If your toddler thinks hitting is perfectly acceptable – either playfully or when he is in a bad mood – you’ll know all about it, especially after he whacks his friends at the playgroup. You’ll hear their screams, and no doubt have to deal with complaints from their parents, too.
Evidence suggests that the peak age for hitting is around two years old. Psychologists are unable to say why one particular two-year-old uses hitting to express his feelings, while another expresses himself verbally.
Yet the underlying reasons for hitting are virtually always the same.
If he hits for fun, it’s because he doesn’t understand or acknowledge that the “victim” will be distressed.
If he hits in temper, it’s because he can’t get what he wants, so he simply strikes out in uncontrolled rage.
The typical “hitter” is full of his own self-importance. He sees the world from his perspective only and expects everyone else – children and adults – to agree to whatever he wants.
Related: 10 signs your toddler is spoiled
Talk to your two-year-old about his hitting habit when he is settled and relaxed.
Tell him that you don’t like it when he hits someone and that other people dislike it as well. Explain that other children will soon stop playing with him, too.
Make it clear and direct. For instance, say: “Your friends will not play with you any more if you hit them.”
Be prepared to repeat this message again and again over the next few months. Point out also that you and your partner will be angry if he hits anyone.
In addition, let him know that he will be punished for his actions, and spell out what these punishments will be – such as not being allowed to watch television or play in the garden that day.
The actual punishment itself doesn’t matter. What matters is that your two-year old realises he will be punished for his actions and that he knows beforehand what these punishments will be. This may discourage him from indulging in his hitting habit.
But when you find him hitting someone despite all your previous warnings, follow the steps here.
1. Keep your own temper in check
No matter how agitated you are, don’t lose your temper. You need to remain in control in order to act firmly, quickly and rationally.
2. Separate him
Remove him from the victim while repeatedly saying “no” to him. Stay with your toddler until you feel sure that he will stop his actions.
3. Be consistent
Make sure that you and your spouse intend to use the same strategies when dealing with these hitting incidents. Ensure that his other carers do the same, as well. Your two-year-old needs consistency.
4. Praise good behaviour
There will be times when your two-year-old plays with other children without hitting them at all. Use these times to praise him for not hitting.
This focuses his attention on how you want him to behave.
5. Never hit back
Hitting your toddler when he hits someone is absurd and sets a dreadful example.
He will think to himself: “If hitting is good enough for Mum, then it’s good enough for me.” He’ll hit even harder the next time.
Related: When Baby hits you: hit him back?