Gosh, if you have a toddler who IMPULSIVELY hits, whether it be during excited playfulness, when you set a boundary or at playdates, it can be so tough…you are NOT alone. Toddler hitting is so common.
I’m sure you are asking…
Why do they keep doing it?
How do I make them stop?
Of course, we want our toddlers to be gentle, kind & considerate and to know that hitting is not appropriate behaviour and that it does hurt. However, going about it the logical, reasonable way is not actually that helpful (for either of you) and here’s why –
The toddler’s brain
The toddler’s brain is still ‘under construction’, and the parts that control reason, logic and impulse control are basically non-operational.
Toddler language skills
Language plays a large role in toddler behaviour. Toddlers who don’t yet have the language abilities to comprehend the situation or solve a situation will show behaviours such as hitting.
Even if your child has strong language skills, they might not yet have the language to cope with many situations, e.g.
– not having the language to cope when another child takes a toy or to tell you that they feel like their new baby brother is getting all the attention
Given these aspects of your toddler’s development, you will most likely be trying to read books about ‘hands aren’t for hitting’ and giving long-winded lessons hoping that the behaviours will stop. When they don’t, you might find yourself losing your cool (which unfortunately also won’t help but could, in fact, fuel the hitting).
So what can we do?
Perspective & Mantra
When we understand the reason they are hitting is not that you are a bad parent or they are a bad kid. It is because they are struggling to contain their impulses or communicate something to you.
The best phrase you can have running through your head is…
‘They need my help!’
Before the hit
Start to take note of when hitting seems to be happening for your toddler
Look for patterns and possible underlying messages. Perhaps it’s every time they need to leave somewhere or when there are many other children around. When you narrow down what might be underneath the hitting, you can be ready to support them in these scenarios.
In the moment
Move-in close and be ready to block the hit if it is between your child and another child or gently take their hands in yours when they go to hit you. Simply let them know.
‘You are sad we have to leave now.’
‘I can’t let you hit! It hurts. I will help you stop!’
This sends them two powerful messages-
1. ‘My parent has my back, understands my experience, is on my team and will always help me!’
2. ‘Hitting isn’t allowed. It hurts.’
After a hit
As much as we want our toddlers to be truly sorry and make up for hitting their friend with a heartfelt apology or us…it isn’t that realistic at this stage. It absolutely doesn’t mean that we can’t model and instil manners, but it will most likely look something like:
If they hit another child
You can apologise on your child’s behalf to both the child and the parent of the other child. It may sound like.
‘Timmy was feeling very frustrated and hit you. I’m sorry he hit you. Are you OK?’
In certain scenarios following a hit, you may like to take suitable next steps e.g.
If they are hitting at a playgroup where there are many children, you may take your child outside for a walk or break from your group. This is less about punishment and much more about supporting them as there is always a reason they are hitting, and in large groups of children, it may well be the sensory input and stimulation.
The goal is to continue to work with your child and model the skills they will need to communicate their feelings and needs in more acceptable ways as they mature. These skills are built when we verbally empathise with them while physically helping them to stop!