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Few parenting moments are as shocking as the moment you spot your little angel lifting their arm and whacking another human.
It’s bad enough when this happens in your home, to you, your spouse, or their sibling. It’s mortifying when it occurs on the playground or in front of other parents.
While it may be quite horrifying to see, it’s natural and doesn’t mean your toddler is a bully or a horrible kid. It’s part of a developmental stage, and your child doesn’t mean it in a malicious way.
But how to stop toddler from hitting is important to know, and could save you a whole lot of grief!
Why Do Toddlers Begin to Hit?
Toddlers tend to start hitting between the age of one and the terrible twos. Remember, it’s not a malicious thing—it’s a developmental thing.
Here are some common reasons behind those toddler smacks:
They Aren’t Quite in Control of Their Limbs
This is more common with kiddies closer to a year old. When they start reaching the twos, they’re generally more in control.
But the littlies are still learning to control their own movements, so quite often hitting is purely accidental.
They’re Testing Boundaries
When your little guy or girl hits those terrible twos, they start to develop their own personality. They’re becoming real little people now, with their own likes and dislikes, feelings, and opinions.
It’s also around this time that they start learning that certain behaviors are acceptable and others aren’t. They’re also testing stuff and trying new things. This is how they learn right from wrong—they do things, and take note of mom and dad’s response to said things.
And those things include hitting. Cause and effect comes into play here—baby needs to understand that hitting (the cause) doesn’t have a desirable effect. It’s up to parents to respond in a way that doesn’t encourage it but doesn’t punish the child for doing something perfectly natural to learn.
Their Emotions Get the Better of Them
Sometimes, your little one just can’t get their point across, and they end up smacking you out of frustration. Or maybe they’re really excited about something, and they wave their arms around without realizing that you’re right next to them, and you get whacked.
Little people can have big emotions. But because they’re still not at a stage where they can communicate these things effectively, it’s easy for their feelings to overwhelm them and their arms to start flailing.
Hitting can happen because your munchkin is:
It’s also entirely possible that they don’t realize that hitting hurts. It could be that your toddler is simply trying to communicate something and doesn’t understand that hitting isn’t the best way to do that.
They’re Mimicking Others
Babies learn by copying others. If your toddler has seen one of their classmates or their sibling hitting, they may try it merely out of curiosity.
This is also part of learning about the world around them, how it works, and how to interact with it and the people in it.
They’re Feeling Grumpy
Toddlers get grumpy too, and for many of the same reasons that adults do. Your child may be feeling grumpy because:
- They’re hungry.
- They haven’t had enough sleep.
- Something happened during the day that made them unhappy.
- They aren’t able to explain their feelings.
- They’re insecure.
Plus, a multitude of other things. They’re basically tiny adults who don’t yet have the capability to explain their feelings—but that doesn’t mean that they don’t have intense emotions and reactions to those feelings.
How to Stop Toddler From Hitting
The reality is that you can’t completely stop your toddler from hitting. You won’t always be there to gently guide them into better behavior, or to mold the situation around them to make sure they’re never provoked or in a potential hitting situation.
But there are some definite dos and don’ts when it comes to being a hitter’s parent.
Do #1: Stop the Behavior Immediately
If you just allow your kiddie to carry on hitting, they aren’t going to know that it’s something they shouldn’t be doing.
It’s important to put a stop to it the moment you see it happening. You don’t need to make a big fuss—in fact, I encourage you to do this as quietly and inconspicuously as possible.
The easiest way to do this is to either remove the person your child is hitting, or remove your child from the situation.
Do #2: Examine the Root Cause and Fix It
Chances are your toddler isn’t just smacking out of spite. When it comes to littlies, there’s usually something else hiding behind a hitting episode.
To uncover the deeper reason, ask yourself some of the following questions:
- When last did my child eat?
- Has my toddler missed a nap today?
- Has another child been bullying them?
- Is there an underlying emotion that my child is struggling to express?
- Has one of my toddler’s friends’ parents recently mentioned the same problem?
Taking a bit of time to dig deeper may give you some insight into what’s really behind your little one’s behavior. Once you’ve figured this out—it can be like a lightbulb moment sometimes—you can take steps to fix it there and then, by:
- Feeding your child.
- Putting them down for a nap.
- Talking to them about what may be bothering them.
- Explaining that just because Johnny hit someone, it doesn’t mean they can or should.
Learning what’s behind your toddler’s hitting can also help you anticipate these occasions in the future and prevent them from the start. Make sure your child has a good night’s sleep, a healthy breakfast, and has enough food with them when you take them to daycare or out on a trip. Encourage them to talk to you about what bothers them, too.
