July 02, 2015

Q: My 2 1/2 year old has developed the nasty habit of hitting and pulling hair when she is frustrated or angry. She will do this to other children and female relatives. I have tried everything-Please HELP!!

A: Dear Priefer01:

Many two year olds will hit and pull hair. Toddlers of this age are full of strong ideas and strong feelings, but they may still have very limited capacities to use language and interpersonal skills as effective means of dealing with their frustrations. So time will help you, as your daughter gains the ability to express herself more successfully.

In the meantime, you can help your daughter by trying to reduce the amount of frustration that she experiences whenever possible, and by attempting to show her that you understand her anger. Use your empathy as a parent to anticipate situations which are likely to boil over.  Many times, you may be able to intervene when she seems to be getting worked up, so that you can address the issue before a meltdown.

Of course, it is impossible to completely prevent a small child from feeling overwhelmed with aggression. When your daughter hits or pulls hair, tell her quietly, "No no. We don't hit," as you pick her up and remove her from the situation. You will not succeed in "teaching her a lesson," by adding your own aggression or annoyance to the picture. Your immediate goal is simply to change the channel, so that it is about something else, and prevent more hitting. Scolding, punishment, explanations, and so forth will not help--as you have probably already discovered. These measures are likely to make your daughter all the more over-excited and frustrated.

Elizabeth Berger MD

Child Psychiatrist and author of "Raising Kids with Character"

Answered by Dr. Elizabeth Berger


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