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Children need to be old enough
to understand what they have done.
Children need to be old enough
to understand what they have done.


450 words


How To Tame the Hitting Toddler
by Dianne Roth


My grandson, Nicholaus, has been stubborn since he was born on Christmas Eve two years ago. Once here, he tried to control every inch of his world.

At a year, he took up hitting. He hit his brother and he hit his mother. And, once, only once, he hit me, his grandmother. He did not know who he was dealing with when he took the swing at me.

We were at the park and he wanted to go down the slide. I decided that we were not sliding. I took him off the ladder three times. Each time he scowled, stamped his little foot, and headed back up the ladder. Each time I gently removed him from the slide and quietly told him no. I was ready to tell him we were going to leave the playground when he scowled, stamped, and took a swing at Grandma!

For the record, children who get away with hitting their adults are learning a life-long pattern of violence. It is simply not okay.

So, how do you stop a child from hitting? By hitting? There is some hypocrisy in hitting a child to teach him or her to stop hitting. It does not make sense to me and I understood how it would not make sense to a child. It also does not fit into my philosophy of firm, but tender, discipline.

First, children need to be old enough to understand what they have done. Nicholaus, at a year and a half, was very aware of what he was doing. The scowl on his face was a dead giveaway.

Second, children need to know the rule. For Nicholaus, he had been told repeatedly, “You do not hit!”

And, third, he needed to suffer just a bit to make the rule hit home. Firm and tender discipline comes with a powerful bludgeon: loss of adult attention. Nicholaus was having a difficult time distinguishing between the rule and all the attention, talk-talk-talk, he got for the hitting.

Back to the park, without missing a beat, I picked up that little bundle of joy, put him on his back in the dirt, pointed my finger, and said, “You do not hit!” Without another word, I lifted my leg over him and walked away. Out of the corner of my eye I watched him. Not moving, he looked first at the slide and then at me. He was actually weighing his best option! Without my attention, he had lost control.

It took about 30 seconds for him to make a decision. He got up, brushed his hands off, and headed to the merry-go-round. Without a word, I joined him, my full attention all the reward he needed.


Dianne Roth is a teacher, mother, grandmother, and freelance writer. She lives in Oregon.




Last updated on October 8, 2012