When Your Toddler Hits: Transforming Bad Behavior

September 4, 2015  |  


I have twin toddlers and one is gentle and calm for the most part and one, although still sweet, is in a hitting bully stage. I’m going to be honest it has been a challenge because I am always protecting the other twin or playing referee and it becomes very draining. I used to spank him and that did nothing. I tried putting him in time out and that did nothing. So I decided I need to stay calm each time and now I say “Do you want to go in time out?” He says no and I say then apologize and he does. I then explain to him why what he did is not ok.

When Your Toddler Hits
Keep in mind that when a toddler hits you or another child it is never because they really want to hurt someone badly. Sometimes their hitting is purely experimental or something they are doing out of fear. Whether it’s the fear that someone will take the toy they love or another kind of fear they don’t know how to express it in the verbal way they want so they react by hitting.

Your Reaction
Remember that if you respond with harshness, they will continue to hit and feed off your energy. If you yank, pull, or yell you are just reinforcing that bad behavior is ok. Instead try pulling them aside and showing them how to act with love. After telling them what they did wrong, give a hug and a kiss and show them how to do nice touch or nice play.

Check out Dr. William Sears tips on toddler hitting

Don’t spank!
In my opinion, spanking is the number-one no-no when disciplining a child that hits. You’re simply reinforcing the message that it’s okay to use your hands to resolve a situation. Using spanking as a consequence can especially confuse her, because you are trying to teach her that hitting is wrong.

Track the trigger
Keep a diary of the situations that seem to trigger her hitting episodes. Is she tired, bored, hungry or angry? See if there is a pattern, and once you’ve identified the trigger, try to address it. Also, take inventory of your current family situation—could a recent change in family dynamics be causing her aggression, such as a move, marital discord, a change in daycare provider or other upset? Or, perhaps she has been recently exposed to a new group of peers who hit, and is learning to use hitting as a form of communication, or a way of getting attention? If this is a possibility, spend a day at her daycare, or other social group setting, and observe the behavior of the other kids, and how your daughter reacts to them. Also, purposely arrange playdates with less-aggressive children who use their hands appropriately. Since her usual target is the face, also take steps to ensure that none of her playmates or caregivers are striking your child in the face.

Offer alternative means of communication
In most cases, children don’t hit out of anger or frustration—often, it’s just a confused way of getting your attention. The key to quelling this type of hitting is to show her how to communicate with her hands using more gentle gestures. Try to substitute a positive behavior for an annoying one: Next time she’s about to hit you, immediately distract her with a more pleasant interaction, such as playing a game she enjoys or giving her a favorite toy to hold. If this doesn’t work, then, when she hits, tell her: “We don’t hit, we hug.” You can also take her hand and show her how to pat your arm or face gently while talking about it. Continually demonstrating and discussing alternative gestures requires patience; this concept may take some time to sink in.

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