How Parents Can Get Children to Stop Hitting

Close-up of a father face to face with his daughter

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Hitting, slapping, and whacking things can be a part of normal toddler play and interaction with objects. Part of their learning experiences comes through cause and effect (what happens when I do this?) and repetition (building blocks up only to smack them down). But when it comes to hitting other kids, it's obviously not acceptable. That's where child discipline and parental intervention are needed.

Why Toddlers Hit

Toddlers don't just automatically know that their hitting actions will harm someone. After all, you encourage your tot to throw a ball, swing a bat, or hit your hand in a high-five. They clap, stomp, and play patty cake. A young mind may not grasp that it is any big deal to whack a peer. Toddlers don't typically mean to act badly or inappropriately. Knowing that can help you calmly discipline your youngster. When your child is old enough to know better it will be a more serious matter.

Often, parents are astonished when they witness their toddler hit another child. It can come out of nowhere, perhaps because the child is over-stimulated and over-excited. Or, someone has something that he wants, he takes it, and does what seems to come naturally if there is resistance. It's up to adults who are supervising to stop the behavior at once and render ​appropriate discipline to minimize the chances of hitting occurring again.

Discipline Tips for Stopping a Child From Hitting Others

  • Talk with your child before he joins others in a playgroup about appropriate ways to act. Tell your child what you expect in easy-to-understand language. Once your child is old enough to really understand what you are saying, he is old enough to begin learning right from wrong.
  • Supervise your child and be prepared to react quickly. Too often, parents aren't attentive enough to young children playing together. They are talking to another adult or on their smartphones and they don't see warning signs of potentially hurtful behavior starting. Don't rely on someone else to watch your child. Your child and his behavior is always your responsibility. At the same time, don't do the helicopter hover.
  • Redirect any behavior that could lead to physical bopping or hitting. In many cases, what starts as fun and games ends with someone getting hurt. Don't be afraid to remove something that can cause harm or distress. Even an inflatable toy that doesn't hurt a child per se can reinforce negative behaviors of hitting one another and should simply be discouraged.
  • Remove a child from any situation in which he is deliberately hitting another child. If a child is a toddler and has begun socializing, consider ending the playdate and leave, howling and all. You need to teach your child that hitting another child ruins the activity for everyone. In situations where you can't leave, separate your child from the others and don't allow him to play with them. After a reasonable amount of time and after everyone has calmed down, you can talk with your child about the incident and then re-introduce the social play, but be sure to keep a very close eye on your child's actions. While some of this behavior is normal, it should be closely monitored and stopped.
  • Remain calm and don't let your toddler see you get upset. You need to show a calm yet firm face so that your youngster knows that while you love him, you will not condone his actions and that it isn't ever OK to hit. Avoid over-reacting. Use the redirection and firm "no hitting" words while removing the offender from the play area may be all that is needed.
  • Refuse to let your child play unattended with another child who consistently demonstrates hitting behaviors. It is your job to protect your child and to instill proper behaviors. You know what to do if your child is the one hitting, but don't hesitate to step in if it is your child who is the one being hit (accidentally or not). You don't want your child to begin to think that he should also hit or hit back (or begin other bad behaviors, such as biting) in self-defense.

When Another Child Hits Your Child

You may need to speak up and even discipline another person's child to stop the inappropriate actions if the parent isn't acknowledging there is a problem. If you're comfortable, have a frank conversation with the parent of the child who is hitting. Consider choosing your words carefully to avoid anyone from becoming overly-defensive, and potentially ending a friendship. After all, next time it could be your own child with the behavioral issue.

A Word From Verywell

Having a child who hits doesn't mean that he will grow up to be violent or become a bully. It's just your job to stop the action and properly discipline your child through loving guidance and age-appropriate communications.

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