Help a Reader Out: Pre-Toddler Hitting

Lisa said…

I was happy to see this post because this is something I’m dealing with right now. The only difference, however, is that my son is hitting adults, not kids (at least not yet). So far, he has hit me and my husband as well as my mom (the dog too). He seems to do it when he is frustrated, but sometimes I don’t have a clue why he hits.

As far as understanding why he hits and trying to eliminate the reason, I don’t know what to do. One example of a time he may hit is when I try to hand him over to daddy. He loves his daddy, but he is on a real mommy kick right now an sometimes will snub daddy. A few times, he has taken it as far as swatting at daddy’s face. How can I stop that? I can’t just let him have his way and not give him to daddy.

Sometimes he hits for seemingly no reason at all. If I’m holding him and I look at his face and make eye contact for too long, he swats.

Here is the scenario: Right after he hits, our innate reaction is to gently grab his hand away from our face. But, he doesn’t always just swat once…he will continually swat and with both hands. So you are trying to protect your face, tell him No and isolate him in the playpen all while he is swatting at your face. In addition, our “reaction” of trying to get him to stop sometimes makes him laugh. He is the kind of baby that loves to get any reaction out of you he can. The more you tell him no, the more he laughs and does things again. That’s bad enough when he is pulling on the curtains, but it’s really awful with the hitting.

So by the time you get him in the playpen, it feels like so much just happened and you aren’t even sure he heard you saying “No we don’t hit” let alone understood what you meant and the “hitting” was the action he had just taken. Once in the playpen, he does cry because he doesn’t want to be isolated, but I really don’t think he realizes that it is because of what he just did. (By the way, he is 16 months old, so the talking to and reasoning with you mention in your post, really won’t work here).

I am basically at the end of my rope. This has been going on for a while. We’ve also tried to teach him “gentle” as well (rubbing his arm or face softly while saying the word.) He just hasn’t gotten it.

I would really love some suggestions. Everything you mention in your post sounds good, but none are really relevant to my exact situation. You were able to tell Kaitlyn that as a result of hitting, she no longer was able to play with Brayden. How can I apply such punishment in our situation?

D & H said…

Lisa, when I worked in a daycare I had a problem with a one-year-old little boy who was hitting another child. You said your boy “is the kind of baby that loves to get any reaction out of you he can.” It was the same for this boy. What worked with for him was to watch him when he was playing and give lots of positive attention when he was doing well so he wouldn’t need to hit to receive attention from me. I would minimize the attention he gets when he hits as much as possible.

thesprian said…

My son sounds exactly like yours and we have dealt with it in a similar manner. I always noticed that it was worse if he was over tired or overstimulated. Avoiding the triggers helps but you can’t always and they need the opportunity to learn. I would say a firm No, grab his arms and gently rub them on my cheeks (or whoever he was hitting as he sometimes hit his baby brother too) and say gentle several times. He sometimes thought was a fun alternative to hitting but if he didn’t comply, he went right to time out. We always used the word time out firmly several times when he was in time out so that he would begin to make that connection and before he got out of time out I would grab his hands and rub them on my face again and say gentle again. I’d also say “are you going to obey?” He’s two now and still has some offenses but he immediately shows me gentle and says “Obey”. It may take time of consistency.
The problem I am having now is what to do with bedtime discipline issues. Jumping up and down instead of laying down to sleep. He only does this for his naps but I can’t put him in timeout before nap, that will only delay naptime!

Lisa said…

Thanks for the comments. I’m working hard to be consistent and I’ve taken the advice about the repetition of the words “time out” and also asking “are you going to obey?” when taking him out. I guess time will tell.

Plowmanators said…

Hi Lisa,

A few ideas:

when you give him to Daddy and he hits Daddy, I would take him back and say, “That is a no. You do not hit.” I would then go put him in a playpen to have a time out. Use a timer so if he cries, he sees that the timer, not his crying, gets him out.

Be sure to keep your emotions even. Don’t act hurt, mad, or happy. Just be firm but without emotions.

McKenna is 16 months old, and I am positive she would understand that when she hit and went in isolation, it would be because of the hitting.

I would continue to teach him “gently.” Do it when he isn’t mad. So when you are playing, touch him gently and say, “gently.” When he is happily petting the dog, say “gently” and demonstrate gently.

One point on the dog issue, my vet once told me to never discipline a child in front of the dog because you don’t want the dog thinking it is okay to get mad at the child–you want the dog to respect the child. I haven’t thought much about it, but just thought I would mention it to you. When he hits the dog, I would pick him up and carry him out of the room away from the dog immediately.

