My toddler won’t stop hitting me!
As we all know, raising a toddler is no easy task. They are an unpredictable ball of energy, which is either super sweet or destructive. They can come up to us and give you the sweetest hug, or we can spend twenty minutes dealing with a temper tantrum involving lots of screaming and rolling around on the ground, mixed with a refusal to do anything you say. Standard stuff, right? It’s just difficult to deal with at times. But what do we do when their behaviors and tantrums go beyond tantrums and into the realm of hitting? Well, we’re here to help.
When it comes to dealing with toddlers, we will see this is a recurring theme. No matter their reaction to the world, we must always possess the ability to keep our heads about us. We can vent to an adult when the child isn’t around later on, but now we need to be able not to overreact. Let’s face it: When we are hit, our instinctive reaction is to lash out, because our fight or flight response becomes triggered. The adrenaline and testosterone are pumping through our veins, giving us anger mixed with our aggression. The more physical altercations we’ve been through in life, the quicker this physiological response kicks in, and the deeper it runs through us.
We aren’t necessarily looking to get into a fight with them, but it is easy to be filled with the desire to turn them around and give them a spanking we feel is just. It’s not. When we hit our children, we’re reinforcing the mindset that hitting is okay. They hit, we hit back. It becomes a perpetual cycle that becomes ingrained within their minds, and the seed grows, becoming further rooted as they get older. It’s up to us to show them not only is hitting wrong, but there are other ways to deal with situations. And it starts with us showing them the other ways. Keeping calm is the first tip mentioned because everything stems from a singular thought: Don’t overreact. Take a breath if you need to, count to ten, then deal with the situation.
Keeping calm also helps us to analyze their behavior, which is the second tip. Is the incident the first time they have hit us or someone else, or has it become a habitual behavior? Ideally, we want to stop hitting as soon as we see it as a problem, which is the first time, but it’s not always the case. Have their tantrums become louder and more violent? Has their interactions with other children become more volatile? Sometimes toddlers have merely triggered themselves. Another toddler stole their toy, so they hit. Not a healthy reaction and one we want to correct, but it is easier to understand. However, if it were always simple, we would all have an easier time dealing with their reaction.
Most of the time, hitting will start from their inability to communicate effectively, which leads to frustration and subsequently leads to lashing out. There are several causes of poor communication: They are too young to communicate effectively, they are developmentally delayed, or they learned improper communication. Understanding why this happens will help us fix the behavior as quickly as possible. And if it is a learned behavior from the household, please deal with this immediately!
We’ve kept our heads, and we have analyzed the situation. Now comes communication. Communication is key in any interaction because it’s the process of learning another’s perspective while teaching our own. Healthy communication is engrained within it. Healthy communication starts with eye contact. It’s especially important with a toddler. You’re down on their level, not towering above them, looking them in the eyes and speaking calmly. You’re setting the tone for the conversation, and by doing so, you’re instinctively calming them by being a calming presence. Talk to them. Ask them questions. Get to the root of what’s going on. It may resemble charades, but at least communication is transpiring. You’re teaching them a valuable lesson: to communicate instead of reacting emotionally. You’re also teaching them healthy communication is the easiest way to get their needs met, a lesson they will need for the rest of their lives.
We’ve tried communication, but let’s face it: They are just too worked up right now to communicate. Sometimes the most effective thing we can do is remove them from the environment they are in and just distract them. They have destructive energy, so let’s help them release it healthily. Remember, we are not rewarding bad behavior. We are simply removing the energy so we can go back to the previous step and communicate with them to get to the heart of the matter and help them overcome it.
Depending on the situation, we can help them calm in several ways: a time out, the park, breathing exercises, helping you with some chores. Be creative and use your best judgment based on the situation, but it should be something constructive because it is the opposite of their destructive behavior. Once their destructive energy has been displaced, we can go back to communication.
Many would think discipline would be the first on the list, but it’s not. It’s last for a reason. If we discipline first, we risk them harboring resentful feelings, especially since they are in such a heightened and destructive emotional state. The healthiest thing for them and the most helpful thing for us to overcome their hitting problem is to deal with the situation at hand first, then discipline. Remember, from before; discipline should never involve striking the child.
We want to be both creative and constructive with our discipline, making sure we tie the discipline to the action for which they are being disciplined. We encourage things like cleaning or helping with projects, like a restitution type of discipline. It reinforces the idea of destruction is bad, and construction is good. Lastly, remember with the discipline to always communicate the reason they are being disciplined. It’s extremely important to link the two ideas together, helping to create the best results.