Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Backwards WFMW: Toddler who hits

First I'd like to say welcome to my faithful readers (the two of you?) and especially to all of Shannon's loyal readers over at Rocks in my Dryer from today's backwards edition of Works for me Wednesday who have come to help me with this major parenting dilemma: How do I get Lucas to stop hitting?

First, a little background. He's two. Two and a few weeks to be exact. He is generally a very sweet, kind boy. I know that he doesn't hit to be mean. The hitting generally takes two forms. One, when he gets over-excited and does more of happy/excited arm swinging and then he hits your face/head/arm/body, etc. The second is when he disagrees with what you are saying or doing or trying to get him to do. For example a very serious "NO MAMA" followed by an open-hand hit to my chest or legs.

Here's what we've tried:

1) Reinforcing gentle. He knows what gentle means. I've been trying to teach him that he may only touch people with "gentle". When I say this (even right after a hit) he'll stroke my cheek and repeat "gentle".

2) A stern "no hitting" when he does it. This usually brings him back from his frenzy and then he'll say sorry.

3) Time outs. He is just starting to understand the concept of time-out and so we'll do time-out after he hits.

He always expresses remorse and does seem to understand that he should not hit after the fact. Yet, he still does it again later.

Is this just a stage? Is there some other secret idea out there that I just haven't thought of?

Any and all (helpful!) advice welcome!



  1. No advice here, but sympathy! My son is a little over 2 as well and does the same thing. We just try to be really consistent -- hitting when he's mad gets an immediate time-out, and excited hitting gets redirected. He is getting better and I notice that a lot of his little buddies are doing the same thing, so I'm thinking it's just another fun toddler behavior!

  2. most definitely a stage....when my kids were smaller and had this issue...or throwing food on the floor at dinner etc i would say if you do that you will go in your crib (if he's still in it) and i would have to walk up stairs and stick them in their crib (maybe 10 times) but after a few days of showing that i was serious and they would have a timeout in their crib they quit. nowadays i take toys or tv time away...and still sometimes have them sit in time out in their room on their bed. it works for me...even though time out sometimes seems silly we'll be out in public and i'll say would you like time out or can you stop doing .... and they usually don't want the time out.

  3. Oh, I'm sending lots of sympathy your way. My son will be 4 in April and we are just at the tail end of "hitting". However, boy #2 is 16 months old and probably about to enter the hitting phase, too. I recently visited a sign language class where a "hitter" was present (all children were free to play among the toys). The mother apologized in advance for the hitting she knew her son would do, then sat down and did nothing while he hit and grabbed and annoyed the other children. So, doing nothing is probably not a good choice because it frustrates your peers. I echo the previous posts with immediate consequences and re-directing the playful/excited hitting. We eventually resorted to leaving if we were playing with a friend and he hit or pushed more than once. Good luck!

  4. I have a son that is 2 yrs and 2 weeks. He's been a hitter since 10 months - though never a biter, **yeah!** and just within the last week or so has stopped hitting. In fact, I almost didn't notice but he has stopped. Doesn't mean he won't start again, but it's a phase. We did everything you did with little lasting results. Hang in there!

  5. When Bub went through this stage, I found that nothing worked until we started giving time-outs for EVERY push, shove, or hit. Even half-hearted, almost-gentle ones. Even wholly provoked ones where the other party was in the wrong. Every time his hand came up against his sister, into time-out he went. It took about two weeks and then - problem solved. (It helped that he almost always pushed in defense of toys, so WATCHING his sister play with the disputed toy while he was in time-out was a very effective deterrent.)

  6. Young children who hit/bite, scratch etc need to be taught an alternative behavior. If the child is angry, teach him another way to express anger - using words or sign language, stomping his feet or some other physical way to express himself. Toddlers and young preschoolers are physical people, so they often need to express themselves physically.

    Learning to touch people gently is a great idea, but not when the child is excited or angry. You may be able to get the child to stop hitting by using time-out, but it does not teach him how to express his feelings in an acceptable way.

  7. I found your blog by searching for "toddler hitting"...our 2 year old is hitting us incessantly. I see this post was from a year ago. Any insight on what worked? (Help!)


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