Toddlers And Hitting
We talk about this subject A LOT in the toddler life forum and the trigger for hitting can be different for each child.
We would LOVE to see you in the forum, not only so we can help guide you through this behaviour with a tailored approach, but so we can celebrate the wins and work through the downs together.
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Why Do Toddlers Hit?
As many little one’s enter their toddlerhood years, a common issue many parents will face is hitting. Hitting is a very normal and age appropriate phase for little ones to go through, however it can definitely be hard to manage, especially if your little one is hitting you or other children.
Firstly, please understand this isn’t your fault! Your little one may have never seen or experienced hitting before, yet may still do this as a response to something they don’t like.
In the first few years of your little ones life, you may find that hitting is simply trying to link a behaviour with a response. There may not be any ill intention behind what is happening, yet waving their hand, hitting someone and then mum and dad reacting can be funny and exciting and for some can be scary and uncomfortable. Studies suggest that when your little one hits you and laughs, it is not because they find it “funny”, but more so that this action is triggered by an underlying feeling or emotion and laughing also releases some of the emotions connected with hitting you.
Hitting often is a result of your little one being frustrated or upset and not having the verbal skills to communicate what they are thinking and feeling, so instead, they opt to hit as this is a quick fire way to react on all those feelings going through their little minds.
Hitting can sometimes stem from attention-seeking behaviour, where they understand that by hitting someone or something, mum or dad will respond or react and even though this may not be in a positive way, it still fills a little ones “attention cup”.
Find The Missing Link
The key here, is to determine why they are hitting you.
It is common for many parents to see their little one hit and then get angry over the behaviour, rather than try to understand its trigger.
Many parents will say or yell “DON’T HIT” yet won’t provide their little ones with why they shouldn’t hit, or give them tools that they can use to replace hitting.
Some parents will hit their child for hitting someone and then explain that hitting is wrong.
Well… you can see why a little one would get confused!
While we do want to encourage our children to not hit, we also want to ensure we understand WHY they hit, as this helps us to then guide them away from needing to hit as a response.
When we understand the WHY, we can help give them other tools to cope.
You may find that keeping a log of when your little one hits will be helpful in discovering its trigger.
Is it anger?
Needing attention from you?
If hitting is a very new behaviour for your little one and you can’t seem to link it with a specific trigger, think back to when you first began to notice your little one hitting and determine if any changes where happening at the time.
Changes to an otherwise predictable routine?
New Day Care?
New addition to the family?
Transition to a big bed?
Mummy or Daddy going back to work?
Understanding your little one’s triggers, will help to you be able to navigate around these and be prepared when they may occur.
So, What Do We Do?
Even if you can't lay the blame for your toddler's hitting on any one stressor, you can take steps that will eventually make them less likely to turn negative emotions on you or anybody else.
So where possible, give plenty of one on one attention to help fill this "attention cup" up. Allow for lots of outdoor play time with active games to help burn off the steam that may otherwise erupt inward and result in hitting.
When you see your little one hitting, or about to hit, it is important to stay as calm as possible and teach your little one that hitting is not an acceptable behaviour. When possible, interrupt the hit (by holding their hand or moving it away from you or the other child) and communicate with your little one that you understand their emotion or reason and give them a different method of coping instead.
For example, if you have worked out that your little one is most likely to hit when they need to share a toy, you can begin to look for frustration signs if your little one is at a playdate. As you begin to see your little one become frustrated or see that they have just hit another child, you may like to follow the below steps.
In the event that somebody gets hurt by your toddler’s actions, go to the ‘victim’ first and role model compassion for your Toddler to see.
This will also demonstrate to your toddler that this sort of behaviour does not promote more attention. If we can guide our children with compassion and empathy rather than with punishment, then it is more likely that the situation will not turn into a power struggle and they will learn more effective ways of exploring their world and expressing their emotions.
If your child is beginning to become frustrated, you may like to intervene and distract your little one with another toy or activity, or remove them to help them to to help them calm down.
Say “I understand that you are upset because Sam wanted to use your toy, however we do not hit. Hitting Sam really hurt him and now he is upset. Instead of hitting, we need to use our words and use gentle hands”.
You may like to re-demonstrate using gentle hands, by gently stroking your child’s arm.
Once your little one has calmed down, you may like to encourage them to say “sorry” to the other child (if age appropriate), give a hug, or simply encourage them to use gentle hands with the other child.
For older toddlers, you may also like to help create a “solution” or “alternative action” with them.
This may be along the lines of “Instead of hitting, what can we do when we are unhappy?”
“What can we do now to make Sam feel happy?”
For some, this may simply be to come and find you so they can express their frustration or walk away from the situation, for others this may be encouraging them to use their words. You may like to encourage your child to hug or say sorry to the “victim”, or encourage your child to collect a toy for them to play with or share.
The Importance Of Emotions
As adults and parents, we have experience our fair share of emotions.
However, can you remember who actually taught you about these and what they mean?
It’s unlikely you can, as many of us where just expected to navigate through emotions alone and put two and two together. It is also important to remember that even as adults and having 20, 30, 40 + years of experience, we still get angry, frustrated, sad and also have just “off” days.
We cannot expect our little ones to not react on emotions if we can’t uphold this standard as well.
We need to be able to give our children room to learn, grow and experience a variety of emotions, but also understand that they are only human and will make mistakes.
If you are placing adult expectations on your child, you are setting them up to fail.
A child’s brain is not an adult brain and once we begin to see these behaviours as needing “help”, rather than needing “discipline”, we can begin to truly help our little one’s navigate the complexity of emotions.
Use opportunities to discuss feelings with your little one, expose them to the language in relevant situations for them to comprehend the different emotions a person can feel. When your little one is feeling all the feels, label the emotion and help them understand what they are feeling.
“I can see you are soo upset”
“I can see you are soo angry”
“I can see you are soo frustrated”
As you continue to provide them with this language, they will then be better able to label what they are feeling next time. It is normal for some repetition to be needed, but continuing to give them the language, will help reduce their frustration and need to act out physically.
Practice Makes Perfect
Like with most things, practice makes perfect!
Practice is very important for children to grasp the concept of ANY skill, so providing opportunities for children to practice positive social skills, like sharing and taking turns, can be very beneficial to this area of learning and development.
It is also important to focus on the GOOD and not just the bad.
If your little one is happily playing and behaving well, let them know!
If your little one uses their words to community their dislike or frustration, thank them for using their words!
If your little one shares, congratulate them and tell them how proud you are.
Once little ones see that more attention and focus comes from POSITIVE behaviours, they will be more inclined to continue to use these actions.
Remain persistent in identifying, redirecting and providing your little one with different tools and you will begin to see your little one pass through this phase.
However if you have any questions or need further support and guidance, join us in the forum!