Hitting behavior in toddlers is common, but can be very stressful for parents who don’t know how to cope with it. If your toddler has hit someone else, take heart. Just like tantrums, it does NOT mean you’re a bad mom. It does NOT mean your child will grow up to be a “bad” person.
I don’t know if you’ve even faced pressure from others to spank your kids as a punishment when they hit. Spanking doesn’t work, because kids learn more from what we DO rather than from what we say. If we spank a child and then tell them not to hit, we are modelling the very behavior that we want to stop.
Here are three myths about hitting, and what the truth is about them.
Myth 1: If your child hits, this means your child is naughty.
This skips over one simple fact. Toddlers have very little control over their emotions. The part of their brain that serves as the “brake” hasn’t fully developed (and won’t fully develop until they are in their 20s!) This means that hitting isn’t a naughty behavior. Rather, it is an instant reaction to a trigger that they cannot control.
Triggers can be all kinds of things. Common ones are being tired, hungry, sleepy, or simply overwhelmed. As adults, we know when people get in our faces we can get angry, but we don’t lash out because it isn’t an acceptable response. Toddlers still need to learn how to do this.
Myth 2: You have only two choices. Either punish your child, or allow them to hit.
This is a very “one extreme to the other view” of hitting behavior. The truth is, you CAN show them the behavior is unacceptable by your actions, without punishing them.
A simple example is to remove them from the situation. Or to place a physical barrier that stops them from hitting their target. For example, if they try to hit a pet, you can place yourself between your child and the pet. If they are hitting using a toy, take away the toy.
Is your child hitting during a tantrum? Read more about tantrums in this article.
Myth 3: You only need to say it once.
Don’t we all wish that you can just tell your toddler something once, and they always stick to it!
But remember when your toddler was learning to walk. Did they just fall once, and not fall again? Of course not. They fell several times. That’s the same with learning to manage behavior and emotions. You’ll need to remind them over and over again.
Here are a few things to think about relating to hitting:
- What are the triggers? Does the behavior happen when they are tired or sleepy? Does it happen when there are a lot of people around? Many times, the best way to decrease the behavior is to avoid the trigggers.
- Remember that discipline isn’t just about what we do when a child misbehaves. It is about creating a relationship with your child.
Hitting is a common phase for toddlers, but this doesn’t mean that we should just allow it go on. The tips above, such as removing them from the situation, or understanding their triggers, can help.
If you feel the problem is escalating or there may be something more to it, you should discuss it with your pediatrician.