I can wholeheartedly tell you, I’ve been through the full gamut with both my kids — hitting, kicking, biting and spitting.
No matter what toddler behavior you’re dealing with, I can understand your frustration.
It is exhausting trying to stop a toddler from hitting themselves or another person, especially if you’ve read conflicting advice from “the experts.”
Which is why I’m here to give you the easiest and simplest ways to stop your child from hitting.
On This Page…
- Is it normal for toddlers to hit? Why is my toddler hitting?
- How do you stop your toddler from hitting? Step-by-Step Guide
- Getting to the root cause of hitting.
- Helping the child find a healthy way to meet their need.
- The secret to bringing out kind and loving behaviors.
- Frequently asked questions about toddler hitting.
Is it normal for toddlers to hit? Why is my toddler hitting?
All kids have Three Basic Needs: power, experience and connection. It is extremely normal for toddlers to hit because it can meet all three needs at once.
Turns out, toddlers are very efficient at meeting their needs 🙂
Let me explain why your toddler is hitting…
1. Hitting meets the need for connection.
The child is hitting to communicate a message to you or someone else. This method of communicating (i.e. hitting) happens because the child isn’t able to articulate their words (thoughts and feelings) well.
Since all kids will continue to communicate until they feel heard and understood, it makes sense why you see a child return to hit again and again.
It is an easy way for the child to communicate. In order to stop the hitting, you have to help the child find a new way to communicate (keep reading for suggestions).
2. Hitting meets the need for experience.
The need for experience is when the child wonders, “I have this body…what can I do with it?” Kids love to experience using their body in different ways.
You know what it feels like to swing your arms around and have it hit something. A child does not.
And if you’ve ever read my post on neurological development in kids age six and under, it’s actually incredibly normal and important for the child to use movement with their body.
Now, it’s only a matter of helping your child meet the need for experience within your boundaries to stop the hitting (more on that in a minute).
3. Hitting meets the need for power.
When kids are frustrated, angry or upset, they will have a very high need for power and control.
One way to quickly meet that need for power is to hit something. A child can feel very powerful that way.
When a child lacks self-control – as all toddlers do – they will resort to use their body to feel powerful over others and things.
As I get into how to stop your child from hitting, I will walk you through how to help your child learn to meet their need for power without hitting another person.
How do you stop your toddler from hitting? Step-by-Step Guide.
Much of what I will walk you through comes from Language of Listening® – a 3 part framework I use and teach to parents just like you. It’s simple to use and easy to remember when you’re feeling triggered in the moment with an aggressive young child.
1. Get to the root cause of hitting.
Since all kids will continue to communicate until they feel heard and understood, it’s imperative that you get to the root cause of the hitting.
Here are just a few examples…
- Boredom → I try to make things a little more exciting around the house. Create lots of movement activities. Dance parties are always fun!
- Frustration, Anger, Upset → I try to repeat back what I hypothesize my child is trying to do or say. Validate what your child is showing you.
- Seeking attention → I try to offer more distraction-free quality time.
- Tired → I start getting sleep in order (i.e. Helping toddlers fall asleep fast and strong toddler bedtime routines.)
- Lack of language skills → I use baby sign language, visual routine cards and again try to repeat back what I think my child is trying to say.
- Experimenting → Sometimes kids are just testing boundaries. I will check in to make sure I am holding boundaries and helping my child find alternatives to meet their underlying need.
In the moment, here are some ways to respond:
1. I recommend starting by physically stepping in between the child and whomever the child is hitting, and say something like this:
2. “You’re angry and want to hit her AND I’m not okay with that. You can rip this paper or hit this pillow instead.”
3. In the heat of the moment, the biggest goal is to redirect the child toward something they could hit instead. Your child will be much more receptive to guidance once they start to calm.
2. Help the child find a healthy way to meet their need.
When you know which need your child is trying to meet – experience, power or connection – the alternative your child chooses will need to meet the underlying need.
If the child is trying to meet the need for experience or needs more movement → Help the child find ways to move their body in a way that you are ok with.
- A complete list of movement activities appropriate for toddlers to support their “movement cravings.”
When the child is working to meet the need for power → Help the child find things that he or she can control. More choices that can work within your boundaries the better!
