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When Babies Play Rough

You're gentle with your baby -- but she may not always be gentle with others. Real Hamilton-Romeo of the Bronx, NY, discovered this as soon as her daughter Faren could crawl: "Our dog, Sokho, is small, and Faren would pull his tail or grab his back and neck," she says.

Luckily, behavior like Faren's isn't a sign that your baby will grow up to be a bruiser. It simply means she doesn't know her own strength (and, at first, lacks the coordination to make deliberately soft and subtle movements). Babies aren't known for their empathy, either: Even if your child yanks her sister's hair so hard she howls, "she may not realize she's doing something wrong," says Heather Roll, a psychiatric social worker at Henry Ford Health System's Kings-wood Hospital, in Detroit.

Getting angry isn't the answer, but you need to intervene. "Say, 'Uh-oh! You're hurting your sister's head!'?" Roll recommends. If that doesn't stop her, put her in her play yard or crib for a minute or two, with a few toys to distract her. "She'll learn that if she doesn't listen to you, she gets removed from the situation," says Roll. Later, show her the way you'd prefer she treated others. "I'd run Faren's hand softly over Sokho, saying 'nice,' and within a couple of months, she'd look at me before she'd pet him, and try to do it lightly," Hamilton-Romeo says -- proof that gentle correction works wonders.