Hitting, biting, kicking—don't get caught off guard when your toddler starts to act out, parents! Preparation is everything. We asked three experts for the best way to handle a hitter, so you'll be ready to respond appropriately the next time your little one lashes out.
Betsy Brown Braun, child development and behavior specialist, author of Just Tell me What to Say and You're Not the Boss of Me
"Your reaction must be immediate and clear, even a bit of 'shock and awe.' 'There is no hitting!' Don't talk much; instead, pick the child up, move him away, breathe, and pause. Remember, he is surprised by his own action, too. It was an act of impulse. After he's calmed down, show him his pal's sad face. 'Ouch! You really hurt Jeremy. Look at his face. He is so sad. We don't hit people.' You will have repeated opportunities to teach this lesson, I promise. If the hitting seems to always happen in a particular environment, you may need to remind the child before entering, 'We are going to gym class. Remember, we don't hit people. You can hit the floor, or the mat, or the chair. But not people.' Stick close by the little hitter, as you may be able to interrupt the act before it happens. Give him words when you see he is getting frustrated. 'You want a turn with the truck. Tell Jason, I want a turn.' Give him words when you see he is angry. 'You don't like Matthew to grab your toy. Tell him, this is mine. Don't take it.'"
Miriam J. Katz, co-author of The Other Baby Book
"[One] tool that I've found particularly helpful is labeling and redirecting. 'If we need to hit, we can hit pillows; we touch our friends gently.' Most of the time, the word 'no' doesn't register with toddlers, but if we can be explicit about what a toddler can do, it makes their world much easier to navigate. If my child is having trouble calming down and continues to hit, I'll pull her off to the side for a 'time-in.' We sit together and I tell her gently that it hurts to hit and that since she's having trouble stopping I am there to help her out. Then I point out the expression or tears of the other child and explain that they're sad because it hurts to be hit. When she's calm, I usually ask if she wants to help the other child feel better with a hug or by saying 'I'm sorry.' She often does both."
Janet Lansbury, parenting educator and speaker
"The best way to help hitters is to stop them in a calm, firm, matter-of-fact manner with a reminder like, 'I won't let you hit.' Then, once the moment has passed, children need us all to go on our merry way as if nothing happened. If this is our usual response, the behavior pattern usually passes. But when we hold on to these moments or dramatize them (lecturing, banishing the child to time out, etc.), we signal to our child that she is doing something powerful and bad, rather than exhibiting a normal behavior that is well within our power to handle easily and efficiently. Since young children have a difficult time separating feelings and behavior from 'self,' perceiving their behavior as bad and shameful can give them the impression that they are bad and shameful, too. We need to handle their hitting without sending them this message."