By Patricia-Anne Tom
It might be unimaginable to think your toddler could already be showing signs of violent behavior, but what if your toddler repeatedly hits you?
That’s the dilemma Circle of Moms member Alysah D. is facing. “My son will be 14 months on the fifth of October, and he has hit me everyday for the last couple of days. So far today it as been three times,” she laments. “It breaks my heart that he hits me ... he does not hit my husband or his granny who lives next door ... it makes me feel like he hates me … I don’t know what to do.”
Should You Show Your Tot What it Feels Like?
A member named Chrissy advises Alysha to hit back: “When he smacks you even once, you give him one back (preferably on the bum though). Then in a very authoritative, no-nonsense tone, you tell him, ‘No, don’t hit mummy," and put him straight in his cot or room or wherever he goes for being naughty. Then he won’t have the chance of being able to smack you again.”
Although Chrissy's advice is controversial, she's not the only parent out there who feels that showing your toddler how hitting hurts, either by hitting back or by disciplining with a spanking, is the fastest way to bring it to an end. “Some kids just need a good taste of their own medicine,” she reasons, noting that there’s a definite line between "discipline and abuse."
Christine B. agrees, offering that a firm tap on your toddler’s hand accompanied by a firm “no” generally is enough to illustrate that hitting is wrong. This tactic worked with her kids, who are now 7, 12 and 14. “[Your toddler] may not get it right away, but when he realizes mommy is in control and not him, he will stop,” she says.
If, however, you don't like the idea of responding to a toddler's outbursts physically, here are three non-violent ways to halt the hitting.
1. Communicate Why It’s Wrong
At this age, toddlers generally perceive hitting as a “term of endearment," many moms say. “Toddlers, boys more so than girls, hit because it is physical contact and they believe that hitting is still touching,” says Lisa B. Consequently, she teaches her son more appropriate ways to show how he feels; whenever he hits, she tellsand shows him, “hugs and kisses for mommy, no hitting.”
Other Circle of Moms members, including Sarah W., Sheri G. and Litsa S., also try to communicate to their children why hitting is wrong. Sheri says to her son, “No baby, that's not nice. We don't hit." If you're holding your toddler when he tries to hit, she advises putting him down each time or sitting him in a high chair. Then, after a minute or so, give a hug or kiss “to show positive interaction.”
Litsa S. calmly explains to her son that it hurts when he hits her. “Communication is the best cure for everything,” she says, noting it’s best not to yell because adults don’t listen when they’re yelled at either.
Moms might be surprised how well calm communication works, she adds. She was, when her doctor advised her to talk things out with her son when he started to hit her when he was two years old. But now that her son is almost four, it’s been a year since he hit her. “[Toddlers] are smarter than we give them credit for,” she adds.
2. Give a Time Out
Moms who want to discipline their toddlers for hitting without using physical discipline may opt to put their children in time out, Circle of Moms members Rebecca C. and Tenille R. suggest.
“He's hitting because he can and because you're letting him hit,” Rebecca tells Alysha. She recommends after the first hit, you put your toddler down and say, “No, we don’t hit.” If the toddler hits again, then she puts her child in a chair, crib or playpen for time out.
Removing your toddler from the situation by putting her in time out teaches that she will miss out on attention or whatever is happening when behavior is inappropriate, Tenille explains. When done correctly, time outs “work like a charm,” moms Katie R. and Martha say.
Martha gave her son (now 3 1/2 years old) a time out, during which she did not acknowledge him at all, and it stopped the hitting within 24 hours of when he received the time out.
When Katie’s son would hit her, she would tell him “no” and put him in a 30-second time out on a pillow in the middle of the floor in her living room. “The point was made I wasn’t going to be near him if he treated me that way,” she recalls. “It stopped in about two days; he has never tried it again.” As a bonus, Katie says her now 2 ½-year-old son has an expectation of what time out is, and when she tells him to take one, he goes to the spot himself and sits for two minutes unattended.
If moms are very consistent every time their toddler tries to hit, and show a reaction that you don’t approve of the behavior, then the behavior will stop, Rebecca agrees.
3. Redirect Your Toddler's Attention
As another alternative, some moms say redirecting your toddler’s attention to something else is often enough to stop the hitting. “I have found for that age distraction works best. Try to get him to focus on something else. Like maybe tell him, 'let's pick up the toys' or 'look at the bird out the window,'" Jennifer S. suggests.
If your timing is right, you can catch your child’s hand as they are about to hit and convert the hitting into a high-five, Heidi G. notes, saying you can accompany the action with “Insert name, what are hands for?”
Jennifer and Heidi are right, Emily S. says. “At that age, the best discipline tool you can use is redirection. She pinches you, you put her down. She pulls your hair, you put her down. Give her something else to occupy her. She will eventually get the idea that if she hurts you, she will not get your attention. Keep in mind also that at that age you may have to redirect many times in order for her to get it.”
Keep in mind, say Michelle M. and Diana, that a lot of times, hitting during the toddler years is a result of the child not having the language or means to express the feelings they’re having.
“I find that if [toddlers] can't get your attention or are frustrated because they can't ‘say’ what they want, they act out,” Diana says. “You have to remember that they are learning what's right and wrong and forget sometimes orget caught up in emotion.” At this age, she says, there’s a need for guidance. “It's a phase with kids this age, and it will pass once he learns.”