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It can be tough when your child starts hitting. At first, it was cute. They smacked you in the arm and you might have even laughed. Then, as they started to do it more, it became a habit you can’t stop.
The good part? You can stop it. Follow this method to get your toddler to stop hitting mom or anyone else at home or daycare.
This technique worked for us, but remember each child is different.
A NORMAL DISCIPLINE STRATEGY
If your toddler is hitting, I know you are doing some sort of normal discipline strategy. It’s just not working for your child. We went through the same thing.
We thought we knew exactly how to handle this situation if it happened, but as you know, children have a way of making things difficult.
OUR FAILED TECHNIQUE
My husband and I knew before having children we would never hit back. I had read multiple times that hitting back will only make it worse.
I also do not personally agree with hitting children in any kind of way for any reason.
Instead, we told her “no hitting.” If she continued to hit, we put her in time out in a corner. We didn’t have an actual “corner” available, so we found anywhere she could sit and look at the wall.
After a few times, she started to get aggressive during timeouts. She refused to stay in the corner and started smiling while we were disciplining her.
We weren’t hitting back, but it was still getting worse.
She was still hitting and now disobeying our disciplined approach. If we didn’t figure this out now, it would only get harder as time went on.
My husband and I decided to reevaluate our strategy and changed direction. We listened to advice from others and created our own master plan to get her hitting to stop stopping.
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WHAT TO DO WHEN YOUR TODDLER HITS YOU
UNDERSTAND WHY YOUR TODDLER IS HITTING YOU
To solve anything, you need to understand why the problem is happening. Is hitting behavior normal? Should you be concerned?
The short answer? Yes, it’s normal. This is referred to as a toddler hitting phase. Toddlers are developing emotions and don’t know fully how to deal with them.
Here are a few top reasons why your toddler may hit:
Out of anger or frustration
They think it’s funny
They don’t understand it hurts someone
Lack of expression in other ways (ie: your toddler hits when excited)
STAY CALM AND SHOW A PROPER WAY TO BEHAVE
This is the time to be a good role model for your child.
Actions speak louder than words. It’s important to take a calm and reasonable approach with your child.
Do not hit your child back. If you hit them back and say “no hitting,” you’re teaching them hitting is an okay response. I mean you’re hitting them for the same reason they may have hit you.
Do not yell at them. Yelling at your child only teaches them to yell when angry as well. Toddlers are soaking up everything they learn around them and mimicking it.
If a toddler hits and screams, stay calm and offer an alternative by distracting the child.
This means if they are upset over a toy, distract them with another toy or bring them into another room. It is very important to discipline a toddler positively and not cause more stress on them.
TELL THEM HOW YOU FEEL
Talk in words they will understand. If your child calms down and moves on, reward the positive behavior. No, not with a treat, but with praise, such as “Great job” or “You make mommy happy when you __.”
Teaching toddlers not to hit does not always need to happen after your toddler hits. At that point, they are already upset or angry about something.
Take time when your toddler is calm and playing to teach them how hitting affects the other person.
Martine Agassi Ph.D. has a great book called “Hands are Not For Hitting” that teaches toddlers on their level what hands are for and how hitting can make a person feel.
It is part of the Good Behavior Series that covers other potential issues, such as biting, kicking, and more.
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FIND TRIGGERS THAT CAUSE YOUR TODDLER TO HIT
It’s important to understand why your toddler hits you. There are usually triggers that start the aggressive behavior.
It can be something as simple as taking away something from them to being too tired and irritable that the next thing that goes wrong triggers them to hit.
Next time your toddler hits, think about what just happened. Did you take something away? Are you changing their routine?
Toddlers like a routine they can follow. They like familiarity and can rebel when something changes. Once you find the trigger, think of ways you can make that transition easier.
Yes, we were saying no in our original plan, but we changed it up. We JUST said “no.”
