Little Aaron was playing the Lego game with his friends at home. The kids were under his mom’s supervision and seemed to be having fun. But then something unpleasant happened. Aaron didn’t like his friend being better than him at Lego and smacked his friend impulsively. His mom was horrified.
But that is not an uncommon behavior in toddlers. We brief you on why toddlers resort to hitting, how to stop them from doing so, and how to handle the challenges while dealing with such behavior.
Why Do Toddlers Hit?
Hitting comes naturally to toddlers at this developmental stage. While it’s easy for you to lose your cool, it would not solve the problem. You need to understand why toddlers resort to hitting (1). These could be a few reasons.
- A way of expression: As toddlers cannot put their thoughts in words, they lack skills to express themselves. Therefore, they may struggle to manage big emotions. Their inability to communicate and immaturevcontrol over their impulses may lead to aggressive behavior in toddlers, which results in hitting.
- Out of curiosity: Your toddler is knowing things around this age, and is curious to do and learn a lot. They want to experiment, like to repeat things after being strictly told not to do so, and want to see the effects of hitting. They are inquisitive to know why it is wrong to hit somebody.
- Attention seekingy: They may try to seek attention through such behavior.
- Imitation: Children learn a lot by imitation and may have seen their sibling or other children hitting somebody and copied the behavior.
Ways To Stop Your Toddler From Hitting
Remember that your toddler may not always hit with a bad intention. However, you cannot ignore the behavior and let them hit. Here are ways to stop your toddler from hitting:
- Analyze the underlying reason and needs: Children hit and bite as they have a developmental need at this age. The behavior may represent anger, anxiety, an urge to control the situation, or to protect their things. As they grow, babies use their hands and mouth to respond to the situation.
Once the teeth erupt and motor skills develop, kids experiment and use them to check responses and reactions. This is when the parent must teach the child the right thing to do. If left unchecked at younger ages, children may become increasingly aggressive as they grow.
Hitting and biting in toddlers are common between 18 months and two-and-a-half years (2) as children do not know how to articulate their expressions. Biting should subside once the child acquires language skills but they could continue hitting.
- Note the triggers: Take note of the reasons that trigger hitting and biting as it helps you understand your child’s aggressive behavior. For instance, Roxy thinks Harley’s toys are better than his. He takes Harley’s toys and wouldn’t give them back. So, Harley hits Roxy to take back his toys.
Parents might resolve the situation by telling Roxy that his toys are good too. And that Harley must learn to share his things. This could help avoid such incidents in future.
- Act immediately: If the toddlers hit or bite, stop the act immediately. Don’t shout, just be firm in your response. Look him in the eye and tell him no hitting or that hurts. This would indicate that you mean business. Take him away from the situation to a place he likes and help him calm down.
- Distract the little one: Take away the problem-object (a toy, for instance) or try to distract your child by something that interests them.
- Be empathetic: As mentioned earlier, toddlers don’t hit unnecessarily. This means that you must understand and validate their feelings. They might not be ready to listen to you at the moment, but once they calm down, talk to them, and help them label their feelings. Articulate the reasons for their anger and ensure that they understand them.
- Talk and explain: Children understand better through examples, such as “What happens if your toy breaks when you smash it?” But don’t leave him confused. Answer those questions for him so he knows why he shouldn’t hit others. This will eventually help him develop his social skills.
[ Read: Ways To Discipline Toddler ]
- Monitor your child: If your child develops a set pattern of hitting others, then stay around and monitor to prevent him. It could be a tiring job to do all day long, but this will curb the behavior t and help them outgrow the phase.
- Reward good behavior: Be generous in appreciating his good behavior (3) when he does not resort to hitting. For example, for kids above three, you can maintain a star chart, “Each day that you play with your friends without hitting or biting, you get a star on the chart. When the chart has five stars, we can have a pizza”.
- Don’t confuse: When you hit your child and tell them that they can’t hit other children, you are only confusing them by doing what shouldn’t be done. You can’t expect them to follow something you are not following. So, never hit to enforce discipline.
- Be consistent: Be consistent when you are enforcing a rule. Whenever they hit, discipline them.
