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Help a Mom: Toddler keeps hitting older children

Posted May 1, 2012

We're fielding a question today from a mom with a toddler who keeps hitting older kids. Here's what she wrote:

I am looking for advice or suggestions for age appropriate discipline for my 23-month-old son, who has begun to hit/kick other (older) children on the playground, at the park, and at my daughter's preschool. Thanks!

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  • lilypony May 2, 2012

    While reading back through this I realized I forgot the number one thing that needs happen! Tell him NO! Not screaming at him, not scaring him, but physically remove him from the situation. Look him in the eyes and firmly say "we do NOT hot our friends. It is not okay to put your hands on anybody else. You hurt their body and that is NOT okay". Then he goes in the car and you leave the park. It is not an option to hurt anyone and he needs to hear that. Even if he can't understand it quite yet, he must hear it.

  • Killian May 2, 2012

    Removing him from the situation every single time he hits is perfect advice. He needs to learn that hitting causes safety issues, and safety issues can never be tolerated.

    That said, part of his problem could also be a lack of vocabulary and cognitive processing skills to express emotion. Teach him to sign. It doesn't have to be the entire ASL repertoire, but he should learn some basic emotional signs for when he's angry that he can substitute for hitting.

  • br549znc May 2, 2012

    As soon as he hits an older child who decides to hit him back a time or two the behavior will most likely stop.

  • lilypony May 2, 2012

    I ran out of room to keep writing!

    Anyway, it would also be a great idea to get him involved with a mother's morning out type of program so he can interact with others and watch appropriate behavior first hand. Not all preschools enroll children that young. I am the director at AsheBridge Children's Academy in Cary and we accept children mid-year beginning at 15 months. Our program focuses on teaching these skills to toddlers. If you're interested, visit for more info. All in all, it's very normal behavior though and just needs to learn good skills to channel his desire to play.

  • lilypony May 2, 2012

    At that age, even if you know why he is hitting, you aren't going to be able to rationalize with him on a level to make him stop. Most likely, he wants to play with them and doesn't yet have the social skills to initiate play with older children. He hits, he gets a reaction, and then there's that interaction he wants.

    At your daughter's preschool, there's absolutely no reason why he should have access to other children. He can hold your hand (the entire time), sit in a stroller, or be carried. Ignore whines and protests. It's not fair to the children being hit, and it's not the teacher's job to control your toddler.

    As far as the other situations go, you need to shadow him. This is a "hands-on" thing and you can't sit on the bench chatting. Give him the words he needs. Ask other child if he can build sandcastle or slide with them. He's a baby, you've got to hover until he matures. Don't expect the decision making abilities that your preschool child has.

  • babbleon May 2, 2012

    Different kids hit for different reasons. It will help you to know *why* he's hitting. The two most common ones I've heard about are frustration w/lack of communication and attention-getting.

    This page has a good summary of many reactions you can try:

    I also know someone who tried stickers - a sticker for each time they get through an encounter without hitting, then a treat when they get X number of stickers (a small treat for a day's worth, a big treat for a week, maybe).

    Good luck - my son's best friend hit my son last weekend, and it was a big shock for my son and I. I know the BFF has good parents, and that my son isn't really hurt by it, but it was still weird. They went on to play happily for another 2 hrs, through dinner, so it worked out in the end.

  • JAT May 2, 2012

    You have to prevent the hitting from getting the attention. When he hits, focus the attention on the victim, not the hitter. He'll soon learn that hitting gets him no attention and he'll stop. You can't even yell at the hitter - bad attention is better than no attention.

  • snowbunny1991ks May 2, 2012

    Though it will be frustrating...evertime your son hits or kicks someone else. You have to let him know it will not be tolerated. Remove him immediately from the park or where ever yall are...pick a spot you can put him in time out. If its at home make sure its in the same place always. Not in his room filled with toys either. It's 1 minute in time out per every year of age. Make him stay there. When he's done...assuming he stay seated. Kneel down on his level and ask him why he was put in time out. Be very firm when telling him it will not be tolerated. Good luck hun:)

  • snowl May 1, 2012

    I'd want to find out why the baby is hitting others. Ask your babies doctor to help you.