Q: My toddler hits me or my husband whenever he gets angry. What can we do?
A: Toddlers are very vulnerable to frustration -- whether from not being able to tell you what he really wants for a snack, or because he's struggling to figure out how his new toy truck set works. And when the frustration reaches his personal tolerance level (some cope better than others), your kid may explode. Some kids have tantrums, some bang on the floor or throw things, and others hit their parents. The first line of defense in dealing with a toddler's anger is prevention. When you can see that struggling to open a toy box is no longer teaching your son manual dexterity, but is instead driving him crazy, offer just enough help so that he can succeed on his own. And when he's playing with other kids, don't leave him to navigate tricky social situations all alone; hang around to offer a diversion if it's needed. Hitting is never useful or acceptable, so the more you can avoid placing your son in situations where he becomes upset, the better.
When your kid does explode, the fact that he comes to you, even to hit you, is a sign that he wants your help. He wants you to take charge until he can regain his composure, so try to be empathetic (which we know is hard after you've just been whacked). The last thing your son needs now is to be pushed further over the edge with a time-out. Instead, try holding him and talking softly, while reminding him why we don't hit -- because it hurts Mommy and Daddy.
Copyright 2002. Updated 2009