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Practicing The Right Way: Cause And Effect Parenting For Toddlers Who Hit Others

“My 2-year-old daughter likes to hit. She hits me, she hits my husband and she even hit’s the baby. No matter what I do nothing seems to work. Reasoning doesn’t really work with a two year old, so I am at a loss for what to do about this. I know I need to do something.”

Reasoning With Children

Hitting is one of those behaviors that must be addressed. You can just wait for them to grow out of it and act like it’s okay. It’s not. When conquered your child will really understand what self-government actually feels like, and be on her way to understanding a principle for life.
Your 2-year-old daughter probably can’t articulate very well yet, but she has been by your side hearing your talk and read for two years. She definitely understands a lot of the language and most likely a few concepts and opposites. You can teach your daughter the difference between happy and sad, soft and hard touch, good and bad (or treat vs. time out and a negative consequence.)

This means you just need to trust that your teaching is more understood than you think.
The only word a child needs to learn to be able to be part of the teaching is “okay.” The two main skills to teach a toddler are: accepting no for an answer and following instructions.

With small children I practice these skills when there isn’t any current situation or problem. We make it a game. Every time they accept the no answer I sing a special praising song. They love it. Then I explain that hitting is a no answer.

When they say “okay” to that no answer then I praise them with the song give them a treat, like a starburst or fruit snack for saying okay.

Next we learn about soft touch and hard touch, or hitting. We practice being soft on each other. Teach the child to say, “I did soft touch mom.” or “soft touch” when they did the soft touch. After they tell you soft touch then you give them another small treat and the cool song.

After that practice we practice soft touch on the baby and go through the same reporting and rewarding system. These are the first lessons in self-government. The child will see that good choices get good results. So often we start teaching with the negative. It is much more powerful to teach the positive first.

Teaching The Negative Consequences Too

After the child understands the positive effects to making a good choice then you must show her that there are also negative effects to bad choices. I teach this by playing a practice game. I would put a teddy bear or something like that out and we would go talk about how we are pretending it is the baby. I would say, “We should be soft and nice to the baby to get treats and be happy, but what if we hit the baby? What will happen to us if we choose to hit the baby? “

This is where I show. I hit the teddy bear and then I have to go to time-out and do a chore. Then he hit’s the teddy bear, that we are pretending is the baby and I tell him he needs to go to time out, talk about it and do a chore. After the practice I say that is what will happen if you hit the baby or anyone else. “You will go to time-out, have a talk and do a chore. So, we need to choose to be nice and soft to the baby."

At this point, we go to where the baby is and practice being nice and soft. Then we tell each other that we were soft and we sing the praise song and get a treat.

Going through this kind of teaching is called skills practice. A skills practice session is essentially preparation for the future. Before you can ever expect a child to understand why she must choose good you have to show her what the choosing good skill looks like and how to account to you for it.


Nicholeen Peck is a popular public speaker,  BBC television star and author of Parenting A House United, and Londyn LaRae Says Okay.  Her blog is Teaching Self Government. The BBC show of her family can be found there, as well as answers to frequently asked parenting questions. To buy her book click here.  
Check out her  Books and Audio Classes, New Children's Book or her Blog which is full of great parenting tips!

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