When your toddler hits for the first time, it is shocking. Fortunately, there are effective strategies to stop toddler hitting without using punishment.
Yesterday, in my parenting group, a parent shared her story:
I have the sweetest, kindest two-year-old. He is attentive and fun-loving. Lately, out of the blue, he comes up and just hits his baby brother. We don’t spank. He hasn’t had any aggression that I can think of modelled to him. And still he hits again and again. Please help.
I remember the first time my toddler son hit me. We were playing with his fisher price car garage on a relatively quiet and dreary afternoon. The house was silent except for our play.
“Can you grab the orange car… Good boy!”
We took turns to see which would go faster: the heavier orange car or the lighter blue car. We were laughing when my daughter came to ask for help with opening the teal-coloured play dough.
I was taken aback. Not only had just been hit by my child for the first time, my son also has big strong hands. It hurt!
I sat there mystified. “Oh, we don’t hit Mama. Only gentle touches.”
We went back to playing. Another minute or so went by and,
This time I hadn’t been distracted… I was with him playing the game he wanted to play.
If your toddler hits, rest assured there are many strategies to use to teach him to stop hitting.
Toddler Hitting? Here are 5 Strategies Rooted in Positive Parenting to Help
1. Frame the behaviour so you can stay calm. Toddlers can hit for a number of reasons.
Some examples include:
- Curiosity – they want to see what will happen when they hurt you.
- Difficulty communicating – they lack the language to express what they feel, want, or need.
- The desire for rough and tumble play – children enjoy roughhousing because it allows them to test out their strength and power. In the context of rough and tumble play, children learn how to take turns, control their behaviour to not hurt one another, and not overreact.
- Fear – Humans respond to stress using their fight or flight response. Even if a child’s fear seems innocuous to us, it could feel rather dangerous to her.
Related reading: Why Boys (and Girls) Need Rough and Tumble Play
2. Deep breathe so you can respond and not react. Then,
Use positive language to help your child understand what he can do instead:
- “Gentle touches.”
- “Hands to self.”
- “Use your words.”
- “Say ‘help’.”
3. Give other options for their behaviour.
- Put your hand over hers and show her gentle touches.
- Offer a stuffed animal to hit.
- Suggest a pillow fight.
- Build and knock over blocks.
4. Hold their hands and provide empathy.
If your child is about to hit, hold his hands and tell your child he cannot hit. He will likely cry out of frustration. It is important to stay calm and hold space for the big feelings. Affirm his feelings, “I know you’re upset. I’m here for you.”
5. Take a time in.
Take your child away from a play date or the playground. Sit with her and provide her comfort until she is calm and ready to return. Avoid lecturing and do not chastise. Simply hold your child or sit beside her until she is prepared to play.
Related reading: Time Ins and the Fundamental Mistake You Want to Avoid
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Additional resources for difficult toddler behaviour and to stop toddler hitting
Watch and sing: When You Feel So Mad You Want to Roar
Purchase and read to your child: Hands Are Not For Hitting
Purchase and read: Peaceful Parent Happy Siblings
My son didn’t stop hitting overnight. There were still times where we would play and he would hit. In a short time, the hitting became less frequent and he started using his words more.
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