Your toddler says no and follows it with a tiny fist. Or a bite. Then follow tears. A very familiar sight. As a parent, you may feel embarrassed when your child shows aggression towards another child. You may also feel guilty. But there is a very good reason why your toddler hits. 

Your toddler hits because he cannot yet see from the point of view of others. After age 3, it should lessen in frequency as he learns that some feelings can be expressed using words rather than fists or teeth, and that people feel pain and anger when they are hurt. The many reasons why your toddler may hit include

  1. Frustration- toddlers hit when they are frustrated. They want to assert their independence and do not quite understand why it’s eating time and you turn off the TV, or why they need to wait for their turn with the favourite toy.
  2. Powerless hitting- Some toddlers hit because they feel powerless and think that hitting is the only way they can express it. This could happen when older children prevent the toddler from playing with them or getting what he wants.
  3. Speech delays – a child with speech and language difficulties may hit more because of course, he cannot communicate what he feels using words.
  4. Testing the boundaries- a toddler may hit you just because he wants to see if it is permitted, or if you will get upset
  5. Experimenting – will the cat meow if I hit it? Will the dog bark if I pull its tail?

What can you do to help?

Model good behaviour- if hitting is not allowed, hitting by anyone, not even adults, is allowed.

Anticipate hitting- identify which situations your toddler is likely to hit in. Is it when he is over-tired or hungry? Is it when he wants to sleep? Once you know when hitting is likely to occur, you know how to prevent it.

Sharing is not caring toddlers are not good at sharing. So don’t put your toddler in a situation where he has to share without preparing him adequately for it.

Give some power back- if your toddler is engaged in powerless hitting, let the older siblings know about it. They can give him some power back by allowing him to choose group activities, and involving him more in their group activities.

Don’t reinforce hitting by giving too much attention to it- If you rant, rave and talk for many minutes after your toddler beats someone, your toddler may begin to feel that hitting is the best way to get your attention. And he will hit again just to get your attention. So when hitting occurs explain that hitting is not allowed and move on. You should pay more attention to the victim than the perpetrator, so the perpetrator gets the clear message that hitting is not the way to get attention.

Hitting is normal toddler behaviour. You don’t like it, but it happens. When it does, don’t freak out. Say firmly that hitting is not allowed because it is not nice and it hurts people, and move on. Hopefully, as your toddler grows, and is able to put his feelings into words, hitting will almost disappear.

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