Q&A: My child hits and kicks me. How do I stop this?
I have a 23-month-old daughter. Every time I say "no" to her or tap her hand, she hits me in the face, says "no," and kicks me. Please give me some advice on what to do, because I'm running out of ideas!
I feel your frustration and want to start by reassuring you that you are not the only parent who has found herself wondering what happened to turn her previously sweet little baby into a defiant toddler. I have found that one of the most useful things I can share with parents of toddlers is that it is literally a toddler’s job to test your limits. The reason I’ve found this to be the best way to start a discussion about handling defiant toddlers—including those who liberally use the admittedly frustrating word “no”— is because it helps minimize the anger and/or frustration parents may feel towards their child’s budding declarations of independence. After all, how can you be mad at someone who is simply doing their job? With that in mind, let me quickly follow up this statement by reassuring you, and all parents, that this in no way means you need to back down and let your toddler have her way. Rather, it means that you can look at your role as teacher rather than enforcer. Just as it’s your child’s job to test your limits, it’s your job to actually set some, and then work to find ways to make sure that your child learns them.
In your case, I would start by making it very clear to your daughter, in no uncertain terms, that hitting and/or kicking is not OK, nor will it be tolerated. I strongly believe that this also means not hitting her (even if it’s just a “tap” on her hand), lest she learn from your actions that hitting is acceptable. Should she continue to test you or simply act impulsively by hitting and/or kicking, make the consequences quick and decisive by saying, “No hitting (or kicking)!” and promptly removing her from the situation, immediately setting her down if she is being held, or putting her in her room or crib (ie in a safe, separate place) if need be. Don’t hesitate to let her know that you are sad and/or hurt, rather than simply getting angry, since this is generally far more effective for making toddlers stop and take heed. And while kids under 2 are less likely to understand lengthy explanations, it’s not too early to start emphasizing easily understandable phrases (and social expectations) such as “no hitting,” “no kicking,” “that is not OK,” and “use your words.”