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Hitting at Family Outings

When young children play, especially in unsupervised settings fighting happens. What do you do when one child in a family creates havoc at family get-togethers?

“I have two girls, 11 and 4. My brother has a two-year-old daughter who ALWAYS hits, scratches, bites, pulls hair and pokes my younger daughter’s eye. This happens at every family event and even on a trip when our families shared a suite. My daughter still had bite marks after the trip. I babysat my niece recently and she bit again. The last straw was when she pulled out a chunk of my daughter’s hair. I told my brother she could not be around until she learns to stop hurting others. He agreed but in a few weeks we were all hanging around and it happened again. When my brother sees her hit he says she doesn’t like anyone in her space or she’s tired. Sometimes I avoid telling him that my niece hurt my daughter just to avoid confrontation. Please help.”

I feel sorry for both your niece who is not getting the discipline she needs and your daughter who is getting her hair pulled out by the roots.

I understand your reluctance to keep peace in the family but your brother’s casual attitude toward discipline would drive me nuts!

You did the right thing when you said no more play together until your niece stops her aggressive behavior. Your job is to protect your daughter. You also did not tell your daughter to hit back, a decision I approve. First of all your daughter is two years older and bigger. Second, it’s downright silly. Why advocate aggression when trying to teach children to stop aggression?

Waiting a bit and then getting together with the family was an OK parenting move. Children do change as they grow and develop. But when you try to keep peace in the family by not telling your brother that the aggression continued you did not do him or his daughter a favor. And you were not protecting your child.

In the meantime until Little Niece is civilized and can play with others without maiming them, you have two choices: 1) No more hanging out as a family with the kids. Meet your brother occasionally at night without the kids 2) When the children are playing always appoint a “designated toddler watcher” one who knows enough about the behavior of young kids and is mature enough to take this job seriously like a teacher would. This person never takes his or her eyes from the group and swoops in when trouble starts or your niece gets an aggressive look in her eyes.

I favor the first option because of Little Niece’s track record but if you served as toddler watcher it might be OK. However big family get-togethers that last a long time may not be fun for young children. They do better on short visits with just a few people.

Aggressive behavior in 2-year-olds is common among young humans and is part of normal developmental behavior. They see no point in taking turns and they have no manners or communications skills. Though this is normal behavior it is not acceptable behavior so parents must teach the child that aggressive behavior is never acceptable and always results in consequences.

Parents should always try to prevent aggressive behavior by not rushing the child and avoiding fatigue or hunger. The “designated child watcher” should be used especially at big family events but even when three Moms are sitting on a park bench watching their two-year-olds play.

Send this ParenTip to your brother about aggression in young kids. He and his wife are not helping this little girl by ignoring or excusing her aggression. They should be teaching her that her behavior is not acceptable and helping her learn how to deal with other children in a socially acceptable way.