How to Prevent a Toddler from Hitting

Try these strategies to stop your toddler from hitting.

Being a toddler can be tough. So much about a toddler’s life is out of his or her control, and as a toddler gains more independence, it’s not uncommon for him to become frustrated. Since they are still developing their language skills, they can’t always verbally express why they are upset or what they are upset about. Instead, a toddler might hit (or even bite) as a way to express his or her frustration. 

The good news is that this is completely normal and common. According to Dr. Sears, “Aggressive biting and hitting is most common between the ages of 18-months and 2½ years when the child doesn’t have the verbal language to communicate his needs.”

But you can work to lessen this behavior. Here are a few strategies to try. 

Ensure your toddler has a predictable routine.

Crying in the car. Tanya Little

While we can't always keep our little ones on a structured schedule, a routine that is predictable and constant as much as possible is incredibly important for toddlers. Having a routine means that your toddler will be less frustrated when there are surprises. Moreover, a toddler's aggressive behavior can stem from feeling a lack of control. When your routine is predictable, you can incorporate opportunities for your toddler to make choices. For example, does your toddler want to wear a red shirt or a green shirt; does she want eggs or toast for breakfast? These small choices will give your toddler a sense of control and can help to lessen aggressive behavior. 

Identify the triggers of your toddler's aggressive behavior.

The process of identifying your toddler's hitting or biting triggers requires parents to be patient and to pay attention to when and why a toddler's behavior turns aggressive. There's a decent chance that the source of the behavior will be something you have control over. A few common examples for toddlers: If your little one loses it on his friends during playdates, a special toy that he doesn't want to share might be the culprit. An easy solution could removing that toy from the play area when your toddler's friends come to play. Another common issue: If your toddler's aggressive behavior tends to show up during her morning routine, consider whether or not a little extra time to slow down the process of getting ready and out the door would help her more easily transition from sleeping to waking to dressing to having breakfast to finally leaving the house. 

Respond to your toddler's behavior in the moment.

With young children, hearing that your little hit or bit someone at daycare doesn't do much good for a parent when it comes to responding to the behavior. Understanding concepts like consequences or connecting a punishment to an action that happened hours early is something a young child has not developed yet--that will come in the next few years, but for now, if you didn't see it and respond in the moment, there's not much you can do to correct aggressive behavior. 

However, what you can do is coordinate with your child's other caregivers to determine how to respond to your toddler's aggressive behavior. Make sure you and other caregivers are on the same page about types of discipline and how you talk to a toddler about his or her actions. 

Redirect your toddler when he hits.

When a toddler hits out of frustration, it's simply because his or her language skills have not developed enough to allow him or her to adequately express what he's thinking. Before you jump to a time out, try redirecting the behavior to something more productive. If your toddler is frustrated with an activity or craft, perhaps it's time for some unstructured play time. If your toddler is upset over a toy, maybe a new toy should replace it. 

Be understanding of the behavior.

Empathy with young children and toddler's is important. Because they cannot express what they are feeling at all times, you can do it for them. First an foremost, as much as is possible, it's important for parents who are dealing with a toddler's aggressive actions to keep their cool. Second, talk to the child. Observe why she's acting out aggressively then puts words to what she is feeling. For example, "I know you're frustrated that your friend is playing with your favorite toy. It's hard to share your special toys." Hugs go a long way too. You can combine this response with redirection or removing a toy or activity so that the cause of the frustration is no longer present.

Most importantly, remember that aggressive behavior like hitting and biting should be a phase. As your child continues to develop their language skills, understand concepts like sharing and consequences, and has more ability to regulate his or her own behavior, in many cases, these behaviors will stop on their own. 

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