When Preschoolers and Toddlers Hit

Hitting for this development phase is normal.  So, what things are you doing to help the preschooler feel like the special "big brother" that he is? He should have special responsibilities WITH his little brother to redirect feelings of resentment; reading him stories, helping with his bath, being in charge of the diaper bag when you travel, etc. The more you make him feel special, the less likley he is to annoy and make his brother cry. Also, sometimes, the feeling of having been "dethroned" by a younger sibling builds feelings of resentment toward the parent and the child can transfer that resentment to the sibling. As far as removal, it is OK to remove the toddler if the preschooler hits or hurts him. The consequence is that he loses the opportunity to play with this brother if he behaves badly. Be sure the the preschooler has his own space to play, to address any feelings he may have that his sibling is invading his space. Make sure you are reinforceing positive behavior. Everytime the preschooler does something right, make a big deal of it. If he behaves badly, don't get emotional about it, simply act matter-of-factly by just removing the toddler. Young children are attracted to emotion. They will want to create excitement in you, so motivate him to create positive excitement, not yelling and getting angry.

A dad asked me what he should do when his 4-year-old son hits his 2-year-old sister.  I informed him that preschoolers have not yet developed their social skills so it is unfair to get angry at them or punish them. I do realize that you may react out of anger because he could hurt her. You do however; have to keep the 2 year old safe. When preschoolers hit other children, it is a message that must be interpreted by the adult. It could be one of the following:

WHY IT MAY BE HAPPENING

1. He has had enough of her and needs to be separated from her, but not punished in timeout. Just separate them and give them time to cool off.

2. He could be using inappropriate skills that he learned somewhere, such as television or adult other relationships around him

3. He is being overpowered by adults in his life and knowing he can't exert power over the adults, it all flows down hill and he becomes powerful over those smaller than him

WHAT TO DO

1. Remain calm and avoid getting angry or emotional over it. If you do, you could end up giving this behavior value and motivation for him to repeat it. In other words, don't over react

2. As soon as he has hit his sister, all the attention goes to the little sister with no attention to him. If you can, include him nurturing his sister.

3. Separate them silently and with kindness. Avoid making him feel like he is bad or that there is something wrong with him.

4. When things calm down, get to his eye level and in a calm tone, tell him that "you can't let anyone hit in this house."

5. Whenever you DO see him getting along nicely with this sister, make a big deal out if and acknowledge good behavior

6. Make sure that he has plenty of alone time and space and is not always having to be or play with her.

One final note; little children don't see their siblings as wonderful gifts to love and enjoy. Instead, they sometimes see them as competition who could take his possessions away from him, including his parents. Do your best to see the world through his eyes

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