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My 13-month-old son likes to pull (hard) on hair, whether adults or other toddlers whenever they get in range. We try to tell him it's wrong because he hurts others, but it doesn't seem to work yet.

Is there a better way than pure repetition of the consequences on others of his action? What can be the cause (apart from just enjoying feeling hair in his hands...)

  • Have you tried: "Stop, it hurts!" with a firm face, and (with measure of course) pulling your son's hair to show him how it feels? – Denis de Bernardy Jun 20 '18 at 9:10
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    'My son enjoys hurting people. Can I just tell him not to?' Obviously not, or he would have already gotten that from people's pained expressions and cries. 'Is there a better way?' Punishment suggests itself. – lly Jun 21 '18 at 1:03
  • Everyone, thanks. I think your comments and answers will help :) – Kheldar Jun 21 '18 at 12:54
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Our reaction to most kinds of unwanted behavior of our ~1yo toddlers was to immediately pick them up and place somewhere else (or put them on the ground if they misbehaved when held). It was punishment enough. So, for example, if they put fingers in our eyes when carried, they were immediately on their own feet on the floor.

For minor things, like making a mess, tearing things, putting remote in the oven/drawer, we made a sad face (lips down as far as they go, artificial, but hopefully understandable) and shook our heads. Sometimes it had effect, depeding on how interesting the toddler deemed his curreny activity.

These method kept the unwanted behavior on reasonable levels during that difficult phase when the child understands little and, I think, built a reasonable ground for further interactions.

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At 13 months, they (a) can't understand your language, and (b) don't have the experience to have empathy yet. @ily really deserves points for his/her comment. This is exactly the situation where punishment is appropriate.

It is important that the punishment be (a) immediate, and (b) proportional. If you don't believe in corporal punishment, then you will need to find another deterrent that works for your child. What ever you do, don't punish out of anger or frustration.

@Dariusz has a wonderful answer that is appropriate in any culture or situation.

  • You definetly need to clearify how you mean corporal punishment, otherwise someone could assume that you mean beating or similar. – Etaila Jun 22 '18 at 10:02
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Addressing behaviors is very interesting in the 1-3 year range. First and foremost let me say NEVER EVER EVER hit, smack, or spank a child of this age. You may find spankings work at older ages, but at this age, all your doing is demonstrating that when you're not getting your way the correct actions is to hit. That will come back to bite you.

Next, especially your this age, get in their face. Get to eye level. Look them square in the eye. It will welp with conveying your emotions and words, especially because they won't understand the complex topics.

Take a deep breath. And remember there not trying to hurt you. They are trying to explore their world.

Next, you have to decide the level of "punishment", and none is a pretty good answer a lot of the time. Punishments "stop" behaviors but they don't teach good ones. Try to figure out why they pulled your hair, for example. Was it to get your attention? Was it because your hair felt funny to them?

When it comes to punishment, it must be swift, reasonable, and age appropriate. If you decide to punish then you have very short time to do it in. It needs to "fit the crime" Your toddler pulled hair, that's not 6 weeks of isolation in their room, that's at wost a 60-second timeout. And it needs to be age appropriate. A 10 min. timeout won't do a 1-year-old any good. They will get distracted and not understand. 30 seconds to 60 seconds though can be very effective.

But aside from just punishment, you should look at redirection and praise. Can this entire situation be avoided by giving the toddler a "dog's chew rope?" (don't laugh it works, just make sure they don't share it with the dog). If they are trying to get your attention, are you praising them for doing it the right way?

You can also look at empathy. It works better then you would expect for a 1-year-old. When she pulls your hair, make sad, crying faces at her. It's how she communicates, so she should understand well. She may not understand words well, but she will understand sad crying faces.

Mostly, remember that punishment is a "STOP THAT" and not a "DO THIS". If your toddler is trying to get your attention and you teach her through punishment that hair pulling is not ok, then you also need to show what is ok.

And, even with a 1-year-old, you will get much better results with "Look, if you need my help, tap me here on the leg." then you will with "Stop pulling my hair, time out!"

Bonus Material

I used punishment a lot, but positive reinforcement is the better answer here. However, should you need to go the punishment route here are some things to consider.

  • Time out - needs to be short, 60 seconds per year old is a good rule of thumb. Keep in mind you can overuse timeouts.
  • Time ins - work wonderfully for some kids.
  • Isolation - Like go to your room, works for a short time, but at 1 year old you have to be very careful.
  • Removal of privileges - This is not good for hair pulling but maybe for other things. Make sure you explain why. "Look we don't bang on pots. If you can't use it properly then you don't need to play with it" It may seem complex for a one-year-old, but as they age, it will make more sense to them, and if you're consistent with it, it will work very well through their teens.
  • Not Nice - (not sure what to call this one) works very well for me. Walk away, or set them down, or whatever you need to do to disengage. Then state firmly, "I don't play with people that hurt me. That's NOT NICE!" Again it might seem complex for a 1-year-old, but it builds a great framework for later and helps them develop skills for later when it's their turn to get their hair pulled, bitten, pushed, hit, scratched, etc.

Lastly, I don't think you should use these ever, but here you go.

  • Hitting - only teaches that hitting is what you do when you're not getting what you want.
  • Pulling hair back - is effectively going, well if mommy can do it then it must be ok.
  • Yelling - (and I don't mean "Ouch!") again only really shows that when we don't get our way we should yell.
  • Spanking - different than hitting, may work, it's certainly the "old school" method. But at 1 they really don't get why you are hurting them, and it's very, very easy to go too far with a toddler. Spanking, when it works, is supposed to be a measured response. When your not upset ask your self, seriously, how hard is too hard to hit a toddler?
  • Thanks for the detailed answer. Baby seems to start learning to behave now, we've been applying what the other posters suggested and positive reinforcement tenets indeed. What's a "time in"? – Kheldar Jun 27 '18 at 9:41
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    Time in is a devious little scheme where instead of sitting them in the corner or in their time out spot, you make them sit with you, and do adult things. Want to pull hair, fine you get to sit right here next to me while I balance my checkbook. Because they are "with you" it can be for a longer time. And your not really paying attention to them, but at the same time, they can't "get away" with things. It works very well for children that like to go off and explore on their own. I mean what was more torturous as a kid, a 30-second timeout or having to sit and not play while your mom ... – coteyr Jun 27 '18 at 9:45
  • washed the dishes. – coteyr Jun 27 '18 at 9:45

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