parents, why do toddlers hit? Find the answer and what to do (and not to do) about it here.
What can you read in this article?
- “My baby is hitting me in the face. What should I do?”
- “Why does my toddler hit me but not daddy?”
- The appropriate way to respond to a hitting toddler
The toddler stage is arguably one of the cutest stages of a child. Your two-year-old is learning how to explore (which means it’s more fun to play with him now). Communication feels more like a two-way street now compared to before when he just stares at you all the time.
He’s also learning to express his feelings, and that includes getting excited over things. Who can resist those cute squeals when he sees his favorite toy, or his favorite person (you)?
Sometimes, however, you notice that your child has found a habit of hitting you or anyone. And what’s puzzling is most of the time, you’re not really sure why he does that, and how you should react. Should you just shrug it off, should you look mad so he’ll stop? Or should you not resist the urge to laugh out loud at that new antic?
Maybe you’re reading this because your toddler has been hitting and continues to do so no matter how many times you say “No!” So you’re desperate for a solution. But before we go to the things you should do to keep your toddler from hitting, let’s look at some of the reasons why he does it.
Why do toddlers hit?
According to Healthline, here are some of the reasons why you’re toddler is hitting.
They’re testing their limits
What will happen if I do this?
That’s probably the question running on a toddler’s mind the whole day.
Toddlers are just learning how the world works and how to communicate. Sometimes, maybe the first few times, hitting is just an experiment. They want to know what your reaction will be.
Image from Shutterstock
They haven’t developed self-control yet.
As mentioned earlier, toddlers are still learning to express their feelings. Extreme emotions like disappointment, anger and even excitement, are particularly challenging because it is easier for them to use actions rather than words.
And since it’s new to them, they can’t rein it in yet, Impulse control or regulating skills are basically non-existent until age 3.
They don’t know that it’s bad.
Psychologists agree that most children below 7 years old hit because they want something (this is called instrumental aggression), not because they want to hurt someone (hostile aggression).
“Why does my toddler hit me but not daddy?”
While we know they’re not really hitting to hurt us, it can get a little bit annoying when we’re the usual and favorite target of the hitting. It feels worse when they do it to us and not our partner, and our husband cannot help but stifle a laugh when this happens.
So what’s the deal with this?
Don’t take it personally, mom. The possible reason why your child does this to you and not other people is that you are his safe space. His hitting may be out of his big feelings, or an emotional release, and he feels comfortable sharing that with you.
While you shouldn’t feel bad that your baby hits you and only you, you shouldn’t have to bear with this situation alone. The whole family must be on the same page when it comes to stopping this unwanted behavior from your toddler.
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What not to do
Shout or react with anger
Our instincts prompt us to react strongly with an empathic “No hitting!” and to remind the child that hitting is wrong.
However, this may not be the most effective response. The strong reaction may just elicit giggles from the experimenting child and prompt him to try to reproduce the response. Remember, our kids want our attention, whether that’s positive or negative. So if we respond to their hitting as a way of getting our attention, trust that you’ll see more of it.
“Don’t meet chaos with chaos. Stay calm and stay confident,” said Deena Margolin, a clinical psychologist, and parent coach.
In the case of an emotional child, the child is no longer thinking clearly and is already overwhelmed by strong feelings. Telling an angry bull not to charge may not be the best strategy.
If you want your child to stop hitting you, then aggression may not be the answer. Several studies have shown that violent forms of punishment do more harm than good.
Moreover, spanking your child for hitting just confuses your child and sends him the wrong message – that it’s okay to hit if you’re bigger or older. So in disciplining your toddler, it’s best to avoid power struggles that involve the use of force.
Our toddlers like to catch our attention, and they especially love making us laugh. So badly that they will do the things that make us laugh over and over again. So while it may seem “funny” to see your child inflicting pain at first, you won’t be laughing when they’re doing that when they’re bigger and it’s not cute and acceptable anymore. Our suggestion? Nip it in the bud.
Now that we’ve enumerated how not to react when your child hits you, now it’s time to learn expert-recommended tips on how to respond to the hitting the right way.
