Toddler Hitting: Why It Happens and How to Stop It

emotional intelligence Jun 10, 2024

“I want her to know how to get angry without hitting,” my friend said to me as she loaded her 2-year-old into the car. 

It had been a challenging moment, complete with a full tantrum and hitting because her daughter was frustrated about leaving the park.

When kids don’t know how to handle difficult emotions, they might hit, bite, kick, or scream. Often, we respond to the behavior: we block the hitting and make sure they know it’s not okay to hit. But then, the next time they’re frustrated, they hit again. 

Kids can’t make a different choice if they don’t know how. If they don’t know what to do when their body feels out of control from a rush of anger, they’re going to continue hitting, kicking, biting, or screaming. After setting safety boundaries and validating their feelings, we can teach them how to regulate their emotions. This is the key to helping them make a different choice in the future.

Set a Safety Boundary

When your child starts to hit, hold their hands gently but firmly and say, “I’m not going to let you hit my body.” This sets a clear boundary that hitting is not acceptable and also physically prevents them from causing harm.

Validate Their Emotion

Let your child know that their feelings are understood and accepted. You can say something like, “Ugh, it’s so frustrating to leave the park when we were having so much fun.” This helps them feel heard and seen in their emotional experience.

Offer Coping Strategies

Teach them alternative ways to deal with their frustration. For example, you might say, “When I’m frustrated, it helps me to squeeze my fists, open them, and squeeze again. Want to do it with me?” This gives them a practical tool they can use to manage their anger in the moment.

Circling Back

Later, when your child is calm, revisit the topic and discuss other ways they can cope with their anger. You could say, “When you’re feeling frustrated, instead of hitting me, you can stomp your feet or say, ‘Mama! I’m mad!’ and I will help you.” This reinforces the idea that there are safe and effective ways to express their emotions.

By setting safety boundaries, validating emotions, and offering coping strategies, we can help our children learn to manage their anger without hitting. It’s a process that takes time and patience, but with consistent guidance, they will learn to make better choices in the future.


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