Hitting (15 month old)

Advice on what to do about hitting and pawing behavior.


A PSP member writes to the group asking for advice:

“I need some advice on how to handle a recently emerging problem. My daughter, in the last few weeks, has taken to roughly pawing at my face when I pick her up/sit face to face - she only does this to me and the sitter - not my husband. It's clear that she's doing it out of excitement, and sometimes as a playful thing, but she's not gentle, and has meanwhile managed to badly scratch my cornea (sending me to the eye doctor for the day), and the sitter and I have a host of other little scratches on our face, even with short nails. ow.

In terms of other things happening at the moment, she is starting to transition from 2 naps to 1, and we think her molars are coming in.

She understands "gentle" with the cats she knows, and pets them softly when we remind her, but we can't get it to translate to us – I have tried saying 'no hitting' and putting her down, but that usually just makes her confused, and leads to crying. I have also tried ignoring her, but she's not doing it for attention, so that doesn't stop her either. I worry that if she get too much of a rise out of us that it *will* turn into a more aggressive attention getter, but meanwhile, I'd prefer to keep my corneas intact...”


PSP member replies:


“Yup - we had the same problem with our now 3 year old. You must immediately say very CALMLY "no hitting" and put her down when she hits you and walk away from her. Yes, she'll cry. She'll stop. I don't think she is confused at all - she is simply mad you are putting her down. Walk away from her - let her know that kind of behavior will get her nowhere with you. Your nanny must do the EXACT same thing. It won't take very long for your smart girl to catch on.”


“My understanding of this issue, which happened/is happening with both of my daughters, is that is has something to do with toddlers beginning to understand limits. I think one is supposed to say "no" firmly, over and over and over, maybe moving the hands away from your face. It takes FOREVER for it to really work, but the theory goes that they need/want the limits, as much as they also enjoy whatever naughty activity. Sometimes, I tell my daughter (20 months now) that I will put her down if she does it again. She invariably does it again, I put her down, she cries piteously. I pick her up, and she often claws me again, and we repeat from step one. I guess my point is, what I'm recommended isn't especially effective in the short term, but I think it's part of LONG process of civilizing the beast. If it's any comfort, it's been quite a while since my 4 ½ year old has pulled anything like that, so I know that it ended at some point a long time ago....”


"I read your post with interest because I have an almost 15 month old too and I can imagine the same kind of thing happening. While she’s not scratching us, she does insist on helping to wipe the table with the sponge and then putting the dirty sponge in her mouth. No matter how many times we say No, she continues and when we take away the sponge, she sobs. Tonight I let her cry. I stayed close to her and kept saying, “I know you really want the sponge and I’m sorry you’re so disappointed but you can’t put a dirty sponge in your mouth so I had to put it in the sink.” I think its okay for our kids to cry as long as they’re not abandoned when they do. It’s better for her to feel her feelings and have them acknowledged and eventually I am counting on her learning not to put the sponge in her mouth! We used the same approach with our 6 year old son- we let him express his disappointment, try to show we understand, and then usually are able to move on.”


Ignoring worked for us. She won't understand a long explanation, but if you say "no!" and turn your back to her she will get the message. This is a totally normal behavior at this age so please don't worry about it, but for your own sanity you need to nip it in the bud. Kids frequently do things with their mothers they don't do with their fathers, simple because father's don't necessarily think so much about their reactions (yes, I am generalizing). Hope this helps.”


“Toddler aggression is normal. Adults often freak out but little ones who can't speak or have very few words don't have many ways to express themselves. Some parents try teaching baby sign language to their kids to help them communicate without having to resort to aggression. Your kid may be hitting out of frustration, fatigue, defensiveness or hunger or simply because she wants your attention. You can talk to her about it, and make it clear that it is unacceptable to hit people or animals (I have had zillions of talks like that with my son). The thing is at 15 months old, toddlers are not cognitively capable of controlling their impulses, so don't get frustrated if she continues to hit for a while. I don't think more intense discipline such as "time out" works with kids under 2 years old - they don't get it, they just feel abandoned, and then the behavior gets worse.”


“My daughter did this exact thing at that exact age. It got to the point where I lived in fear of changing her diaper because she had me "helpless" at the changing table - lol! What worked for us eventually was to simultaneously say calmly but firmly, "No hitting," quickly take hold of the offending hands/wrists, and redirect/distract by either clapping (and thereby getting her to clap) or placing something handy in her hands. It seemed to stop the problem almost immediately. And, we also think she grew out of it. Best of luck!”


Photo credit: Luke Addison via here