Toddler Hitting Behaviour: How We’re Handling It

My little angel, Elliott, has started to show his little devil side lately through hitting.

I’ve been putting it down to the fact that he’s frustrated and still can’t communicate to us properly. Elliott’s speech is still a little delayed due to having mild hearing loss and subsequent surgery to remove his adenoids and insert grommets late last year. But, I still haven’t been sure if how I’m dealing with the hitting behaviour is correct or effective.

Upon doing some research on toddler hitting, I was really glad to see that I was in fact on the right track in dealing with Elliott’s hitting behaviour during his tantrums. I try my best to be very calm about it when he does it me, I tell him that it’s not a nice thing  to do, that it hurts and that we don’t hit Mummy and Daddy. Sometimes I show him my emotions by being upset and saying I’m sore, letting him know that it hurts Mummy when he hits. I also try talking to him to let him know that I understand that he is frustrated and work really hard to figure out what is it he wants or how he’s feeling, this is the hardest part.

It was good to find some other information on why toddlers hit and ways to limit the toddler hitting behaviour, some of the information I found was very reassuring and has given me a sense of relief:

Toddlers are very limited in knowing how to deal with emotions

Toddlers are still very limited in knowing how to deal with their emotions, challenging situations or if they are tired or hungry. I know that when Elliott is hungry, unless he points to the fridge or cupboard, he doesn’t understand the ‘hunger’ feeling and instead throws a tantrum because of it and when I try to calm him, he starts hitting because I don’t understand how he’s feeling or what he wants. 

Model the behaviour you want to see in your child

Of course it makes sense that if your toddler is hitting that you don’t hit them back, this isn’t setting a good example and will show them that it really is OK to hit. The other thing that I try really hard to do, even when I feel like I could snap, is to keep calm and not lose my temper. Again, it’s about modelling good behaviour and if we want our toddlers to control their anger, we have to be able to show we can do it too. I must admit there have been times when I’ve snapped and must always try to control this for the sake of Elliott’s development. 

Explain to the toddler

I’m really glad I’m doing this one right, explaining the effects of hitting. For example, I usually say “Mummy and Daddy are not for hitting” or “You don’t hit Mummy but you can give her a big hug.”

Explain the effects

Help the toddler understand the effects of their hitting. For example in my case, I say “How does Mummy feel when you hit her?” As mentioned earlier, I also show my emotions and that the effect of his hitting really hurts me and makes me sad. 

Don’t take it personally

Janet Lansbury makes a good point in that we should not take a toddlers hitting behaviour personally and that it is simply a little lost child’s call for help. I remember when Elliott first started hitting me I was shocked, I was really upset and I did take it personally. Janet continues to say that it’s about rising above the fray as mature adults and providing assistance, communicating and following through, such as, You’re having a hard time not hitting, so I will help by holding your hands” instead of “Why don’t you listen to me?”

One thing I need to remember about Elliott’s hitting behaviour is that it is normal and it’s not naughty or bad. He’s still at a stage where he cannot properly communicate his feelings and this is how he does it. I try to put myself in his situation and how I would feel if I felt a certain way or if there was something I wanted and there was no way I could communicate it, I would feel quite anxious, possibly scared and frustrated. As much as I’m empathetic to Elliott’s frustrations, it’s important that I’m also the support he needs to overcome them. 
Have you had or do you have a hitting toddler? How have you dealt with it?
Linking up with Jess for IBOT

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Eva Lewis (The Multitasking Woman)

Eva is the Editor and Owner of The Multitasking Woman - a lifestyle and parenting blog.She always has her fingers in many different pies but wouldn't have it any other way. Eva is a Mum to her 4-year-old son, 2 month old daughter, two chickens, one dog and a fish called Bob and a wife to Mr G. They all live happily in their little cottage on the outskirts of Brisbane.

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17 Comments

  1. AParentingLife
    May 27, 2014 / 8:08 am

    Yes you are right about remembering he is not being naughty or bad and it is not a personal attack on you. Just a little boy frustrated as he learns to feel his way through life.

