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Toddler Hitting: Why It Happens and How To Make It Stop

hitting-toddler

We’ve all been there: you’re having a peaceful playdate with other moms until one of your children accidentally hits another, resulting in a barrage of shrieks, screams, and whines.

While it is common for children, particularly toddlers, to strike each other during playtime, it can be frustrating for parents who are trying to figure out how to best deal with this behaviour.

Being the parent of a child who hits others on the playground or at day care can be awkward, and you may be wondering what solutions are most effective in resolving the situation.

On the other hand, your child may start beating you or a sibling out of nowhere, and you may be left alone, wondering whether you’ve done anything wrong.

You are not alone in your concern, and whether your child is striking you or others, there are clear steps you can take to address the issue.

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Why do toddlers hit? 

They are testing limits

Hitting, like flinging applesauce at your work blouse or screaming in high-pitched tones during rush hour traffic, has a common theme: to push the boundaries of what is acceptable.

What will happen if I go ahead and do it? It’s all part of their learning process when they discover their brother cries when he’s whacked with a stick or that beating on a drum isn’t the same as hurting their mother.

They haven’t developed self-control

When you’re dealing with a child, you’ll find that their impulse control is practically non-existent. They communicate their frustrations, joys, and boredom by hitting – without hesitation.

The good news is that between the ages of 3 and 9, they begin to demonstrate favourable progress in this area, according to study (with more significant development in girls than boys in this area). The bad news is that while you’re struggling right now, the age span between 3 and 9 is a rather large one.

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They don’t understand it is bad

It’s also true that toddlers use force without being prompted by others, supporting the theory that they’re merely curious and don’t yet have the moral compass or knowledge that they can, but should not, harm others.

Scientists researched this phenomena in 11- to 24-month-old toddlers and found that the children were not distressed in the majority of situations while hitting others.

They don’t know how to process their feelings

Another reason why toddlers beat themselves and others is because it is their way of coping with their “huge” emotions.

They are frustrated, but unlike an adult who can calmly express their thoughts to a partner or trusted friend, toddlers lack the verbal capacity and self-control to stop, assess how they are feeling, and react in a socially acceptable, suitable, or helpful manner.

Toddlers may have a desire for something, be angry, or believe their friend has harmed them in some manner. Let’s face it, if someone knocked over the massive block tower you’d been working on for half an hour, you’d probably want to hit them as well.

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What should you do when your toddler hits?

Fortunately, hitting is not merely a “period” that parents must cope with; there are tangible steps you can take to avoid, manage, and divert hitting toddlers.

While each of the solutions listed below may not be appropriate for every child, you, as the parent, can decide which is best for you. Also, don’t be hesitant to try out a few different options to discover which one is best for your youngster.

Restrain them physically

When your child tries to hit others, your first instinct may be to physically restrain them. This may be an option for you if you believe your child is out of control or that being physically secure helps to quiet them down.

Depending on your size, strength, and ability, this could be physically tough if your child is strong. Physical restraint should feel like a calm and firm hug to your toddler, preventing them from hurting herself or others.

You should also speak softly to them, explaining that you’re holding them because you can’t let them hurt anyone. You can divert them to different behaviours once the moment has passed.

If your toddler has a bad reaction to being restrained, one of the following alternatives may be more beneficial.

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Remove your child from the situation

“If you don’t stop, I’ll take you to the vehicle (or your room),” we’ve all heard that before, perhaps from our own parents. Is it efficient? Yes, for some.

One of the best solutions to a hitting problem is to calmly remove a youngster from the situation. Be aware that you may need to repeat the procedure for a child to understand that there will be a clear consequence, such as being unable to play with others for a short period of time if they hit.

Where you take them is determined by your location. When you’re out in public or at someone else’s residence, the car can be useful. If you’re at home, choose a peaceful, quiet spot away from other distractions to help them refocus.

You may want to discuss, rethink, and cool down once you’ve gotten away from the scenario. The amount of time you spend on each of them is determined by a number of things, including your toddler’s age and capacity to understand, as well as your current level of patience.

It’s fine to take a break and try again, and it’s also fine to decide that you’ve had enough.

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Discuss alternatives

Unless you clearly teach and model these reactions, your child may not even realise there are other ways to deal with frustration, jealousy, anger, and other emotions.

What other options do they have besides beating if a friend takes a toy they wanted? Make sure you’re modelling positive habits like speaking up, walking away, and reporting problems to an adult.

Your child will require you to teach them about their choices, but this will take time to learn and reach a developmental level where it will be beneficial.

Redirect

Redirecting them to a more suitable conduct, especially with young toddlers, can help them forget about the need to hit something. With 1- to 2-year-olds, for example, you can grasp the hand they were hitting and demonstrate them gentle touch.

If they persist, diverting their attention away from the unpleasant behaviour with a different activity may be effective. It’s critical, though, to ensure that hitting does not receive more attention than not hitting.

If you suddenly want to play every time they hit, you may unwittingly increase hitting. When they’re not hitting, make sure you’re giving them good reinforcement.

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Provide emotional support

If hitting appears to be a result of mismanaging emotion, consider teaching age-appropriately other possibilities for emotional expression, such as what various feeling words imply.

