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Hi. I know you've answered several hitting questions before but I am still hitting a brick wall myself, so I thought I'd send in my questions. I have 26 month old and 11 month old boys. The first, Adam, is hitting his younger brother all the time. I know why he does it. He's frustrated. It has escalated enormously since Ryan began to crawl. I found the hug the aggressor theory worked beautifully before that but I can't seem to curtail it anymore. Adam is perennially frustrated for three reasons: 1) Ryan is always on top of him and wants whatever he is playing with, despite my best efforts to keep them apart. 2) Adam loves to know how things work and he gets frustrated when he can't work something out on his own, such as rearranging his train tracks himself or putting together a puzzle. 3) He gets frustrated with me when I won't let him watch more TV or let him eat his crayons. I know the answer is supervision and continuing to use the Hug theory but I don't seem able to be there all the time. Ryan is so quick and Adam is so intent. For instance, this evening, I was filling Ryan's bottle while he played with a book at one end of the living room. Adam saw the bottle and asked for milk. I told him I would get his as soon as I finished filling Ryan's bottle. He sat down and started playing with the drum and just as I came in to give him his milk, he picked up a toy mallet and ran across the room and started pounding Ryan on the head. I tried to beat him there but I wasn't fast enough. And its hard, so hard, to take that deep breath and deal with things calmly. Things are deteriorating as well because I'm anticipating the hitting. Adam is attune enough to realize what the tension is about and I think it eggs him on. Help!
 We do have a kind of positive time out space although I'm not sure we use it just that way. The rocking chair in his room is a special reading and cuddling spot and when I can tell he's getting really frustrated and I can't seem to help, I often ask if he'd like a cuddle in his chair. It works really well when he's willing to go along with it but it usually only works when he's frustrated with himself or with me… not when he's sick of Ryan. I'd appreciate any kind of guidance you can give me.


Dear Kathryn,

You sound so frustrated, and I can see why.  I am not sure that my answer will help you.  When two-year-olds are with and around other children, they hit and they cry and throw a fuss when they don’t get their way.  That is the in and out of it.

My name is Laurie Prusso and I am one of the people who answer questions from parents and teachers.  I am the mother of six sons and have twelve grandchildren. In my work life, I am a Professor of Child Development at a community college in California.   Welcome to the wonderful world of toddlers!

Two-year-olds have very little to no impulse control.  Their language is just developing, but their cognitive (thinking) abilities are not very advanced and they hit before they can think and when they don’t get the cookie, or they have to get into their car seat, they let us know that they are unhappy.  Almost EVERY two-year-old will hit when near other children and ALL two-year-olds will let us know about their frustration.  Only the most passive and shy do not seem to demonstrate these behaviors.
While Adam does have a younger brother, because they are so close in age, and because Adam was so young when Ryan came along, it is probably less of a matter of “displaced/replaced” child and simply a matter of age.  Of course, he gets frustrated when brother messes with his things!  Parents are frustrated when people mess with our things; we just use effective ways of coping.

 This stage of toddler-hood will pass and you can help it along.  If you think about the characteristic that you want Adam to develop relative to his brother, it is probably kindness.  If you want him to develop it then he must experience it from you ALL of the time.  Each time that you become upset, frustrated, or angry with him he is learning from you.  It is interesting that the very behaviors we want to see in our children are difficult for us to manage when we are feeling challenged.

This hitting stage usually passes early in the third year, and even earlier for children who have no role model for emotional or physical aggression.  When all the child experiences, even when he makes mistakes, is gentle redirection, love, time on mommy’s lap, or a short story, the stage passes without trouble.  The same thing is true when he gets upset and cries.  You simply decide, consciously, what you will do and then do it lovingly.  He doesn’t need to be happy about it.  He is learning to cope with disappointment—and it is important for you to let him voice his sadness, anger, and frustration. It sometimes also helps to name what he might be feeling.  For example, “It seems like you are frustrated (angry, upset, jealous) that you had to wait for your milk.  Sometimes Ryan comes first, some times you come first – and I love you both very much.”

Do not think that you are rewarding him for misbehavior.  Since we know that this is developmentally typical behavior, there is no real misbehavior involved in it, and even if there were, this same solution would be effective.

As Ryan grows and you see him, at around the same age, develop similar hitting behaviors, telling you “no” and demonstrating his temper, you will recognize them as age related behaviors and not take it so hard.  The second one is so much easier because we have been through it once already.

I would recommend that you play with them whenever possible to alleviate the baby getting into Adam’s things.  You can also help Adam create a special play place that is off limits to Ryan.  If you have a playpen, you might ask Adam if he would like to use it as his special “fort” where Ryan can’t reach him or take his things. Get Adam involved in helping you whenever possible. For example, when you were fixing the bottle for Ryan, you could have said, “Adam, I need your help. I’ll bet you could pour this milk for yourself. He is at the “me do it stage” and this might help him feel belonging and significance. When Ryan is asleep and Adam is awake, plan a special time for at least 10 minutes.  Read his favorite books over and over if he likes.  Simply play on the floor with him doing what he wants to do.  Focus on your relationship with him and NOT on his behavior.  He will become the pleasant child that you look forward to when you can see that potential in him.

The best thing I can tell you is that this too shall pass!  And it will.

Good luck to you.


Thank you so much for this response and for the speed with which you sent it!
It has been a ray of hope. In reflecting last night, I realized that a lot of this probably comes from my increased level of stress over the last few months. I made more of an effort today to be engaged in playing with them as opposed to sitting next to them, which has been happening too much lately. It made a big difference. In addition, we went and bought a stool today so that Adam can more easily help out in the kitchen. He has been helping with baking and making breakfast, setting the table etc., but I realized the kitchen setup doesn’t make it easy for him to do it on his own. He HAS to ask us for help. So we got him a stool he can move himself and I’m rearranging the kitchen a bit so he can get some things on his own.
When I got your email today, I felt so much better. I realized that my instincts were right – my stress is the real problem and that if I can get it under control than everything will be better. And if I make sure that I react positively and encourage the boys to be independent, it will be easier to get through the day – reducing my stress. A win win situation. I love the idea about the playpen and trying to involve Adam in Ryan’s things as well. Adam helped me make Ryan’s supper tonight and he made Ryan’s bottle as well. He was so happy tonight. My husband commented on how happy and excited he was this evening during our evening playtime. Thanks for the encouragement (I guess it works for adults too!) and the advice. I plan to print it out and stick it on the wall to remind me that if things start to slide, its time to revisit the principles and see how much I am still implementing them.
Thanks again and take care,


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