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Recently my daughter started to hit another girl with whom she is currently sharing her nanny. My daughter is 2 years and 2 months now, the other child is 1 year 3 months. The nanny was our daughters only nanny until 5 months ago, when we started sharing with the other family. We had a few trial days and it was perfect, but after a few proper days it became clear that our daughter is not very happy with the arrangement - probably she was jealous.

A few weeks ago the problems grew more serious, and our daughter started hitting the other girl much more often. Part of the reason might be that the younger girl is interested in everything around and in particular in the toy that our daughter is playing with (natural at this age I guess), so our daughter was fighting back. But now she became so aggressive that the nanny and all the parents involved are very worried: often she would attach the little girl when she just passes by or waves her hand.

We are trying to figure out how to improve their relationship and how to make our daughter stop violence. Gentle explanations don't seem to work - I believe she understands she does the wrong thing, she says sorry, kisses the smaller child etc., but 3 mins later the same thing happens again.

Could anyone recommend anything we could do about it? And what could make it worse? The real question is should we try to punish our daughter in any way (e.g. do time-outs: stop the play and take her to the other end of the room for a short while), or is it going to have the opposite effect?

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up vote 7 down vote accepted

It sounds like the situation (and your daughter) are suffering for lack of consistent, appropriate discipline and an understanding of the cause of your daughter's behavior.

First, get a discipline plan in place. You, your spouse, the nanny, and anyone else involved in your child's upbringing must stick to it or it won't work. It should go something like this:

  1. Warning -- in a firm voice tell her to stop doing X or she will go to time out. (In the case of hitting, the warning comes before she hits, when she shows signs of getting ready to hit.)

  2. Time out -- If the behavior happens after the warning, get on eye level with her, tell her that she is going into time-out because she did X, then pick her up and put her in the time-out spot. She stays there for two minutes (1 minute per year of age) and if she leaves time-out you put her back without a word (this is important -- DO NOT engage her) and restart the timer. At first, this will be a marathon event. Once she's figured out that you won't back down no matter how long she fights it, she'll stay put. Don't give up.

  3. Apology -- When time out is over, get on her eye level again. Ask her why she was in time-out and if she can't or won't explain, remind her firmly. Then have her apologize, to you and to the child she hurt. After that she gets hugs and kisses and life goes on.

It is extremely important that this is done with unfailing consistency, and not just for hitting. Make a list of house rules and make sure they are followed. While less severe behaviors (such as running in the house) will garner a warning the first time the behavior is done, not before, the rest of the process stays the same. The best way to prevent severe misbehavior is to stop it before it gets severe.

The second part of this process is to figure out why your child was behaving this way in the first place. A failure of discipline certainly led to this becoming a regular habit, but it started for a reason. Is your daughter reacting out of jealousy when the other child gets attention? Is the other child misbehaving in a way that makes your daughter feel she must defend herself?

Jealousy usually fades with time, as long as the children are both getting appropriate amounts of attention, and the other child isn't allowed to act inappropriately toward your daughter. For example, even though the 15mo's desire to play with whatever your daughter is playing with is normal, that does not make it appropriate. Kids learn appropriate behavior only when it is modeled by their role models as consistently as bad behavior must be punished. Neither the younger child's age, nor your daughter's inappropriate behavior may be treated as an excuse for inappropriate behavior on the younger child's part, or the situation won't get better. Rules are rules for everyone, and your daughter won't value rules unless they protect her (say, from the other child taking her toys away) as well as limit her.

Discipline for a 15 month old is, of course, different from that for a 2yo. The 15mo should be given a warning when she misbehaves, and then removed from the play area immediately upon the second infraction. Stick her in a playpen or similar confinement without toys while the adult present gives attention to your daughter for a few minutes (and pretends the 15mo isn't there without regard to any amount of screaming or other protest). Do not take her out until a couple of minutes have passed AND she is quietly behaving. She'll start to learn that bad behavior is no fun.

