost two year old son often, ''you can hug mommy/sister/friend,'' if he has hit me or his sister, thus giving him an action that is acceptable that he can have control over and still interact with us. Good luck! Kate
I felt really strongly about not having my kid hit me. I figured it didn't make much sense to come down on her for hitting at the playground but overlook it when she hit me. I just told her ''you don't hit your mother!'' very firmly and with a frown. I'd often put her down and create a little distance between us. (To eliminate more opportunities, and also to really send the message that hitting will not make me friendlier to her.) Once the episode was past we could cuddle, talk or whatever. Now, almost 4, she's really quite good about not hitting me -- happens EXTREMELY rarely and is usually a gentle testing of the rules. anon

Two-year-old is pushing & hitting other kids

My otherwise sweet and loving 2 year old son seems to be having a pushing (and sometimes hitting) problem. He shoves other children (sometimes adults too!), most often in play situations at places like playgrounds, the zoo, etc. He most frequently does this if someone comes within his immediate 'space,' but sometimes he will go out of his way to shove a kid. We have discussed the situation with him, both at the times of the incidents and in a more calm setting at home, pointing out how it makes the other children feel sad, it can give them boo-boos, etc. We have tried timeouts. we have tried "No Thomas trains if you push again." I am at a loss here, I don't want him to be a child that noone wants to play with. Also, it is quite stressful as he has come close to pushing children off play structure, I am afraid someone could really get hurt, at there very least he has made several children cry. Any suggestions?
I wish I could say I was writing with the definitive solution -- mostly I just wanted to empathize. But I also thought I should share our experience, since it is only in retrospect that I see that the passage of time (between those critical ages of 2 and 3) was probably the key factor that got our son's occasional hitting (and biting) sprees -- always directed at his parents and closest friends -- under control. Our son is also very sweet and loving -- and very intense and very sensitive, which are at the root of both the best and the worst of his emotional extremes. We, too, tried all of the approaches you mention -- from time-outs to withdrawl of priviledges. It is only in more recent months that I feel he has really internalized the message, really understands that hitting is wrong and will ALWAYS result in loss of priviledges, and is able to control his impulses and express his anger and frustration in non-combative ways -- in part because he is now more capable of doing so, and in part because we "primed the pump" with a very consistent message. We also discovered that his aggressive phases tended to coincide with times of stress -- e.g., Mom going away for a couple of days -- that seemed, at first, not to upset him. So lots and lots of love and affection and hugs and reassurance during such times was key.... even while dispensing consistent but gentle discipline in response to his less acceptable means of expressing his turmoil. Anyway -- if there is advice buried in this long-winded reminiscence of a long, wonderful (and trying) year, it is to keep doing what you are doing, but don't expect immediate results... and when you do see results, be prepared for a reappearance of the behavior. I suspect that as age three approaches, you'll notice more and more that it's a thing of the past. If you can find common roots to these incidents (that may have nothing at all to do with the incidents), that, too, may help. And in the short-term -- very, very close supervision under any circumstances during which pushing could result in serious harm to another child (e.g., the climbing structure); perhaps the withdrawal of park priviledges could be considered -- since it's more closely linked to the incidents than his Thomas trains? (At a minimum, going home immediately after such an incident might help him understand.) Best of luck.
I see you've done a lot of useful things to try to discourage pushing. The one thing not mentioned was asking your son why he is pushing. We find when we ask our 2.5 year old son why he pushes or hits we sometimes discover some emotional issue that's troubling him. If there's an issue, we work on ways to work it out without physically expressing it (drawing, making up a story about the topic, whatever). It seems to help a lot. Note that at this age, you often have to suggest reasons they might be upset (put yourself in his world and list possible things that might be bothering him until he identifies the one that's an issue).

Two-year-old hitting mom "innocuously"

I'm wondering what to do about what I call "innocuous" toddler hitting. My son, age two, has a habit of hitting me, very lightly and repeatedly, sometimes with toys, sometimes with fists. I call this innocuous only because he does it in good fun. He would never *hit* me, and he knows hitting is wrong. So, when he taps me, he's come up with the genius method of calling it something else: "Mommy, I clomp you...clomp, clomp, clomp," while he taps me over and over again. He calls it some new made up word every time. So, I'm pretty sure the issue is not some pent up anger towards Mom, but rather a testing of limits, and of language. I suppose there are quite a lot of kinks to this story, and I guess the main issue I'd like addressed is how I should go about explaining that all hitting is bad, even when it is "in fun," and that a hit is a hit is a hit, no matter what he calls it.
My 2.3 year-old son hits, too. And mainly me, also his mama. My husband noted that our son hits the most when he is going through a big milestone. For instance, he stopped hitting and then has been slugging some lately, and he is also talking a lot more and using his potty some -- kinda exciting and scary for him at the same time. My other mom friends who have boys with, uh-hum, big personalities similar to my son's complain about hitting, too. We wonder if it goes with the package....

