"Hit Me Baby One More Time": Advice For When Your Toddler Hits You

Whether it is biting, hitting or tantrums - here is advice from PSP members about what to do when your child is all fisticuffs and frustration.

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Original Poster:

"So my 21 mth old little doll has taken to hitting me out of frustration. I know this sort of thing is developmentally normal but it seems to be getting worse and is mainly directed at me (not her nanny, father or anyone else). When it started - I would hold her hands and tell her firmly 'no hitting'. That didn't work for long so a friend recommended explaining why it's bad to hit (i.e. it hurts mommy and makes me sad). That too fell short and sometimes she'd even laugh when I'd talk to her this way. Then I tried time out which resulted in her amusing herself and the point being missed. For the last couple of days, whenever I interrupt play for dinner or bath or take away a toy for similar reasons, my daughter goes ballistic, throws a fit and now aims for my face- full swing. She's only done it once to my husband (today actually- which is why I was prompted to write this email).

Does anyone else have this issue? More to the point, does anyone have a solution or suggestions on how to stop it before we need to call that TV show "Supernanny"? Just kidding about the last part... But seriously, what do we do? Thanks in advance for any ideas."




From the Original Poster:

"Here, as promised are the responses I got about my sweet daughter with the mean right hook....
A big thanks to everyone who took the time to respond... it's been a HUGE help thus far and I'm still working on it, but it's getting better slowly.
Hope this helps others too!"


1. First if all, it's normal. Consider two things: does she do it when she's overstimulated and/or is there a reward for her behavior that you might be unwittingly delivering?  Maybe she likes a big reaction from you or having her hands held and being spoken to firmly. No reaction at all is the most unsatisfying result for any toddler. If she hits you, say nothing, immediately put her in a short time out and explain to her why she was put in the time out afterwards ("no hitting"-- keep it simple).  I know a time out might sound severe for a 21 month old, but it doesn't have to be for more than a minute or two and she'll get the point. The key is doing it consistently and maintaining a non reactive tone.
Take notice of what's happening around her when she hits: is it noisy, is it during a transition, is there a lot going on?  If you can minimize stimulation in her environment you might notice that she hits less.


2. I've had similar incidents to these over the past year or two with my now 3.5 year old. My cousin, who is a behaviorist, has suggested to me on almost every occasion I consult him to ignore the bad behavior. If you pay zero attention to it the child will not continue to do it. There may be a short period where it gets worse at first, since the child doesn't understand why she isn't getting any attention. But if everyone around ignores the behavior, it will ultimately go away. When my daughter does something that I have told get repeatedly is bad I generally just get up and leave the room. I give her the silent treatment for a little while and she hates that even more than any time out or punishment.


3.  If you are into "positive discipline" I would recommend the following links:
Dos and Donts of Hitting
Toddlers and Hitting
And in my mind, the guru....Dr. Laura Markham.
Main thing is to remain calm and insist "I will not let you hurt me even if you are angry..."  etc. Lots of good ideas in here for language.  
If you are a book reader, I LOVED "Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline."   Read it now. You won't regret it!


4. So sorry this is happening to you. Maybe the transitions are a little too abrupt for her. Try giving her a two minute warning that bath time is coming, then ten second warning, then asking her to come. Maybe she just wants more control of her little life.  Good luck.


5. I used to firmly say no hitting, sit her down, and walk away. That would drive my twins crazy. They knew they did something bad since I left them. That usually does the trick. Most importantly, don't linger. Simple no hitting and turning your back usually works.


6. My 22-month-old doesn't really hit, but he does occasionally bite. I picked up a book on Sunday at B&N called "Teeth Are Not For Biting" and there was another by the same author called "Hands Are Not For Hitting." It's too soon to tell if it's working, but the book has quickly become a favorite - can't hurt to try!


7. When my now 8 year old did that at that age, I would instantly say 'no hitting' and either walk away or turn and ignore her. It's an attention getting behavior so the correction is often to show that it doesn't work!


8. I'd refrain from phrases like 'it makes mommy sad' - ultimately her behavior choices can't hinge on your emotions. She shouldn't hit, really, cause it's the wrong way to get attention (or gets the wrong attention!) so a consequence of disengagement is reflective of what will happen in real life. Also, 21 month olds can't developmentally understand 'making someone sad' - that starts to happen in preschool. And we're still working on it ;) Hope this helps and it goes away! Promise!


