Q. My toddler keeps hitting my husband and me in the face, and she thinks it's funny. We take her hand and show her how to stroke our faces nicely, but then she just hits again and laughs as if it's a game. She's not hitting us in anger, but it can still hurt. What should we do?
A. Stop showing your toddler how to touch your face nicely at that exact moment, because you may just be reinforcing a similar behavior to the slapping, says Fred Holtz, a psychologist with Holtz Psychological Services in Melville.
She won't "get it" anyway, because she is too young to process things the way adults do, he says. "You can't explain something to someone who is 2 years old," Holtz says.
A more effective approach might be this: As soon as she hits you, immediately take her two hands and simply say, "No hitting." Stay calm; don't yell or raise your voice. Then, change the environment -- take her into a different room to do a different activity.
"It gets the child's attention; it breaks the chain of behavior," Holtz says. Tell her, "Let's go eat something" and go to the kitchen, for instance.
If you want to show your child how to stroke your face gently, do that later, at least an hour or so after you've corrected her behavior.
"The best thing is to demonstrate good behavior," Holtz says. "They learn what they see, not what you tell them."