It is a little easier now because I can reason with my son more. Sometimes when he hits I ask him to do a "high five" instead, so he can be sort of rough but not on me! Sometimes, if it is really bad, I just walk away, saying, "Mama can't play with you if you are going to hit. It hurts her." This has worked more often lately, too, because he most wants to play with me -- much more than hit me. In fact, he doesn't hit me when he is mad. He hits when he is tired or keyed up and in the mood to horse around. (I guess part of knowing where to start dealing with hitting is to try to find a pattern in when the child hits? If yours hits in anger, maybe try to get him or her to talk, draw a "mad picture," kick or throw a ball outside, etc.)

Finally, my son and I spent the day with a bunch of his peers the other day. He started hitting later that day when he was really tired. I told him that his friends don't hit their moms. Then I quietly listed all of their names, saying, "so-and-so doesn't hit his mom, and so-and-so, as a matter of fact, doesn't hit his mom, and I don't think that so-and-so hits his mom, either" and on and on. This was kind of a desperate new alternative but it worked amazingly well. It was almost like I could see the proverbial light bulb going on. Finally -- sick of me yet? -- sometimes I just take the hand that is hitting me and stroke it around my face softly, saying, "Mommy likes it when you do this or give her hugs and kisses." Then I open my arms really wide for a big hug. This works okay, lately, too. Hang in there. I struggle with this one, too! Lynn


Here's one perspective on the issue of aggressive play/touching from your local KIDPOWER coordinator. Children are safest when they have clear physical boundaries - both an ability to express their own and the ability to respond respectfully to the expressed boundaries of others. A basic principle we teach is that for play, teasing, or affection, I get to decide if/how I am touched, within the context of my family's safety rules. (For health and safety, the child may not get to decide - i.e. the child can't decide not to get a cavity filled or not to hold hands/be carried across a busy street). We also find that the concepts of "good" and "bad" touching, even in reference to hitting, to be problematic, and find the concept of "unwanted touch" to be more practical and workable.

Obviously, a toddler cannot understand or express these concepts. However, they are most effectively taught in the way we teach our children other skills, such as how to be safe around cars: by example, over time. The principle does not apply to children alone; it applies to EVERYONE, and the ability to establish, maintain, and express healthy boundaries is a positive life skill.

Therefore, a positive avenue available to this mom could be: Child touches/hits; Mom has a feeling (we all do - does she like it or not? Does she want more or not?); if the touch is unwanted, Mom can calmly say "Please don't....(name the action:"tap my head")" and, at the same time, use her hand to move the child's hand away. If the child continues, she can establish a clearer boundary by doing the same thing but also taking more physical space for herself (could be gently removing child from lap; getting up from the couch, etc) and, while showing calm, open palms, say, "I said please stop." If the behavior continues, it's appropriate to say, "For play or affection, I get to decide how I'm touched, just like you get to decide for your body. Please stop tapping my head. If you don't, we will need to (play separately for a while? depends on the context, but a consequence that isn't created to isolate the child but rather to protect Mom's boundary, which is as important as anyone else's.)

This is a bare bones sketch of one section of our basic curriculum, but it should be enough to add an additional perspective that might be useful to you. When children see boundaries expressed and respected as part of everyday life and are encouraged to adopt those skills, they are poor targets for individuals who push children's boundaries for purposes that are unsafe/illegal.

Should you have any questions, feel free to contact me directly.

Erika Leonard Holmes Program Coordinator, East Bay KIDPOWER eastbay AT kidpower.org http://www.kidpower.org


I just read about toddler discipline in the digest and got some useful information but I would love to hear from parents who have dealth with the issue of their young toddlers hitting them. My son will hit me (his mama) if I pick him up in order to do something he doesn't want to do, such as a diaper change or stop playing outside and get in the car. It doesn't happen every time, but usually once or twice a day, which is once or twice too many for me. He almost never hits his father. (I am a stay-at-home-mom). I have tried telling him "hitting is NOT OK" in a very stern voice, but this does not seem to have any effect. I am anguished about this issue as I am feeling helpless in the face of his hitting me, but convinced that I must, and can, teach him not to hit, though I'm not quite sure how to go about that. Help! Thank you!