If your toddler hits or is acting out in any other way, do not repeat that word. It reinforces the behavior and creates a bigger problem.
We stopped using the word “hitting.” It didn’t exist in our household. When we said “no,” we said it firmly with no other words surrounding it.
My daughter got the point and there were no other confusing messages. We didn’t yell but said it with authority.
GIVE A WARNING
Your toddler may not even realize they just hit you or what hitting really is. If my daughter hit one of us, we would say, “No. One more time and you go in time out.”
This gave her a chance to improve their behavior before going into time out.
It also calls out the exact behavior that caused you to say no.
A lot of times, you can jump to putting a toddler in time out on the first offense and they may not even know why they were put there.
If these tips do not work, follow the steps below on how to punish/discipline a toddler without hitting back.
HOW DO YOU GIVE A TODDLER A TIME OUT?
FIND A PERMANENT TIME OUT LOCATION
We were putting my daughter in time out wherever we could. If we were in the living room, we put her in the hallway.
If we were upstairs, we would put her in the hallway or a spare bedroom. It depended on where we were when it happened and what we were doing.
With this new approach, we located one timeout spot downstairs and one upstairs. The familiarity helped with learning what time out was for and became more effective.
WALK OUT OF THE ROOM
This trick works wonders. When your toddler goes into time out, walk out of the room and ignore them.
Children thrive for attention, so if they know they’re not getting any in timeout, they won’t want to go there.
If you were watching TV or listening to music, turn it off. My husband and I also went as far as not talking to each other as she would hear us and think she could come out or from curiosity.
GET DOWN TO THEIR LEVEL
Once you’ve followed all these tips for a timeout, it’s important to follow-up.
This is one of the most important parts so your toddler can understand why they went into timeout now that they’re (hopefully) calmer.
My daughter cried hysterically the first few timeout sessions, but I promise it will get better! Do not give in, even once. It only makes it worse.
Kneel to get down to their level to show you are equal. Explain how hitting hurt you and made you feel sad.
Toddlers are starting to understand emotions and if your toddler hits you, they most likely did out of emotion too.
We’ve used phrases like, “That made mommy feel sad. Leah felt angry when we took your toy away, didn’t you? Mommy doesn’t like putting you in timeout. I know you’re a good girl, so let’s go sit down and color.”
She likes to hear that I understand how she feels. Then we move on and don’t mention it again.
HOW TO HANDLE A TODDLER HITTING AT DAYCARE
It may feel embarrassing to have that child who is hitting other kids and even adults at daycare. Don’t be ashamed.
If you’re reading this article that means you are making a tremendous effort to get your child to stop this behavior.
Talk with your daycare provider about how they handle hitting instances and see if they will allow this approach for your child while in their care.
Explain how important it is to have consistency with this discipline to allow it to work successfully.
You may need to write down everything and sign it to give permission as daycares err on the side of carefulness when it comes to our children.
If they do not allow your approach, talk with them and come up with a compromised solution on how you both can work together to stop the behavior.
HOW LONG DO YOU PUT A CHILD IN TIME OUT?
The magic rule of thumb for timeouts is their age in minutes.
My daughter is 2 years old, so she now has a 2 minute time out. Once she is 2 and a half years old, she will have a 2 and a half minute timeout.
Time tends to go by much slower when you’re younger, so 3 minutes for a 1-year-old can be an over punishment.
WHAT AGE SHOULD YOU START TIME OUT?
18 months is a good starting point as this is the time where toddlers start to have a better understanding of words and emotions.
This time out technique can work to discipline a 1-year-old as well.
Each toddler can develop skills at a different age. When a toddler is hitting parents or even just hitting mom, it’s a sign they are feeling more emotions.
This is the perfect time to start disciplining a toddler by using time out. The earlier you intervene with this behavior, the easier it is to stop.
HOW THIS TIME OUT FOR KIDS STRATEGY WORKED FOR US
After about two weeks using this approach, my daughter’s hitting stopped almost completely.
