Figuring out how to stop a toddler from hitting is no easy task! And if you are a first time mom, it’s even more shocking. Right up there with with potty training kids who won’t poop on the toilet and getting your toddler to stop whining.
How you help your child stop hitting will look different based on their age, but in this post I’m sharing our experience with our 3 kids around age 2.
Each of my kids went through an experimental toddler hitting and biting phase around 20 months. Instead of falling off my chair in shock that my perfect baby could do something so mean, I said, “It has begun” and got to work.
This is very normal, and I’m going to share how to stop it when you commit to addressing it every time. It should be a short lived problem, and over within a couple of months!
Hopefully you’ll find some tips to practice right away to stop you toddler from hitting, biting, and pushing that has worked for us with all 3 kids.
Your toddler understands you perfectly and is capable of learning self control
There is a lot of information out there about how much your child understands under age 2. As a first time parent I was often confused about how much my son could understand because he was a late talker.
I parent with the belief that kids can understand WAY more than we think before they can talk, and they can definitely understand tone and body language.
When my first was newly walking, I asked him to put a dirty shirt in the laundry basket. He couldn’t talk yet and I was curious to see if he could understand those directions.
He ran to the back of the hallway and did it! I realized I had been operating as though he couldn’t understand me…and letting a lot of behaviors slide.
My point here is that by the time your child starts hitting, they can understand most of what you say and you can use tone and facial expression to make your words more clear.
Why do toddlers hit?
These poor little guys, trying to communicate and figure out what they’re allowed to have control of.
I’ve seen my toddlers hit in frustration, because they want something, defending a toy from someone, to get food, to nurse, or when they didn’t get their way.
Unfortunately, sometimes your toddler may also be too tired, hungry, or overstimulated to show any kind of self control. You are not a bad mom if so! Promise.
I’ve had plenty of moments where we just had distract or simply get some food in a hungry toddler’s belly. Otherwise the world is crumbling and cannot be fixed. Start with the easy checklist of:
- are they tired?
And how ironic that for me as a mom, those exact same things are MY own triggers! If I’m super tired or hungry ( “hangry” as my family calls it)….I’m also pretty prone to losing self control and not responding well.
If you’re not getting anywhere with telling your toddler to stop hitting you, it may be that you need to address those other factors first.
How long does the toddler hitting phase last?
The hitting phase doesn’t last too long…but it won’t just go away on it’s own. You’ll have to work on it every time you see it or it might stay and get worse.
My kids have all started hitting somewhere between 18 months – 2 years. So if you have older kids, this exact method may not be the best for your situation.
The bad news is you won’t be off the hook by tomorrow. Or the next day.
The good news is, the hitting only lasted for about a month with each of our 3 kids. The earlier you catch it, the better!
And the more calm and consistent you are, the faster your toddler should understand what’s expected and develop self control.
You may also enjoy reading: Our routine with an 18 month old
Worried about your toddler hitting your new baby?
Another thing to note is that these changes can come right around the time parents have a new baby.
For us, our first spat with the toddler hitting stage was just after having our kids 18 months apart, and again with the next child while we were experiencing 3 kids under age 4.
No doubt there’s some kind of developmental timer. But I think it’s also hard for toddlers who want more attention AND independence but aren’t really getting as much as they’d like due to the new baby.
To help your toddler have good feelings toward the baby and avoid jealousy, let them snuggle the baby with you. Point out how much the baby loved it when they…(danced, were gentle, made the baby smile, etc).
I also tried to make an effort to spend a tiny bit of one on one time with my toddler each day. Simple things like reading with them on my lap or doing Play Doh at the table. The less I connected, the more I snapped.
How to get your toddler to stop hitting (3 basic steps)
Ok, here’s how we addressed it. Feel free to do what you think is best because you know your child better than anyone!
I’d also like to mention that with my 4th toddler, we encountered a new, but similar problem to hitting…pulling siblings’ hair. If this is an issue for you, be sure to read How We Got My Toddler To Stop Pulling Our Hair.
Step 1. Remove your toddler and tell them hitting is not safe.
If you’re a mom, you know that an 18 month or 2 year old has a tiny attention span. Which means you have to deal with hitting/biting/shoving that instant.
You can’t wait one minute. Or until you get home. Because they have already forgotten what you are talking about.
Remove them from the situation to talk to them, or hold them if needed.
When our kids have tried hitting or biting (usually sometime between 18 months – 2 years) we hold their arm and tell them, “No, you can’t hit. That’s not safe. Show me gentle.”
I use this phrase a LOT for about 1 month. Or until they see the new boundary and begin to learn (sometimes for the 1st time) what self control is.
Stay calm when your toddler hits you
Wait for their reaction. It might be tears, a full on tantrum, or they might try to squirm free to do it again.
They might be embarrassed or mad. Or they may just stare at you to see what you’re going to do.
Try to stay calm (hard, I know!) and just tell them what you expect in a plain tone. Don’t shame them, or give them a huge lecture.
But don’t let them keep doing it.
You also need to honestly assess your tone and reaction when your toddler tries to hit, bite, or punch.
Because if we are honest, toddlers can make our blood boil at times, and we are not always calm and in control of our own emotions as moms.
There’s a book for you called “Triggers” that will seriously help you identify what sends you over the edge and how to gain control of what triggers your anger!
If you are out of control, “ragey”, or scare them with your threatening voice…how can you expect them to different?
Step 2. Show them what to do instead of hitting.
Thanks to my smart husband’s advice, any time we tell our toddlers not to do something, we try to tell them what they CAN do so there is no confusion. Kids really do want to please us, so showing them how they can is really helpful I think.
My goal here is to model a gentle behavior for them, something they can copy or at least start to register is an ok reaction.
Sometimes this looks like:
- Modeling your hand softly rubbing their arm. Since toddlers naturally copy what they see (eventually), you are teaching them what to do instead.
- Waiting for a turn with the toy they want. If your toddler pushes or hits to get what he wants, it’s your job to show them that’s not acceptable. Make them wait till someone puts the toy down. If they continue to try and hit or take, don’t let them have the toy.
- Teaching them to say please when they want something instead of hitting to get it. If your toddler can’t talk yet, you can easily teach them please in sign language! It’s simply rubbing a flat hand on their chest. This worked wonders for two of my less verbal kids.
What if your toddler hits another child?
I don’t have my kids practice “showing me gentle” to another kid if they hit, because often times they just need space or to be picked up.
And honestly, I’m afraid they’ll just go in for a second slam if I did if the emotions are still high.
I DO tell them the same thing as above, that we don’t hit and that hitting hurts. That they can ask for a turn and wait (if that seemed like the reason).
And remember, no parent is going to fault you that your toddler hit their kid IF you make an effort to deal with it.