Do #3: Stay Calm
Even though your toddler is now coming into themselves as a mini human with their own mind and opinions, they’re still reliant on their parents and look to them for guidance.
If you lose your cool in hitting situations, a number of things could happen:
- Your toddler could get a fright at your outburst.
- You may embarrass your child, especially if there are others around.
- Toddlers may believe they’ve done something terrible (this is where ingrained behaviors are taught, so you need to react with love rather than anger).
- In some cases, your child could take it as a reason to act out again—they could see it as a way of getting attention, even if it’s bad attention.
Staying calm is essential to keep the situation under control. Remember, exuding a sense of calm will most likely flow over to your toddler too. It also reminds them who’s really in control here—you.
Do #4: Explain Why They Shouldn’t Do It
If your child is slightly on the older side, they’re probably at the stage where they’re experimenting with things in their world to see what sort of reactions happen. They’re also beginning to understand that there are rules, and sometimes they break them because they don’t understand why the rules exist.
Explain to your toddler why they shouldn’t be hitting. This can have surprising results—often, they just don’t realize that their hitting is being received the way it is. They’re surprisingly compassionate, so if you explain things clearly, the problem may stop:
- “When you hit Bobby, he thinks you don’t like him, and it makes him sad.”
- “Hitting mommy makes her sore, and she wants to cry.”
- “If somebody bothers you, it’s better to talk to them because hitting them can make them hit you back.”
It doesn’t have to be a complicated explanation. Kids will understand simple reasons far easier than in-depth ones, and you may be shocked at how much this helps.
Do #5: Praise Them for Correct Behavior
When your toddler reacts in a gentle way instead of hitting, praise them for it. Often, just the fact that they made their mom or dad proud is enough for that behavior to stick.
Tell them why it makes you happy to see them behaving that way. In some cases, reward them with their favorite snack or their favorite TV show.
Love always beats fear, especially when it comes to children. Positive reinforcement will always have a better and longer-lasting result than anger.
Don’t #1: Yell at Your Child
Yelling serves very little purpose—although it may be incredibly tempting to do so. In some cases, it may just spill out of you before you even think about it! We’ve all been there.
For a child, yelling has no good effect. Telling them that they’re a “bad child,” or that they’re doing something wrong is a form of rejection, and at this age, children are incredibly susceptible to taking rejection very personally.
Yelling at them when it’s just the two of you is bad enough. But yelling at your toddler in front of others can be an extremely humiliating experience for them.
Considering the fact that ingrained feelings, self-beliefs, and behaviors are all embedded by the age of seven, it’s not difficult to see why these experiences can have long-term damaging effects on our kids.
Make a conscious effort not to raise your voice when your child hits. Instead, keep calm and let that calm be expressed in the way you interact with your toddler.
Don’t #2: Punish Your Child
In some cases, a time-out can be a good thing. Spanking is a no-no. You can’t discourage your child from hitting… by hitting them!
Remember, positive reinforcement is the best and most effective way to discipline your child. In many cases, punishment can cause conflicting feelings in your toddler—feelings of shame, guilt, confusion, and frustration, which manifest as anger and aggression.
In this way, punishment can simply reinforce the bad behavior instead, which is the opposite of what we really want. Respond with love, empathy, and patience—I promise you’ll get better results.
Don’t #3: Let It Slide
Hitting is something that you’re extremely likely to have to deal with as a parent. It’s also quite likely to happen more than once—even if you do respond with plenty of love and gentleness and make progress explaining to your child why they shouldn’t be hitting.
It can be tempting just to avoid discussing the issue or getting to the root of the problem, especially if your child doesn’t hit often.
But ignoring the problem will not help it go away. Your child needs to understand that hitting someone is not a viable solution—and that it’s not acceptable behavior for either children or adults.
You don’t need to make a big deal out of it every time, but make sure to address it, so your child knows that it’s something you don’t like and won’t accept.
Different children will respond to different things. Here are some ideas:
- Set boundaries.
- Ask your child to discuss their feelings with you.
- Offer alternative solutions—ie. “If you feel like hitting someone, run to the other side of the playground and touch the wall instead.”
- Figure out trigger situations, and do what you can to help your child avoid them.
To be honest, figuring out how to stop toddler from hitting may sometimes feel like a losing battle. They are going to hit, but it’s not because they’re trying to hurt anyone or misbehaving.
Toddlers are just beginning to find their way around this big world, and they learn by doing things they see others do, and by using all their senses. Feeling is one of those senses, and it’s perfectly natural for them to experiment with different pressures and strengths—in other words, hitting instead of gentle touches.
Next time your little one hits you or someone else, consider why they may be doing it. Are they trying to tell you something? Are they excited, angry, or overly happy?
Look deeper and respond with love—if you do things that way, you can’t go wrong!