There were a few times she would hit, but then her face showed she knew that was wrong. I chose to ignore those times to avoid her being upset.
If she has the urge to hit us due to anger, she now catches herself and will actually pet my arm saying “hi” in a cute voice. At this point, she has not hit anyone in months.
Friday 16th of September 2022
I'm a few years late so I don't know if you're still responding to comments here but if you are I could use a little guidance 🙏🏿
My 1 year old used to really fight her sleep so we decided to stop using her crib for anything other than sleeping (we used to let her play in there sometimes during the day when mom is cooking and I'm not home). This worked really well to help her connect being put in the crib and the lights getting low with going to sleep.
Do you think using it for 1.5 minute timeouts here and there will effect the feelings she has toward the crib enough to stop her falling asleep as easily in it?
My brain had a meltdown trying to figure out how to properly explain and ask this question 😂 hope it makes sense!
Tuesday 11th of October 2022
I do think doing timeouts in a crib can be a little confusing for children and they can start to feel like it's not a fun place to sleep. I recommend finding a place in your house, either a chair, corner, etc. that you can place her in for timeouts that is not associated with anything else.
Monday 27th of July 2020
I know theses posts are a few years old but advice doesn't expire ???? and life is forever changing. I'm raising my 3 yr old grandaughter, we've had 50/50 custody with her other grandma since 7 months old. I do not remember it being this difficult. My kids never hit and rearly had tantrums. She actually started hitting just in the last few months and at times she'll smile while doing so. I'm taken back by this, and honestly don't know how to deal with it. She is obviously upset about something to be doing so but I've been unable to pinpoint what the something is. There is no one situation that brings on the hitting other then her simply not getting what she wants or not wanting to do what's asked of her. I want only the very best for her and she is in such a difficult position being moved back and forth between to homes all the time. She's truly a beautiful, sweet, loving little girl but when she gets nasty she gets Nasty. Any advice or guidance would greatly be so appreciated. Just an old Mimi raising a newer model child that didn't come with a manual. ????????????????????
Tuesday 28th of July 2020
I'm so sorry you're going through that! I know it's tough. The hitting won't stop if she's being disciplined two different ways at two different houses. It's too confusing for a child that young. I've seen that with my nephew. At 3 years old, they are still too young to not fully comprehend what happens when they hit, but old enough to differentiate your reaction from right and wrong.
I would talk with the other grandma and come up with a game plan together on how to handle it and both stick to it. This technique stills works great on a 3-year-old. Just pick one place where she stays in timeout and give her NO attention. Most kids her age will act out when they know it will give them any attention, good or bad. Once she realizes she gets no attention for that behavior (other than a big NO and then placed in timeout), they grow out of it.
Another idea is to do a behavior sticker chart as we have done with my 4-year-old. We have 2 stickers she can earn a day -- a listening sticker and a manners sticker. If she acts out, she doesn't get one of the stickers. 12 stickers in a week gets her chocolate (a big motivation to her) and 3 weeks of 12 stickers gets her a toy she chooses. It worked wonders when my daughter acted out because of the recent changes and us being home now 24/7.
Thursday 19th of April 2018
These are great tips!!! Thanks so much!!
Thursday 19th of April 2018
Unfortunately my daughter has also reached this stage of toddlerhood. I really needed to read this because I have been having a hard time with it. I would agree that walking away does help. There is also so much truth in the no versus the NO, and toddlers understand when you are more firm.
Thursday 19th of April 2018
You will get through it Joanna! Stick with it. It's a tough phase to get through, but if you stay strong, they will learn a new way of dealing with anger.
Thursday 19th of April 2018
You know I have always really enjoyed your blog posts! You are so good at writing! Thank you so much for this! I also subscribed to your list! ;)
Thursday 19th of April 2018
Aww thank you so much Veronica! I love hearing that from my readers. :)