Three-year-old hitting mom when he's upset

Oct 2007

My three year old hits when he is upset about something. The firm ''NO'' and timeouts don't seem to work. This is not acceptable behavior and I need a rational way to deal with it. This behavior is limited to home (not preschool) which I should be thankful for, but the behavior is getting to everyone in the house. Emily


Easy. You install a baby gate across the door to his room. You tell him ahead of time, calmly and without anger, that hitting is not ok, and if he hits he cannot be with you/other people. When he hits, calmly pick him up and place him in his room with the baby gate shut. He can either shut the regular door or not. He will probably kick and scream and kvetch which you must ignore and not give him any more attention. Tell him you will get him in xxx minutes, and that then you'd be happy to have him rejoin you. Try not to be angry, sarcastic, etc. Just calmly enforce the consequence. Repeat as necessary. If he hits at the park, no discussion, you immediately pack up and go home. Also get the book ''Setting Limits for the Strong Willed Child'' by Robert MacKenzie. Loved it. anon

Three-year-old hitting other kids and her parents

Sept 2007

Are there any parents of spirited kids out there who can help with some advice? Most of the postings about hitting etc. seem to be from the perspective of the one getting hit, not the hitter... I need help understanding whether my daughter is a ''spirited'' kid, or something more problematic. Much of the time she is delightful, happy and charming. She is very bright and extremely verbal. However, she has a low tolerance for frustration, and gets upset quickly when other people don't understand what she is saying or the game she is playing. She is an only child and spends most of her time with her parents (no nanny, no playgroup, not many play dates). So even though she likes being with other children, I don't think she is used to dealing with them. She yells. And about 9 months ago she started hitting. (Both her parents and other kids). We have a no-tolerance policy and she gets an instant time out when she hits. We leave the park, revoke privileges if she persists, etc. But she still loses her cool with other kids (usually yelling, but also sometimes hitting). As a result, we feel worried and isolated (it seems like people don't want to make play dates with us, and we are concerned about what will happen in school). Our closest friends dropped us many months ago when our daughter hit their child. I feel sad and worried for my daughter because she wants friends and this explosive behavior undermines that desire. I also feel like she is judged for her less appealing behavior and not appreciated for her wonderful side (except by us). How can I know whether or not what she does is within the range of normal, cranky three-year old behavior? We are peaceful people, we don't yell or hit and she does not watch violent TV. I have no idea where she learned to hit, or even where her anger comes from. In our limited circle (park, classes, friends) I don't see other kids doing what she does. Any advice would be appreciated... Sad and worried


Well, it certainly sounds like you have your hands full. Let me take a minute to state that I work with this type of behavior everyday as a children's therapeutic behaviorist. I do positive behavioral modification and teach parenting classes for a living. I work with the MOST severe behaviors that result from children who have experienced the MOST severe traumas. Here's a couple of tips:

1) Pay very close attention to the way you react to your child when they demonstrate negative behavior. Kids LOVE attention and on some level either positive or negative attention can fill that need. It's easy to accidentally reinforce negative behaviors by giving up a lot of your energy during those times.

2) Remember that no matter how long the behavior seems to be dragging out or how frequent the behavior occurrs it STILL does NOT occurr most of the time. In a 24 hour day, even a child who tantrums 8 hours of it is not tantruming 16 hours of it. Use THOSE 16 hours to teach your child the rules and reinforce their good behavior with SPECIFICS. Immediately reinforce after noticing when a child is following a rule or acting compliant (i.e. I notice your keeping your body safe right now. Give me a hug.). The ratio of positive comments (and overall reinforcement) to negative comments should be AT LEAST 5:1.

3) MODEL MODEL MODEL!!! If your child is doing anything you don't like, seriously ask yourself where they picked it up. Children are incredibly intuitive and observant. If your child attempts to resolve feelings of hurt or anger by yelling and hitting look around at where they learned how to do that (i.e. *TV, siblings, were you maybe yelling at the operator on the phone because of the $200 cell bill your husband charged last month? =0) )If you stay calm and show your child it is possible to use good coping skills (take deep breaths, give yourself cool down time) during intense situations it will help your child, of any age, learn to do so as well.

Well, there's a million other things I could say and I could easily customize an in-home behavioral plan and have you running it in your home with 12 hours of your time spread across 4 weeks. I am available for private work and offer a free 45 min. inital consultation, where I am happy to travel to your house. No packing up the tykes and attending another appointment. Good luck and best wishes. Shera


