Taming Toddler Aggression
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Taming Toddler Aggression

Jan Faull, M. Ed, answers a parent's question about what to do when your child hits a playmate.

Q. "I'm wondering what the best response is when our 2-year-old daughter hits a friend? When frustrated, she takes a swing at the person she is mad at, usually another little person."

A. Realize that it's not unusual for toddlers to hit similar-aged playmates. While it's best to not assume the hitting behavior will magically disappear, don't fear that you're raising a child who will bully her way through life, conducting herself forever in this aggressive fashion.

Additionally, proceed in the following manner:

First, when your child is playing with another child, remain near the children, keeping a watchful eye on them. Being near doesn't mean you involve yourself in their play, but remain in close proximity so that you are available if your daughter does attempt to hit her friend. At the same time, your daughter will work harder to not hit when you?re close at hand.

Second, if your daughter does raise her hand to a friend, block her blow and say, "I can't allow you to hit your friend." When you use this line, say it clearly, in a tone that is neither wimpy nor harsh. This line is important as it conveys to your child that you are going to provide the control she lacks. In time the control you provide will transfer from you to your child; she'll eventually acquire self-control.

Third, if she does actually manage to hit her friend, remove your child from the play area, and say: "No. Hitting is not allowed. Look at your friend; she's hurt. Hitting hurts." You're going to give her a time out from the friend and the play situation, but don't isolate her. Stay with her for 3 minutes, then allow her to return to play.

By staying with her you help her gain control and send the message "Hitting is not okay. My job is to keep everyone safe." You don't want to leave her alone. Isolating a child often adds to the frustration of the moment, making the situation and the child's behavior worse.

Forth, if she hits again, it's time to call an end to this pay period. Don't give your child another opportunity to hit. Stay between the children, involving them in an adult-directed activity, or take the friend home, or leave with your child.

As you manage each hitting incident, realize that your demeanor is important. You don't want to add to the tension of the moment by responding hysterically. The situation is serious, but not catastrophic.