There’s never a “dull” moment when you are parenting toddlers. If your 3 year olds hitting everyone around them, you know exactly what I’m talking about!
You are constantly repeating yourself, “sweetie, keep your hands to yourself” and everyday tasks can feel like an uphill battle. You may even be slightly in fear when out in public that they are going to lash out at you, their siblings, their friends or even a dog!
It can all be a bit overwhelming. But rest assured you are not alone. Many parents have already gone through the Terrible 3’s and have come out the other side with well-behaved children, that don’t hit others!
Related: Terrible 3s
3 Year Olds Hitting: Why?
Toddlers are usually very enthusiastic. They want to explore the world and everything in it. Learning from their environment is a normal way to build skills that they will use as older children and adults.
Children learn acceptable forms of behaviour by learning from their surroundings. However, a common theme among children who hit other children is usually an experience of being hit themselves or may have seen it happen to other children.
Its very likely that what children watch on TV will have a big influence on their behavior.
However by far the most important factor for 3 year olds hitting is their developmental age.
Toddlers undergo a huge developmental change and this has a massive impact on their behaviour. As they are learning ways to correctly express themselves they begin to understand that using words is an easier way to get what they want.
The dilemma, therefore, is that they are still learning the correct vocabulary to express themselves correctly. The friction between knowing what you want and not being able to express it can cause a toddler to ‘lash out’ on those around them (and sometimes themselves)
This difficult developmental milestone can be one of the main reasons why your 3 year olds hitting. It’s a way of expressing themselves when they are not able to effectively express a feeling with words.
Here are the strategies to learn how to stop a child from hitting a parent or toddlers hitting others for no reason.
3 Year Olds Hitting: Your Action Plan
Don’t Give Attention
When your child is hitting you or other children it can be very difficult to deal. This is especially the case if its happening again and again and you feel like you’ve tried everything to no avail.
Worse still is when a 3 year old hitting at daycare or if your 3 year old hitting at nursery.
Children crave attention and usually will find constructive ways to get it from their parents or caregivers. If they have realised that they get more attention from negative and abusive behaviour, like hitting, scratching, kicking or biting others, then they will continue to do it.
Try and give little to no attention to the negative behaviour and focus more on the positive and high-quality things your toddler does instead.
Remember, this doesn’t mean leaving your child to hit you or others freely.
Here’s what you should do:
- Tell your child that “Hitting is not an acceptable form of expression’ and that if it continues she will go to sit in a time out.
- If the hitting continues then stay with your child and prevent them from hitting you or anyone else by gentle holding their hands or feet.
Children get into rages for all sorts of things but can be calmed down if you release the tensions they are feeling. Direct them to jump up and down, hit a pillow or vent their rage on a hard toy (like drums)
This can work very well to get them to calm down quickly and puts you back in control.
- Once they have clamed down remind them that “hitting is not the right way to express themselves” and next time they should “Use their words”
“Sweetie, I know you wanted to go outside to play but it’s just started raining and you’ll get wet. I understand that this makes you sad and now you are upset. When you hit me it really hurt, I feel sad now. Let’s play with your new trumpet toy instead together, I bet I can blow louder than you!”
This is a great way to give the child some control of the situation but at the same time remind them that hitting others isn’t an appropriate form of behaviour.
Use can use this technique if your 3 year old pushing at school or your 3 year old pushing at preschool.
Your primary focus should be on avoiding giving negative and disruptive behaviour much attention.
Try instead to really hammer down on your interaction with positive behaviour. When your child does something remarkable or even just something new and exciting give them a burst of positive feedback and show them that good behaviour is rewarded with your attention.
“Well Done sweetie, you just built your first toy car out of lego and it looks amazing! I feel happy when I see you build new things and I’m proud of you. Let’s take a picture to show daddy later”
This will help form a pattern that proactively gives attention to the positive things your toddler does and limiting the time spent on the negative parts of 3 year olds hitting others.
Ultimately this will lead to your toddler finding more creative ways to get attention from you by following instructions and being compliant with your requests.
Children enjoy spending 1 on 1 time with parents. Whilst you may have busy days and many children to take care of it’s important you find quality 1 – 1 time to spend with your child. This is crucial if they are showing disruptive behaviour.
Children that show defiant and aggressive behaviour often need more special time with their parents.
Find a way to incorporate some 1 – 1 time with a new activity that only you and your child can do. For example, try painting pictures together or learning an instrument. This activity should be set in a routine part of the day (after dinner for example) and you can use it as leverage to promote good behaviour.
If your child is in a rage is having a temper tantrum and is about to hit you or someone else then try to mention your 1 – 1 time to appease the situation.
‘Sweetie, I understand you are upset right now, but if you don’t calm down soon then we won’t be able to play the drums together later. I know you love playing the drums, don’t you? I love playing it with you and I was looking forward to hitting it with you later.
1 – 1 time strengthens the bond between parent and child and as they get older they will learn to appreciate this special bonding time more.
Sometimes children lash out due to soreness, illness or fatigue. Ensure that they aren’t going through any physical aches or pains, like teething, rashes, growing pains etc
This can have a big impact on their behaviour and will heighten their emotions leading to more aggression.
It’s important not to overlook your toddler’s temperament as it will have a big impact on your 3 year old hitting and pushing.
Have your child’s basic needs been met? If not this could be a reason why your 3 year olds hitting.
Ensure your child is not too tired, too hungry or thirsty and is not under or overstimulated. If your child is acting out and hitting others it can sometimes just be a reaction to being overtired, exhausted or overstimulated.
Ensure plenty of rest and monitor the times before and after naps for significant signs of aggression. This could be a sign that your child is not getting enough sleep.
Also, overstimulation at playtime or play dates can have an impact on aggression. This has an important role to play especially when your 3 year old hitting at daycare or your 3 year old hitting at nursery.
Try to catch your toddler before they get into the hyperactive stage to reduce the risk of them hitting other children.
Here are the best discipline techniques to use if your child hits you or other children and you want it to:
3 Year Olds Hitting: Punishments
These work well and tend to work better as children grow older. A general rule of thumb is 1 minute for every year old the child is. Therefore, a 3 year old would need a 3-minute time out.
Try to keep the time out zones in ‘chilled’ parts of the house where there is little to no distraction. Once the time out is finished explain the reason for it and ask your child to apologise for the behaviour to you and whoever else they affected.
Don’t Ask For An Explanation
Younger children are still learning the right and wrong ways to do things and won’t always understand the reasons why their behaviour is wrong and not appropriate.
If they are struggling to express themselves in the first place then asking them to explain why they hit another child won’t help.
Instead, explain to them why the behaviour is not acceptable and that if it continues they will be removed from the playtime permanently.
The calmer you are the calmer your child will be.
Children learn the correct ways of behaviour by watching their parents first and foremost. If you stay calm whilst dealing with frustration and anger then they will pick up the cues and triggers to do the same.
This will also mean you are in a better headspace to deal with the hitting incident as well.
Explain What It Feels Like
Give your child an explanation of how you feel when they hit you.
Say ‘ I feel sad, or I feel upset now because you hit me. It really hurt’.
Toddlers still have a difficult time understanding other peoples feelings and by showing them that it hurts when they hit you, you are promoting empathy.
This is a fundamental emotion to learn for growth, problem-solving and people skills and will help to socialise them into the bigger world as they get older.
Overall it’s an uphill battle teaching your toddler not to hit, but if you follow the above advice you’ll be on the right path for more improved behaviour.