I feel for you!! I was blessed with a spirited child who has yelled at, hit, and bit others when angry...well past the age where it was ''developmentally acceptable''. We are also a family that doesn't hit or allow her to watch violent tv/movies. My husband is a former teacher, and I am a former nanny, so we have lots of experience working successfully with other people's children. I can relate to losing friends because of my child's temperement. It's also been hard to make new friends when my child hits theirs during school or a playdate. I've heard the following too many times to count: ''WE don't allow that in OUR house'' (as if my family thinks hitting and biting is okay!!!) I've learned to ignore the stares as I carry my child kicking and screaming from activities because she had hurt another child. (Parents of ''easy'' kids have no idea how hard it is for us!) It's been almost a full time job trying to teach my child acceptable behavior. I can tell you that you will have success if you work on it. It's been slow for us,but our child is changing and growing. We've made major changes in our family to help her. We switched preschools in order to get teachers who were better equipped to handle our child's issues. I changed jobs so that I would have more time to spend with her, and I've enrolled her in fewer hours at school. We consulted with Philip and Miriam Gross, a husband and wife team that work with families of challenging children. They gave us more skills and reinforced the positive parenting traits that we already had. Each kid is so different, and you just have to be consistent. The most important thing I have done is to fill my social circle with friends who are non-judgemental. It's much easier to work on your issues when the people around you are supportive (or have been through the same thing). Feel free to contact me for moral support: our circle is never closed!
I know exactly what you are going through. I think you are doing exactly the right thing by not tolerating her behavior. She will eventually understand but in the meantime, she is probably very frustrated and still very reactive, as most children are. I''m sorry about your friends responding the way they did. It seems to me if you are doing what you can to respond to her behavior, they should be understanding. What I've discovered when people do this is if they get a second child, usually they can then understand that it isn't the parents discipline necessarily, but the personality of the child. I know you are worried but your child will outgrow it sooner than you think. Her lovely side will reveal itself to others, too. Worry not. kim
I also have a son who got frustrated and has a temper, also an only child. With him, I learned early on I could see the frustration coming and would try to head it off. On the occasion where he got frustrated and threw something, hit me, etc.. I would tell him ''it's okay to get upset, but it is NOT ok to hit(bite)'' and I just kept repeating this. Also, I told him if he's gets frustrated, don't get upset - just come ask for help and I will always help. This has done well for us, after only a few times of me reminding him to ask me for help before he gets upset, he started doing it and now routinely does - so we have few outbursts now. I think they need to know it's ok to ask for help, they don't have to be able to do everything on their own, it's okay to get upset, but it's not OK to act out on it. Repetition of this message was the key to our success. Don't sweat ''friends'' who ''drop you'' over an occasional misbehavior - if it's really only occasional, then they're really not your friends because any parent will tell you that each kid has their own horrible days, it's part of growing up - and if they say theirs don't, I wouldn't believe it! Good luck!
If your child is as ''extremely verbal'' as you say, she may be hitting out of frustration that other children can't understand her. Just a thought from a preschool and after-school teacher of 20 years. rita hurault
This sounds like a very frustrating ordeal for you. It is actually more common than you might think for children to act out in this way out of frustration or anger. However, time-outs and revoking privileges often can cause more frustration for her rather than deter the behavior. And the sense of isolation of course sounds like it is just compounding the situation. One of the most helpful things you can do for her is to show her what to do when she is frustrated and continue working with her on it rather than punishing her for it, as difficult as this may sound in any given moment. The time-outs help stop the immediate situation, but don't do much for teaching her new ways of dealing with the emotions that she is feeling. Keeping our own hands ''on our own bodies'' is an important idea for kids when they are feeling upset. Finding a safe way to express the frustration is key here & is different for each child. I have seen children in my office who have tightly bound faces they make when they are expressing their frustration or kids that have a squeezy ball that they use to put all of their frustration into. There are creative ways to show kids how to express their more challenging emotions.

And of course, coming from the alternative medicine mindset, I always find that it helps to seek some alternative care when kids are having difficult times with transitions, or managing their emotions. A lot of personality extremes that children experience are helped with acupuncture (does not have to be with needles- though the children I see often like them) & herbal remedies. Both of these things help to gently bring the child back to a healthier state of emotional balance without changing their wonderful and ''spirited'' personalities. Jill


I know exactly what you are going through. My son had similar issues when he was 3. He would hit other children and me when he got frustrated and/or angry. I learned that he had trouble verbalizing what the problem was so I worked with him to use more words in order to let me/other children know what he needed. I have also used some of the techniques in 'Raising a Spirited Child' and more importantly '123 Magic'. This book really is magic. Good luck. Jackie
There was a similar question asked in one of the Advice newsletters in June, but regarding a child who was about 4 or 5. There were many great responses, most of which concluded that it's normal behavior for a LOT of spirited kids [my own included]. Sometimes, no matter how they're disciplined, kids will react in ways that remind us of how hard it can be for them to control themselves in ways we expect. In our family, we tried everything short of smacking him back, and all it eventually took was time. He's 6.5 now and soooo much more mature in his responses.

