Even though hitting is normal for infants and toddlers, dealing with it can be tough. Discover how to stop your toddler hitting others.
I was at a loss. My toddler was hitting others for no reason, especially his brothers. Whereas the other two kids would complain, cry, or find another solution, he would resort to hitting. Other times, he’d hit me during tantrums, unable to control himself. And still other times, he’d hit others and laugh about it.
Already I was thinking of future play dates or social settings where he’d hit other innocent kids. I feared being that mom apologizing for her son’s actions while trying to discipline and say, “No, no, no!”
Being stern and giving attention to the “victim” instead of him didn’t work. The more consequences I doled out, the more he seemed to act up. And constraining him in my arms was no longer an easy task.
How to stop your toddler hitting others
I needed some answers, and thank goodness, I found them. But first, I also learned two key points about toddlers hitting others:
- Toddlers express themselves through their bodies. At this young age of toddlerhood, they can’t talk or convey feelings they don’t even know how to describe. They have no idea how to express or define jealousy, frustration, or sadness. They only know they’re overcome with this overwhelming emotion they’re not sure will go away.
- Meltdowns are okay. We sometimes rush to hush up a meltdown or a crying toddler. “It’s okay,” we might whisper, or “Stop it!” as we get frustrated. But meltdowns are fine—they’re how kids release their overwhelming feelings.
Knowing that, what are some strategies you can use to help temper your toddler hitting others?
1. Acknowledge your toddler’s emotions
At first sight, you might only see the misbehavior: your toddler hitting another person, which likely prompted you to react. Your face contorted into disapproval, you whisked him away, or you held his hand firmly.
The result? He got even more frustrated and later hit again.
But what if you showed empathy? The next time he hits, look at what provoked him to do so. You’ll see that the reasons aren’t so unusual. Perhaps his sister grabbed a toy out of his hand or got too close to his face. He got angry that his one-on-one play time with a parent had to end.
He has reasons to be upset, and those reasons need to be addressed.
Show empathy and relate to what he must be feeling. “You didn’t like how your sister grabbed the toy from you, didn’t you? You were having fun with it and she took it away.”
Then, instead of whisking him away in isolation during a time out, you could hold him in your arms. This simple act of empathy shows him that you understand his frustrations.
This doesn’t mean you condone the behavior. Once he’s calm and able to listen, you can say, “You felt upset when she took the toy, but we don’t hit. You wouldn’t like it if she did that to you.”
Nor does showing empathy “reward” poor behavior. You won’t stand by and let him continue hitting his sister because he’s upset.
But now you can address what he must be feeling, set limits, redirect, or find a solution—without resorting to anger.
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2. Show compassion
I heard this fantastic saying that our kids aren’t giving us a hard time. They’re having a hard time. Makes a difference in the way you see their behavior, doesn’t it?
Rather than seeing your toddler as another nuisance, guide him through his difficulty with compassion. He’s not hitting out of malice—he doesn’t know how else to better manage his feelings.
He may have a hard time making wise choices when he’s upset. Nor is he able to develop self-discipline when he’s crying or isolated in time out.
Instead, when he’s too upset to even talk, focus on reducing his anger and bringing him to a calmer state. The goal isn’t to get him to stop crying but to calm down. Because only in that state can he learn anything—beyond that, he can’t process any lessons you’re teaching.
I’ve since learned to keep my mouth shut when my kids are crying and save the teachable moments for when they’re actually able to listen. In the meantime, I offer a hug and focus on calming them down.
Choose compassion and empathy over anger, threats, or punishment. You’ll not only build stronger relationships, you’ll also decrease future tantrums and outbursts.
3. Don’t give time outs
Are you tempted to whisk your toddler off after you see him hit another child?
Yes, remove him if it looks like he’s about to hit the other child again. But don’t plop him in a corner and expect him to “learn his lesson.” He won’t. He doesn’t even know how to describe how he’s feeling, much less analyze his behavior.
For all we know, the lesson he’s learning is that feeling upset means sitting in a corner.
Instead, have a time in. Bring him close to you and reiterate what he must be feeling: “You felt upset when your sister took the toy.” Then explain the proper behavior, “But we don’t hit other people.”
Having a time in doesn’t reward his bad behavior. Rewarding his bad behavior means letting him hit his sister all he wants. Don’t withhold your love as a form of punishment—he needs compassion and your reassurance that he’s not a bad person, even as you set limits.
4. Praise your toddler when he’s behaving well
“Let’s not pay him so much attention when he hits,” my husband began. “It’s easy to forget the times when he’s behaving well.” And here begins the tricky part: We give a lot of attention when kids misbehave. After all, we need to intervene, connect, or correct during these scuffles.
But what about the times when they’re behaving well?
The next time you see your toddler playing well, acknowledge how much fun he’s having. Point out how he shared his pieces with his sister, or that you love hearing them laugh together.
We shouldn’t only give attention when kids hit, but more so when they’re doing the opposite. It’s much easier to encourage positive behavior through praise and acknowledgment than it is to correct negative ones.
5. Give your toddler alternatives to hitting
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Part of stopping your toddler hitting others is equipping him with the tools to calm himself down. For instance, you can:
- Encourage him to use words, not his hands, to sort through his feelings. You might tell him, “You seem mad. When you feel like that again, you can say ‘I’m mad!’ instead of hitting someone.”
- Place his hands on his tummy. My children’s pediatrician recommended teaching them to place the palms of their hands on their tummies. Doing so makes it difficult for them to be mad at the same time. They’ll also feel their stomach going in and out, and sometimes that extra focus can be all that’s needed to calm down.
- Tell him to take deep breaths. An extra pause is all he might need to stop him from hitting others. Taking deep breaths or even counting to ten can provide this pause in his heated emotions. A fellow parent reported:
“We try to teach our son to take a deep breath when he’s angry or frustrated. He’s started doing it on his own now without prompting and seems to cut back on (albeit not eliminate) some outbursts.”
- Read books about hitting so he can see what to do instead. Hands Are Not for Hitting by Martine Agassi is a favorite:
In the span of a few short weeks, my toddler reduced his hitting thanks to the strategies I shared here. I imagine the same can be true with yours.
Start by showing empathy for the reasons he hits, as well as compassion to show him you’re on his side. Avoid time outs, as they don’t provide the opportunity to learn better ways to express frustration. Praise him for the times he does behave well or makes progress toward not hitting.
And finally, teach him the tools to better cope with his emotions, from placing his hands on his tummy to using words.
These steps helped my son understand the importance of not hitting, all while reassuring him he’s a well-loved boy, hitting or not.
Get more tips:
- Consequences for Kids That Actually Work
- Why Your Toddler Is Going Through the 1 Year Old Sleep Regression
- How to Stop Kids from Fighting Every Day
- Toddler Not Listening? 7 Things You Need to Do
- Children’s Books about Anger to Help Your Child’s Behavior
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