9. We had the same problem when my daughter was that age. She laughed when we tried to stop it. We gave her time outs and took away toys, putting them away where she could still see them. What worked best was a stone cold stare, being totally unresponsive to the hitting (even if it hurt!) so that she was getting no reaction at all, which is all she really wanted. After that, she eventually stopped. But maybe she grew out of it? Also her aunt read her the book "Hands are not for hitting," which is pretty good at explaining this concept, and "feet are not for kicking," from the same series, came into play later. She's almost 4 now and wouldn't hurt a fly, so there's hope.Hope that helps!


10. I have a 2 1/2 year old, and went through a similar situation recently. We still have occasions when she hits me because we need to do something that she doesn't want to.  But like all parenting challenges, this too will pass. I found some of Dr. Karp's (Happiest Toddler on the Block) methods helpful.  The basic idea is that a barely verbal toddler gets frustrated and without the tools of words, hitting (or biting or pinching) are their most useful tools of communication.  He suggests verbalizing for the toddler their desires, then you can explain.  So, for example, when our daughter starts to get upset, I say: "Kallista wants to play, she says NO bath" (then I may repeat this a couple of times until I have her attention and she is calming down.  Then, I'll say, "But we have to take a bath and go to sleep.".  She may still be upset, but she's less likely to hit because she knows that I understand why she is upset.  There's some other good tips in the book, if you have time to read it.


11. It is not awesome to be hit by your child! I am sorry you are going through this. I think you will find that way more parents and caregivers go through this than speak out about it! I know that my son hits me and (sometimes) my husband when he is overtired and/or feeling overstimulated.
There's a great resource I have found, her name is Dr Laura Markham. She has a book- I don't recall the name right now- and she has a blog- Aha Parenting. She is all about parenting through connection with your child. We've had great success with her suggestions/strategies. You can sign up for weekly emails  and her website is smartly designed to allow for a quick search of topics. Perhaps some of her wisdom can help out as you work through this latest development.


12. I feel you! My two girls like to hit only me too.  Sometimes it helps to use a positive redirection - like "be gentle with mommy" or "gently pat".  Although if it's out of anger, maybe redirect to something more like hitting a pillow or mad drawing. Good luck!


13.  My little guy is also 21 mo so I don’t have a ton of experience, but I wonder if her behavior has to do with transitions (stopping X to do Y). I quickly learned that my son needs some verbal warning/prep before we begin a new activity -- i.e. we're going to eat in 5 min or we are leaving the park in 10, 8, 5, 3, min (love the countdown). If he doesn’t get a verbal cue to begin a new activity he freaks out -- kicking and screaming.  Your daughter's reaction may be to hit.  Just a thought... Best of luck!


14. Your subject line made me laugh. :)  So my son, very briefly, decided to explore the idea of biting mommy. And only mommy. Lucky me. What I decided to do is when he bit, I said, "No bite! That hurts mommy and now I"m going to walk away from you." 
And I got up, and walked away. Not far, but enough - preferably just in another room. He'd scream for me. Sometimes he'd try to follow, but he was so upset that mommy got mad and walked away he didn't really know what to do with himself. After about 30 seconds to one minute I'd go back in and ask him if he was ready to be gentle, and he said yes, and I gave him a hug and I told him that biting hurts and that mommy has to walk away to keep her body safe. so NO MORE BITING. I didn't say "time out" or try and move him, or set a timer -- it was just immediate and firm removal of his favorite thing: mommy. Not only did this work within about one week - but I observed once when he was playing with a little friend - his friend hit him, and he stood up and said, "No hit! I  walk away now!" And he walked about six feet away from the other toddler and stood there for about 20 seconds and said, "Be gentle." and then they went back to playing. So he totally got the message! Worked great for us - good luck!


15. Not a total solution, but the book "Hands are Not for Hitting" is sweet and might be helpful...


16. We aren't there quite yet- my kid is younger- but I've been reading this website someone recommended and perusing some of the toddler advice which looks good. There are many articles - this one isn't quite on point but close.
Good luck figuring it all out - I am not looking forward to this phase :-/


17. I found this stage to be so challenging. My daughter starting hitting around 2.5 - luckily the phase only lasted a month or two. Here's a good article on the subject. Good luck!


18. Try blocking the hit so they never make contact and then completely ignore the incident. Kids thrive on reaction and it doesn't matter whether it's good or bad. It's kind of the same concept as ignoring the kid who hits and giving all the attention to the kid who got hit. It is suddenly not so interesting to hit. Good luck!


Related Reading on PSP:


Hitting (15 month old)

What To Do When Temper Tantrums Are Extreme