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How To Discipline A Toddler Who Hits – 3 Simple Techniques

Learning how to discipline a toddler who hits is a difficult job. Toddlers are notoriously tough to handle and when they lash out or hit you it can feel very overwhelming.

Your toddler is displaying emotions at a more intense level. As they begin to develop and pass psychological milestones they begin to find alternative ways to express themselves.

Toddlers are continuously learning. This includes dealing with new emotions and this can cause conflicting responses. The harder feelings to deal with are pain, sadness, angry, jealousy and fear.

It can be difficult for a toddlers mind to handle these big emotions as they seek to express them in verbal ways. However, their minds have not yet figured out all the words necessary to express extreme feelings in a calm way.

This causes friction in the mind as your baby struggles to deal with emotions and other peoples reactions to them.

Therefore, this is the main reason why a toddler will hit other children or you. They are trying to express themselves but are unable to do so verbally as their vocabulary is still limited.

Let’s investigate some strategies in discipline and toddlers hitting others. 

How To Discipline A Toddler Who Hits

Step 1: Be Calm

This is your first point of action. Learning how to discipline a toddler who hits requires staying calm. Your role is to be mindful of the way you react to your toddler’s frustrations.

Try and resist the temptation to show extreme levels of frustration back. This can be difficult, especially when your toddler is testing your patience or throws a “volcano type” tantrum.

Your first response is usually a harsh one. i.e. “Stop throwing those toys, Stop Hitting or you’ll get in trouble’

A better way to handle the situation down is to stay calm yourself and approach your toddler on their level. Bend down on one knee or sit down and politely explain to your toddler that ‘hitting is not acceptable and it hurts other people when you hit’

Step 2: Be Proactive

Figuring out how to discipline a toddler who hits involves taking proactive measures to control the situation.

First, make sure that the hitting stops. Try to get in the way of the hitting if it’s against someone else. If it’s aimed towards you hold your child’s hand lightly and try to stop their attempts.

This is not a time to try to get an explanation from them or ask why they think it’s bad to hit. That will come later. Try and get them to sit down if they are standing or if space is needed then you can give them a few seconds or so to calm down.

Step 3: Time Out

These work well for older children and can give you a well earned few minutes to regroup and regain your composure.

A toddler that hits is usually very wound up and can be going through a variety of bigger emotions. Getting to the bottom of the incident can take some time, so sending them on to a ‘Time Out Chair’ or to the ‘Time out Zone’ should do you both good.

If they don’t settle or is still hitting out then you will need to repeat steps 1 and 2 until they are calm enough to respond to the time out correctly

Try not to engage with your toddler too much. They need time to cool down and get back to a normal state of calm.

Try not to have the time out near other children or other stimulating activities as the benefits from being alone and reflecting on their behavior will be diminished. 

Remember, your job is to slow down your toddlers breathing and their heartbeat. These are both raging after the incident so try not to engage in any behaviour that will keep them in a raged state.

Lastly, the time out shouldn’t be for an excessive length or too short. A good rule of thumb is 1 minute for every year old. So a 3-year-old would need about a 3 minute time.

Step 4: Feedback & Evaluation

You need to give your toddler feedback on their behaviour and get them to evaluate why their choice of expression was the wrong one.

Try to focus on why it is wrong to hit others and how it affects other children (or you). Also, you need to empathise with them to connect with their feelings of aggression and pain.

For example “Sweetie, I understand that you felt upset when you couldn’t watch your favourite TV show. I know that makes you feel angry. But hitting is not the correct way to express yourself. It really hurt mummy when you hit her on the leg. Let’s think about other ways we can show sadness or anger, ok?”

This shows your toddler you understand their feelings and you want to help express it.

Toddlers are not able to express their feelings effectively so will lash out as a form of expression. By telling them ‘This makes you feel sad, This makes you feel angry etc’ You are directly showing them that you understand them.

This is a great way to show empathy.

Step 5: Vent Emotions

Try and find proactive ways for your child to vent their expressions.

Toddlers build up negative emotions throughout the day (just like adults) and need a way to vent these feelings.

Hitting you or others is never ok, but hitting a pillow or a toy can be. A great example of this is a toy drum kit. This can be used as an expressive instrument and you can use it whenever your toddlers needs to get some anger out.

The physical sensation of hitting is a great way to vent anger or sadness and by offsetting their urge to hit you with hitting the drums you’ll find it much easy to control the behaviour.

If that doesn’t work then try jumping up and down, hitting into pillows or even going outside and shouting.

These are all acceptable ways to vent emotion and will teach your child better ways to express themselves.

Step 6: Pick Your Battles

When it comes to keeping your toddlers happy it’s always an uphill struggle. Sometimes you will win other times you won’t. You can’t win every single battle as that would be a very energy-sapping task.

Instead, pick your battles carefully. Toddlers tend to go through the ‘hitting phase’ between the ages of 18 months – 3 years.

After 3 years of age, they are better equipped to express themselves without resorting to physical actions. With this in mind, you know that this type of behaviour is probably only a phase and you can pick your battles carefully and try and win those.

The best ones to pick are the ones at home as you control the environment.

When you are in a social environment it may be best to just take your toddler out of the situation and then go through steps 2, 3, 4 once you are back home.

What about if it happens in public?

Your main aim is to prevent this behaviour from happening in the first place, but sometimes it can just spillover, especially at times that you didn’t plan for.

Children often lash out when they are with their friends or peers as both children seek to find expression for their emotions. If it happens in public and you decide not to pick this battle, a simple apology to the child will work.

If you need a more severe punishment you can quarantine your child until it’s appropriate for them to play again.

Step 7: Routine & Structure

The best way to learn how to discipline a toddler who hits is to keep their mind busy on other things. Stimulation is key at this age and a packed day full of activity will keep their mind contented and engaged in better behavioural activities.

Try and keep your routine the same most days so that your child knows what’s going to happen next. This is a good way to promote control as your child will understand that at 12.15 pm every day it’s lunchtime, then nap time, then playtime etc.

When your child feels in control and is aware of which activity is coming next they tend to comply with more requests and will show less defiance.

Learning how to discipline a toddler who doesn’t listen and how to discipline a toddler without hitting and yelling takes time and patience.

Planning ahead and being proactive is key. Remember to try and show empathy along the way as your toddler reaches each developmental milestone.

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