I've tried gently holding his hands and saying "no hitting--I won't let you hurt me, we need to use gentle hands" but then as soon as I let got he does it again. I've tried holding him on my lap and not letting him get up for a minute, which makes him cry and then he usually kisses me and we move on. Sometimes i end up putting him down on the floor and telling him I cant hold him while he's hurting me, which usually leads to crying and asking to nurse. Today, though, he's been smacking me in the face practically every time I was holding him, even just now at bedtime while nursing. I finally ended up yelling at him, which then led to him hitting me AGAIN. I'm really at the end of my rope and out of ideas, since nothing seems to be working.
He's very precocious and verbal, so he knows what I'm saying. He is a spirited guy who is extremely sensitive about disruptions to his routine, and has zero frustration tolerance, which has pretty much been true since day one.
Any suggestions on how to handle this?
I think the only way through the hitting thing is to be super vigilant and consistent in your response. By vigilant, I mean, try to see the hits coming and put him down or grab his arm before he gets to you, saying "You may not hit me." I know you said that putting him down makes him cry and ask to nurse, but in our house that has been the most effective response. Also, now that my DD is older (2.5), I redirect her hitting. When I see her getting upset, I have her give me lots of high fives, or show her how to smack the couch cushions, or clap her hands together hard. It really does seem to help. Also - even though your son is verbal and you think he can understand what you're saying, he may not have the will or focus to do so when he's in a hitting mood. I think more brief the message you give him, the better.
I say NO HITTING firmly, then put them down and walk away and that's it. I don't engage. I find something else to keep busy. This worked for my daughter, who only tried hitting once, and it works for my nieces whose parents do the whole "gentle hands" thing. They all still hit their parents but...they don't hit me. I think they get it pretty quickly.
My two year old does this, and though he has awesome receptive language, he is not very verbal. The hitting is usually a sign that we need to slow down and be present. He doesn't have the words to tell me what he needs, so after reminding him that hitting hurts and we use gentle hands, I try to connect with him and figure out what he's trying to communicate. I think sometimes even verbal toddlers don't know how to convey their needs and strike out to get your attention. I have 5 year old twins and we didn't go through this with them, but I do know from experience that most challenging behaviors are temporary, and that is helpful for me to remember.