Meanwhile, the books I appreciated the most:
* The Difficult Child [bad name, great book]
* Setting Limits with Your Strong-Willed Child
* How to Talk So Your Child Will Listen...
* Raising Your Spirited Child
* Kids, Parents and Power Struggles

-anon


Hello there. You have my sympathy. There are a tons of titles of books out there that I'm sure other posters will provide. Basically, what it comes down to, it's important to be aware of the body signals your daughter is providing to you that you must heed before she has a melt down. She'll outgrow this with your help. Try to hang in there and be persistent with your love and support. Been There
I think that you have a spirited child! My son -- a very empathetic child in a peaceful, no-TV family -- went through a similar hitting period (mostly hitting Mom, but a few times his preschool playmates) when he was about 4. Unfortunately, kids don't need to learn how to hit. They seem to just know. And it's very hard, as a parent, while it's happening. I'm sorry your friends aren't more sympathetic. We did everything we were ''supposed to'' -- cool-down period, revoking privileges, etc., but frankly, I think he just outgrew it. I'm guessing your daughter will too.

The thing that was most helpful ''in the moment'' was to stay absolutely emotionally uninvolved. One wants to get upset with a kid who is hitting. For us, that was the wrong thing to do. All went much better if I said in a calm (almost bored) tone of voice ''Oh, gee, I guess you need to go sit on the couch (leave the park, whatever) now. You're hitting people, and that's not OK.'' Then take him by the hand, or pick him up if necessary, and put him somewhere that he could sit, by himself, until he was calmer. He usually started crying after a minute or two, and then I would go sit by him, saying nothing, just putting my arm around his shoulder until he felt better.

Just an editorial comment: I think that sometimes especially intelligent, empathetic kids tend to have this sort of problem. It's related, as you've noticed, to a low tolerance for frustration. They're used to being able to do things their way, quickly, without much effort, so they haven't had a lot of practice dealing with frustration, plus they feel things very intensely.

My son quit hitting after about 6-8 months. But at 6 he still has real trouble with frustration tolerance. Now that he's older, we talk more about it, and we've been working with him on ''taking a chill pill'' (a couple of deep breaths) when he starts to feel frustrated. It's helping a little. Karen


A certain amount of hitting is normal 3-yr old behavior, but the way you describe it, it seems that your daughter is having a really hard time dealing with her frustration and her emotions. My daughter (nearing 4 yrs) also has been known to hit me on occasion (or threaten to hit me), but it was mild and she always expressed regret. She now has an alter ego/imaginary friend she turns to in frustrating situations. You might want to seek help from a preschool teacher or child psychologist (as well as the BPN list) who could help your child to find other ways to vent her frustration more appropriately. Be heartened that this is a phase she will probably grow out of, but she might just be happier if she can find a way to be calmer and get along better with others now. Easier said than done. I know. I found the following books very helpful in understanding and communicating with my daughter.
- Your Three-Year-Old: Friend or Enemy (ISBN: 0440506492)
- How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk (ISBN: 1853407054)

Good luck! (Note that once you solve one problem, though, the next rears its ugly head. My daughter now loudly threatens to run away several times daily whenever anything doesn't go precisely her way. Sigh. This too shall pass.) -Mom of the Runaway Bunny


As the parent of a challenging or spirited kid, I am very sympathetic to your plight. (brief aside, the 'where did they learn that' question is just so irritating, I mean really, what parent is at home teaching their kid this stuff?) I assume you have 'Raising your spirited child'--we use it like a bible for our little boy--the book helped us to understand his temperment and by controlling his environment we've greatly reduced tantrums and problem behaviors.

My first thought is that if you are seeing more than one or two families shying away from doing things with you and your child, I'd be a little concerned that her behavior is more than 'typical' outbursts, and worth paying special attention to. I would start by trying two things. First, I would get her involved in some playgroups or parent/kid classes, so she can get more exposure to other children. I'd make these short events, 1-1.5 hours max, as as a spirited child, they are likely to be stressful for her, even if they are supposed to be fun. During these playdates stay right near her to help facillitate any issues that arise. Next, I'd call Meg Zweiback. She's a fantastic parent resource, located in Oakland. She works with parents and young children on behaviorioral issues, and is also good at doing an initial assessment for your child. Most families see considerable improvement with just a few visits. In our case, we continued to have challenges so she referred us to a behavioral pediatrician, so she can't solve all problems but is a great first step in working with a spirited child. Her number is: 510-836-1450. Good luck. Stephanie


maybe your daughter is hitting and yelling to communicate something when she isn't able to make herself ''heard'' otherwise. instead of ''instant time outs,'' try talking to her about why she is behaving a certain way. she is getting old enough to understand more complicated concepts about why hitting is wrong. maybe she just needs help expressing why she is frustrated. you can help her with that! also, it sounds like your ''no tolerance'' policy may have turned into a guaranteed way to get your attention. it might be consistent, which is important, but it sounds like a strategy that isn't really working. if so, it's time to change the strategy! also, it might help to get her into pre-school to be with more kids and with adults who are trained to negotiate conflicts between young children. i am constantly amazed by the expertise of the teachers at our preschool! good luck!
I can imagine how sad and worried you must feel. I agree with the zero tolerance, but I'm concerned that if she is rarely around other children, it'll be harder for her to learn the correct behavior, either by watching other kids, or giving her a chance to try again.

