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Question: My two-and-a-half year old is becoming increasingly boisterous in his play and started hitting children at nursery. He has two older brothers (ages five and seven) who tend to play fight at times. What do you suggest I do? ?

Doctor Woolfson's Answer:

This is a challenge for you because boys typically enjoy rough-and-tumble play, and you can’t keep an eye on them every second of the day. The problem with pretend fighting is that children often have difficulty knowing where to draw the line, knowing when pretend fighting stops and real fighting starts. This is particularly true of a child your toddler’s age. The chances that your two-and-a-half-year-old thinks that whacking his pals in nursery is the same fun as rough-and-tumble-play with his older brothers. As far as he is considered, what’s a laugh at home is also a laugh at nursery. Unfortunately, his peers don’t find this at all amusing.

My suggestion is that you do what you can to discourage play fighting at home. This won’t be easy but it worth a try. If you think this would be too difficult to achieve, discourage your two oldest boys from drawing your youngest into this activity, or even from play fighting in front of him. Explain to them why you want this to stop, for example, because he is now hitting others in the nursery, because he is too young to understand where to draw the line. They are old enough to understand what you are telling them.

In addition, take a gentle but firm approach with your toddler himself. Point out that he mustn’t raise his hands to anyone in the nursery, that the others won’t play with him if he hits them, and that hitting them makes them upset. Repeat this message regularly until he becomes more settled. Check with nursery staff each day about his behaviour, until you are satisfied that incidents like this have diminished.