When the child is working to meet the need for connection → Use SAY WHAT YOU SEE® where you describe what the child is thinking, feeling, doing or saying without questions, fixing or judgment.
This helps kids feel heard and understood. It’s the building block of connection, gets you on your child’s side and helps them open up to your guidance.
- A simple way to build connection with an upset child.
- Read the SAY WHAT YOU SEE® Handbook online for free.
3. The secret to bringing out kind and loving behaviors.
All kids act according to believe they are. So when you see your child acting in a kind and loving way be sure to name a STRENGTH. This is something the child did well that is tied to observation of the behavior.
Here’s an example:
“You shared the toy with your sister. That shows you’re kind.”
Likewise, when the child gets angry or upset and does not hit, it is extremely important to name a STRENGTH, like this…
“You’re angry AND you didn’t hit. That shows you have self-control!”
Your child’s future actions are based out of those STRENGTHs. When you see something you like and you name a STRENGTH, the child can see the trait in themselves. The child sees the proof!
This is how you start to build self-control in kids — by noticing ways they are already showing you self-control.
Frequently asked questions about toddler hitting.
There is always a reason why kids do what they do. Sometimes it seems like there isn’t a reason, but there is one. Get curious and think which underlying need the child is trying to meet – power, experience or connection – and that will help you know the best way to help your child step out of the hitting behavior.
When you see a child who tries to hurt themselves, this is a big cry for help from you. And it’s up to us as the adults to step in and help the child express what they are feeling. Parents can start with validation of why the child might be upset and frustrated. Next, parents can step in and help the child find an alternative way to express their upset without hurting themselves. Lastly, when kids start to use an alternative, be sure to name a STRENGTH, like this…”You hit the pillow instead of yourself. That shows self-love.”
There are several things going on when a toddler hits mom only. First, the toddler may know that mom is a safe place to let the guard down and act out. It is not surprising the most children act out more around their mothers — especially if the child is working hard to keep it together all day at daycare. Mom is the safe place where the child knows mom will love him or her anyway. This can also be a big cry for more connection time with mom. On the flip side, this can also point to frustration or powerlessness with mom. If there is an unmet need for power, see above for ways to help the child meet their need for power inside your boundary.
While you can’t control what happens at daycare, you can start to help your child build self-control at home. My biggest suggestion is to work with your child at home using role-play or play with dolls and help the child practice how to handle upsets without hitting. Second, you’ll want to focus heavily on vestibular and proprioception input during the toddler years to help toddlers learn to control their bodies. Third, cut way back on screen-time as it can exacerbate hitting behaviors since kids will naturally act out what they see on TV to make sense of it.
Immediately stepping between the two children OR placing an arm between the two children is so important. If your child is struggling with hitting and this is a pattern, you’ll want to supervise closely so you can respond immediately. If you cannot physically put your body between the kids, I would use a loud noise like, “WOAHHHHHH.” Get attention as you’re walking to the child to physically step in. Next, help your child direct their behavior toward a soft object. Think carefully about the Three Basic Needs mentioned above. Finally, when kids struggle with hitting, it shows you they need a lot of role play and practice with not hitting when you are NOT in the heat of the moment. We often expect kids to get it right when they are frustrated or angry, and this is rarely the case for a toddler. Practice, practice, practice when everyone is calm and hitting is simply a pretend scenario.
Print this free printable!
This post comes with a free printable to help you remember the simple script to help your toddler calm themselves down. Here’s a sneak peak…
Download Your Free Printable
- Download the checklist. You’ll get the printable, plus join my weekly parenting newsletter! Just click here to subscribe and download.
- Print. Any paper will do the trick, but card stock would be ideal.
- Place it on your refrigerator. Use it as a quick reference to keep parenting simple!
More on toddler aggression?
- 5 Steps to Stop Toddler Biting In Its Tracks
- How to Get Your Toddler to Stop Biting – When Nothing Works
- The Hidden Benefit to Teaching Kids High Five (Another Way to Help With Hitting and Biting)
- The Number One Reason You’re Still Dealing With Toddler Aggression
- Why Is My Child So Angry and Aggressive?
- How to Help Kids Stop Hitting, Kicking or Biting