It’s a common problem to have two year olds hitting. Two-year-olds will often display sporadic rounds of aggression. This usually starts off playful but can end up nasty as they seek to test boundaries.
Have you experienced the occasion hit or two from your child only to find out later in the day that the same behaviour pattern returned, but this time much harder?
The toddler hitting phase happens from 18 months to around 3 years old. In this phase toddlers displays a variety of emotions whilst, learning to express themselves.
Learning how to stop a 2 year old from hitting and throwing things is not clear cut. Two-Year-Olds hitting can sometimes be a very effective way to handle new emotions.
Stronger emotions need more expressions and your child is learning to vent strong feelings, albeit in the wrong way.
Related: Time Out For 2-Year-Old
Two Year Olds Hitting: 5 Practical Reasons
1. Do They Want To Hurt Me?
First, it’s important to remember that your child doesn’t want to harm you directly (although it doesn’t always feel like that!)
As they seek to test boundaries, form their own character and develop independence they will lash out as a way to of express themselves to parents and other peers.
Sometimes this can be a gentle playful hit just as a means of communication. Other times it can be a big WHACK, across your body leaving you wondering what you’ve done to deserve such an attack.
Try not to take it personally, it’s all a part of learning. It’s an integral part of healthy development and you can use it as a to help shape your child’s mind.
2. Is it experimental hitting?
As they learn about their strengths and what body part can do what you’ll find that older toddlers will use hitting as an experiment. Whether that’s linked to sounds (hitting a table or chair) a toy (playing the drums) or aimed at you (to get a response or for attention) your child will hit you as part of an experiment.
Remember that they have their own logical ways of coming to conclusions and they are constantly learning about themselves and the world around them.
If they are hitting a toy or a pillow, (something of a trivial meaning) then feel free to leave them to experiment. It’s a necessary part of growth and learning.
Remember, having a 2 year old hitting at daycare needs a more immediate response as they could inflict harm on others.
3. Is it Fear-based aggression?
Children can bottle up emotions and feelings that they are unable to express or have not been given permission to express.
Too often parents don’t give children the opportunity to actively and effectively vent their frustrations and anxieties. This leads to a mindset of fear that transitions into aggression leading to lashing out, hitting or fighting with others.
This is a type of fear-based hitting can wrongly promote the conclusion that they can effectively vent their emotions in other ways. Younger children and toddlers are very susceptible to this behaviour while they still learn the vocabulary necessary to communicate effectively.
Emotional signs of anger in a 2 year old
Be sure to look for emotional signs of anger in a 2 year old. Remember, If they are unable to vent bigger emotions (fear, jealousy, guilt) they will find expression in physically hitting others to offset the confusion they feel.
This is very common amongst toddlers as they seek more help to find positive ways of expression. This is an important factor behind two year olds hitting, that is often overlooked.
4. Is it due to Environmental Factors?
Children learn a vast majority of ways to interact with the world from others around them. If they have seen or been a victim to aggression at home or at a playgroup they can imitate it.
Some levels of disruption should be expected amongst toddlers of the same age group as they all meet developmental milestones at the same time.
But, be careful that your child doesn’t witness too much aggression. This often will be the primary reason for two year olds hitting.
5. What About Screen Time?
Monitoring the types of programs your child watches on TV or across other screens is an important way to curb aggression. As children’s cartoon display more aggressive behaviour you need to review which shows you allow them to watch and which you dismiss.
Children can pick up very disruptive habits from seemingly harmless TV shows and they may not show signs of aggression for several weeks after they have watched the show.
It’s important to keep a regular eye on the types of shows they watch and shut down any programs that show unnecessary levels of aggressive and disruptive behaviour.
This is a smart way to avoid the toddler hitting phase.
7 Ways To Stop Two Year Olds Hitting
1. Don’t Hit Back
There has been scientific evidence to show there is little to no correlation between spanking your children and positive discipline results. The same level of discipline can be achieved without the use of corporal punishment.
Regardless of your views on spanking it’s important to remember that children copy their parent’s words and actions. This means you increase the likelihood of your child hitting other children to express themselves if you lash out at them.
This will reduce the likelihood of a 2 year old hitting at daycare.
2. Set Clear Limits
Be swift with your response to aggressive behaviour and set clear limits to behaviour. If you issue a warning for your child hitting others or hitting you and this behaviour is repeated then follow through on a logical consequence.
