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How to Stop a Toddler from Hitting

young girl crying on her father's shoulder

Some children exhibit aggressive behaviors like hitting in response to particular triggers or to see how others will react to different behavior.

The challenging part for most parents is that what comes naturally in reaction to the behavior is to yell and punish them for the behavior. This is most often the opposite of what works best.

Reacting severely or negatively to the aggressive act might stop the behavior for a moment, but it is not an effective way to change the behavior long term.

It is crucial to teach children what to do instead and reward positive behavior. Here is a five-step solution to help change aggressive behavior into pro-social behavior.

  1. Stop the behavior – Take the child out of the situation or block them from making contact with you or another person. Tell them “stop” with a firm, but not angry, tone.
  1. Stay calm and in control – When we respond with anger to our children, we are basically demonstrating the kind of behavior we are trying to get rid of.

Yelling or hitting in anger is showing children that this is an adequate way to respond to things that make us upset. 

They could also be hitting to get your attention and then the behavior has been rewarded because you have shown them that hitting is a way to get it.

  1. Recognize how your child is feeling and explain why you stopped the behavior – Some children may hit playfully, but others hit when they are mad or irritated. Classify these emotions for your child and let them know that it is okay to have these feelings, but it’s not okay to hit. 
  1. Tell and show your child what to do – Use hitting episodes to teach the appropriate behavior. Your child may need to be taught how to use gentle touches or use words instead of hitting. 


  1. Instantly praise the right behavior – When your child does show or emulate the appropriate behavior after you have mediated, make sure you reward them. Be enthusiastic and let them know how proud you are that they listened and used the words you gave them.

One of the hardest things about teaching good behavior is finding a child care center that will help your efforts. Smart Kids Development Center not only teaches fun, age appropriate learning but they also help you as a parent by teaching sympathy and generosity.