I've got more experience than I care to admit when it comes to the dreaded "hitting phase." My two oldest went through it and now my 18-month-old is deep in its midst. Fortunately, I've discovered several ways to address my little one’s naughty behavior.
Indeed, my youngest son is a true scrapper and seems content to pummel his way out of every situation. Whether he's happy or sad, it doesn't matter -- the tiny fists always fly. He does this so often, in fact, that I flinch and reflexively cover my face every time he raises a chubby hand. Afraid of a baby? Er, what gives you that impression?
In terms of correcting this behavior, I never allow anyone to hit back, since this only serves to reinforce the idea that hitting is acceptable. (I am, after all, trying to teach my kids exactly the opposite.) Instead, I immediately remove my toddler from the situation and pay close attention to what triggered his outburst. Sometimes he's simply excited or trying to get someone's attention. If this is the case, I explain that hands are better used for, say, clapping as a way to express excitement.
If he's bored, tired or simply frustrated, I patiently explain that I understand why he's acting out. But I also immediately remind him that hitting won't be tolerated and that being nice is preferable. To underscore that point, I physically take his hand and show him how to gently caress my arm or cheek as an alternative.
Above all, I don't reward his behavior when he hits. If, for example, he's misbehaving because he wants a toy, he quickly loses toy privileges. And if he hurts one of his siblings during a tantrum, I make sure he understands the consequences of what he did and remind him that hands are for hugs, not hitting. He may be too young to understand all my words at this point, but I'm reinforcing the idea that conversation is a better way to make his feelings known.
Without a doubt, no parent enjoys having to coach a kid through this difficult phase. But I'm confident, based on experience with my first two children, that these techniques will prevail. There's no telling how many bruises I'll get before then, though.
Donald S. Deane is the proud papa of three little boys who provide endless amounts of joy and sleep deprivation. He has held a variety of jobs, including college English teacher, newspaper reporter/editor, internet project manager, dishwasher and dogcatcher. Don has written for AOL TV, Moviefone, TheFW, ScreenCrush, GuySpeed, and Arcade Sushi, among others.
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