My two year old daughter has started hitting – not particularly hard, but does so when she can’t get her own way, or is frustrated. We have been talking to her calmly, saying ‘no’ very firmly and then explaining why she shouldn’t hit us or other children. What else should we be doing to deter this behaviour? Are we bringing up a bully!? She certainly does not see any of that behaviour between myself and my husband.

Firstly, rest assured you’re not raising a bully; instead you are raising a child who is still learning about her emotions, and how to best manage them. In the moment really try to respond to the emotion behind the behaviour, rather than behaviour itself. Your child is telling you she is cross and frustrated, emotions she has every right to feel when she doesn’t get her own way. We all experience these as adults too. What you should be trying to teach her is that hitting is not a good ‘choice’ when she feels this way. Instead she could stamp her feet on the ground, draw a picture of an angry face, run off her steam outside, or take her frustration out on her pillow.

In addition if you follow these 4 simple steps you will find over time your daughter’s understanding of her own emotions, and those of others matures and she will begin to make better choices each time those big feelings surface.

  1. Label emotions both in your child and yourself

Just as we teach our children the names for things, their colours, their letters, and numbers, we should be teaching them about their emotions. So, label their emotions all the time, as well as your own, and don’t be restricted to the simpler forms of happy, sad, cross, add in frustration, irritation, jealously etc.

  1. Acknowledge your child’s emotions and avoid minimising them

We all have every right to feel the way we do in response to something which happens to us and we should be validating our children’s emotions by acknowledging them, rather than trying to minimise them. This way your child feels heard and understood. Avoid saying “don’t be sad” and instead say “I can see you feel really sad, what can we do to help you feel happy again”.

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  1. Promote ‘choices’ when it comes to behaviour

Use language of choice whenever you can. Remember your child is entitled to feel any emotion, and we acknowledge that, we then want to teach them about making good choices. So, praise them when you see them making good choices, and help them problem solve when they make poor choices.

  1. Teach them coping strategies

Help teach your child to find their own coping strategies when ‘big’ emotions overwhelm them. Hitting isn’t a good choice when you feel angry or frustrated, however stamping your feet or bouncing on the trampoline is a good choice. A health warning though, never try to have this conversation when your child is in the midst of a poor choice. Wait until they feel calm again and reflect back on what happened and which choice might have been better to make.

For more in-depth help and advice, contact Dr Maryhan via her website or join Dr Maryhan’s Raising Confident Kids Facebook group for more tips and advice on child behaviour. 

Photo credit: Bani Culshaw Photography

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About The Author

Dr Maryhan Baker
Psychologist & Parenting Coach

Dr. Maryhan Baker is a Psychologist and parenting coach with over 12 years experience. She works with children who have difficulties managing their emotions, worry excessively, have low self confidence, find managing friendships difficult, or get a little overwhelmed with life's challenges. Maryhan also coaches parents who want practical tools to support their children and teens with everyday challenges such as friendships difficulties, managing emotions, sibling rivalry, to name just a few. Her membership site is filled with practical tips for everyday parenting challenges from bedtime to tantrums, for a monthly subscription.

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