How to Stop Toddlers from Hitting
Toddlers and hitting is a common challenge for parents, so much so it’s often referred to as a behavior problem. But really, getting toddlers to stop hitting often comes down to understanding the reasons toddlers hit and understanding how hitting make us parents feel. The way we react to children hitting can either fuel the problem or lead towards better connection and helping our child learn different ways to express their feelings.
So, Why do toddlers hit?
Toddlers are not yet developmentally able to control their impulses.
Toddlers may hit when they feel overwhelmed with feelings they cannot yet explain with words.
Very often when toddlers hit their parents, caregivers or peers they are feeling scared, frightened or anxious.
A hitting toddler is not naughty or bad.
How does a toddler hitting make us parents feel?
While hitting in the early years is pretty common behavior, it may often leave parents feeling ashamed, embarrassed, upset or surprised. Hitting may also trigger in parents a host of feelings and may leave a parent believing that a child needs to experience some form of punitive consequence to learn “a lesson” or to understand it’s not Ok to hit. Some parents may feel so surprised or angry that they hit back. It’s not always easy to stay calm, cool and collected about hitting, but it is worth the effort.
Often the more negatively we feel about the hitting the more we might inadvertently prolong the problem. Hitting and hurting others is clearly not something we should just let our toddlers sort out on their own either. It’s not acceptable to allow children to hurt others or for us to hurt our children. Becoming angry about toddlers hitting and seeking to punish this kind of behavior though sends a negative yet very powerful messages to our children:
- “When I hit mom/dad get all ruffled up!” Janet Landsbury has a wonderful post about just that here: Biting, Hitting & Other Challenging Behavior
- “Big people can hit little people, just not the other way around.” Except that really isn’t alright is it? Read more from Dr. Sears about how hitting models hitting.
What are some things we can do when it comes to toddlers and hitting?
Changing our mindset from believing that hitting is a behavior problem to accepting it as a normal developmental reaction to fear, frustration and other feelings is a great first step in helping toddlers stop hitting.
Providing children ample outlets for expressing a range of feelings is also very important. At Love parenting you can watch a video clip of Sam talking about giving children an outlet for their feelings.
Listen and give opportunities for your toddler to talk about feelings. Using puppets or dolls that act out being mad, sad, glad, angry, happy, silly, frustrated and so on are excellent ways for children to start learning how to voice their frustrations instead of acting them out.
Make time to create daily connection with your child. The more connected and secure your child feels the less those feelings will bubble up and turn towards anger. Patty Wipfler has excellent information about that in this post: 3 Tools to Stop Hitting.
Setting Limits and hitting
If your child does hit, it is important to handle the situation with respect, kindness and firmness. Using short but descriptive phrases can be very helpful.
“Do not hit.” “Hitting hurts.”
Gently removing your child from the situation or placing yourself between two children may be necessary to hold your limit.
“I will not let you hit. I am going to keep us all safe.”
Empathizing with your toddler can be a really helpful way to address the situation while still being kind and firm.
“It seems like you are very mad.” “I am noticing you are frustrated.”
By responding with kindness your child is likely to feel safe enough to release some of that anger or frustration by crying. Although it may be difficult to accept those feelings and tears, children do need that opportunity to release feelings so they can move forward.
If your child will accept a hug, go ahead! Affection will not reinforce hitting and it will show your child that you are a source of safety and that you care.
Trusting that our children are capable and interested in learning how to handle frustrating or frightening situations may be difficult in the heat of the moment but they really are. Although this developmental phase may be at times challenging, remembering to focus on guidance and teaching from a place of compassion and understanding can be really helpful.
Have you had success guiding a toddler to stop hitting? What worked for your family?
Peace & Be Well,