Help for Hitting

5 Steps that Teach

Consistency is crucial. Don't, for example, show amusement one day when your child hits and anger the next. Instead, follow these five steps:

1. Stay calm. When you are a good role model, your child learns to be patient under pressure.

2. Voice your empathy. Attend to the person who has been hit (even if it's you), and explain that it hurts. You'll teach empathy and help your child understand the effects of his actions. Andrea Jensen did this when her 16-month-old son, Calvin, began hitting. "I tried to describe the physical pain and also told him that when he hit his little brother, he gave Matthew a boo-boo and made him sad," says the Virginia Beach, Virginia, mother. "This seemed to have an impact on him."

3. Acknowledge your child's feelings, and provide a brief lesson. Though hitting isn't permissible, the emotions that brought it about are. Help your child learn the distinction by calmly articulating her frustration: "I know you want that toy, but we don't hit." You'll reassure her by describing what she isn't yet able to. Remember, Dr. Labrada says, "Lengthy lessons in civility will go over a 1-year-old's head."

It's also unproductive to force your child to apologize, Dr. Schenck believes. Instead, you should offer an apology that can be a model for your child: "Say to the victim, 'I'm so sorry you're hurt.' This will show your child that when you've upset someone else, it's appropriate to voice your concern."

4. Provide a safe alternative. "Use your words" is good advice for a verbal toddler, especially if you provide the script ("Next time, don't hit Ben. Tell him, 'Please share'").

5. Reinforce positive efforts. As with most lessons in life, repetition is critical to success. So look for opportunities to encourage your child with comments such as "Good sharing!" You can also give him a chance to "try it again -- this time without hitting."

Learning not to hit takes time for any 1-year-old to master. Meanwhile, cultivate some patience, a thick skin, and your sense of humor.

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