Please help… My 20 month old son has started hitting when we say no, or prevent him from doing something; and its worse when he’s tired. What can we do to get through this stage. I don’t want to hit him back and saying no doesn’t seem to be helping. What should I do?
Dear Candice, Thank you for your query. I understand your concern regarding his behaviour, however this is not unusual within his age group. Your son hits because he lacks the verbal skills to express himself and this behaviour should improve once he can express himself more fully. In the meantime there are ways in which you can help him process his feelings. He could be angry or frustrated or sad and it is often helpful to consider what he might be feeling. These are normal emotions experienced by a little person who is not yet able to identify his emotions, let alone express them. One can help by trying to help him identify his feelings and wishes, for example ”oh I think you like that” / “I know you really want to do that” etc. We need to show our children that we understand them or at least that we are thinking about them. This is empowering for them at a time when they are trying to get a grasp on a lot of new things. I am pleased to hear that you don’t want to hit your son back, as this would only reinforce his behaviour by teaching him that it’s OK to hit when he’s angry. As you probably know small children’s behaviour often does deteriorate when they are tired, sick and/or hungry and it is more effective at this time to just focus on this underlying cause by getting them to rest or feeding them timeously. In fact a percentage of negative behaviour can be limited by not leaving them to get too tired or hungry. Obviously illness is difficult to avoid. Sometimes it’s the negative behaviours that get a reaction from a parent and we need to keep tabs on our own feelings too. You may need additional support in this respect. The parent needs to remain calm and consistent and give attention to the positive or neutral behaviours. I would limit saying “no” directly to your son as far as possible. This might mean putting breakables out of his reach for the moment. Obviously some limits do need to be set, but they can be set in a less confrontational manner. A rule of “no hitting” can be introduced in the home and this can be explained to him in simple terms; if it is introduced then the rule should consistently apply to all in the home, unless there’s a safety issue. Reading stories can also be helpful and you could discuss what the different characters in the stories are feeling and how they manage their feelings. This can be done very simply. Parents should not be afraid to express their own feelings, by owning them and not blaming the child. It is not clear to me whether your son is with you all day or whether he goes to a crèche. If he spends time with other caregivers, talk to them about these ideas. Talking to your child will help him develop his own language skills. Children are often comforted by having some special time with Mom each day where they do things which are of interest to the child or just play with him. A twenty month old would be trying to assert himself and so should be given appropriate choices where possible, so he may develop a sense of having some control over his world. Wishing you all the best, Susan Mitrani The Parent Centre