I could also post this as a “help a reader out” question if you would like. Let me know if you want me to. If so, I will run it this Saturday.

Lisa said…

Thanks for the advice. I will also pay attention to not disciplining him in front of the dog. That is actually becoming more and more of a problem everyday (him going after the dog).

It’s also okay with me to post this in the “help a reader out” section.

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8 thoughts on “Help a Reader Out: Pre-Toddler Hitting”

  1. We had a similar issue with our pre-toddler, but with biting. Check out the book series, ____ is not for ____. Once we bought the book, Teeth are not for Biting, she has not bitten again (3 weeks ago). Our DD has started grabbing/hitting, so Hands are not for Hitting is on its way!

  2. Lisa-My background is the science of behavior. For what that's worth…with all of your examples, your son ultimately gets your attention (verbal and/or physical). You need to do 3 things:1. teach him a better way to get your attention and to recognize when he needs it (friend took his toy, wants mom instead of dad, wants you to play with him). Practice at good times–not just after an incident. I love the book suggestion above! Make sure you tell him what you WANT and not just what you don't want. 2. respond to hitting with low/no attention (if you can't do NO attention, then limit all verbal or something like that), and respond to positive behavior with LOTS of good quality attention. When he's with dad–leave the room. When he hits the dog, take the dog into a different room. When you have to intervene–do the pack n play routine you're doing! 3. When he asks for help, you to play, or otherwise uses words instead of hands–celebrate! hugs, tickles…throw an attention party :)Good luck!!!!

  3. We had the same issue with Tobias at just about the same age. First I had to stop taking it personally. It's not like he was mimicking us hitting, we never spanked or anything and he didn't watch any TV at that age, just pre-approved videos. It's a logical thing when you think about it from a 1 year old's perspective. He's had every need met up until now, with most of his wants overlapping as needs. Now suddenly he wants things that are more complicated (like mommy's attention over daddy) and you've told him no. It's like saying "sorry, I know you've been supreme ruler of the universe for the past 16 months, but guess what? It turns out you're not." lol! Seriously, it is like that to them. I'd hit too if big people were making me do stuff I didn't feel like doing :)Anyway, what we did was when Tobias hit we'd turn him facing out from us so he stopped and plop him in his crib for isolation. If he can't be kind, he can't play with others at that moment. We do the same thing now with the cats, but Tobias is older so if he is not nice to the cats we make him play in his room alone for the rest of the morning, until nap time, or until the next meal, whichever is the next logical break in our day. To me that's the logical consequence for being unkind, they lose the privilege of being with the family for a bit. For a 16 month old I'd say a 5-10 minute isolation is plenty, with a requirement that they give a kiss or hug when they get off or if they're verbal an "I'm sorry" is good too, just something to show they're making amends for causing hurt.

  4. I noticed that each time your son hit (except for the dog) he was being physically handled. I noticed that once my son became relatively good at walking, he got very defensive when I "manhandled" him. I found that if I led him by the hand to where I wanted him to go he was more compliant. Maybe if you tell him what you are going to do beforehand he won't feel like all control has been taken away. Like you could say "I'm going to pick you up now and hand you to daddy." Don't ask his permission, but at least let him know what you are going to do beforehand.

  5. I wanted to add, that with any good plan, your child's behavior might get momentarily worse before it gets better….He'll try to 'up the anty' in using what he knows works (hitting/tantrum) for a few days/a week before realizing that he's going to need to use his words or another way to problem solve. The rule of thumb is a month of intervention for every year of a bad behavior….so within a few weeks you should know if something has worked or not!

  6. We are having issues with our 2.5 year old son. He has been a babywise baby since he was one month old so I don't think it's a scheduling issue. He hits me and my husband when he doesn't get his way. He hits other kids when it comes to sharing. I can deal with the above because I know the why he's doing it. What I don't understand is this: over Thanksgiving he would randomly hit the older women in my family, his grandmas and great aunts. They weren't doing anything but saying hi to him and trying to engage him. Have you ever heard of this and what could be the why behind it?

  7. My 9 month old has been hitting also. Not when he is mad or angry, it just seems to be out of play or when you make eye contact and speak to him. It is always on the face. We started out by taking his hand and saying “gentle” he does it again, so we say no, be gentle. Or sometimes swat his hand if he really does it multiple times. Is 9 months too early for time out? Other suggestions?


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