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Garris 

My toddler keeps hitting people. My son is 2 and has begun to slap, there are children in nursery who also do it so this may be compounding the issue. He not only slaps at nursery and slaps us but also slaps his little sister (8 mths). We've tried to work out what triggers this, sometimes it's when he's frustrated or thwarted but occasionally it comes from nowhere (or when bored or hyper) and he seems to enjoy the fact that he's made his sister cry. We try to preempt this happening which means us constantly watching him. Initially when it started we ignored him while taking his sister out of his reach but now we're trying to take him away and give him time to calm down and (hopefully) understand what he's done (not sure he does at 2). Anyone got any better ideas on how to handle this as what we're doing doesn't seem to be having any effect.

TOP RESPONSE
Let's Ask Livvy 
Hi Garris- sorry haven't checked into the brain for a couple of days- Hitting is very common around your son's age- and can be for a number of reasons such as frustration, anger, attention, sharing, lack of language, or indeed difficulties sharing personal space or toys (as CharlotteD mentioned). The most important thing to try to establish is the reason- or in behavioural terms the "function" of the behaviour- the function can be child or situation specific as such there is no one size fits all strategy. But as a general rule you need to make a clear family rule and stick to it- so your rule could be that hitting is not ok and this the message that is consistently delivered to you son. You should try to make sure that your son is not getting more attention from hitting than for appropriate behaviours and it is essential to praise the behaviour you want to see more of- so heavily and specifically praising nice interactions with his sister or other children. Be careful not to label the inappropriate behaviour in your praise so avoid saying "well done for not hitting" instead say "I love it when you play nicely with your sister" "good job for using your nice hands etc". Time out can be very effective- but time out only works if your child is being removed from a situation they wanted to be in- so look carefully at the situation. Time out should also be a neutral place where no attention is given- so try to avoid lots of language. One clear phrase is good such as "hitting is not ok" and then remove your child to time out- at his age avoid bombarding him with other language like "it's not ok to hit your sister, look at what you've done, you've made her cry etc" as to a little one who may be trying to get your attention- this might be reinforcing- remember any attention can maintain a behaviour. I know you've tried lots of strategies so probably feel a little frustrated as to why you are not seeing a reduction- but look at why the behaviour may be happening, establish the function and possible triggers and take it from there- let me know if you want more info (or take a look at my site- link in bio) Good Luck!
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Ben Tantrum 
Hi Garris - this is a very timely question as my little one has hit her parents a couple of times. I don't think she knows what she's doing except that it gets a reaction from us - so it's more of an attention grabbing thing. I'm also not sure what age kids can empathise at so I'm giving her the benefit of the doubt for the minute... I'll be interested to see what others say on this. While she probably can't emphasise she understands 'no' so we're also watching her like a hawk to make sure if she does hit someone we'll make it very clear to her that the action is unacceptable. - and that there's a clear link between her action and our reaction. This is where we do differ a little from you as we're not taking her away from the situation as I think she'll lose the association and not understand why her parents are cross. Your son may have better understanding though as he's older.
Ben Tantrum 
*empathise*
Mike Tantrum 
Hi Garris. There was another parent with a similar problem on the Brain last week. They got an interesting response from one of our experts, Lets Ask Livvy, who said that it could be to do with their understanding of language exceeding their spoken ability. See the thread here: https://tantrum.xyz/parentingBrain/question/131
Garris 
Thanks Mike, while he hits when frustrated I don't think inability to communicate is one of the big triggers, it tends to be when he doesn't get his own way. With his sister sometimes he'll be laughing and smiling at her and then *thwack* but there have also been occasions when her crying has prompted him to come over and try to hit her. We'd wondered if it might be sibling jealousy and have made more effort to spend time with him, individually and also having them both eat together. @Ben we've come to the 'removal' tactic as ignoring the hitting but praising good behaviour had no effect nor did telling him off; we quickly realised that that drew more attention which seemed in part to be what he was after and I think he's still a bit young to understand consequences. He will sometimes say 'sorry' after hitting but he'll also say it apropos of nothing so I don't think it means much to him. Perhaps when his sister is big enough to twat him back he'll realise! 😀
Ben Tantrum 
haha - yes - he just needs an equal opponent!
CharlotteD 
