My Toddler Used to Hit — This Is How We Stopped It
Toddlers are the worst. OK, actually they're super cute with a little (or a lot) of craziness sprinkled in. Often it's whining or tantrums that put you over the edge, but sometimes it's hitting. Sure, some little ones don't, but getting physical is pretty common for toddlers between 12 months and 3 years.
My first dabbled in aggressive behavior during the early years, but he was so easily redirected that we didn't spend much time on it before he grew out of it. My second, on the other hand, has a little more trouble restraining himself, and with his older sibling often at the receiving end, we had to tackle the problem head on. And we did it by looking the other way. Confusing, right? Read ahead for five tips we used to get our toddler to stop hitting.
It goes against every natural instinct I have to completely ignore when my son hits his sibling or another child, but nothing I tried worked until I tried this. And I have Ralphie Jacobs of Simply on Purpose to thank (seriously, if you have kids of any age, you need to follow her!).
The basic philosophy that Ralphie teaches is that you shouldn't be giving attention to inconsequential negative behaviors, or behaviors that are mostly attention-seeking and not intended to do real damage. Her mantra? "Water the flowers, not the weeds." Often, hitting is an attention-seeking weed rather than a deliberate attempt to cause harm, so giving attention to it just makes it grow.
Author Catherine Pearlman backs this idea up (she even wrote an entire book titled Ignore It!). "It may sound counterintuitive, but sometimes ignoring your child is the perfect response. Any reaction to these annoying behaviors will merely serve as a negative reward, which actually encourages the behavior to continue."
Remove Them From the Situation
For me, quite literally walking away when my toddler hits his sibling is often enough to diffuse the situation. But if he can't get control of his emotions and doesn't stop hitting, I will sometimes, without saying anything, calmly remove him from the situation and put him in his room for a break. I don't know if Ralphie would recommend this, but it's my way of following her other advice to "ignore the behavior, not the child" and seems to be effective in more escalated situations.
If both he and his brother don't stop even after I've ignored them or if they are continuing to figuratively poke at each other, I will try to change the situation. I still ignore the hitting and fighting, but I'll go over and say, "Boys, it's time to play outside!" or prompt them to move onto another activity. Often, simply redirecting them gets them to snap out of it.
Praise the Positive
It's when your child isn't hitting that you need to do the opposite of ignore and praise the sh*t out of them. Tell them how nicely they are playing with their friend when they actually are. Speak up when they share and give them props for being kind to their siblings. According to Ralphie, ignoring a negative behavior only works when you also "look for the flower and pick it."
If I've literally turned my back and busied myself with something else after seeing my toddler hit his brother, I wait until he stops that behavior and does something positive to give him attention or engage with him again. Or, if his brother is trying to play nicely, I focus my attention on him instead.
Focus on the Other Child
It's hard enough to deal with a toddler who has a hitting problem in your own home, but when it happens in public, it feels even more difficult to manage. I mean, can you imagine the dirty looks you'd get from other parents if you didn't even look up after your child hit another kid in the sandbox? Sure, parenting isn't about what other people think, but I find it pretty hard to 100 percent ignore hitting when I'm in the parenting spotlight on the playground.
In one of her Instagram Stories (that I've probably watched 15 times), Ralphie suggests taking another approach in these situations: "I would model the behavior that you want to see. So get down at the victim's level and ask him if he's OK and that you are sorry he got hurt. Then ask if he would like to play with you. Show your child how to be a good friend."
Teach Them the Right Behavior
Ralphie emphasizes that you should be "teaching your child deliberately" and at a time when they are most teachable. So, the middle of a hitting episode when your toddler is emotional and upset is not your best chance for explaining to them why hitting is bad. Instead, praise examples of good interactions between friends and siblings when you see them, tell them how you expect them to behave before they go into a playdate, and talk about the right way to treat loved ones.
Getting your toddler to stop hitting is not easy. Of course mine still hits on occasion. But I can honestly say that since implementing many of Ralphie's techniques from Simply on Purpose over the last few months, we've seen not only less hitting, but less negative behavior in general — from both of my older children. And it seems the more we practice these methods, the more positive behavior we see. So while I'm no parenting expert, I'd say it's worth a try if you're looking to retain your sanity while getting through the toddler years.