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When Your Toddler Hits the Younger Sibling

Your three-year-old is playing with her younger sibling when suddenly out of nowhere she hits her hard. If that sounds like a familiar story and if explaining to her time and again that hitting isn’t the right thing to do isn’t working, here are some aspects to consider:

Do timeouts work?

A lot of children have a host of complex emotions about a new baby coming into their lives and taking up a lot of time and attention from their parents. With the lurking resentment, aggressive behavior is often the result. In such a scenario when the parents react with a timeout, it almost always confirms the child’s fear that the parents prefer the sibling and that things were so much better before the sibling was born. While this does not mean that a firm limit should not be set against the child’s violent behavior, punishments alone can often aggravate the bad behavior.

Reconnect with the child

Whether it is through play, reading or any other method that works positive parenting necessitates that you find a way to reconnect with the child. It is important for the child to know that he or she is valued. More often than not, it is a feeling of being displaced that leads the child to act aggressively. It is therefore very important to build trust and connection. That would mean spending quality time with the child without any distractions. That half-hour that you may spend with him being the center of your world can go a long way in positively impacting his self-worth.

Help the child voice their emotions

It is imperative that you allow the child to open up and share his or her feelings. You could, for example, use a book as a prompt to get the discussion underway. It is important to ensure that the story that you read out conveys that while feelings are allowed, unkind action isn’t. Helping the child past his anger to his fears is the only way to address the real issue that lies beneath.

Offer ways to handle feelings. 

Instead of making the child feel like a terrible person for having hit the sibling, offer him or her some alternate ways to handle his feelings. For example, instead of sending the child for a time out, you could allow her to choose her own time out area to calm down and feel better. The child could also take to drawing or running to calm himself down.  What you are doing for the child is not just helping him handle the current situation but also offer a blueprint for handling life’s disappointments without resorting to aggression.

Learn to respond, not react

Ever so often when the elder child hits the younger, the instant reaction is to get extremely upset and address the older child. The fact is that you need to comfort the sibling who is hurt first. It is from this nurturing space that you need to address the elder sibling, helping him or her to deal with his emotions. By explaining that hitting is hurtful for the younger child (instead of just calling it a bad act), you will also be able to build a sense of empathy in the child for the sibling.

Reinforce positive behavior

While you do tend to react to negative behavior do take time to reinforce the positive. Telling the child that he made the sibling laugh or that you noticed how he shared his toy, will go a long way in building a bond between the two. You could also encourage the sibling bond by playing games in which the two of them are on the same team.

Give the older child responsibilities

Giving the older child age-appropriate responsibilities can also help the child develop a bond with his younger sibling. So you could ask the older sibling to get fresh nappies for “our baby” or bring the baby’s favorite toy. When done right, this could help the child feel important and an integral part of the sibling’s life.

Model Good Behavior at Home

It is important that you aren’t modeling aggressive behavior by way of handling situations at home. If you do, aggression could be the child’s default option whenever he or she is in a frustrating situation.

The one thing that you will need to do as a parent is to be patient and to know that with your empathetic approach, this phase will pass.

Post Author: Raj Singhal