Same with my 22 month old. She often does it when she first meets other children, and regularly if they come into her space (I guess she feels threatened) Problem at this age is lack of communication and understanding. It's never hard, just a fairly gentle tap on them. However they & their parents/caters often look shocked 🙈 I pull her to one side & tell her not to. Ive started sitting her in time out & ignoring her. It's often difficult to find a safe time out space when you are out though. At the zoo last week we used her buggy as the time out place. She never says sorry after but says hello, waves & tries to hug the person she hit. She's generally very loving. I'm hoping the phase will end soon. I try to preempt some of them when I see children coming towards her by saying to her be nice & say hello nicely. This sometimes works. It does make me a tad anxious when we are out. Good luck x
Fran123 
I have exactly the same. Mine is 23months. I pull him to the side and say he can't do it and to say sorry he doesn't understand really and ends up having a tantrum. It really stressed me out. So would like to know other people's ideas too please
Let's Ask Livvy 
Hi Garris- sorry haven't checked into the brain for a couple of days- Hitting is very common around your son's age- and can be for a number of reasons such as frustration, anger, attention, sharing, lack of language, or indeed difficulties sharing personal space or toys (as CharlotteD mentioned). The most important thing to try to establish is the reason- or in behavioural terms the "function" of the behaviour- the function can be child or situation specific as such there is no one size fits all strategy. But as a general rule you need to make a clear family rule and stick to it- so your rule could be that hitting is not ok and this the message that is consistently delivered to you son. You should try to make sure that your son is not getting more attention from hitting than for appropriate behaviours and it is essential to praise the behaviour you want to see more of- so heavily and specifically praising nice interactions with his sister or other children. Be careful not to label the inappropriate behaviour in your praise so avoid saying "well done for not hitting" instead say "I love it when you play nicely with your sister" "good job for using your nice hands etc". Time out can be very effective- but time out only works if your child is being removed from a situation they wanted to be in- so look carefully at the situation. Time out should also be a neutral place where no attention is given- so try to avoid lots of language. One clear phrase is good such as "hitting is not ok" and then remove your child to time out- at his age avoid bombarding him with other language like "it's not ok to hit your sister, look at what you've done, you've made her cry etc" as to a little one who may be trying to get your attention- this might be reinforcing- remember any attention can maintain a behaviour. I know you've tried lots of strategies so probably feel a little frustrated as to why you are not seeing a reduction- but look at why the behaviour may be happening, establish the function and possible triggers and take it from there- let me know if you want more info (or take a look at my site- link in bio) Good Luck!
Let's Ask Livvy 
CharlotteD sounds like you have a good strategy in place and I would recommend continuing to help your daughter learn a range of nice greetings. Bare in mind though lots of situations can be stressful for our kids and having to share or someone joining our play can be one of them- make sure you have realistic expectations and don't be afraid if at toddler group to say (Pre hitting incident) that " (__) is just playing with this toy right now, she will share in a minute". Or don't expect her to share her favourite toy. Try not to be anxious as she will pick up on this- hitting is very common and loads of kids go through this stage-you just need to try and establish why she's doing it and give her an appropriate alternative strategy. Re a safe time out space- Any neutral space can be used as a time out space, it just needs to be non reinforcing and you need to be removing your daughter from something she wanted to be doing for it to be effective. Hope this helps- let me know if you need more info
Anonymous 
Really interesting feedback on this - am struggling with the same situation myself. Mostly the reports of my 20 month old daughter pushing and hitting are at nursery, but I have seen it first hand myself a few times. Mostly it does seem to be when other people are in her 'territory' or have shown an interest in her toys. However, sometimes it is for no reason and is then followed up with a hug! I'm taking all of the above recommendations on board - it is bloody stressful having to police your child!
Garris 
Thanks for the great feedback. We seem to be having a lull or at least, a reduction in the frequency of hitting. One thing we have noticed makes a big difference is whether or not he's had a good nap. It seems as though he's less able to cope with everything when he's tired and it's easier just to lash out. That said, it's not the only trigger so we're watching him closely and acting on some of the feedback we've been given. Fingers crossed we're reaching the end of this phase!
Mike Tantrum 
Glad to hear things may be improving, Garris. Fingers crossed indeed! 🤞🤞🤞
Let's Ask Livvy 
Hi Garris- this is good news!! But make sure you take credit for this!!! It is most likely that in your looking deeper/ analysing the possible causes that you made subtle adjustments to how you are dealing with and approaching this behaviour- these little changes/ more thought to the behaviour etc are likely to be the cause of the reduction as opposed to just turning a developmental corner- so well done you guys for being on top of it and effecting behaviour change 👏👏👍👍

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