We Don’t Hit In Our Family

Dear Mamas,

I have to admit I’m a little embarrassed about this question. My 18 month old is starting to hit me out of frustration! It usually happens when she’s doing something or playing with something I don’t want her to. When I bend down to her level or pick her up to tell her ‘no’, she gets mad and strikes out at my chest with her little arms. Then, I’ll take her hand, look her in the eye, and say “no hitting!”, but often I’ll get a laugh right back.

I know she’s doing it out of frustration and doesn’t know how to express herself, but what’s the right way to react? I don’t want her to be the one in the play group who hits other kids!

Speechless in Seattle

Dear Speechless,

What you’re describing is the perfect example of a good ol’ toddler power struggle.  Your little boxer is beginning to feel her oats, and she’s determined to see just how far you’ll let her go.  She’s testing to see who’s the boss here — Mom or Little Princess?

A big part of the charge (for her) is seeing your surprise and knowing she’s got you off your game.  To avoid that, make a plan so you can respond (without emotion), not react when it happens.

Consider something like this (while holding her arms gently but firmly):

“No Petunia, you may not hit me.  You are mad and frustrated and I see that.  You can tell me you’re mad and use your words.  I understand that you want to play with those matches right now, but I can’t let you because it’s dangerous and you’ll burn yourself.  We do NOT hit in our family.  Hitting hurts.  I don’t hit you and you don’t hit me. Nobody hits.”

Then you need to turn away, or leave the room, or in some way communicate non-verbally that the behavior is NOT OK and won’t get her the attention she wants.  Removing your attention is one of the most effective discipline techniques around.

Toddlers will challenge you.  That’s a huge part of their job.  Yours is to be the mom and set limits to keep her safe and “tame the beast” without crushing her little spirit. No playgroup bully for you!

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Rachel Zahn, MD is a pediatrician turned health writer who had three kids during medical school and pediatric training—crazy, huh?


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2 responses to “We Don’t Hit In Our Family”

  1. Janet

    I’m on the other side of this problem. My sweet little boy keeps getting smacked by two different friends. I have no idea what to do – it’s just a matter of time until he starts hitting back. The mother’s of the hitters are horrified but so am I. What do I do?

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