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My toddler started hitting others at around 12 months. I was at a loss of what to do, and she hit others for more than a year after she started. I always considered myself an easy going person that didn’t get angry very often, so I couldn’t understand where this behavior was coming from. When she was about 18 or 19 months, one of her babysitters even decided to drop my daughter from her care, as she was hitting other children. It was frustrating and hard to figure out how to handle it.
Needless to say, toddler hitting is normal and common at this stage of life. There is an explanation for why toddlers hit, which took me a while to figure out. Eventually, we did come to a solution, and her hitting stopped.
Explanations for Toddler Hitting:
- Toddlers are learning cause and effect. They are little “experimenters” and are learning how the world works. So, if they hit you or the cat, they are learning what kinds of effects their actions have.
- Toddlers are still developing their language skills and may be limited in terms of expressing themselves verbally. So, they might hit in order to express some sort of need or want. For example, my daughter would hit others when she wanted a toy. She didn’t know how to ask another person if she could have it.
- Toddlers are also at a time where they experience tantrums and “big emotions,” so they may not know how to handle that yet. In turn, they may express their emotions physically. This suggests that they need your help in handling those emotions.
- Toddlers may also be testing boundaries and limits.
- They may also hit because they are tired, cranky, hungry, or frightened.
- Toddlers do not hit because they are “bad” or “naughty.”
What can I do when my toddler hits others?
- If your toddler is hitting because he or she is hungry or tired, then providing a snack or a nap as soon as possible will help.
- Come from a mindset that this behavior is not “bad” or “naughty.” In doing so, you will likely respond differently to the hitting- such as from a place of empathy and compassion. If you respond harshly, according to one article, this could actually escalate the behavior.
- Also, remain calm. If need be, take a breath, so you can speak confidently and with authority. If you are angry or frustrated, and your toddler picks up on that, it can result in a battle.
- Then, get down on their level, look them in the eye, and speak confidently.
- Validate their feelings. For example, when my toddler would become upset and hit me when I would tell her it’s time to turn off the cartoons and go to bed, I’d say, “I know that’s frustrating! I love cartoons too! We will watch more tomorrow!”
- Put a stop to the hitting. If your toddler is about 1, a good approach would be to say “that hurts” and then model how to appropriately touch. For example, you can show your toddler how to gently touch you or another person. This worked well with our toddler when she was grabbing our cat’s fur. We showed her how to gently pet the cat, which she eventually did.
- If your child continues to hit you, block the hitting, and then say, “I will not let you hit me. It hurts.”
- It may be helpful to redirect your toddler’s aggression. For example, show your toddler than when they feel angry, they can hit a pillow. Sometimes, it even helped my daughter when we’d just go outside, run around, and play to get the aggression out.
- Don’t punish or spank the child for hitting. If you spank a child for hitting, this models the behavior you are trying to stop. Also, punishment can bring even more discouragement to a child that is already discouraged. Rather, we should be teaching toddlers how to best regulate their emotions and behaviors.
- It may also help to read a book about hitting. Here’s my recommendation (Click on the image for more information):
One of the best solutions for my daughter was starting preschool. When she first started, she’d hit other kids (She even ended up in the Director’s office on the first day for her hitting!). It seemed to be the case that she was having a hard time communicating with others. With time, my daughter blossomed in her language skills, which was helpful in reducing the hitting. She could verbally communicate her needs and wants, rather than using physical actions to communicate. In addition, it was also helpful to partner with the teacher and see what they were doing to handle it. My daughter’s teachers would tell her, “We don’t hit our friends.” They would also redirect her behavior by distracting her with something else. For example, if she was fighting with someone over a toy, they would redirect her to another toy.
Final Thoughts on Toddler Hitting and How to Handle It
First of all, it’s important to figure out why your toddler is hitting, as this is part of the solution. In my daughter’s case, it was her inability to communicate her needs and wants. Thus, our solution was to work on her language skills, validate and label her feelings, and teach her appropriate ways to handle her frustration and anger.
Consistency is also key. For example, when my daughter would hit, I would still always make it clear that hitting is not ok. Be sure everyone, including other caregivers, are on the same page in terms of what you are doing to handle the hitting.
While this stage can be frustrating and challenging, remember that it’s normal and common. As my mom would always say, “This, too, shall pass.” I didn’t think this stage would pass, but I promise it will! 🙂
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Davis, A. (2018). Retrieved from https://www.thebump.com/a/toddler-hitting.
Hargis, A. (2018). Toddler discipline for every age and stage: Effective strategies to tame tantrums, overcome challenges, and help your child grow. Rockridge Press: Emeryville, CA.