What should I do when my toddler hits others? Behavior & Discipline

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mom holding and consoling toddler
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No matter the reason your toddler is hitting, it's likely a stage you are hoping to get through quickly -- and painlessly! Here are tried-and-true tips for handling a hitter.

Remove Your Child From the Situation

"If you're in a situation, at the playground, for example, take your child out of the interaction for about 30 seconds and sternly say, 'No hitting friends.' Let your child have this short break from the others and ask yourself whether your child is hungry, thirsty, tired, and possibly needs to go home to rest or needs to have a snack or a drink. If you decide to let your child stay, position yourself close to the interaction and watch for any sign of your toddler getting frustrated again....

"If you're in a situation, at the playground, for example, take your child out of the interaction for about 30 seconds and sternly say, 'No hitting friends.' Let your child have this short break from the others and ask yourself whether your child is hungry, thirsty, tired, and possibly needs to go home to rest or needs to have a snack or a drink. If you decide to let your child stay, position yourself close to the interaction and watch for any sign of your toddler getting frustrated again. Check what is happening. Is your child's toy being taken away? Is another child hitting him? Can you give your child another toy to play with? Can you move him to another activity to help? Can you hold him in your lap to help him cope with frustration?" -- Elena Mikalsen, PhD, Mikalsen Psychological Services, San Antonio, TX

Ask Daycare to Be Proactive

"When I hear about a toddler's aggression in daycare and I ask parents to investigate, we find out one of two things: Either there is another child who has been taking toys away or hitting the toddler, or there have been several children hitting lately at the daycare and the toddler is simply repeating the behavior he has been seeing. Daycares can't use time-outs, but parents can ask daycares to distract their child with another activity or switch them to another group for a little while." -- Elena Mikalsen, PhD, Mikalsen Psychological Services, San Antonio, TX

Model Nonviolent Behavior

"If your child continues to hit no matter what you try, make sure your child is not exposed to any aggressive behavior at home. That means your child should not be watching anyone at home hitting, spanking, pushing, or shoving. Also, restrict any TV or video games with aggressive content." -- Elena Mikalsen, PhD, Mikalsen Psychological Services, San Antonio, TX

Point Out the Effect

"They will outgrow this stage. We use cause and effect: 'Look at Susie, you made her sad when you hit her. We don't want our friends to be sad.' Then redirect the child to something else. At 2, they may apologize, but not understand the meaning behind it."

Teach Gentle Touches

"Redirect her behavior by showing her how to use gentle touches. Take her hands and physically rub them gently down your face and remind her that if she wants to play with anyone, she must use gentle touches. Be consistent."

Help Your Toddler Understand

"For my son, the thought of 'hurting' someone was very effective. He might get excited and hit, but he did not want to hurt anyone. Big lesson there."

Offer Alternative Outlets

"If it's not anger-based, she might need a good way to grab attention. Get her a microphone and have her sing songs or tell jokes, or challenge her to find the silliest way to hug. It's still physical contact, but sweet instead of aggressive."

Avoid Giving Extra Attention

"The hitting obviously frustrates you and he can tell. Try not to give him any extra attention. Be firm, but not emotional. You want to be careful that he isn't getting one ounce of extra attention for this."

The advice on CafeMom aims to educate, inform, and provide a range of solutions to the issues moms care about. It is not a substitute for consultation with a medical professional or treatment for a specific condition. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem without consulting a qualified professional. Please contact your health-care provider with questions and concerns.