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Hitting in Toddlers

Posted Aug 17th, 2009 at 11:32 am by

Dear Dr. Madansky,

My 2 1/2 year old daughter has started to be aggressive with me and my wife and hits us when she does not get her way.  They have no complaints in her child care center.   What do you think is going on?

Dear Parent,

Of  course, I cannot understand the whole picture from your letter….but, in general, hitting is a common way for children to express anger or upset when their language skills are not fully developed.  You can work on both prevention and consequences. Prevention might include:

  • noticing or praising when your daughter uses words or is gentle
  • modeling descriptions of your feelings and hers
  • empathizing even though you are not giving in (“Oh, I know you want ice cream, ice cream is so good….we can’t have any now, but tomorrow after dinner, we can have some.”)
  • spending a little one-on-one time playing and having fun with your daughter every day.

Consequences could include:

  • telling her, “We are not going to hit you, and you are not allowed to hit us.”
  • holding both her hands and saying, “No hitting” when she is about to hit or has hit you
  • giving her a brief time out whenever she hits.

Good luck and best regards,

Deborah Madansky, MD