How to handle hitting
Image from Pexels
Parents, remember that in trying to discipline your child is to remain calm. Resist the urge to yell or laugh, because the more your child elicits a strong reaction from you, the more she will continue her behavior.
One of the first steps in dealing with a hitting child, especially if they’re inflicting pain on you or another person on child, is to physically restrain him.
No, we don’t mean putting him on a straightjacket or grabbing him tightly. Just gently but firmly hold the child’s hand and act as a physical barrier between the hitter and the receiver. A calm and firm hug can prevent your toddler from hitting himself and others.
Remove the child from the situation (especially if there’s already another crying or fighting child in the picture), and move him to a place with fewer distractions. When you’re both calm, you can start talking to your little one.
3 steps to talk to a hitting toddler
Margolin and her best friend Kirsten Gallant help parents deal with the toddler stage through their Instagram account Big Little Feelings. According to them, almost all toddlers experiment with hitting.
In their Instagram account, they shared a quick 3-step script on dealing with physical aggression in toddlers.
1. See them
“I can see that you’re angry right now.” “I can see that you want to be silly right now.”
The best course of action is to actually acknowledge what the toddler is feeling. Only when a person feels understood will he stop trying to communicate (hitting is just one of the child’s ways of expressing himself). So put yourself in the child’s shoes and attempt to express for him what he cannot.
2. Okay the feeling
“It’s okay to feel angry.” “It’s okay to be silly sometimes.”
Feelings are very personal. What makes you upset may have no effect on another person. This does not mean that you shouldn’t feel upset.
Instead, you feel better when someone takes the time to listen and, importantly, does not judge your feelings. The same is true for our little ones. If you think he still has some big feelings he needs to let out, just listen, hold the child and allow him to cry.
3. Hold the boundary
“But it’s never okay to hit. I’m going to move myself over here to protect myself right now.”
This tells the child what he should not do next time. It sends the message that all feelings are welcome, but certain behaviors (especially ones that hurt) are not.
Margolin also reminded parents not to discipline the child mid-tantrum.
“During a tantrum or a big angry outburst is actually the worst time to teach them new skills. Everyone’s brains, when super heightened, you actually can’t take new information in.
So this is the worst time to teach. Nothing’s gonna go through. They won’t be able to retain what to do next time,” she said.
She added that the best time to teach coping skills is usually in a calm moment. When your child is calm, you can revisit what happened in a calm way and talk about what he can do better next time.
In addition, Margolin also discourages forcing an apology from the child. She said doing so will flood them with their own emotions, which blocks learning and empathy, and enters you into a power struggle. Instead, try going a different direction and say, “Lets see how we can try and make him feel better.”
“It teaches them that the other kid does have feelings. It helps them get in touch with their own feelings of care, and most of all, kids love being in charge and not being told what to do,” she said.
Image from Shutterstock
What alternatives to offer
Only when the child has calmed down can you start to offer alternatives. Say, “Next time you’re angry, no hitting because hitting hurts. Do you want to practice? You can show me how angry you are.” Then, demonstrate the following examples:
- stomping your feet really hard
- hitting a pillow with all your might
- letting out a loud angry roar
- using your words and saying, “I’m angry!”
If the hitting or swatting was caused by excitement, demonstrate what gentle means by holding the child’s hand and have that hand stroke your face while saying, “Gently, gently.”
Homeschooling mom Mariel Uyquiengco suggests singing, “I am gentle, I am gentle, yes, I am” to the tune of “Are you sleeping, Brother John?” The soothing melody helps the child calm down a notch, too.
When to reinforce
Consistency is very important. This is how children learn the consequences of their actions.
When playing pretend or watching shows and your toddler sees someone hitting, remind your child again that hitting is wrong.
“That minion hit his friend because he was annoyed! We better remind him that hitting is wrong and hitting hurts.” It is so amusing to hear your toddler say, “No minion, no hitting!” and it becomes easier for him to remember not to hit when the intense emotions strike.