    Sending you both lots of fairy wishes and butterfly kisses from #teamIBOT

  2. May 27, 2014 / 1:17 pm

    We just went through this with Mr 2.5yo it was horrible, he just lashed out all the time and once I got over my reaction to it I got down to his level and explained why and tried to change his behaviour, he doesn’t do it much anymore. I feel it’s their frustration that makes them do it! It’ll be pass I reckon x

  3. May 27, 2014 / 2:30 pm

    We had this problem too. A frustrating phase they go through. All I did was I kept trying to explain to him why it was not nice to hit people. Toddlers are beautiful and bold all in one delicious package.

  4. May 27, 2014 / 9:17 pm

    They sure are aren’t they. My Elliott is just so gorgeous, it hurts me to know how much frustration he’s going through.

  5. May 27, 2014 / 9:17 pm

    Perhaps it’s all to do with being 2.5 years old!? Definitely frustration, but we removed the dummy a week ago and his talking has improved heaps in a short space of time so hopefully soon he can communicate better.

  6. May 27, 2014 / 9:54 pm

    I had a few hits over my time with little ones. I was always really firm and strict about it, because it’s not ever ok. Frustration is a big cause of it, so helping kids communicate is one of the best ways to get past it too, I found.

  7. May 27, 2014 / 10:16 pm

    Such a great post, thanks for the tips. I used to nanny for a little boy and once he got to the age of about 18months he became a little bit of a devil child and would hit his sisters and any other small child he’d come into contact with. It used to stress me out no end until one day he hit me and then I showed him my emotions and I think he slowly began to understand then.

  8. May 27, 2014 / 11:09 pm

    I definitely think with my little one that frustration is pretty much the only cause, he tries so hard to communicate and I try so hard to understand but most of the time, I just can’t because of his speech delay. He will get past it soon, I’m sure of it.

  9. May 27, 2014 / 11:11 pm

    that would have been very difficult for you. I’m glad that Elliott hasn’t hit other children, which is a good sign and confirms to me that it is in fact that his inability to communicate with us is the problem as he doesn’t communicate with children of his age as they’re not of that level yet.

  10. May 28, 2014 / 12:05 am

    This is such a hard one, isn’t it? I’m really glad I read your post on this because I think that very shortly, my little girl will start to do the same thing. When I’m rocking her in my arms and singing a lullaby, if she decided she’s not in the mood for a lullaby, she wacks me in the mouth! I can see the funny side of it because it doesn’t hurt, but if it grows into a bigger problem as she gets older, I’m not going to find it so funny anymore. When she was a younger, I was really keen to teach her sign language because I’d read a lot of research on how that helps pre-verbal children communicate their needs and reduces tantrums and crying. Unfortunately, I didn’t put in the effort to teach it to her though. I suppose it’s not too late to start, but it does require commitment and consistency.

  11. May 28, 2014 / 4:45 pm

    My son went through the hitting stage as a toddler as well.
    I used a lot of time out, this allows the child and you to calm down and then exiting the time out we had a cuddle and talked about how we nobody hits anybody and reminded him that I love him. The time out was the quickest most effective way I found to deal with it.

  12. Barbie Bieber Beyond
    May 28, 2014 / 7:31 pm

    I haven’t had a toddler in a while, Miss 6 is my youngest..but the fighting between her and Miss 9 is driving me crazy at the moment!!!!

  13. Renee at Mummy, Wife, Me
    May 28, 2014 / 10:29 pm

    My three year old occasionally hits out at us when she’s having a mega meltdown. Last week we had a particularly upsetting incident where she hit and scratched me and bit herself. I well up even thinking about it now. Once she settled down I spoke to her about her feelings and asked why she acted that way. I really believe it is a result of all of this pent up frustration that she didn’t know how else to release. Thankfully it hasn’t happened since. Good luck with your little one.

  14. June 13, 2014 / 6:48 pm

    Sounds like you are doing all the right things. It will get better. You are ok. xS