When your toddler hits you

I have a 21-month-old son who is generally very sweet, but lately has taken to hitting me. I get so upset, I will scream out in pain or just plain scold. At home this morning, he slapped me several times and I tried ineffectively to stop him. This whole problem is very painful for a parent who is totally nonviolent and wants only hugs and kisses. Help!

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It must be very painful for you to receive these blows, which hurt psychologically as well as physically. The first thing you need to know is that your child is too young to want to hurt you. He isn't grown up enough to realize that he is actually causing pain. More likely, he is either acting out of his own frustration, or interested in your response when he hits. In either case, it is time to change your reaction.

It is very important that you do so right away, as your toddler must know that you are in charge. Otherwise, he could begin to hit out of fear. All children need to feel safe, and no child will feel that way if he is not helped to control his impulses.

Each and every time your child hits you, you must get an angry -- not sad -- expression on your face. Say in a loud voice, "We do not hit!" Then take your child and move him away from you. If you are home, put him in his crib or playpen. If you are out, put him in a stroller. If you do not have any of these things handy, then put him at a slight distance from yourself.

Tears will surely be the result of this immediate action. Let him cry for a few minutes. Then go to comfort him, but first tell him that he must stop hitting. If he hits again, then repeat the process.

This is the greatest punishment a child his age can receive -- the physical removal of his mother -- even if only for a few moments. I believe you will see your son's behavior improve rapidly if you stick to this plan of action.

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