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Ask Joanne - My Daughter Hurts Herself If She Doesn't Get What She Wants

20/08/2009 15:02 | Updated 22 May 2015

What's your question for our life coach Joanne Mallon. Send it in to this address and say if you'd like your name changed. Feel free to send in more than one question if there are lots of issues on your mind.

Recently, we've had several questions about toddlers.

Michelle asks:

I have a one year old. If she hurts anyone or can't get what she wants, she pulls her hair and slaps herself and even bangs her head off the ground. I'm at a loss. I don't know what to do. I've tried to ignore her but nothing works - please help me.

Read on for life coach Joanne's reply...

Dear Michelle

It all sounds very frustrating and stressful - for you and your daughter.

Children of this age are at the very early stages of developing their language skills. So they can understand much more than they can actually say. This is why toddlers do often have temper tantrums and resort to physical behaviour such as biting or hitting - they don't yet have any other resources to express themselves. Your daughter knows in her own mind how she wants to respond to the events and people around her, but because she can't yet say the words, she lashes out physically.

So that's why it's happening, but how to deal with it? I have to say I am not a fan of physical punishments. I don't see how you can expect a child to understand that hitting is wrong if you smack them. But for this age of child, they very much live in the moment, so any punishment needs to be immediate. There are some tips here on how to get your child to listen when you say no. Other approaches to try include:

  • Time out - this only needs to be for a short time, up to a minute, but do remove her from the situation as quickly as you can.
  • Avoidance - think about which sort of situations tend to lead to tantrums, and work out if you can keep out of this situation. For example, if she tends to kick off when you're at the shops, leave her at home if you can, or at least avoid shopping when she's tired. I know this is not always a practical approach, but if it's one of those days when you don't have the energy for a fight, it's OK to avoid one.
  • A sticker chart for good behaviour - actively look out for positive stuff, like if she shares a toy, and reward it.
  • Plan your outings and meals - hunger and tiredness are big tantrum triggers, but if you think ahead they're easier to work around.
  • Stay calm yourself - be the adult, no matter how frustrated you feel. Be a role model for not losing your temper.

Always remember that a tantrum is a show, but there's no show without an audience, so sometimes the most effective way to deal with it is by walking away.

Hope this helps, best wishes

Joanne

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