Toddlers are full of surprises. Chances are, the time has come that your precious little sunshine is going to haul off and hit someone. It might even be you. Rest assured, your child isn’t a devil or a bad child for hitting, and you’re not failing as a mom because your child hits. So if your delightful toddler has become a boxer in training, here’s how to stop your child from hitting.

All Behavior is Communication

A prerequisite to stop your toddler from hitting is to understand why your child hits in the first place. Hitting is a behavior, and all behavior is communication. So when a child is hitting, it reflects their internal state, and they want to get a need met but have no other way yet to communicate what is going on for them. When your child feels bad, like being frustrated, they act badly because they lack the self-control to do it differently yet. When they feel good, their behavior is good.

Why do toddlers hit?

It’s actually a totally normal toddler behavior born in your little one’s immature brain development. But, unfortunately, they can’t help themselves yet and need guidance and a role model to build the necessary skills.

Your toddler experiments with the world

Children come to the world and don’t know how the world works. They need to do a lot of experiments to understand it, and emotions are part of it. They need to learn what emotions are and what to do with them, including anger. They don’t know what triggers them into a fit of rage, so they lash out with any target at hand, and they don’t have the impulse control yet to not hit.

Trying to Communicate – Toddlers don’t have sophisticated language skills.

It’s normal for toddlers to talk and babble a lot. When they are trying to communicate with the people around them, but don’t get understood. And that can be very frustrating. As their words are far away from fully developed, they use their bodies to communicate.

Defense Mechanism – Toddlers are defending their turf or asking for space

Have you observed that your child lashes out more often when other kids are around? Your toddler gets overwhelmed by other kids wanting their toys or wanting the toys of others. Your toddler can’t do the way they want, and that can be very frustrating. And when the anger is boiling up, it’s challenging to say STOP or state that it is mine.

Having an Off Day

How is your mood when you are sick or haven’t had enough sleep? I bet you are a little cranky then, and you get upset about things that usually don’t bother you. But, of course, that’s happening for your little one as well. Just think about all the teething and growth spurts they have.

Recognize the signs why your toddler is hitting

So after we talked about reasons why toddlers (and even older kids hit), let’s play detectives and find out how to prevent the hitting.

Address the unresolved issues leading to these situations and, most importantly, rise above the behavior – a violent, immature expression of unresolved emotions/frustration – stay calm and focused on finding the cause.

Identify the sources that trigger hitting.

Ask questions about what was going on nonjudgmentally, with pure curiosity. Get clear on:

1. Are your boundaries firm, clear, and consistent?

2. Have you met your child’s needs – are they hungry/thirsty/tired/sick?

3. Are you rushing them/projecting your stress onto them?

4. Have you taken the time to connect with them? Is there a pattern to be found between your connection and their lashing out?

5. Have you set them up for success in their environment and by helping them plan for transitions?

With these insights, you’ll be able to help manage the hitting better before it even occurs. 

What should you do when your toddler hits?

Respond quickly by blocking the hitting

Your responsibility as a parent is to keep anyone safe, including your child. Block and stop the action so that no one is hurt, and trust yourself that this is YOUR responsibility to handle. No children “willfully misbehave” and indeed not a child under 7 or 8 years old. Children do well when they can, and ALL children want to please. They NEVER intend to do things that will upset us- they want connection and want to please us.

By blocking the hitting, your goal is to keep everyone safe. Still, you don’t enter the situation, just focusing on the behavior and stopping it. Enter the situation to UNDERSTAND the motivation, communication, and the need behind the behavior. Meet that need so that the behavior that is hard for us to accept is no longer needed. Solve the root cause.

Stay calm when your toddler hits you & Don’t hit them back.

I get it; this is a difficult one, especially when we grew up with violence in our lives. When we got spanked, or domestic violence happened in our home. Hitting can bring up old memories and our need to defend ourselves. However, you are not a victim here, and take a step back and do not let yourself be victimized by your kids. You have to refuse to accept that premise because it sets up an unhealthy dichotomy in your relationship, and the connection is everything.

Additionally, hitting them back actually reinforces the hitting and aggressive behavior. It’s a vicious cycle, and you’ll end up with a child that hits consistently to get what they want.

Help your child with new ways to communicate.

One of the primary reasons for a hitting toddler is that they lack the communication skills to get what they want. They may hit out of experimentation or out of anger. It’s not necessarily an act of toddler aggression. 

Show them what to do instead of hitting.

Help your child learn new ways to ask for what they want. If, for example, they want to play with a child, guide them on how to ask differently. Instead of hitting, they can offer the other child a toy. 

Navigate hitting situations with compassion and care.

Be on high alert when you’re in a situation where your child may be hit. For example, if you take your little one to a playgroup and they end up hitting other children every time, then your presence is required. Stick close to them and prevent any hitting. Be your child’s shadow and read the signs. You might be able to catch their hand as they’re getting ready to hit, and you can see what your child needs.

Should you punish when a toddler hits?

If you respond with harshness when your toddler hits, his hitting behavior will persist.

Each parent tries to do the for raising their kids. You might have heard that time outs can be successful and you may using them with some success. However, they can come with a high price and eventually don’t bring the learning opportunity you like to have.

It’s important to understand that children can’t do things “wrong” in the toddler years. They are creatures of impulse, not of forethought. We, as the parents, are their impulse control. It is ours to set and hold the limits until they grow into sufficient impulse control. Your toddler is doing precisely what a toddler should do at that age. Testing limits. Your job as a mom is to be calm and consistent and let them know what those limits are. That’s how children learn, not by punishment.

Should I encourage apologies after hitting?

You might be thinking when hitting happens, you need to teach your child the lesson of apologizing. However, a forced (or “encouraged”) apology isn’t respectful, even if you call it a ‘check-in.’ Your child will learn those skills with time through modeling. If you force your child, they do not apologize because they are sorry. And isn’t it what our apologies are for? Furthermore, at the toddler age, that’s appropriate. Your child is at a cognitively egocentric age. As the capacity for putting themselves in someone else’s shoes grows, so will the ability to offer a genuine apology. It’s completely abstract and basically nonsensical to a 2-year-old. They can say it, but they authentically have no idea what it means. If you force them, they are just empty words.

Remove your toddler and tell them hitting is not safe.

Suppose your toddler is just being downright overwhelmed and is fighting you, and the no-hitting message isn’t getting through because to many needs are unmet. In that case, it may be time to remove them from the situation. They show you they are overwhelmed by the situation, and their needs are not met.

Move to a Quiet Place

Take your child out of the situation, mainly if they’re hitting other children. If a short time away from the situation to calm down isn’t working, then you consider stopping taking them to a playgroup until the phase has passed and the hitting got better.

Bottom Line

Toddlers hit; it’s often part of their age and their development. Hitting behaviors can be challenging and annoying. However, it’s your responsibility as a parent to see beyond the behavior and be the best support your child can get. For that, you have to see your child in a positive, compassionate, understanding, developmental frame. They do the best they can and rely on you for growing out of this age safely.

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