Why does he hit the baby?

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  December 18, 2009 06:00 AM

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Barbara,  Why does my 32-month-old grandson hit and take toys away from his 12-month-old brother?  How do we show him that that is not proper behavior?

From: Patricia, Las Vegas


Hi Patricia,

Consider these possibilities:

Because he's frustrated and doesn't yet have the language to express what he wants or what he's feeling.

Because he's in a very ego-centric stage of development and, through no fault of his own,  can't help that he wants what he wants when he wants it.

Because this is also a stage of development where children have little (if any) impulse control.

Because this is a stage when children imitate what they see around them. What is he seeing on screens that he watches? Cartoon or dramatic violence? What about the adults at home, or children with whom he comes in contact? Do they solve conflict with hitting?

Because adults around him are inconsistent in their limit setting; inappropriate in what they expect from him and thus giving him conflicting messages; or inappropriate in how they try to get him to change his behavior.

Because he's jealous that the baby is getting too much attention and he's not getting enough so he's using negative behaviors as a way to get parents' attention.

Those are some of  the why's. Here are some ideas for correcting the behavior:

1. When he's with his brother, watch him carefully and be prepared to redirect his arm if he looks like he's about to hit. Tell him in a firm voice, "Hitting is no," and move his hand to do something else.

2. Label his feelings for him: "I can see you want to play with that toy. You want your turn. You wish  it was your turn right now."

3. Give him the words: "When the baby has something you want, come to mommy and say, 'I want a turn.'"

4. Help him to see that you will protect his right to some privacy, that he has control over his favorite toys and that  he doesn't have to share everything. Tell him, "This is your favorite toy, isn't it? And it's not a baby toy, it's your toy! You don't have to share every toy. Let's put it in the closet so the baby can't reach it and when you want to play with it you can ask me for it."

5. Help him to see that he doesn't have to resort to negative attention to get more attention from mom or dad. Arrange so that, if possible, each parent has five minutes a day that is devoted to him. Call it "Mom and John's time," and tell him that this is a time just for the two of them, so he sees that he has his mother's undivided attention. They should spend the five minutes doing something simple that he enjoys. It can just be sitting on mom's lap and cuddling, or reading a book, or playing.

I hope readers will share some of their ideas with you, too.

I answer a question from a reader every weekday. If you want help with some aspect of child-rearing, just write to me here.



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3 comments so far...
  1. Five minutes of undivided attention per day from one parent???

    Let's try half an hour, shall we? From BOTH parents at separate times of the day?

    No wonder the kid is out of control if he has to beg for FIVE MINUTES of parental care.

    Posted by Irene December 18, 09 09:01 AM
  1. Ditto Irene. I'm part of a busy family with two kids, but heaven help me if I could scrape only five minutes of time with each of my children. That is setting the bar far too low. The nightly reading at bedtime that we do together is more than that, and I certainly don't wait until bedtime to spend time with each of my kids!

    But overall, sound advice. I would make sure to honestly look at the family in general to see if he is modeling behavior he sees elsewhere in the family (if the parents ever hit each other, for example, of course the child will also hit). Also important: don't start yelling at him when it happens. Be firm and clear, but don't yell. At 32 months, he is hitting out of frustration and an inability to express it; yelling increases the anxiety and frustration, and does not teach him to learn to control it, it just breeds more frustration.

    Posted by jlen December 18, 09 10:07 AM
  1. Thanks Barbara, great advice. To the other commenters: please don't be so quick to judge. As a result of the current economic climate, my husband and I both work full-time (and are still barely making ends meet). My husband leaves for work before our kids wake up, and often comes home after they've gone to bed. On those days, they get no one-on-one alone time with either of us. But we're trying. We're really, really trying. Comments that we are "setting the bar far too low" really sting, since we already feel bad enough.

    Posted by TiredMomof2 December 18, 09 01:16 PM
 
3 comments so far...
  1. Five minutes of undivided attention per day from one parent???

    Let's try half an hour, shall we? From BOTH parents at separate times of the day?

    No wonder the kid is out of control if he has to beg for FIVE MINUTES of parental care.

    Posted by Irene December 18, 09 09:01 AM
  1. Ditto Irene. I'm part of a busy family with two kids, but heaven help me if I could scrape only five minutes of time with each of my children. That is setting the bar far too low. The nightly reading at bedtime that we do together is more than that, and I certainly don't wait until bedtime to spend time with each of my kids!

    But overall, sound advice. I would make sure to honestly look at the family in general to see if he is modeling behavior he sees elsewhere in the family (if the parents ever hit each other, for example, of course the child will also hit). Also important: don't start yelling at him when it happens. Be firm and clear, but don't yell. At 32 months, he is hitting out of frustration and an inability to express it; yelling increases the anxiety and frustration, and does not teach him to learn to control it, it just breeds more frustration.

    Posted by jlen December 18, 09 10:07 AM
  1. Thanks Barbara, great advice. To the other commenters: please don't be so quick to judge. As a result of the current economic climate, my husband and I both work full-time (and are still barely making ends meet). My husband leaves for work before our kids wake up, and often comes home after they've gone to bed. On those days, they get no one-on-one alone time with either of us. But we're trying. We're really, really trying. Comments that we are "setting the bar far too low" really sting, since we already feel bad enough.

    Posted by TiredMomof2 December 18, 09 01:16 PM
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About the author

Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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