I was very perturbed recently when I found out that my little sweet two year old toddler was hitting, smacking and pulling hair in class. No mother wants their child to be the bully on the block, especially not their adorable angel child. So I did two things I read ‘Toddler Taming’ by Dr Christopher Green and I went for parental guidance to a therapist called Mano Naidoo.

The first thing I learnt is that hitting, smacking, pulling hair and even biting (thank God mine doesn’t bite) with toddlers is normal. I repeat – NORMAL. As my friend just told me, her baby has hit the stage of pulling hair just as she turned one. It’s normal because toddlers don’t know social boundaries. As the therapist explained. They want contact with other children but they don’t know how to establish contact appropriately.

Toddlers need to be taught social skills. One of the best ways to do this is through role play. With dolls and with other children. So I’ve been teaching my little Prince to say ‘Good Morning’ and ‘Hello’, to shake hands (he still won’t do that one) give high five, and most of all to be ‘GENTLE’ with other children. I’ve also asked his play school teacher to incorporate social skills in class. Emphasising the skills of sharing and learning what a friend is and how we treat our friends.

I also learnt from Mano what to do when a toddler does hit or smack or pull hair. You don’t hit or smack the toddler back. You don’t give into pressure from surrounding mothers and shout at your child. Toddlers won’t understand. Their frontal lobes aren’t developed sufficiently, they literally can’t reason.

So this is what you do:
You first tell the child CALMLY (which I find a challenge), ‘Children aren’t for smacking’ and you show the child to be gentle. I say to mine, ‘Be Gentle!’ all the time, and teach him to stroke. You can also try to teach them to say sorry, but don’t force it because they don’t understand.
If your child repeats the undesired behaviour (an understated euphemism I know) then you simply repeat, ‘Children aren’t for smacking (pulling hair, etc.) and physically remove them from the situation.

I learnt that toddlers need firm boundaries. They need to know that there are rules, like no food throwing, standing on tables, and there is a limit to IPad time (Don’t ask, my two year old is already addicted, that’s what happens with a fourth child.) I’ve learnt not to be scared of his tears. I (try) stand firm in what I say so that he learns that there are rules and he has to follow them. All children need boundaries and the sooner you establish this and they understand it the less problems you have later on. I still struggle with my other Princes around boundaries and that’s because I didn’t manage to do it when they were toddlers. You have been warned.

Toddlers also need lots of social time, where they play with other children and can learn social rules. So I’ve been making lots of play dates, or even just taking him to the park where he meets other children to play with.

My Prince has the special challenge of being the fourth boy in a rambunctious home, where rough play is the norm. I’ve had to teach the other Princes to be more gentle with Prince No. 4 so that he learns to play more appropriately. Because other toddlers don’t understand a ‘punch’ hello, or that ‘play wrestling’ is a lot of fun.

I think the good news is that the terrible two behaviour passes into a cute, distant memory. A toddler reaches the more rational age of three, where he or she finally understands instructions, and appropriate behaviour. The thing not to forget is as Dr Christopher Green says, no matter what toddler challenges you face, don’t forget to enjoy your toddler and say ‘I LOVE YOU’ more often than ‘NO’.