Does your child hit himself, you, the caregivers, or other kids?  Do you feel like you have tried everything to help your child stop hitting?  We understand that it can be difficult or frustrating to get your young child to listen and behave as you expect him/her to. But, before you throw the towel and give up, give these tips a try.

Why Do Toddlers Hit?

1. Pain or Discomfort

Toddlers who hit themselves can be concerning.  If you notice your child hitting his/her head, it can be a sign that something in his/her head is bothering him/her.  Check for symptoms or causes of discomfort or pain, such as an ear infection. 

2. Inability to communicate.

Since babies and toddlers cannot verbally communicate their feelings, they tend to use their hands to express themselves.  If they feel ecstatic, excited, frustrated, or angry, they may hit their laps, a nearby object, their caregiver, or another child.  They may also hit themselves when they feel irritated that they are not understood well.  On the other hand, they may see hitting as a fun game.  You will notice them giggling after each hit.

3. Still learning to regulate emotions.

The children’s brain is still developing and learning how to regulate their emotions. As a result, they still cannot control their reaction and emotions whenever there is a significant change or stimuli in their environment.

4. For the attention and reaction.

Young children crave your undivided attention. So if they get attention from you when he/she hits, then he/she will do it repeatedly because he/she thinks it is a fail-proof way to get you to pay attention.

5. To get what they want. 

Kids hit to get what they want by whining, throwing tantrums, and hitting.  Here is an example. If the child refuses to eat vegetables and wants to eat sweets instead, he/she will try to throw the food, scream, or even hit.  If you give in and let him/her get away with skipping the veggies and get straight to dessert, expect that he/she will do this again.  Not just during mealtime but every time she wants to get his/her way.

What to Do To Prevent Your Toddler from Hitting

 dad trying to comfort shouting crying child

1. Identify the triggers.

Observe your child and keep track of the outbursts and hitting.  In addition, write these in a journal or on your phone.

·       What does your child feel when he/she hits?

·       Who did your child hit?

·       What happened before the hitting?

Find a pattern in the hitting behaviour and try the following strategies to help your child stop hitting.

2. Keep yourself in check.

How do you manage your emotion?  Do you shout, pinch, or hit when you feel angry or frustrated.  If you are guilty of displaying your outbursts to your child, be more conscious of how you react?  Your child may just be copying you, so be a good example.

3. Teach your child to use words. 

When you make it a practice to label your child’s emotion, he/she will eventually learn to associate his emotion with the word. Therefore, encourage your child to use the words instead of his/her hand to communicate his/her feelings.

4. Speak calmly.

Help your child calm down by talking softly to them, especially if they have difficulty managing their emotions.

5. Support your child, especially during significant life events and changes.

Children thrive on routine, and major life changes can throw them off.  If you foresee any changes or events such as moving houses, a new baby or going to the dentist, take the time to warm up your child to the idea.  You can talk to your child or read a book about it.  Make sure to reassure and comfort your child.

6. Take it easy.

Kids hit because they are overstimulated, tired, or hungry. Instead, stick to their routine and make sure that they are fed and well-rested. 

7. Read books to your child.

There are toddler picture books that can help your child stop hitting.  Here are some examples.

·       No Hitting by Karen Katz

·       Calm Down Time by Elizabeth Verdick

·       Keeping Your Cool: A Book about Anger by Carolyn Larsen

·       Hands are not for Hitting by Martinne Agassi Ph.D. and Marieka Heinlen

8. Check for the cause of discomfort.

As mentioned earlier, your child may be hitting himself to communicate or re-direct the pain or discomfort he/she feels.  Check for physical indications of pain such as a bruise, wound, or swelling.  If you suspect an infection, talk with the doctor for proper medical attention.

9. Keep an eye on your child.

If your child has a history of hitting other kids, keep an eye on your child when he/she is around other kids.  Check for warning signs of tantrums, and intervene as necessary.

10. Encourage mindfulness exercises.

Give your child tools to help soothe and calm down his/her emotions.  Breathing exercises are an excellent example of mindfulness practice.  Check out our blog post for more mindfulness activities for the kids.

What To Do When Toddler Hits

1. Acknowledge feelings first.

Giving a child a lecture at the height of a tantrum is not the best time.  Your child will not understand a single word you are saying because his/her focus is on herself and not on you.  Instead, acknowledge their feeling.  This will help them feel they are seen and heard.

2. Be firm.

Tell your child that hitting is not proper and that it can hurt other people.  Help your child understand the relationship between cause and effect.

3. Respect their feelings.

Your child may seem upset over a petty thing that it’s sometimes funny.  While it may seem cute or funny, refrain from laughing at them.  Show respect to their feelings because regardless of how petty it may seem, it is real for them.

4. Remind them of the rules in a positive manner.

Extend more patience and understanding to your child.  Be more intentional in talking and guiding them.  Parents tend to start statements with “No,” “Stop,” or “Do not.”  Try stating it positively.  Instead of saying, “Stop hitting,” you can tell your child, “Breathe,” or Be gentle.”

When to Seek Professional Help

Children may outgrow this stage of hitting as their brain develops and they learn to regulate their emotions.  However, there may be instances that the child may need professional help.  Here are the signs.

·       None of the strategies worked to improve the hitting episodes.

·       Your child is hurting himself.

·       Your child shows delay in speech

·       Your child shows physical illness such as fatigue, lack of appetite, or fever.

·       Your child displays symptoms of a developmental condition.

       If you have concerns about your child’s behaviour and development pace, do not hesitate to consult with the doctor.  Early intervention is the best present you can give your child.

Tiny Steps

We play, learn, and grow with children. 

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