My Youngest Daughter is Hitting Her Sister!

as seen in Brooklyn Family Magazine and on

Dear Sharon,

My daughters are five and two. The older one is old enough to know that it’s not OK to hit. How do we deal with the two year old who doesn’t understand this yet? She’s continually provoking her big sister.

Dear Parents,

Almost all siblings provoke each other and it’s rarely if ever easy for parents to resolve ensuing conflicts. When siblings hit it can be particularly challenging.

Provocative behavior such as hitting is usually much more common when children are bored or frustrated. As 2 and 5 years olds usually can only play together for short amounts of time (their abilities and interests are quite different) boredom and/or frustration can quickly and easily surface.

2 year olds in particular often crave attention (even when it’s negative), have boundless energy and are notoriously impulsive. Therefore it is common for a two year old to lash out at an older sister who does not want to play 2-year-old games or does things more easily.

Saying, “Don’t hit!” to a 2 year old unfortunately usually has a limited effect but taking time to listen to the inevitable frustrations of each child (you don’t necessarily have to fix things) can help reduce pent up emotions and calm frayed nerves.

I believe that stopping hitting before it begins is probably a parent’s most effective tool. It can help when parents of young siblings think of themselves as running a small “program” that requires interesting age appropriate activities for each sibling and a tremendous amount of patience and attention.

Developing a clear schedule that keeps both children happily occupied and possibly arranging for another child or mother’s helper to come by at particularly trying times of the day (i.e. when dinner needs to be prepared) can also make a huge difference.

Siblings have a deep and important relationship, often sharing even the slightest emotion with each other in less than ideal ways. When your daughters are older the current developmental differences will be less noticeable and they will be able to engage each other for longer periods of time in more productive ways (at least some of the time). Best wishes as you weather your current storm – calmer times will inevitably come.