When Toddlers Hit

A chair in the kitchen, with a bag of marshmallows sitting on counter, and Mom’s cupboard full of chocolate chips just above the counter.  Your TODDLER  is now fully engaged in her/his beginning mountain climbing endeavors.    Adventurous, fearless and focused,your toddler begins to climb.

Somehow, your parental radar sends you to the kitchen  to find Missy precariously perched between chair and counter, trying to reach the out-of-bounds marshmallows.  You quickly intervene.  You pick up your hardy mountain climber and all is well.

Or then again, NOT.  Your young, thwarted mountain climber begins to wail with frustration.  As you try to hug him, he arches back from you and turns on the amplifiers.  His face is red and soaking with tears.  And then it happens:  Your loving toddler HITS you, maybe still screaming and maybe not. 

If this is the first time your toddler has HIT you, both of  you will be stunned into a moment of shock.  The moment passes and then, depending upon what you do, will decide what your toddler will do.

Here’s my recommendation:  IMMEDIATELY show your  own facial surprised and shocked reaction—and then—say something like, “Oh no, you’ve hurt Mommy” (with appropriate facial and tonal inflections).

If your toddler reacts with concern and stops struggling, immediately sit down with your toddler on your lap and say, “Hands are for holding, not for hitting.”  And then go on to tell your toddler how you know he would like to climb and get things, but it’s your job to make sure he is safe.  Safe all the time.  If your toddler remains calm, tell him to come and ask you for things or permission to get things.  Lots of EYE CONTACT, a calm, loving voice and a finishing hug.  (You just might want to PRACTICE and have your toddler take you to the kitchen, point at the marshmallows and ask politely (in whatever form this is available to you toddler) for a marshmallow.  Then give your child a marshmallow for each hand.

If your toddler DOES NOT stop HITTING you, hold his arms gently and don’t allow him to hit you.  Sit quietly with him until he has stopped his tantruming.  After he has sniffed and hiccupped and relaxed in your arms, ask for EYE CONTACT and then say, “Hands are for holding, not for hitting.”  (And follow the above.)

This is an extremely important message for toddlers.  That a delay of gratification is not a reason for AGGRESSION in any form.  That you will not tolerate being hurt, or having anyone else hurt.  DO NOT send your child to his room.  This is not an age where “thinking about it” or a “time out” will help teach the lessons you want learned.  STAY with toddler until “all is well.” 

IF this is not the first time your toddler has hit you, then she will be surprised when you react like above.  She will probably struggle longer in your arms.  Don’t give up.  Continue to hold her gently.  Words are not needed.  Don’t keep asking her to stop.  Just be calm and quiet and soothing.  You may gently kiss her head and remind her that you love her.  But don’t stop holding her still until she relaxes and accepts your cuddling of her.  Then go for EYE CONTACT and tell her that, “Hands are for holding, not for hitting.”  You can follow the above for how to proceed, as long as your toddler remains compliant.  If she continues to struggle, WAIT HER OUT.  Eventually she will relax and allow herself to be cuddled. 

 (Did I say you may miss your appointment or quick run to the store?  This is so much more important.  A few times of this consistent response and you won’t have a hitting or kicker or biter in the family.)

These are all lessons that we, in this culture, have to learn.  Be gentle with yourself and your child.  Let me know how this works for you.

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