Jan. 3, 2022

Ask Amy: My Toddler Thinks It's Funny to Hit Me

Toddlers don’t possess "theory of mind"– the ability to understand other people's mental states, and that those emotions can differ from their own. If smacking Mommy's face makes a 2-year-old feel curious, he really might not know it’s inappropriate.

Have a toddler who thinks it's funny to hit Mom or Dad? A listener wrote in to ask:

Any suggestions for dealing with hitting? My almost two-year-old hits us (mom, dad, older sister) when frustrated. It seems to start out of frustration and then continue out of curiosity. He seems to get that we do not like it when he hits, but he keeps doing it. We say “no” firmly and attempt to remove him from the situation, or remove ourselves. But getting smacked in the face is getting old fast.

Children this little have not yet developed "theory of mind"– the capacity to understand other people's mental states, and that those mental states can differ from one's own. Since smacking Mommy's face arouses curiosity in your child, it can be hard for him to grasp, at his developmental level, that you might feel differently.

Rather than giving the hitting too much attention– which includes the negative attention of a loud "No!"– Amy suggests Dr. Harvey Karp's "gossiping" technique, which will enable your toddler to learn why hitting is not okay without being distracted by your anger or his shame.

It's a stage, but it's an unpleasant one! We hope that "gossiping" will really help. Here's an article to tell you more about the technique:

Dr. Harvey Karp: How to Encourage Good Toddler Behavior With “Gossiping”

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