How to Stop Toddlers From Hitting

Let's explore the reasons behind toddler hitting and discuss some practical strategies for parents to effectively manage this behavior

Understanding Toddler Hitting Behavior

Every parent knows that we can’t truly control our kids. Whether we parent with an iron fist or take a laid-back approach, there are universal experiences in parenting, such as dealing with a toddler hitting someone, especially their parents. But, there are ways to approach the behavior and ultimately, nip it in the bud. If you have a toddler or child who hits, read on.

Reasons Why Toddlers Hit Parents

First, let’s talk about why toddlers hit their parents. Once we can identify the particular cause of the behavior, we can address it. Here are a few of the various reasons why toddlers hit:

  • Limited Communication Skills: Toddlers often lack the vocabulary to express complex emotions, leading to frustration that may manifest as hitting–they have all of the feelings, but none of the words to put to them.
  • Emotional Expression: Hitting can be a way for toddlers to express a range of emotions, from anger and sadness to excitement or confusion.
  • Developmental Stage: Hitting is a common behavior during the toddler years as they are still learning self-control, situational awareness, and empathy.

Facts About Toddler Hitting Behaviors

While the first instance of a toddler hitting can be alarming, it's important to understand that it's a normal developmental stage. Factors that can contribute to toddler hitting include:

  • Lack of Self-Control: Toddlers may struggle to control their emotions and resort to hitting when upset.
  • Limited Situational Awareness: They may not fully understand social norms or how their actions affect others. Toddlers don’t have filters–they’ll say or express what’s on their minds.
  • Incomplete Empathy Development: Toddlers are still learning to empathize with others' feelings and perspectives. The first few years of their life are very ego-centered. It doesn’t occur to them to focus on another person’s feelings or how their actions may affect others.

Strategies for Handling Toddler Hitting

Dealing with a toddler's hitting requires patience and understanding. Once you get yourself in that mindset, you’ll find it’s easier to address the hitting. Here are some strategies to help:

1. Self-Regulate Your Emotions

Maintaining a calm demeanor is absolutely necessary when addressing toddler hitting. In fact, it may be the most important piece. Responding with frustration often escalates the situation. Try to remember: you need to lend your kiddo some of your calm and model a collected reaction to teach appropriate behavior.

2. Change the Situation

If possible, remove your toddler from the situation where hitting occurs. If they’re struggling to share a toy or having a meltdown in a store, try removing them from the stressful scenario to shift their mood. It’s also helpful to provide alternative outlets for their emotions, such as punching a pillow or stomping their feet. Then, once they’ve redirected their behavior away from the hitting to the appropriate outlet,  reinforce their positive behavior.

3. Talk Through It

Once your child is calm, it’s time to have a conversation about their feelings and why hitting is not acceptable. This is an opportunity to listen first, correct second. During the conversation, you can also teach alternative coping mechanisms like counting to ten or asking for help when upset.

Addressing Others About Toddler Hitting

Explaining your toddler's hitting behavior to other adults such as grandparents/relatives can be challenging. Here are some tips:

  • Educate Others: Share information about toddler development and how hitting is a phase that many children go through.
  • Set Boundaries: Politely communicate your preferred response to your child's behavior with friends and family.
  • Advocate for Your Child: Use opportunities to educate others about positive parenting techniques and the importance of understanding toddler behavior.

Additional Strategies for Dealing with Hitting

There are a few different strategies for handling hitting with toddlers, 3-4 year olds, and older children. Keep in mind that these are different developmental ages, and the hitting may look a little different in each stage.

Handling a Hitting Toddler

For younger toddlers, such as one year olds, redirect their attention to positive activities and teach them gentle touch through modeling and positive reinforcement.

4-Year-Old Hitting and Biting

At the age of 4, hitting and biting can still occur due to emotional outbursts or frustration. This is a great age to read books together about appropriate means of expression. The Hands are Not for Hitting series is a great place to start. Also at this time, employ consistent discipline methods and teach alternative ways to express emotions.

Dealing with a Child Who Hits

If your child hits others, address the behavior promptly but calmly. For school-aged kids, you can use teachable moments to explain why hitting is wrong and offer alternatives.

Moving Forward

Understanding why toddlers hit and employing effective strategies can help parents navigate this challenging behavior. With patience, consistency, and empathy, parents can guide their toddlers toward healthier ways of expressing emotions.

Remember: parenting is an evolution. It’s a continual learning journey and going with the flow is a key to consciously parenting your children. By understanding toddler and child development and implementing effective strategies, you can navigate and support your children through challenging behaviors like hitting.

If you’re needing more support in this area, join the Conscious Mommy Community to connect with other parents and gain expert insights on things like toddler hitting and other common parenting topics.