Learning how to deal with toddler hitting isn’t always easy. Toddlers will act up and lash out for many reasons, some being a lot more complicated then others. Whether it’s due to tiredness, stimulation or meeting developmental milestone toddlers are constantly in conflict.
Growing up can be tough. They are continuously learning and finding more out about themselves and the world around them. They are learning a variety of skills including language, emotional and physical skills.
They are striving for independence and are being introduced to the rules of the world and how to play safely within it. This is usually a very difficult time as they go from being completely dependant on mummy and daddy to realizing that actually ‘I can do things by themselves, Thank you!’
On top of all that they have probably learnt by now that “No means NO!” (well almost every time)
Related: How To Teach A Toddler Not To Hit
An aggressive toddler isn’t being disobedient or misbehaving for no reason. They are struggling to communicate their feelings as they continue to learn effective language skills to express themselves.
On top of this, they are dealing with new ways to communicate new emotions which can cause extra tension and anxiety.
Learning how to deal with toddler hitting involves understanding the reasons for disruptive behaviour in the first place. Usually, a toddler will feel more stressed when they are tired, hungry or worried. This can lead to them lashing out and hitting you or someone else.
At this developmental stage your toddler experiences some of the biggest frustrations and anxieties which can overlap into the way they cope with emotion and authority.
You should communicate repeatedly that whatever the reason they are angry and upset aggressive behaviour will not be tolerated.
How To Deal With Toddler Hitting
1. Good Behaviour gets reward first
Instead of giving immediate attention to your toddler for being disruptive try over praising him for being good. Toddlers crave attention and find constructive ways to get it even if that’s not in a positive way.
Instead, focus on providing positive reinforcement for good behaviour and focusing less on his negative behaviour.
For example instead of yelling at him for “hitting his sister“, sit him down (in another room preferably) explain to him why that ‘isn’t appropriate behaviour” and then get him to do something that you know you can praise him for.
“Well done, you know your sister loves when you sing to her, you sound so good – Keep it up”
In that way, you can re-enforce the positive behaviour and give him the attention he’s looking for and simultaneously limit the time spent on his negative behaviour.
It’s a win-win!
2. Consequences First, Reasons after
Most toddlers aren’t yet able to put themselves in someone else shoes. Therefore it’s not worth your time trying to explain to him what it feels like if the shoe was on the other foot.
Instead, give him the consequences of his actions and then be very deliberate to follow up on them. Toddlers are smart and they can tell if your threats are empty.
For example, If your toddler is not letting other people go down the slide at a park, instead of saying “You wouldn’t like that if someone else did that to you”, pick him up and sit him out.
Let him watch other people go down the slide and then say “If you don’t play nice with everyone else we will have to go home and you won’t get a turn down the slide yourself”
This is a far better way to show circumstances first and then reasons for actions second.
3. Watch Your Temper
If your toddler is hitting out at you and you are already in a bad mood then getting even more upset at him won’t help much. He’ll learn that:
- 1. He gets even more attention from you when he continues to push your buttons, and
- 2. That anger is an appropriate expression to show when you are feeling overwhelmed with emotions.
It’s much better to keep your frustration at bay and then re-evaluate the situation with a clearer head. You’ll show him, by your actions, an acceptable form of behaviour when expressing frustration.
4. Be Clear With Your Boundaries
Try and be as clear with your boundaries and warnings for disruptive behaviour as you can. Don’t let the situation escalate to warning 3 or 4, nip it in the bud at warning 1 or 2.
For example, if your toddler is hitting out or not sharing his toys and becoming aggressive then take control of the situation.
Remove him from the room, explain in a very calm voice that “hitting is not appropriate behaviour” and “that he won’t be able to return to playtime until he apologies”
If that doesn’t work then a time out will do. Once you do this repeatedly, just the thought of you stopping his playtime on warning 1 will do.
5. Be Repetitive
The more times you repeat yourself the better your child will learn and the faster they will remember not to cross you the next time. It can be a bit difficult to keep up, but toddlers learn best by watching and then doing the same thing over and over again.
If you are repetitive with your disciplinary approach then soon you won’t have to hand out as much punishment (time outs, taking toys away, early bedtimes) as just a warning will suffice.
Get your toddler to talk with you after some of his more explosive episodes. Ask him:
- Why he felt the way he did,
- What made him react in that way, and
- What you could have done to calm him down faster
These strategies are a bit more complicated, but you’ll be surprised at how much you learn from your toddler.
You may not always get a clear response but getting your child to talk about their feelings from an early age is an important part of self-development, expression and will help in problem-solving skills in the future.
7. Repeat Rules
Ask your toddler, to repeat the rules back to you.
- Number 1: No Hitting Out,
- Number 2: No Spitting.
- Number 3: Wash Hands After Dinner etc.
This is a smart way to promote self–discipline as your toddler will find it easier to recall the rules (‘Rule 1. No hitting’) as he recited it previously and has understood what it means.
This will take some time but once it sinks in your job becomes much easier.
8. Less Screen Time, More Family Time
Cartoons, Films, Animations and even commercials can be very aggressive and hostile. Limit your toddlers’ screen time and monitor more of the things he watches.
Toddlers learn a vast amount of how they perceive the world from the TV and this can have a direct and instant impact on their behaviour.
Monitoring what they watch and how much they watch will give you a better idea of what elements they mimic and what you can leave as toddler friendly.
Remember every child is different so some shows may have more of a direct impact on their behaviour while others may not.
9. If You Need Help, Just Ask!
Many parents have a stigma attached to asking for professional help. Established behaviourist or community leaders can help. Sometimes you will need that extra help for your toddler especially when their behaviour is particularly severe or abrupt.
If you have concerns that your child’s behaviour is getting worse after countless attempts to curb it, then seek advice from your local paediatrician.
You are not alone and many knowing other parents that have gone through what you are going through helps to manage expectations.
There are plenty of experts that specialise in children behaviour and getting a tailored made evaluation can really help you. Contacting your local paediatrician should be your first option.
Remember that your child is going through some of the biggest developmental milestones he will ever go through so being patient and empathetic will always be the best strategy for dealing with your toddler hitting.