Teaching Toddlers Not to Hit

Does your funny, intelligent, sweet toddler turn into a prizefighter on the playground whenever anyone threatens her turn on the slide? We’ve all been there: suddenly, the peace is cut short with plentiful screams, cries, and whines erupting. 

While children, particularly toddlers, frequently hit each other during playtime, figuring out the best way to handle this behavior can be stressful for parents. While toddlers hitting others can be embarrassing and alarming, it is a normal developmental phase. Understanding why this occurs and how you can help your toddler redirect his frustration can help you stop the behavior.

Toddler hitting is not an indictment of how you parent; often, it’s simply a case of your toddler being frustrated, impulsive, and unable to voice his feelings. Toddlers may be unaware that hitting can be harmful. They don’t yet fully understand their emotions or anyone else’s, so they don’t intentionally hurt someone’s feelings. 

Why do toddlers hit?

They’re trying to communicate. Toddlers get bored, hungry, tired, and overwhelmed. The difference is that they lack the verbal skills to express these emotions. Since toddlers’ vocabulary isn’t fully developed yet, they’re more likely to use their bodies to show their feelings or strike back in disagreement.

They’re defending his turf. You may probably notice that your child hits more often on the playground or at a playdate. The reason? He’s surrounded by many kids who grab his toys, push him down, or simply invade his space.

They’re having a bad day. When your toddler has a bad day, he may lash out because he is irritable and lacks coping skills.

They’re pretending to be someone else. Your child may have seen his older sibling. And pal is punching it out, and now he wants in on the action. Your child may also have watched something on the TV or the internet. 

They’re temperamental by nature. Some children, who are less easy-going by nature – are predisposed to leading with their fists or teeth. While some kids will shrug and move on when someone snatches a toy car out of their hands, others may go into full street-fighter mode.

They’re trying new things. Toddlers like testing cause and effect, “if I do this?” They also don’t have the skills to get what they want reasonably, so they may act pushy or overly cheeky.

They need their space. Toddlers have a limited understanding of spatial relationships. As a result, they frequently find themselves trapped in a small area, too close to other children. They try to hit their way out as a reflex.

How do they stop toddlers from hitting?

Get down on his level, stare him down, and say, calmly and firmly, “There will be no hitting. It is painful to hit someone.” Over-explaining may get lost on your child, and it may backfire. The more you talk with your child, the more attention she gets for acting aggressively.

Remove him from the situation and place him on a time-out if he hits again. You must discipline your child every time he hits so that he’ll learn that there’s no excuse for violence.

Here are some more tips on how to discipline a toddler who hits:

Pinpoint the reason. Pinpointing why your toddler is upset can be challenging at this age. Help her in putting words to her actions. Respond if she slaps the sippy cup of juice because it isn’t what she wants. “Would you like some milk? ‘Milk,’ for example.”

Prevent a hitting incident. Observe what makes your child smack, slap, or punch, and take action before it happens. Is he more likely to strike when tired or hungry, in a large group, or during transitions?

Keep it cool. Observe what makes your child smack, slap, or punch, and take action before it happens. Is he more likely to strike when tired or hungry, in a large group, or during transitions?

Show some empathy. Even if your child doesn’t understand her anger or frustration at this age, it’s good to label these feelings for her. “I’ll bet you’re pissed that Mommy won’t let you climb onto the coffee table,” or “I’ll bet you’re pissed that Jared took the red bus.” At the same time, employ positive reinforcement, such as praising your child when she shares a toy or uses a gentle touch, to inspire better behavior down the road.

Tie kids’ actions to other people’s feelings. Toddlers have only a rudimentary understanding of how their actions impact others. Your child must understand how his friend felt when he was struck. “That hurt Sam and made him feel bad,” you say. Tell him you know how difficult it is to share, but hitting someone is not the way to go.

Monitor his media consumption. It’s essential to monitor everything your child watches to ensure the programs don’t contain violence. Here are some valuable tips on reducing screen time for your child – (insert link on another blog post).

Don’t hit your child. Even if you believe that spanking is an appropriate discipline, you should never spank a 1-year-old. 

Feeling frustrated and out of control when your toddler hits others is okay and normal. But remember that there’s no malicious intent when a toddler hits. Your little one means well; she needs to learn better ways to express her needs and wants. Rest assured that over time, and with your intentional guidance, this too will pass.