My son, Jack, was 14 months old the first time he took a swing at me. We were in the middle of a three-hour drive. Jack and I were in the backseat, and my husband, Pete, was driving. Jack began to fuss, and I reached over to comfort him. Whack! -- I felt a light but distinct slap on my arm.
"Did you hit me?" I asked, amazed. Jack's flashing brown eyes and a second swat left no doubt. I managed a weak "No hit Mommy," but my eyes revealed how upset I really was. Jack started to cry, and I comforted him -- happy to postpone for the moment the complexities of handling a 1-year-old's aggressive jabs.
I was caught off guard that day but have since discovered that 1-year-olds can be bold with their blows. "I call toddlerhood the hitting stage of development because this behavior can be common in children between 1 and 2," says Deborah Glasser Schenck, Ph.D., director of Family Support Services at Nova Southeastern University, in Fort Lauderdale, and author of Positive Parenting, a Miami Herald column.
Sometimes toddlers lash out for no apparent reason. They may be playing, trying out their physical abilities, or testing people's reactions. Liz Appelson, of Mount Tremper, New York, noticed that her son would hit out of curiosity. "Liam would look at other children while he knocked them and wait to see what would happen," she recalls. "To him, hitting was a great experiment."