How do you handle a toddler who hits?

We had a lovely birthday weekend for the twins. Their actual birthday was last week, and my husband and I kept it low key with some ice cream during the hot day and a cupcake and singing at night. While he was at work, we also decorated t-shirts and attempted to find library books about birthdays, but couldn’t locate a good one for their age group. Any recommendations?

And then this weekend we had a small party that was nice and relaxing. I did a rainbow theme and loved how it came out, and will write more about that in a future post. The twins did well with all the people and honestly – we haven’t even opened presents yet. We’re giving them a few a day and they are fine with that.

So besides that, age 2 for us is markedly different than 1. Both of them are so strong willed and opinionated, yet loving, silly and smart. I’m looking forward to sort of charting and updating on how very different they are from a year ago, or really, even three months ago. But for now, I’m at a new parenting challenge roadblock – discipline.

There are many things that seem to come natural to me with regard to parenting the twins. Discipline is not one of them. And we need something in this house, because B is now hitting. B used to hit a long time ago. He was still a baby. He was hitting and staring at his hands like he just figured out how they could slap something. That was not malicious, for the most part. He did get frustrated with his lack of language, and so this was another reason for the hitting. It was easy to handle – we would just tell him a firm “NO, we don’t hit” and then redirect with a new toy. The hitting passed after a month or so and that was that. And of course, once our Early Intervention services got going and B started talking more, he became an extremely loving, affectionate boy. And to be clear, in public – this is the shyest boy who won’t even speak a word. At home, he tries to take the leadership position.

But about three weeks ago or so, the old B started to emerge. It’s not his language, because that has taken off. (He said, “B fold orange diaper” this morning and “Mommy loves B” last night, for a few examples.) He happens to have very little patience, very little determination to do a task. If he’s playing with something and he gets frustrated, he throws the toy out of anger, until I remind him to ask me calmly for help, which he does right away. He melts down multiple times a day. Instead of him matter-of-factly saying, “No”, like he did a long time ago, now he’s screaming, “No!!!!” He screams for Mommy to help him wash his hands, when only Daddy is available. He screams when Mommy wakes him in the morning, when it’s Daddy he wants. He screams when C gets to do ______ first (going down the stairs, washing hands, getting picked up out of the crib, you name it), even though we switch back and forth every time, which of course he’s too young to recall.

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See, they do play nice together sometimes!

That last one – C’s doing the same thing. They fight to go first for EVERYTHING. And I make it “fair”, or fair enough, but they can’t tell the difference. C’s got a few of her own little nuances – demanding that B do everything she does, include take a drink of water or play with the same toy. And of course her desire to do EVERYTHING herself, so much that if you help at ALL to put on her shoe (you know, because you’re in a rush), she screams “self!!!” and takes her shoe off and starts over.

I suppose then, we’ve hit the “terrible two’s”. The demanding, absolutely exhausting two’s, about as tiring as it was with newborns. And I can muster the strength through it all, except for the hitting from B.

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Is a time-out the right, efficient, smart response for a two-year old who hits maliciously? Like, swing back his arm in a fit of rage and clock you in the face while you’re holding him? Because it was that incident where right then and there I realized, this is past the distraction age. This requires  – something. So I picked a time-out spot on the fly, put him down and explained what time out was and why he was there. He sat for a minute or two, I came back over, reminded him again why he was there and had him apologize and give hugs and we moved on. But – I’m not sure it was effective. I’ve never been crazy about making children apologize because it won’t be genuine, but it kind of just came to me in that moment. He’s been to time out about 6 or 7 times since and I’m just not sure….it works for him. All of a sudden he’s in tune to people/animals fighting. He’s saying “fight”, “hit”, “bite” all the time.

I guess it’s sort of a controversial topic, and of course there are mothers who don’t need time out because they have laid back, easy children. Which is C. She’s never tried to be mean purposely, ever. And that’s how I was as a kid, which is why I don’t really know what I’m doing. But B needs – something. I don’t want to come across too hard, because I don’t believe he will benefit from that, it’s just modeling the same behavior from him, and plus, it won’t be genuine coming from me. But I don’t want to be too soft either. I’m really just not sure what to do.