A 3 yr old at my child's preschool started hitting, and she was immediately removed from the situation calmly yet firmly ''You cannot play there because you hit Susie. You cannot hit Susie. You will do this puzzle alone right now, but you will have a chance to play with Susie later and you will not hit her.'' End of discussion. No long-winded explanation or rant or lecture.

So perhaps next time you're in a social situation, could you modify that sort of script? Separate for a short time, but let her watch others and then give her another chance - and help her figure out the right way ''I see that you got really upset. Next time maybe you can use your words, or stop the game, or get a grown up to help - what do you think?'' And then when she gets it right, praise her accordingly. Mom of Two


Your post sounded EXACTLY like our family, including the happy child with a low tolerance for frustration, people withdrawing, feeling judged, being the only child and isolation of the family.

My son is now 3 years and 7 months old, and has made huge improvements due to time, mirroring his feelings so he feels understood, ''That tower fell over and you are SO frustrated that you felt like hitting, because you have BIG FEELINGS!'' said in a non angry but enthusiastic and empathetic way while someone else tends to the other child. Of course we explain that hitting is unacceptable. Usually when he saw that we got how frustrated he was, it shortened the duration of the outburst. We then asked if he wanted help and then helped him figure out some other ways to act out his frustration, like banging on something soft or being held while crying or going to a different spot and yelling.

I think one big thing is not to forget that a big outburst means very big feelings that are overwhelming for a child.

For me, It was easy to be thinking about the behavior I wished was happening instead while the world was watching me deal with my child, and I was feeling bad for the other kid and hoping everyone wasn't thinking what a bad parent I was or what a problem kid he must be, all while seeing my kid feeling horrible while I'm feeling misunderstood and desperately trying to make things right.

Mostly I had to shut everything else out for a moment and mirror feelings, help him do it over if necessary, ask about the hurt child, get mine to ask how to make the other feel better and try to move on.

One other thing that helped to stop the outbursts before they came was teaching and modeling how to take a deep breath when things are just a little bit frustrating. (breathe in deep through the nose, hold it a moment, and let it out very slowly through a small hole in your lips) It was amazing to see this little guy take a deep trembling breath with tears in his eyes and try again, only to finally succeed and cry and laugh at the same time that he did it. We still take family deep breaths sometimes and are occasionally told, ''Mama, Daddy, take a deep breath'' if he catches us arguing!

If the behavior happened in a place we were visiting, we did the above steps and if it happened again, we would leave. Understand!


I too have a ''hitter'' although only 2 and a half. I do the opposite of you - we are out there, connecting and interacting with kids. Play groups, toddler & mom stuff with other kids, music etc. I stay right with my child if I think hitting/hair pulling etc may happen. And I don't do the leave immediately thing - then there is no chance to apologize and try again - ie, I am sorry I hit you, lets try to play together again - usually other kids (if you have a relationship with them) will try again too. I wonder if its less to do with the hitting then smomething else in terms of losing friends - my child has done some terrible things (hitting with objects/hair pulling/pinching) to other kids and we keep working on it & he still has lots of ''friends'' who want to come to our house & be with him. I have done tons and tons of apologizing/asking for advice/taking advice/trying new things. I think its really really hard to parent a child who is hitting so I hope none of this sounds in any way critical -- its just hard. We talk about not hitting/pulling hair before we are with kids, and praise our child when he does not do this after being with kids. Its hard but my main advice is to get out there & interact - its the only way they are going to learn. good luck
You are being a good mother to try to help your child develop social skills. And she has a lot of strengths to build on.

A variety of things can cause low frustration tolerance. Children are very affected by their physical states, so be sure she gets enough sleep, has food at sufficiently frequent intervals, etc. Your child's health and hearing have, hopefully, already been checked out. Assuming you've already consulted a fine pediatrician to no avail, I hope you'll think this problem through with competent people who have a wide range of experience. Miriam and Phil Gross of Albany might be terrific for you. Mrs. Gross is a wonderful social worker who specializes in such issues, and her husband, Phil Gross, M.D., is a renowned play therapist for children. After a number of visits, they will tell you whether they think that she would benefit from more visits to their office, further evaluation by someone else, or nothing more. Mrs. Gross works with the parents and Dr. Gross sees the child. You can look them up on BPN. I would further suggest that you don't make your first or second stop a ''behavioral pediatrician''. Although that may be quite appropriate down the line, it is likely that the outcome of the evaluation will not be as individualized as you would receive from the Grosses or another excellent team.