Although the way you describe dissatisfaction to a 5-year-old may differ from how you explain it to a 2-year-old, both can learn speech to convey anger, frustration, stress, and other similar emotions.

Others simply require a hug and emotional support in order to cope with their overwhelming emotions.

Prevent hitting before it begins

Observe your child’s actions in the moments preceding up to hitting. What are their most common causes for hitting themselves or others?

Some children, for example, make furious noises akin to a dog growling, while others begin wailing over the problem. You might notice your toddler going towards another child, giving you a clue that hitting is about to become a problem.

You’re more likely to be able to halt these triggers and behaviours before they happen if you can identify them, either by talking them through different options or physically stopping them from acting.

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What should you NOT do when your toddler hits?

Hit or spank

While spanking is still a contentious topic in parenting circles around the world, evidence shows that it can do more harm than good.

For example, a 2017 study found a link between spanking and behavioural difficulties. Teachers reported considerably higher increases in behaviour issues — such as arguing, fighting, expressing anger, acting impulsively, and disrupting ongoing activities — in children who had been spanked by their parents at age 5 than children who had never been spanked.

Furthermore, if you’re attempting to teach your child to avoid striking by modelling positive behaviour, it may be confusing for them if you hit yourself. Power disputes that include the use of force should be avoided.

It’s one thing to walk or carry your toddler to their time-out location, and it’s quite another to violently discipline them while they’re there. If your child tries to leave the time-out you’ve established, don’t scold them; instead, gently place them back in their time-out position, explaining what has to happen, when they can get up, and other pertinent information.

Yell or react with anger

Instead of screaming, crying, or acting out in rage, toddlers respond better to calm, firm responses.

Taking a moment to manage your emotions before educating your toddler will help them see you as an authoritative figure who is in control of their body, voice, words, and expressions, even if the situation is frustrating.

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Base your reaction on other parents

When it comes to behavioural choices, there is a constant sense of mom guilt, mom shaming, and peer pressure in parent circles. Allowing your emotions to dictate whatever decisions you make to help your child with their hitting behaviours is not a good idea.

Step back to re-evaluate your parenting principles through self-reflection or communication with your partner if you notice yourself adjusting your reaction dependent on your environment or peers.

Tips for dealing with toddler hitting

Avoid contributing factors

The actual issue, like with many toddler behaviours, may not be the behaviour itself, but how the youngster feels otherwise.

Is it possible that they’re teething? Is it nap time yet, or did they get enough sleep? Have they had enough nutritious meals and snacks at regular intervals today, or will they be hungry when they hit? Is there something else that’s bothering them that’s causing them to lash out by hitting?

If there’s an easy fix like these, going over the list of other solutions can help you solve the problem.

Give opportunities for physical activity

If you’ve ever had a restless child and told yourself, “They just need to get out and run around,” you already know the truth about the link between physical activity and behaviour.

When adults and children get adequate physical activity, they are happier, healthier, and better able to control their behaviour. Allow your child to participate in physical activities such as drumming, pounding their feet, running, leaping, playing on playgrounds, and anything else that will get them moving.

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Get all caregivers on the same page

What if you, your parents, and your babysitter all approach hitting in three different ways? Grandma might be laughing it off, saying “no, no,” and moving on as you use time-outs. When discussing emotions with the child, the babysitter might use different terminology than you.

Having a discussion with all of your child’s caregivers helps guarantee that you’re all fighting the problem with the same techniques, resulting in a more united front and a faster resolution.

Takeaway

When your toddler slaps themselves or others, it’s common to feel upset and out of control.

Children are sometimes merely observing how others react to their acts, while other times they are frustrated, exhausted, or hesitant to share their toys. Approach your toddler’s conduct with a calm manner, and collaborate with all caregivers to choose the best course of action.

Rest assured that this, too, will pass with time and your intentional leadership.

FAQ

  1. How long does the hitting phase last in toddlers?

    When a toddler hits, keep in mind that there is no malice intended. Your little one is well-intentioned; all she has to do now is learn better methods to express her needs and desires, which she will do over time. “These stages last around a month or two in toddlers,” explains Dr. Turecki.

  2. How do you punish a 2 year old for hitting?

    A 2- or 3-year-old who has been striking, biting, or throwing food, for example, should be reminded why his or her behaviour is undesirable and sent to a designated timeout place — a kitchen chair or the bottom step — to settle down for a minute or two. Timeouts should be roughly 1 minute per year of age as a general guideline.

  3. Why does my toddler hit for no reason?

    Most likely, your child lacks the vocabulary or abilities to communicate her demands and, as a result, lashes out (hits) because she doesn’t know what else to do. When they are unable to communicate their feelings verbally, they may resort to hitting and other forms of hostility. Toddlers hitting is a typical part of their development.

  4. How do you discipline a 2 year old who doesn’t listen?

    How to discipline a toddler who doesn’t listen.
    – Get down to your toddler’s level and make eye contact.
    – Find your toddler’s intentions.
    – Give and follow through with consequences.
    – Pick your battles.
    – Give your toddler a choice.
    – Explain the reason.
    – Praise your toddler when she does what she’s asked to.

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