Both of the children will resist the change at first -- they will probably increase the bad behavior in the hope that it will go back to getting the reaction it used to -- but within a couple of weeks you will see a great improvement in their behavior. However, any inconsistency, or giving attention in time-out, etc. will undo your efforts. Additionally, reacting 5 or even 3 minutes after a bad behavior is too late for a child this young to connect the behavior with the punishment. Your or the nanny's response must be immediate, or the punishment will seem random to her rather than the consequence of a particular behavior.

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Be careful about this pattern; soon the warning becomes part of the dance. You are not trying to modify behavior around following Moms instructions, you are trying to modify behavior to not hit without having to be told. After two or three cycles with the warning, skip the warning and go directly to the consequence. –  tomjedrz Jun 23 '11 at 5:32
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Absolutely you should punish your daughter!

Hitting, pushing, and other aggressive behavior is not permitted. Some negative consequence must be applied when she acts out in this way. I suggest that you put her in timeout, and if the conflict is about something, take the something away from your daughter and give it to the other child.

As you have demonstrated and seem to have figured out, persuasion and negotiating do not work with toddlers. She isn't sorry for hitting; she has no idea what the word "sorry" means. She just knows that "sorry" is something she has to say to shut you up after she hits that irritating baby.

Note #1: Don't worry about "improving the relationship", just worry about improving the behavior. They may become fast friends, or they may not really like each other. It doesn't matter .. in either case your daughter must behave properly.

Note #2: Violence is hardly the right word for this sort of thing .. it is overly dramatic, not particularly descriptive, and not helpful to resolving the situation. It also trivializes real violence. Accurately characterizing bad behavior is the first step to properly responding to it. "Hitting" or "pushing" are better terms for this kind of thing.

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I think before punishing her daughter he should first figure out if the other child is doing something to annoy her. I used to react as you say with my kids, until my older child started getting more aggressive. A doctor told us that we should not punish him if we didn't know the whole story. I stated noticing that the younger child was provoking the older child in order to get him into trouble. We stopped punishing the older child indiscriminately and their relation really improved. They still fight once in a while but sometimes they even solve it themselves. –  Arturo Molina Jun 20 '11 at 16:16
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Is it OK for you to act out if someone else is annoying you? You can't teach that hitting is not OK, unless the other person deserves it. That doesn't mean don't figure out what is going on, but when the hitting (or cursing or disrespect) line is crossed, punishment happens. –  tomjedrz Jun 21 '11 at 19:40
    
Agree, I'm just saying, don't just punish the hitter. If the other kid is causing trouble on purpose, she should be punished too. –  Arturo Molina Jun 22 '11 at 18:06
    
If the young one provokes, punish too. Physical "violence" is not acceptable. Provoking is (to a lesser degree) not acceptable either. If there is just a verbal argument, let them learn to resolve arguments by themselves (just monitor, don't intervene) –  Paul de Vrieze Jul 18 '11 at 15:36
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I'm not sure that at your daughter's age, she is totally capable of controlling herself or even understanding what an apology is. She does know or can feel the intense emotions that come during and after hitting. I would let her know that hitting isn't allowed and that you won't let her hurt another child. Move her away if need be and watch for signs that she might be getting ready to hit so you can stop it. The nanny can keep your daughter close to her if need be. Keep the tone firm, but neutral (what I've noticed with my son is that the stronger my reaction, the stronger he comes right back at me and meets that energy level). But also see if you can help her to verbalize her feelings and find other ways to express her anger - stomping feet, shaking fists, etc. Get on her level and say what you're seeing..."you really wanted that...and you can't have it....," etc. Don't lecture, try to rationalize, or shame. When she gets older, you can encourage her to use her words instead of hitting. She should be allowed her feelings though.

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Thanks for the edits. I was just having a conversation with my friend about biting yesterday! –  Redmamadeb Jun 15 '11 at 16:41
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I've also seen children hit not out of anger, but what appears to be an urge or sometimes a desire to communicate or play with other children. Often I will run my hands down the child's arms in a gentle manner and say "gentle." Then ask the child to show me gentle. If I'm far away, I will sometimes say hands down and pat my side. That works surprisingly well. –  Redmamadeb Jun 16 '11 at 13:03
    
+1 for "see if you can help her verbalize her feelings" and "find other ways to express her anger" –  balanced mama Jan 4 '13 at 0:27
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