The Simple Reset to Teach a Toddler to Stop Hitting

toddler hitting advice cat

When a toddler is grappling with big emotions, mood changes can come on fast and strong. And when those emotions turn physical—meaning your kid resorts to hitting—you naturally want to get them to stop.

“Don’t do that!” you yell. “We NEVER EVER hit!”

But according to the toddler experts behind @biglittlefeelings, your natural instinct to give an equally a big reaction ("Tyler! You stop that right this instant!”) might actually be doing more harm than good. In fact, it might be egging them on.

See, when a toddler physically lashes out, it’s usually because they’re craving attention. And when they hit, the spotlight turns to them. So instead of remembering your harsh words and heeding them in the future, your child learns that hitting = Mama attention. Not what you wanted, right?

So, what’s a better approach? For a toddler still figuring out what emotions are and how to manage big feelings, your reaction should help them do just that. For one thing, you want to stay calm in the moment while simultaneously validating their feeling (anger or frustration). You also want to talk them through these feelings while reinforcing boundaries (“It’s not OK to hit, I’m going to sit here with you while we take a couple of deep breaths”). Once they’re calm, you can even take it a step further and ask why they lashed out.

I tested this on my own 4 year-old son on a recent weekend after an angry outburst. I stopped what I was doing (cleaning!) and got down on his eye level: “I see you’re feeling angry, but it’s not OK to hit anyone” while holding his hand in mine and giving him my full attention.

After about a minute of sitting calmly together, he seemed ready for a reset, so I asked, “Why did you hit Mama?” He was sheepish at first, but eventually answered, “Because I was cold.” (Go figure.)

Bottom line: Teaching kids to better regulate big feelings is best achieved by first regulating our own.

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Royal family expert, a cappella alum, mom

Rachel Bowie is Senior Director of Special Projects & Royals at PureWow, where she covers parenting, fashion, wellness and money in addition to overseeing initiatives within...