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3 year old slapping peers for toys at playtime

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Dr. Laura,

My daughter is 3.5 years old. We, as a family, are non-violent & do not "punish." 

While playing in the childcare room at our YMCA after swim class, she has been slapping other children who are using toys she wants to use. She has done this twice now. I've spoken to her gently about why we don't hit, and have told her alternative ways to get her point across, but she did it again just yesterday. I've also seen her try to do it to playmates (where I've stepped in and stopped her). 

Again, we are gentle and she's never seen that behavior in our home. I'm looking for advice on how to deal with this. If she does it again, she will no longer be welcome in the playroom, which will be disappointing for all of us.

Thank you!


Your daughter is trying to figure out how to get what she wants in life. She only knows what's okay based on the limits we set. And she sounds like a passionate person who gets easily carried away, as you saw for yourself in her interactions with her friends. To stop hitting others, she needs to be motivated. 

 I would tell her that she can't play in the YMCA childcare room for awhile, because she has hit other children. I realize that they have not set that limit, but I think it is smarter for you to set it and help her work on the issue, than for her to be banned by the Y. It also is not fair to the kids she is slapping. Hopefully, this will motivate her. Tell her that you will work with her so that she knows what to do instead when she gets frustrated, and then she will be able to go back. 

 Teach her the "Self-hug" of clapping your arms around yourself, with your left hand on your left shoulder, and your right hand on your right shoulder. Practice with her that when either of you gets mad, you yell "STOP!" and clap your arms around yourself in a hug. 

 Then, talk about the kinds of situations that make her mad at the Y. Act them out, with you as the other kid. Let her practice her new move. Make sure that she also knows what to do when she needs adult help. And if the problem is usually that she wants a toy that someone else has, and she has to wait her turn, then practice that as well. 

 When she can play with her friends and use her new skills, then she is ready to go back to the Y. 

Good luck!
Dr. Laura

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