Finally, I spend time thinking about where B finds his success, as I’d rather guide him towards success then set him up in a situation he will fail. He thrives with tasks (putting away the groceries, carrying the stool into the bathroom, emptying the dishwasher). He loves new toys he’s never seen. He loves cars and trucks and things that spin. He enjoys sensory play, except when it’s slimy.He loves to be outside, and he loves to move and jump and bounce and run. He loves my attention. “Mommy, play cars please?” “Mommy, play food please?” But I have another child too, and I need to keep her needs in mind as well. I can’t please him all the time. Multiple children problems.

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3 thoughts on “How do you handle a toddler who hits?

  1. randomsqueaks says:

    Oh boy. He sounds a good bit like V. I hope she doesn’t start hitting too, but she definitely has fits of anger where she throws toys, stomps off in frustration, or has a fall on the floor, physical meltdown. I’ve been reading The Strong Willed Child but I’m only halfway through. The parts I’ve read are about the importance of consistency, and balancing love and control. I think he’s completely right. If I can ever finish it, I’ll let you know what I think about the rest of it.
    The only actual advice I can think of is something a friend of a friend shared for things like food throwing and hitting at this age. After an event, you hold the child’s hands in time out, calmly explain their hands are in time out and why, and then count to five before letting go. It hasn’t worked for V yet (mostly food throwing) but I’ve only done it for about a week. And it makes me feel better for actually doing something besides saying no or an ineffective swat on the hand.

  2. robin says:

    He sounds like my Banana, who throws when frustrated, and bites and hits and pushes her brother. The thing is, she has my temper, so it is a struggle for me to be calm in that moment too. I don’t do a real time out, I say “You’re out!” like an umpire, I pick her up and move her a few feet away. She starts crying and I ask her why she thinks she’s out, and she used to say “I don’t know” but now she can tell me why. And I explain why whatever she was doing wasn’t acceptable and what she can do instead. Then I give her a hug and move on. I haven’t done the forced apologizing because I don’t really know how useful that is, though I do hear them apologizing to each other anyway because I always apologize when I accidentally hurt them or when I lose my own temper and yell at them for example. So I am modeling apologizing, and I think that is working for now (may need more work later I don’t know). I don’t make them sit in time out though, I just move them out of the situation immediately. Sometimes I have to do this with Apple but usually it’s Banana who is the aggressor.

    Also I have a pretty stern and loud voice I use when I mean business that is basically a warning that says you’re about to be out. And then if it’s not a violent or dangerous offense I will give a warning “One more time and you’re out.” But if it’s violence there is no warning.

    Banana is also predictable sometimes in her violence. She starts shaking before she bites because she is really angry, so when I see her shaking I can often just say her name and it will snap her out enough for me to ask what is going on and she can explain herself and I can help if possible.

    As for the frustration throwing, I have so little patience for it which is funny because I do it myself! When she does that I take the toy away – very temporarily – because we don’t throw toys and I’m sorry you are frustrated. When I see her getting frustrated I tell her to ask for help. If she comes up to me screaming with a toy I tell her to ask for help. And not just in a screamy angry HELP, I want a nice help. I want her to come up to me and say “Help please” in a nice voice. I know it seems like it’s asking a lot but I need her to stop being so violent with frustrating situations, it is something I am not so great at myself so I am hoping I can help her now before she turns into me 😦 She has been getting better about it actually, it is slow progress but if I see her getting frustrated sometimes I step in and say “Banana is there something I can do for you right now” and if she hasn’t totally lost her temper yet I even ask her to verbalize the thing she wants help with, like “unstick the legos please” or something like that. SOMETIMES I even ask her to get Apple to help her, which he loves to do, and it shows her that she has more resources than just mommy. Sometimes I can hear them helping each other when I’m out of sight and I love it.

    Sorry so long … good luck!!!

    • robin says:

      Oh ALSO I give her lavish lavish praise for any nice behaviors, like when she shares nicely or when she asks for help nicely or things like that. Huge over the top praise for pro-social behavior. Sometimes if I forget to praise her she will remind me – “Mommy I gave that lego to Apple because he wanted it and i gave it to him” and waits for me to say how nice that was LOL. She is highly motivated by reward so I try to be as over the top about it as I can, she is really a sweet girl and I totally understand her temper and low frustration tolerance so I am trying trying trying to help her as best as I can!

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