When I opened my email this morning I saw an update on a website I sometimes visit – Circle of Moms.  The article was about how to deal with toddlers who hit.  Thatcher and Tanner have just turned 19 months (17.5 months corrected) and are no exception to this common toddler behaviour.  They often hit each other, their siblings or myself, so I was quite eager to read the article in hopes of discovering ideas that perhaps I hadn’t thought of.
Well was I in for a surprise.  One of the suggestions listed was to actually hit the toddler back! There were several parents who completely agreed with this form of discipline stating that sometimes your toddler just needs a “Taste of his/her own medicine.” They also suggested that if you didn’t stop the behaviour quickly this “violent” behaviour would continue as they grow older.
Really? Does a child that that age actually understand that hitting isn’t acceptable behaviour and it hurts people.  Do they really intend to be violent? I am no expert or psychologist but I don’t think they do.  Toddlers (and any child) tend to learn by example so wouldn’t hitting them just teach them that we hit when we are angry, want something, or simply want to get the attention of someone?
I am all for discipline and teaching our children appropriate behaviour but I think there are better solutions to this common issue and here are some tactics that seem to be working with the twins and worked with my older children.
1. Immediately after they hit whether it be hitting me or a sibling I take their hand and tell them “No gentle.” I then hold their hand and put it through the motion of being gentle by gently stroking the other persons arm, head or where ever they had hit and again repeat “gentle.”
2. When they continue to hit I pick them up and remove them from the situation.
3. Distraction also works – if they are hitting and the above hasn’t worked I take a toy and start playing with it gently repeating how we are gentle to people. Usually they will follow suite.
4. I know some people who encourage toddlers to give hugs or kisses instead of hitting.  Personally I don’t encourage this because I have experienced children who are not affectionate by nature and are not comfortable with giving hugs and kisses.  Besides if a toddler is hitting for attention I don’t really want them to just go up to anyone and everybody and start kissing or hugging them to get their attention or another child to play with them.
5. Consistency – use the same form of discipline each and every time they hit.  If you ignore the behaviour one day, and then discipline them the next day I believe you are just confusing them and not setting any boundaries.  Children no matter what age thrive on consistency and routine.  
6. Finally TIME.  As a toddler grows older and begins the process of being able to communicate through words the hitting tends to fade away and be replaced by more appropriate behaviour.
Of course there will be many parents who completely disagree with me and I get it – each parent must do what they feel is best for their own family, hopefully though, you might try these other suggestions and find they do actually work – it just may take a bit longer.
Do you agree that hitting as a toddler can lead to a child becoming violent later in life? Have you had a toddler who hit others? What strategies did you use to curb the hitting spree?
Until next time,
  • Heather

    I’m one that swiched my son’s biting for kissing and hiting for tickling. I am totally ok with him tickling strangers over hitting them but that’s never happened. He seems only to be tempted to bite the one’s he is closest to and those few are all happy to be kissed instead. Now that he is starting day care though, it could back fire. I guess I’ll just have to see if the solution works in a setting outside our home.

  • Julie

    i find replacing hitting with kissing quite puzzling. we teach our kids that no one touches us if we don’t want them to and forcing a hug or a kiss on someone is almost as bad as a hit.
    i don’t believe we should be hitting kids but i also don’t believe that hitting (spanking) kids leads to violent behaviour. if that was the case pretty much all of us on this board would be violent, crazy people as, i’m assuming, we all grew up in the age of spanking is “okay”.
    but i agree it’s consistency that is the key. if you say something, follow through!

  • Jen

    I agree 100%, Chantel.

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