2-Year Old Hitting

Any tips on a 2-year old who hits? I feel like I have tried everything. I hug him and try to talk him through it. I say, “I understand you’re frustrated, but we don’t hit; hitting hurts. Try to let me know what’s wrong.” We have tried time out, re-direction, and ignoring. It’s getting worse, especially when we’re out in public. He also does it at home. He will be happy as can be playing with me or daddy and out of no where he starts hitting us. I normally say ‘no hitting. Mommy doesn’t want to play when you hit’ and I get up. His reaction to this is to follow me crying and hitting me. Or he will just come up and smack us. I need advice I’m struggling.

You’re definitely giving him some of what he needs by offering him a hug (acceptance of his emotions), naming his emotions (developing emotional intelligence), and telling him you don’t like it because it hurts (teaching appropriate boundaries). Young children are still learning to communicate. So when they have a need, they tell us in the only way they know how – through their behavior. Your son believes that hitting you will help him get his needs met; this misunderstanding is developmentally appropriate and common. As parents our job is to figure out what the need is that he is expressing with his hitting behavior, to meet that need, and to teach him ways to express that need in appropriate ways.There are a couple of things you can add to your approach to help him out while he’s learning to communicate his needs in more effective ways. I always recommend this approach to helping children learn appropriate expressions of their needs.

  1. Accept emotions and name them (emotional intelligence):
    “You’re angry and you want to hit.”
  2. Model appropriate boundaries:
    “Mommy is for gentle touches.” (you can gently stop his hand)
  3. Show him what he can do:
    “Here is a gentle way to get my attention.” (gently rub his hand on your face or your arm.”)
  4. Tell him what he can do:
    “You can say ‘I’m mad!’ or you can stomp your feet.”
  5. Time and patience: children need time for their brains to become developmentally ready to understand, process, learn, and implement new behaviors. So continue to patiently guide him for however long he child needs in order to begin to embrace this new approach to expressing his needs. Every child is different, and there are many behaviors you’ll be guiding him through!

While reading through your description the first thing I thought was “he’s trying to get your attention and connect with you.” Especially since he follows you when you leave him after his initial misguided attempt to get your attention. When our children try and fail to get our attention they often become overwhelmed with big emotions. These emotions often triggers us as parents, “my kid just hit me and is now having a meltdown because I chose to remove myelf from the situation?! Sheesh!” But our children didn’t see the limit we set, they felt abandoned. So this is the time when our children need us to move closer to them more than ever. When he hits you the next time (after your initial few times of guiding him) you can encourage him to think about what he can do:

It is important that everyone feels safe in our home. When you hit me I feel unsafe. What can you do to help me feel safe?

Another idea that comes to mind is POWER. Everyone needs to feel they have some control over their lives, and toddlers are no different. They have a deep need to express their power over themselves because they have so very little power and control over what goes on in their lives. So it may also be helpful to find ways to empower him:

“Do you want to sit on my lap or beside me?”
“Do you want to brush your teeth or do you want me to?”
Do you want to put on a shirt or shorts first?
“What do you need to do to finish getting dressed?”
“Where do we keep your clothes?”

Finally, children REALLY want to connect with us, and they do this best through play. In the words of the great Adlerian play therapist and child advocate Dr. Gary Landreth, “Birds fly, fish swim, children play.” Children communicate and learn about the world around them through play; it is their language. If we are to truly connect with our children then the best way to do so is through PLAY!

For more information about the power of play you can read my article on Play At Home Mom here . And for more specific play ideas for connecting with your children please visit Play At Home Mom!

To learn more about the importance of play in child development and the parent-child connection you can check out these books through our aStore:

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2 thoughts on “2-Year Old Hitting”

  1. What a great response for helping parents with hitting! Thank you – sharing this one on the positive parenting connection community page. -Ariadne

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