I remember playing at the park and felt so bad when I saw a toddler having all kinds of big feelings which turned into a giant slap to his mom’s face. My son was 2.5 at the time and I had yet to really experience any major, physical meltdowns. Between you and I, I assumed he just wouldn’t do that. My sweet little boy didn’t seem to have it in him and I looked down at him feeling grateful. I wish I could go back to that ignorant mom I was and give her a wake up call. My little angel turned 3 several months later and so did our pretty tame world, which is why I’m bringing you, what to do when your toddler hits.
The first time it happened is still shocking to me. We were snuggling on the couch and he looked at me with those giant brown eyes, swung his hand back, and slapped me. I think it shocked us both. He wasn’t mad and wasn’t having a meltdown. My son just decided he was going to hit me. I always had it in my head that if he ever hit me, I would give this big reaction and make sure he knows this is NOT ok. So I got at eye level with him and used my stern mom voice saying, “We do NOT hit. Hitting hurts.” Of course that ended it there and we haven’t had to deal with it since, right? Oh no. That little boy looked at me and laughed. He got exactly what he wanted, and I was left feeling like a failure.
It took time and a ton of reading, but eventually I started navigating my way through these uncharted territories. I am still living it but have picked up some tips along the way that I hope will help you for when your toddler hits.
It’s Not You
When my son hit me for the first time, my mind raced and all I pictured was my kid hitting in school and then growing up with aggressive behavior. That one hit caused this spiral of thoughts that all led back to one person. Me. It was my fault that he hit. I didn’t teach him enough about how we shouldn’t hit. I should have done more. But those things aren’t true.
In reality, he is 3 and his world seems a lot bigger now. He is understanding more and his brain is developing rapidly, but he doesn’t have the ability to understand it just yet. As adults, we have off days, but we are able to communicate how we feel. When your toddler hits, they are essentially trying to do that. He needs to learn how to understand and communicate his feelings. Yes, there are things I can do to help him process and react to his emotions, but it isn’t my fault when he handles them in a very “3” way.
When Your Toddler Hits Keep it Simple and Consistent
After identifying the why behind the action, it was time for me to implement some strategies to validate my son’s feelings and help him handle them appropriately. Every mama needs to find the strategies that work for their parenting style as well as the personality of their child. What worked for us was to keep it simple. If Edison hit me and was upset, I would tell him it was OK to be upset and I would remind him that I get upset too. Then I would tell him, “We don’t hit, hitting hurts.” After that, I would let him know I loved him, but since he wasn’t being safe, I needed to keep my body safe and leave the room.
Here’s what this did for my son:
- Validated his feelings.
- Reminded him hitting isn’t safe.
- Removed the attention and big reaction.
Here’s what this did for me:
- Reminded me that his feelings are valid and he is just trying to figure all this out.
- Allowed me to still state expectations.
- Helped me stay calm by removing myself from the situation.
When your child hits, it catches you off guard and can be really hard to maintain this practice all the time. Last night, he hit me when we sat down to read. I was tired and just wanted to go to sleep, but I had to get up and do the whole thing with him. As much as I didn’t feel like it, I knew it would help him learn how to react appropriately. My son craves structure and he needs too know what I expect.
We went five days in a row with no hitting. It was glorious, and I felt like I had conquered the hitting phase. I was ready to publish a book and everything. What I soon learned was that this is a process. When you learn to ride a bike, that doesn’t mean you are never going to fall. You keep practicing and putting in the work in order to improve. When your child hits, they are going to regress. There is no perfect plan to make it go away overnight. They will test you just for cause and effect, have meltdowns, and sometimes just want your attention. Don’t feel defeated if they hit you when feeling these things. All of your work is doing something and eventually, this will be a memory you can forget altogether or relish in knowing you made it.
The biggest takeaway is that your child is a unique individual that experiences the world in his or her way. Similarly, you are a unique person with your own style for parenting decisions. My hope is that you were able to take something to help you for when your toddler hits. It isn’t fun to experience, but know you aren’t alone. We’ve got this, Mama.