Time out’s work well for toddlers and as a rule of thumb try to stick to 1 minute per year old.
Therefore, a two-year-old would get around 2 minutes of alone time.
Once they return, ensure they have fully calmed down and reinforce the reason why they were sent into time out in the first place.
I find asking them to repeat the reason works well.
For example “No Hitting” or “Hitting Hurts”
3. Reinforce Good Behaviour
A good way to limit two year olds hitting is to double down on positive behaviour. By re-enforcing the good behaviour you show your child that your attention is limited to positive and proactive behaviour.
This will help to provide a more acceptable framework for constructive behaviour and sets the tone for what they should expect if they don’t stick to the house rules.
A simple chart for good behaviour with ‘Gold Stars’ will do the trick.
Children identify with behaviour that gets them the most attention and by ignoring violent and disruptive behaviour you re-enforce the principle that positive behaviour trumps negative behaviour all the time.
4. Different Types Of Expression
Expression is the fundamental stepping stone for growth and development.
Many parents mistakenly restrict any type of aggressive expression. This can be detrimental to your child and their ability to get along with you and others.
Learning how to stop a 2 year old from hitting and throwing things required being proactive and flexible.
Instead, try ways to let them vent their big emotions.
- If they are angry let them shout out loud (when it’s appropriate to do so like in a big park )
- If they are overstimulated, let them jump up and down on a bed or couch for a few minutes
- If they are upset, let them vent frustrations on a pillow or a toy (like some drums)
You should aim to find constructive ways to vent expression that doesn’t involve hitting you or others. It can be as simple as going for a walk with your child when they are particularly violent or upset.
Remember, it’s not always going to be easy, especially when they are very aggressive or disruptive but a change of environment can do the trick.
This is a very impactful way to limit the toddler hitting phase.
5. Active Toddlers = Happy Toddlers
Children that are stimulated tend to have less aggression stored up in their system. Indoor and outdoor activity is a great feeding tool to keep your child’s mind full of new information.
Ultimately, this new discovery’s will help shape your child’s mind in a more supportive way.
Try to have routine trips to the park, museums, shops etc. Anything that will change their current state to a more positive one. Children thrive on new information and new sensory stimulation.
If you can tap into this eagerness for learning you’ll find they will be able to cope with bigger emotions easier as they learn from their environment more and more each day.
This is a smart way to handle emotional signs of anger in a 2 year old.
6. Consistent Disciple
To reduce the problem of two year olds hitting keep your disciple routines consistent. If you issue a time out for a serious hitting incident on one occasion but then don’t follow up with the same consequence another time, you run the risk of your child running all over you.
Keep your attempts at positive discipline consistent so your threats are not empty.
This will ensure clear boundaries are established and any behaviour that crosses it will be dealt with swiftly and concisely.
7. Use Your Words Wisely
You need to remind your child that hitting is not an appropriate way to express themselves. Be calm and polite, yet stern and direct. Keep your choice of words direct and leave no room for misunderstanding.
For example, if your child has just hit you, calmly move his hand away and tell him “Hitting Hurts’ and “I can’t let you do that”.
If it continues then give him some room, but repeat yourself again.
Your aim is not to calm him down as this will be a sign that you are not allowing him to vent his emotions which he needs to do. Instead, you are showing him that expression is healthy, but hitting others is not.
Two Year Olds Hitting: Helpful Commands
Here is a list of the things you should say when your toddler hits.
Keep your responses clear and concise and remember that your job isn’t to stop the expression of emotion but just to remind, gently, that hitting is not acceptable.
“I know you love your sister, but I can’t let you hit her”
“I’m not upset with you, I love you and I’ll stay right here until you calm down”
“Hitting is not acceptable, I’ll stay with you to keep us both safe”
“I’m sorry you feel like this, let’s use our words instead”
“I understand you are angry, but hitting your sister won’t get your toy back, how about we play with something else instead for a few minutes and then we can both ask your sister to share”
Sometimes a child is very aggressive and may need some professional help.
Talk to your paediatrician if:
- You’ve followed all the above advice for a few weeks and have not seen any change in temperament
- They are constantly aggressive with other children and cannot make friends or play nice in any child-friendly setting.
- He constantly attacks any adult he encounters, including family members
- He takes unusually long to calm down from any temper tantrum (over 30 minutes each time) and has temper tantrums over everything.
This will help you to better understand the source of the behaviour and will give you a more holistic framework to create a long-lasting solution.