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Why Toddlers Hit

Of all the new skills your toddler will reveal in her second year, hitting may be the most worrisome on the list.

Rest assured, she doesn't mean any harm. Kids don't hit to hurt until they're in their twos, and even then, that's not always their intention, says Janet Price, an early childhood development specialist at the Education Development Center in Newton, MA. At 14 months (and more often around 18 months), when she first gains the motor control to throw a punch, your child may lash out to express what's on her mind: irritation, hunger, fatigue, even happiness.

That doesn't mean, of course, that you should encourage the behavior. First, calmly tell your toddler, "No hitting," and move away from her. Then try to figure out what she needs. Has she been playing with her siblings all afternoon? She might be over-stimulated and need a nap. Has she been up in her high chair for a while? She may want to come down. Hard as it may be not to, don't scold her. "If you get upset, you'll only confuse her because she isn't trying to be bad," Price says.

If your child strikes another child hard enough to make him cry, don't expect her to feel bad -- most toddlers don't have the capacity for empathy. But you can gently explain, "You made Sammy sad. Can you give him a hug?" One day, she'll truly understand the effect her hitting has -- and by then, she'll have learned other, healthier ways to vent.

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