I am an adult and child psychologist who has done a lot of teaching about different kinds of children's problems. The Grosses are not the only way to go, but they would be my first recommendation after your child has a thorough evaluation at your pediatrician's office. (If you have Kaiser, you will need advice from someone who has used them.) You need to rule out physical sources of low frustration tolerance and, if appropriate, to focus on psychological development. The latter could be extremely useful. In the meantime, ''empathy training'' (e.g., asking what her teddy feels like when it gets hit) is worth doing, if you haven't. And helping her to label her feelings, too. At her age, she doesn't realize that she can survive frustration, and hearing this helps (e.g., ''I know it feels awful, but you'll be okay. Really.'' You might want to keep this up until she's 5 or 6.) Please don't use these as a substitute for further evaluation and help to think this through with competent, experienced people. Your child is on the verge of a wonderful stage, where she learns to make valuable connections with others as well as with you, and probably needs help from you to make the invaluable transition. Judith


I don't think punishments and timeouts help with this age group. They're not logical beings so they don't see the connection between the punishment and they're 'crime'. If your daughter isn't dealing well with frustration, does it make sense to put her in a time out and make her more frustrated or help her deal with what is frustrating her on a case by case basis. It may be that you need to watch very closely when she plays with others and anticipate and redirect before she gets to the hitting. You can't tolerate the hitting, but if that's the tool she uses to deal with her frustrations you've got to replace it with other tools. It may take awhile. Be creative. Maybe she can give you a signal, yell out when she wants to hit. You say she's verbal. Does she have your permission to express her negative emotions without hitting? You could encourage her to tell you and others when she's mad or upset. A good book is 'Raising a Daugher' by Jeanne and Don Elium. Good luck to you both. anonymous
I think you need to get her in a good preschool program. Start with a few half days a week and then build from there. I think you and your husband may be doting on her too much. A preschool program will help her get ready for school, but even better, it will expose her to the reality that she's not the center of the universe. She'll see several little children, waiting their turn to get their juice and snack, sharing toys, etc.

I wouldn't worry about whether she's ''spirited'' or not. Sounds like she just needs to get some exposure to larger groups of kids, and a preschool setting (with a good teacher) will give you a break too.


Your post really hit home with me; my son is also extremely bright and verbal, and loves to play with other kids but often seems not to know how to do so ''nicely.'' Being the parent of the ''hitter'' isn't easy for lots of reasons, and it certainly doesn't help that others do sometimes make unwarranted assumptions that you must let your kid watch violent TV or that you must yourselves be abusive! I did, however, find it pretty easy to find kids with similar behavior at playgrounds and in classes and similar places, so that reassured me that my child wasn't so far outside the normal range. Perhaps you need to try some different parks! ;-)

We did go through some counseling, both privately with Philip & Miriam Gross, and via a ''social skills playgroup'' at the Ann Martin Center. I read the Ross Greene book, ''The Explosive Child'' and the Cathi Cohen book, ''Raise Your Child's Social IQ'' These things were of some help.

But by and large the answer is time. I think some kids just have a big lag between their advanced verbal and intellectual skills on the one hand vs. their slower-to-develop social skills on the other. Low frustration tolerance and other problems in peer relationships result. Improvement comes with time and greater maturity. As someone who struggled with similar issues herself as a child, I can assure you that your daughter is not doomed to a friendless existence for her entire life. :-) And at age 6, my son is already showing huge improvement in his social skills over where he was at 3-4.

Meanwhile, you're on the right track with immediate ''withdrawal'' consequences for hitting or other aggressive behavior. It's also helpful to discuss CORRECT behavior BEFORE you go to the park or to a playdate. Also, more closely supervised playdates (perhaps with kids a bit older than your daughter), and organized groups or classes which emphasize self-discipline and social skills (such as Jim Beatty's movement classes, some martial arts classes) can help teach a young child how to better relate to peers. Try role playing, talking about conflict resolution and relating aggressive behavior to concrete negative consequences (if you try to tell everyone what to do, no one will want to play with you)...and try to be patient. Most likely your daughter will learn to read faster and more easily than most of her playmates...but will have a harder time and need more support in making friends. Think of it as an area where she just needs a little more help, rather than as her being ''bad''...and it will be easier for others to think of it that way too. Have a Hitter Too


