Use Your Words!
As a 2-year-old, Pete Crowley, of San Francisco, was impulsive and territorial. So his mother, Brigitte Crowley, wasn't shocked when her son slugged a boy in his weekly playgroup who had snatched away his toy. But she was mortified. "I yelled, 'Peeeeeeeeeeete! No hitting! We don't hit!'" Crowley recalls. "Then I got down at his eye level, held his hands, and made him apologize."
Unfortunately, it wasn't an isolated incident, so every time Pete pushed and shoved, Crowley instructed him to use his words, not his fists. "I worried that Pete could turn into a bruiser," she says. "I hoped it was just a normal stage of growing and learning how to share."
A Common Problem, Several Reasons
Actually, hitting -- and biting too -- are normal behaviors during a child's first three years, when emotions run high, but kids lack the ability to express themselves effectively. The first time your little angel does the unthinkable, you may envision the beginning of a lifetime of antisocial behavior. But there's no cause for alarm -- at least not yet. "Toddlers are little cavemen -- think of Bamm-Bamm in The Flintstones," says Harvey Karp, MD, author of The Happiest Toddler on the Block (Bantam). "Toddlers are uncivilized and primitive. Hitting and biting are just primitive ways to communicate."
Indeed, before a child has an extensive vocabulary, hitting and biting are powerful communication tools, up there with screaming and crying. "These behaviors are probably the most effective forms of communication that toddlers have," says Victoria Youcha, a child development specialist with Zero to Three, a nationwide nonprofit promoting the healthy development of babies and toddlers. "Before you can prevent the behavior or stop it, you need to understand what your child's trying to tell you."