Sunday 24 September 2017

We can't get our daughter to stop hitting her baby brother

David Coleman

David Coleman

We have just had a baby boy who is now only two weeks old. However, we also have a two-year-old daughter.

Before our son was born, we noticed that our daughter had been slapping my wife and I for no reason at all. It would come out of the blue. Now that we have a new baby, we expected a bit of jealously and were warned to expect it.

However, our daughter is hitting her brother even when we are standing over her. My problem is how to stop it. I have tried to remove our daughter to a 'naughty place', but she giggles and doesn't understand.

When I tell her to leave her brother alone, she seems rejected.

I have tried ignoring it and saying nothing but it continues unabated.

What can I do?I am not that surprised to hear that your two-year-old has slapped or hit out. Many two-year-olds will hit, bite and kick and need to be taught that this kind of behaviour is not okay. Some proportion of her hitting of her brother may be because she resents his presence, but some of it is just because she is two.

Even if you had no new baby you would still have to deal with her slapping you and your wife.

Two-year-olds don't need punishment for hitting, but they do need clear and unambiguous guidance and direction. They need the adults around them to say "Stop!" and to prevent them from hitting.

Your daughter's experience of being an older sister is a completely new one for her, and so far it may have seemed quite a negative thing, because she may feel a bit left out.

Some of the reason she hits out at her brother may be an expression of frustration or anger at him for coming along and stealing her number one spot in the family.

Some of the reason may also be because when she hits him she gets lots of attention from you or her mum. Some of the reason may be that she is two and hasn't learned not to hit yet.

Punishing her for hitting her brother may add negativity to her relationship with her brother, as she may come to 'blame' him as the reason why she got punished.

Rather, you need to be very vigilant and prevent her from hitting. If she does strike out then you can say something simple and clear like "No hitting!" and lift her out of reach of her brother.

It is fine to use a really stern or cross tone of voice when you say "no hitting" because you want her to learn that you disapprove of this behaviour.

Sounding firm and putting her out of reach of the person she has hit is enough of a consequence for her to learn that hitting is not tolerated. Responding in this way also avoids getting into a negative spiral of interaction with her where she hits, gets punished, feels even more resentment towards her brother, perhaps, and then feels more like hitting him again because she is cross that she got into trouble.

Your daughter may not be jealous, per say, and she is unlikely to be able to express such a complex feeling. But her nose may well be a bit out of joint with all of the attention that she has lost and that this new arrival seems to have taken in her place.

Empathise with the fact that she may feel left out with all of the excitement of the birth.

Say things to her like, "It can be hard when everyone notices your brother first when they come to visit" or "I think you really liked it when it was just you, me and your mammy" or "me and your mammy might seem to have much less time for you now that we have to mind your brother, too."

All of these kinds of statements are likely to tap into possible negative feelings that she has about her brother's arrival.

Often children need to have the space and opportunity to express their negative feelings about their siblings before they can entertain any positive feelings about them.

So, even though it might seem counter-intuitive, do encourage your daughter to express any bad feelings she has about her brother.

Remember that she is only two and so won't have great verbal expression anyway, but the more she feels that you and her mum understand how she might feel about her brother, the less she will have to show you by hitting you or him.

Also, make sure that you get to spend lots of positive one-to-one time with your daughter. Catch her being good regularly and make sure to comment on all of her good behaviour.

When she realises that she gets a lot of attention for good behaviour it will reduce any attention-seeking element that the hitting might have.

At the same time, include her in the care for her brother, as a helper, getting nappies out of the bag, for example.

Again, you can give her lots of positive reinforcement for her helping and comment to her about what nice things she is doing.

This has the dual effect of giving her a lot of attention and also including her in positive experiences with her brother so that she can realise that he is not all bad!

If you remain vigilant and use distraction or positive attention to reduce the opportunity and need she has to hit out, you will find that the hitting will dwindle away.

For many toddlers, slapping, biting or hitting are brief phases that they pass through because we adults have remained firm but kind in giving a clear message that we won't tolerate it.

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