Help! My Baby Is Beating Me Up!

Setting No-Pain Boundaries

One of the most important things that your child learns in the first year of life is the ability to control their own body. Beginning with holding their own head up and working down to taking a first step, that first year is filled with trials and failures.

However, while learning to control that body, they sometimes inflict pain on others. Parents often complain of scratches from tiny fingernails, or pinches on sensitive parts of the body, bites, and even punches or slaps from their little one. Since infants do not yet understand the concept of “No!” what are we to do?

  1. Recognize that your child is not intentionally hurting you. Pinching and scratching often occur when they fear they are losing contact with you. For example, when you are attempting to put them down, and they want to stay in your arms, they will hold on with all they have. If they are waving their arms and hit you in the face, they may be excited that they have made contact, and they will try it again. When they manage to grab a fistful of hair, they may yank on it in delight and they explore this new texture.
  2. You need to express your own pain to them. Use the same words that you use to describe their own pain. “Ow! That hurt!” “No Bites!” Even if it hurts only a little, expressing pain to them helps them to learn that there are limits to their actions and they learn to control them.
  3. Stop the pain-causing activity immediately. To grab their hands and pull them away from your face, along with a stern or sad face, helps them understand that adults do not like that activity. Be consistent. Do not let them scratch you one day and then stop scratching the next day. If they bite you while breastfeeding, remove them from the breast immediately, with a sad face. They may smile with a “Aren’t I cute?” expression. You cannot give in to your desire to smile back. They need to know that you are not pleased.
  4. Teach loving touches. When they slap you, express pain, grab their hands and gently stroke your face with them. Say, “soft hands” or another phrase that indicates the kind of touch you enjoy. (This is the same technique you use for dealing with pets.) You may have other tricks and techniques that you have used to stop hurtful behavior. If so, please share in the comments below. We are all in this together!

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