Toddler Hitting:

When They Go For You

This page has advice about how to respond to your toddler hitting you. If you want to find out about tackling aggression towards other children, go to toddler aggression.

What should I do when my child hits me when heis frustrated because I won't let him do something he wants to do?

This is extremely common behaviour, whether other children and adults are on the receiving end.

Be reassured that this is not the start of your child becoming permanently aggressive. Unless toddlers see others hitting, this type of behaviour - although it looks shocking - is generally just a phase linked to limited language.

Click here for a full explanation of why young children hit and bite others.

As that page explains, toddler hitting is really a thoughtless,
spur-of-the-moment action that has no underlying nasty intentions. It is part of your son's tantrum.

So, how exactly should you react to toddler hitting?

The tricky thing is to communicate that aggressive behaviour is unacceptable to a distraught little boy, who will find it almost impossible to take anything in. And of course to protect yourself from being hit.

I usually suggest Time Out as one solution to toddler hitting, but there's really no point if your boy is beside himself with rage. He won't sit in the designated spot, and even if he did, he would not really learn anything in this fraught state of mind.

Here are some things you can try:

IMPORTANT: This is not a step-by-step list, rather a variety of solutions to choose from.

Hug him - that is if he is not hurting you. In my work with youngsters with Special Needs, we learned that the pressure of a hug can be very therapeutic for these kids. I have always thought that this also applies to toddlers.

Express his feelings for him (works best when giving the hug). Say "You're sad, aren't you?" Whenever I used to say this to my toddler, he would sigh with relief and nod his head vigorously.It is enormously helpful to young children for you to both acknowledge and communicate what they cannot.

Leave the room if it is safe to do so and your son is hurting you, or you find you are losing your temper. Gather yourself together.

Let him cry the tantrum out, either when you leave the room, or with you there. If you stay in the room, don't fuss over him. Occupy yourself - thsi will underplay the tantrum. When it's over, don't bother discussing it. The hitting is an expression of the tantrum, and tantrums are toddlers' way of coping with their new-found emotions, coping with learning how to control themselves.

A lecture won't teach them anything - it's how you deal with the hitting that teaches them how to behave because you are your toddler's role model.

This is why spanking and shouting are completely useless in this situation. They don't work. No toddler deserves to be spanked for anything.

Don't worry if you haven't dealt very well with this previously. It is very shocking the first time you see your toddler behave like this, even more so to be the unfortunate recipient of a slap or punch. And nobody can control themselves very well when they are shocked.

If you spanked your child and feel guilty, resolve now to have a plan of action in mind for the next time. Children of this age are more adaptable to new discipline strategies than their older counterparts.

Ignore any negative reactions of other adults if you are in public. I find that old ladies in particular are experts at disapproving looks. Yes, they are probably thinking that it's your fault, and yes, if ever there was a thought crime, that is it.

(Cheer yourself up with this anecdote: recently I got a world class withering look from an elderly woman when I let my desperate 3-yr-old son pee in the street (We all know the situation: "Mummy, I think I to wee in the car").

There will always be people who love their disapproving looks, and would make a citizens arrest on Nelson Mandela for walking on the grass if they could.

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