A Starting school is a monumental event. Your daughter is now in the company of her peers for hours at a time, and has to get along with many different personalities, share communal toys, follow rules, and get used to new routines. During all of this, she has to try to hold herself together emotionally to keep from missing Mommy and Daddy so much that she falls apart. Working on many new skills at once and being in the midst of lots of stimuli stresses out most adults, so it's not surprising that tired and frustrated 3-year-olds sometimes resort to hitting, the ultimate shorthand for "Get out of my face, I'm overwhelmed."
When our 3 1/2-year-old began preschool, she, too, became a hitter, the only one in her group. One day, according to Ellie's teacher, Suzanne Morse Rilla, the other kids took it upon themselves to stage a sort of intervention. "Toward the end of naptime, they got together and said, 'When Ellie wakes up, we'll stand together under the tree and tell her we really love her but we can't play with her if she keeps hitting us,'" says Rilla, who in 13 years of running her own preschool had never seen this. Ellie woke up, the kids made their statement, and Ellie stopped hitting at preschool.
She has not, however, stopped hitting at home. We've tried telling her that we can't play with her if she keeps whacking us, but it doesn't seem to have any effect. According to friends who are more experienced moms, this hitting thing will probably run its course and soon be over. Lashing out physically tends to subside as children get better at lashing out verbally and at controlling, and containing, their angry feelings. In the meantime, here are a few tactics to help in the heat of the moment:
Contributing editor Trisha Thompson is a former editor-in-chief of BabyTalk magazine.