3 1/2 yo boy hitting at preschool

April 2008

Oh my gosh. Please help. My son is three and a half and I recently--a month ago--returned to work after staying home with him since birth. I found a great, very small home-based Montessori and he goes there three days a week, half day. The rest of the time he is at home with my mom. He was/is very excited about going to school, hasn't cried or asked to come home even once since starting school. He talks frequently about the kids and what they do at school and seems to really enjoy it. My mom takes him there in the afternoons and either I or my husband pick him up. The last two weeks nearly every day when we pick him up the other children tell us that he has been hitting or pushing. We have talked with him many times about hitting/pushing--we don't hit, hitting hurts, when you feel angry/mad/frustrated walk away, and the like. We have purchased some books about ''how to behave'' ie the Cheri Meiner series, Hands Are Not For Hitting, and read them frequently. We talk after story at night in bed about how to be a friend, how to make a friend, how we don't hit, we touch gently, etc. Yesterday--no hitting. Yay. Today, all over again, three kids rush me at the door and tell me he's been hitting and pushing. Sigh. This is SO upsetting. I know its his first time in a preschool setting. I know he is an only child. I know, I know these things. But I feel like it is getting worse and not better. His teacher wants to meet with us and I'm terrified it is to say ''um, take your kid out of our school.'' My son is incredibly smart and articulate, can easily read some words and sound out lots more, knows a ridiculous amount about ocean animals & talks at length about animal habitats...he's a pretty smart, funny kid.

Help! I really feel at a loss and am utterly depressed about it. My husband and I were set to go out for a drink tonight post bath/bed routine and after the preschool pickup I feel like getting in bed and pulling the covers over my head! Sigh. I'm going to bed. julie


I don't understand why your source of information at the preschool is the other kids. Where is the teacher? If there was an incident that day, wouldn't she talk with you about it? Toddlers are not the most reliable informants! My daughter oftens say ''Marcos hit my head,'' as if it was something that just happened, or happened again, instead of something (dramatic and exciting!) that happened once months ago. If the teacher hadn't asked to meet with you, you should ask to meet with her to discuss the issue and get her advice on how to handle it.
Get those covers off your head! This is not your 'fault.' It sounds like he is just making a transition, learning the ground rules, etc. No where in your post do you talk about trips to the playground where your kid hits every kid in the sandbox or how he is a huge discipline issue at home. Talk to the teacher. She handles kids every day. She probably has great advice and is probably also going to tell you how she is handling things at the school. And, don't stress too much about the other kids. This age group LOVES to tattle (especially when there is the chance of getting another kid in trouble). I watch my own children turn inadvertent bumps into another child into major 'he did it deliberately' drama events. -don't stress
Our son is 4 and goes in fits and spurts with this behavior. We tend to nip it in the bud but I have to wonder why you are only relying on the reports of children and not the teacher. I'm not saying the kids are lying but they could be exaggerating a bit. I also would worry that they are doing some sort of name calling. i would talk to a teacher about this and work out a plan.

When this flared up the first time at our school, I talked with the teacher and I ask them every day for a report on behavior. We also discussed language we'd use to discourage the hitting so he'd get the same reaction and words at home as at school. We use ''we don't hit our friends.'' We do not use time outs for this but when we see hitting we tell him hitting hurts and if he keeps hitting other kids they won't want to play with him.

Now, also when this flared up, a few kids referred to him as the hitter kid and would say things like ''XXX hits me.'' This was after things had settled down. So, I asked the teachers if XXX was being singled out for hitting and were the kids calling him names because of it. The teachers said absolutely not and started teaching the other kids about name-calling and the thing died down. I check in every day with the teacher to discuss his behavior that day. When he has a good day, we tell him ''the teacher said you were a good friend today and you listened and set a good example'' and when we hear the opposite, we talk to him about it. It works.

If your teachers are not discussing his behavior and the kids are reporting to you about this, I'd get to the bottom of it pronto. Kids at that age are cute, but they are not the ones who should be evaluating your child's progress and I'd question a school that wouldn't talk to you about hitting right away. anon


I had the same problem. My boy was hitting at preschool including the teachers. Behavior started right at age 3. I also learned he was covering his ears at story time, and his social skills were non-existent. I had told my husband that a ''hitting'' genetic ran in my family. He argued that it was learned behavior. My father hit. My brother hit. I don't hit. Now my son hits, unlearned from 2 gentle parents who do not allow him exposure to hitting or TV violence. I was right. It was genetic, and he's diagnosed Asperger's disorder (autism spectrum). Turns out 1 in about 150 kids (majority are boys) are being diagnosed with High Functioning Autism, Asperger's or Autism. Please try getting him evaluated (ask pediatrician for referrals). We also went route of school system too (IEP - Individualized Education Plan), but didn't work for us as he was assigned to worst school known for violence and poverty. IEPs work if live in good school district, though (we're in SF). Important to know what you are dealing with first. Also try removing gluten from diet (bread, crackers, etc), then casein (dairy products), see if helps behavior too. Good luck. Suzanne
ugh. my 5 year old is hitting too, but trust me, it is NOT a bad thing the teachers want to meet and talk. You need a plan with them to handle this. It's good you're reading and teaching about it at home but you need to know it's being handled well in the moment too, and you need all their insight on how it happens. So thank goodness the teachers are meeting with you so you can all be more effective! berkeley one
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