- Alternative ways of expressing: Hitting seems the easier way out for some kids because they have no clue what else to do. So, it’s your prerogative to teach them alternative ways of expressing their emotions, such as:
i. Words to express: Inculcate the habit of using more words to express his emotions. This can help him communicate his displeasure and feelings instead of hitting. Teaching simple words such as, ‘no’, ‘please stop’, can help solve the problem.
ii. Step back: Teach your toddler to get away from the situation if the situation is unfavorable to him.
iii. Seek help: Encourage your kid to ask for help when he is unable to handle tough situations instead of acting out his free-will. If he has any problem with other kids, then tell him to seek help from a teacher or an adult.
- Reduce screen time: If your child is exposed to violence on TV, he may become more aggressive. So, limit his screen time and engage him with physical play and educational games.
- Introduce games that are gentle to play: If your toddler tends to be destructive, and is often found to be throwing toys, breaking things, and kicking someone, then it’s a sign of anxiety and anger. Introduce him to gentle play such as, ‘petting the dogie, and so on.
[ Read: Toddler Anger Management ]
When your toddler is displaying aggressive behavior, look at the scenario through your child’s eyes. Empathize with him, accept his behavior, and act accordingly. It’s difficult to be empathetic with a toddler who has just hurt someone as our reflex is to give him a piece of our mind or yell at him. But, you can do a lot of other things!
Dealing with toddler hitting and other challenging toddler behaviors
When your toddler hits, he is actually asking for your help. So how can you offer him help? Here are some ways to do that:
- Understand the triggers: Understand what triggers such behavior in your toddler. It could be hunger, fatigue, or need for power. Address those needs. Most often they are unaware of their requirements, so you could also help them understand those issues.
- Guide them: While it’s natural to get distressed and embarrassed by such behavior, do help them improve the situation. Guide them with love and kindness to learn and explore other things and emotions.
- Don’t give immediate attention: Often your toddler wants to seek your attention by hitting. Therefore, don’t react immediately. Instead, comfort the hurt child first. Be a role model to your child by being compassionate to the victim. Convey a message that hitting doesn’t get your attention.
- Give options: Sometimes parents give no options to the child, and just instruct them on what is to be done. If parents provide more options and give a child some sense of control, it helps prevent hitting.
You do not want your toddler to hit others, and make every effort to stop him from being violent. But what if your toddler is the victim? How would you deal with it?
When Your Toddler Is The Victim
If your child has just been hit and the hitting child’s mother is not paying attention, you cannot go up to the mom and ask her to discipline her child. But you can urge her to step in. Here’s how you can handle the situation.
[ Read: How To Deal With Child Tantrums ]
What to do?
- First, comfort your child and then tell the other kid, “We don’t do that at our place”, or “It hurts when you hit”. Tell the other mom about the incident and ask for help. That way she is also aware of her toddler’s behavior and can help prevent it.
- Let the kids calm down and let them do their own thing independently for sometime. If they are back to their normal selves having fun, let them be. But, if they are continuing to have a bad mood, let them play individually.
- If your child has been hit by someone at the daycare, check with your daycare provider as to how they handled the situation. If the incidents keep repeating, consider changing your child’s daycare.
Is Your Child A Bully?
When your child behaves as is a bully, the one who is hitting all the time, then it’s time for you to take immediate action. It’s very important to address this behavior before it becomes problematic.. Watch out for these signs to know if your toddler is acting like a bully:
- He gets angry easily
- He indulges in physical fights with siblings
- Vents his frustration by hitting or biting
- Prefers company with kids who display aggressive behavior
- He is unable to understand how his actions affect others
- Often gets into trouble at school
If you observe any of these signs in your child, you need to work on his behavior. Take him out of the situation, and talk to him about it so that he knows what to do the next time. Make him practice deep breathing or counting to ten. This can help him control his negative emotions.
If none of this helps, consult a child psychologist who can suggest a treatment plan and counsel your child.
By setting appropriate limits and listening to your child’s communication you can help them navigate this typical developmental phase. But if the behavior escalates or feels out-of-control, your toddler is likely communicating distress. Take time to make sense of the situation in consultation with your pediatrician or a mental health professional experienced in working with families and young children.
[ Read: Jealousy In Children ]
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