Aggression in toddlers: Here’s what you can do when your child hits those around him

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Almost every child hits another at some point in his life. But the problem arises when he continues to show aggression.

This may come as a shock to you but when your child hits another child, there’s really nothing to be overly horrified or worried about. Yes, you read that right: toddler aggression is a perfectly normal component of your child’s development.

At this age, he is not just broadening his language skills, but also harbouring a fierce desire to be independent. Add an uncontrollable impulse to the mix and you have a typical toddler. 

Aggression in toddlers: When your child hits to express

You may know that almost every child hits another at some point in his life. To some degree, the hitting is a normal, acceptable and even healthy behaviour in toddlers.

Sometimes, toddler aggression is influenced by environmental factors like disturbed family dynamics, parental characteristics and home atmosphere.  

You can forgive such behaviour because a young child can only show frustration by hitting objects or people around him.

But the problem arises when even after you create a conducive environment for him, he continues to show aggression. That’s when parents need to set a compassionate limit and address the issue seriously.

You have to also strike a balance between honouring your child’s desires and letting him know that shoving, pushing and hitting are not acceptable. At the same time you will also have to show him different ways to express himself.     

What should I do when my child hits or shows aggression? 

As a parent you have to work on two things at a time — being firm and being kind. You can begin by explaining that hands are not meant for hitting. You can even use the word ‘gentle’ to mean that hands must be used softly. 

Once you have set the limits and firmly shared your expectations, you can respond with a few emphatic phrases. This will honour their feelings. So you can tell them that you know that they are upset about being refused a toy. But using force is not the solution to get their way. 

There are many other ways that can help your toddler control his aggressive behaviour. 

child hits

Don’t just try to catch him when he is at fault, also be there to encourage when he does something good | Image source: File photo

1. Keep your cool 

Yelling or hitting your toddler when he shows aggression is not going to solve the problem. Instead, it will just make him more riled up and give him more reasons to continue his aggressive streak. 

So it’s best that you keep your cool, even when your child hits or shows aggression. Lead by example and show him that temper control is the only way to solve any unresolved issues he may have.

Trust me, toddlers as young as two years understand everything you teach them. They will most definitely understand your instructions as well. 

2. Set clear, acceptable limits 

You should respond immediately when your child hits or shows aggression. Try removing your child from those she may have hit first. Keep her away from the situation for as long as possible and not just a minute or two.

This way they’ll know that if they hit somebody, they’ll be taken away from that place. Kids learn faster when they see a consequence to their actions. This is especially helpful when your child hits or shows excessive aggression. 

3. Reinforce good behaviour 

Your child needs attention all the time, both when he is at his worst and when he is at his best. Don’t just try to catch him when he is at fault. Be there to encourage when he does something good as well. 

So for instance, you take him to the park. If instead of pushing another child off the swing, your child comes to you and says that he also wants to use the swing, praise him. Take him to the swing and help him up. This way he knows that his words matter more than any act of aggression. 

4. Give logical punishments 

By the age of three, your toddler is usually well-versed with how consequences work. So for instance, when you notice that your daughter is aggressively throwing balls at another child in a ball pit, take her out immediately. 

Make her sit and watch the other kids. You should allow her to join the rest only when she is ready to play nice and not hit anybody. 

You cannot reason with a toddler or force them to empathise with others, because they do not understand that concept yet. But they do understand the power of consequences. 

5. Be consistent with discipline 

When you are consistent with your reaction to your child’s aggressive behaviour, they will know when to stop. Toddlers can identify a predictable response to their wrongdoings.

This ‘consequence’ to their misbehaviour stops them from further repeating themselves. So next time you see your child hitting somebody, repeat the same disciplinary action. 

6. Teach them about alternative ways to express

Wait for your toddler to calm down first. Then calmly review the incident that just took place. Ask him or her about the reason that triggered their outburst.   

You can tell them that it is perfectly normal to be angry at something or somebody. But hitting or shoving them is not the way to express this emotion. 

You can instead, encourage your child to use words as a means to express emotions. If they want something done,they can tell them what they want –instead of hitting somebody. Also, make sure to teach your kid how to apologise for any transgression. Of course, they will force it or be insincere about it in the beginning. But they will come around and learn its true meaning. 

child hits

Help your child pick activities that are not just interesting to him but also keeps him occupied for long | Image source: File photo

7. Be careful of screen time 

Allowing your child to spend all his time watching cartoons or playing digital games, most of which have characters shouting or shoving each other, can be harmful.

In fact, we shared in this article earlier that, “Experts believe that if toddler screen time addiction is left uncontrolled, it could affect the overall development and health of babies and toddlers in the long run.” It also contributes to a child’s behavioural problems. 

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) also advises parents against TV and other screens (including computers, phones, and tablets).

The AAP recommends parents prioritise creative, unplugged playtime for infants and toddlers. Some media can have educational value for children starting at around 18 months of age, but it’s critically important that this be high-quality programming… Parents of young children should watch media with their child, to help children understand what they are seeing,” they note.   

So keep your toddler away from the screen for as long as possible to avoid aggressive behaviour. You can also teach him ways to brainstorm in order to resolve conflicts. 

8. Keep your toddler active

Some kids often get frustrated if they have too much pent-up energy and no place to burn it. Since you know your child best, it’s better to keep such a toddler occupied. 

Help them pick activities that are interesting to them and also keep them occupied for long periods. If you find that your toddler still has a lot of energy left, take them outside and let them run around to burn off all that energy.

So when they get back home, they will be too tired to fight with anybody and can follow instructions without resistance.   

9. Get help if you need it 

We all know that being a parent is not an easy task. No matter how good you are at it, you might need some help, sometimes. It is especially true when your child hits others and is often aggressive.

If you are unable to control your child’s aggressive behaviour then you might need some help. 

Here are a few things you should observe before taking your kid to a psychiatrist or a child specialist. 

  • If your child shows aggression continuously for more than a few weeks 
  • Your child frightens or scares other kids 
  • He/she even attacks adults and shouts at them often 
  • You are unable to curb his aggressive behaviour or teach him anything substantial 

If you notice any of these, it is time to head to a specialist because these are indicators of an underlying behavioural issue. Your child may be trying to tell you something but you are unable to understand.

However, a thorough examination will help uncover the truth and help you curb his aggressive nature. 

Sources: popsugar, AAP

Also read: A toddler’s secret language every parent must understand

Toddler Toddler Development