Learning how to teach a toddler not to hit isn’t easy. Most parents find it incredibly frustrating as toddlers naturally lash out when they are unable to express themselves correct.
Figuring out how to stop a child from hitting a parent can be hard as your child will naturally hit the closest person to them. Frustrations arise when parents feel that it is a personal attack against them. However, in reality, it is not.
Toddlers learn at an incredible pace. They are learning everyday new and exciting ways to interact with the world. Sometimes, however, this exploration can cause hiccups as your toddler learns that hitting is an appropriate form of expression.
Related: Toddlers Hitting Self
Often toddlers have trouble expressing themselves. This isn’t new. However this problem is heightened when they face developmental challenges.
“When young kids aren’t allowed to have the power they crave, it’s a major cause of frustration for them,” says Linda Acredolo, Ph.D, co-author of Baby Minds
The tricky dilemma is your toddler is at an age were individuality and independence is being pushed, but simultaneously they have to be put on a short leash for safety reason.
Your toddler is learning they have a voice and a say over what they can and can’t do. However this frustration is intensified by their inability to express what they already know.
Learning how to teach a toddler not to hit means being patient with them as they develop better mental and social skills. Usually, this toddler hitting phase is rooted in a developmental struggle as your toddler battles to express what they think they know.
A toddlers vocabulary forms at a slower pace than their awareness of their surroundings and their ability to understand it.
That means they are able to understand what they want (or don’t want) but they are unable to express it to you. This puts them at a very natural developmental handicap and is the main reason for frustration, anxiety and disruptive behaviour.
A toddler that cannot express themselves effective will, therefore, hit out or lash out to vent their anger. It is this lack of expression that causes disruptive behaviour and in most cases not the general urge to want to hurt other people on purpose.
How To Teach A Toddler Not To Hit
1. Stop The Hitting
You may have to physically get in the way and also remove your toddler from the situation. This is a guaranteed way to ensure that no-one else get’s hit. A toddler hitting parents during tantrums is very common but you must try to remain calm.
Try to reinforce your parenting by focusing on simple instructions that your toddler will understand. “Stop hitting” and “No hitting” are very simple instructions. There is no room for ambiguous interpretation.
Remember, your toddler may still be struggling to comprehend the reason they are getting in trouble. You can assist your verbal efforts with a physical reminder.
Put their hands by their side when you remind them not to hit. This will psychically show them that “hands are not made for hitting other people” and they should “stay next to you!“
2. Calmness Wins
We’ve all been there before. It’s bedtime and your child is trying every trick in the book to stay up for an extra 5 mintues.
You know what they are doing and it’s starting to push your buttons. You lose your temper, start yelling and things escalate out of control.
Anger will encourage more anger. Therefore trying to remain calm, even when the odds are stacked against you will always be the smart things to do. Here’s why:
- When you yell or get angry at your child you are not only making the situation worse but you are actively showing them that this is an acceptable way to express yourself.
- If you are both angry you are automatically in a power struggle and usually the one who screams and yells the loudest will win. This isn’t the impression that you want to give to your toddler.
- You must practice what you preach. Staying calm under pressure inadvertently teaches your child that calmness is a better way to get what they want.
Remember, it’s easy to get angry and upset when your toddler is actively throwing tantrums and mini fits. It’s much more difficult to remain calm and manage your own emotions.
Ultimately your child will copy the way you handle these situations. Keeping yourself calm will ensure you are in the right mind frame to proactively parent and allow you to find the best solution to your problem.
3. Acknowledge Different Types Of behaviour
Not all hitting is out of anger. Some toddlers hit out of fun or playtime.
You should sit them down in a calm place and remind them that in each context you mustn’t hit. Explain why “hitting out of anger isn’t an acceptable form of expression” and how “hitting when you’re happy won’t make people want to play with you“.
By getting down on their level you are showing them in no uncertain terms that these types of behaviour are not acceptable.
4. Reward Positive Behaviour
Toddlers crave attention. They have created extremely smart ways of getting it as well. However, this doesn’t always stem from a positive place.
Disruptive behaviour can sometimes get the same or even more attention the negative behaviour as you expel more energy to curb it. Instead, focus heavily on positive reinforcement.
For instance ‘ Well done, you put your toy’s back in the right toy box and have gotten ready for bed, Thank you so much!’
Here you are showing as much attention for positive behaviour your toddler shows and consequently are placing much less emphasis on the negative.
Remember, over time this will have a lasting effect on the way your toddler craves attention from you.
Note: You can reward positive behaviour with small privileges like healthy snacks, more toy time or more screen time. This will give your toddler an extra incentive to curb disruptive behaviour
5. Punishments For Hitting Others
It’s important you have a firm consequence or punishment for hitting. this will help reinforce how to teach a toddler not to hit.
Here are some effective punishments for hitting:
If your toddler is over 2 this will work well. If they are under 2 they may not have the mental framework to effective link the hitting with the time out punishment.
Remember, keep the time out’s short. (rule of thumb is 1 min for every year old they are. So a 3-Year-Old would have a 3 minute time out)
Another smart consequence you can use is removing toys. Here you confiscate your toddlers favourite toys or favourite activities as an incentive to curb aggression.
Try to using the sliding scale approach. This is where you start off with a less favourable toy and work your way up to the best one.
For example. “If you don’t put that down now I will confiscate your toy train’
If this doesn’t work, “Ok, I’ve asked you to put that down and if you haven’t done it by the time I count to 3, I will confiscate your building blocks”
If he/she still isn’t listening then you can target their most prized possession. (‘favourite activity ride along car’)
The great part of this approach is you may not even get to the more severe option (the ride-along car) as your child has learned that oppositional behaviour leads to negative consequences.
By using the sliding scale approach you have the upper hand. If you had just started at their most favourite toy and they continued to be defiant, you would have lost the most valuable bargain chip.
No More Play Time
Children love to play. It’s the reason they are so happy all of the time! You can use this as a smart tactic to limit disruptive and aggressive behaviour.
If your child continues to hit or lash out at you then remind them that if it continues “You will no longer play with them”
If you are out in public then you can give them a warning that violent behaviour will result in instantly being withdrawn from the playtime.
For example: “If you hit me again we will go home straight away and you will not get to play with your friends at the park anymore”
This is a very smart way to limit aggression as the rules are very clear. Playtime is for those that can play nice!