Toddlers who hit

On the Suggestions page, KM wrote: “My toddler continues to hit me and kick me when she is frustrated or during diaper changes. I’ve tried ignoring the behavior and redirecting, among other techniques. Any other suggestions to discourage this daily behavior?”

Hitting, biting, kicking, and spitting: these are the “cardinal sins” of a toddler. These sorts of physical attacks should be “nipped in the bud,” using a strong and consistent intervention.

First, make sure that no one is inadvertantly modeling this sort of behavior. Now is not the time for Daddy to be giving Junior play nibbles, or play “boxing.” You’re trying to teach your child that this sort of behavior is never, ever acceptable, so don’t tolerate even a grey zone of playful almost-hitting.

As soon as your toddler hits you, show anger in your face. Pick her up under the armpits, hold her close to your face, and say in an angry, strong manner exactly two words: “No hitting!”. Then immediately turn her away from you. You may need to hold her in a corner. In any case, this ought to be abrupt and a little scary for the toddler. She should get upset.

About 20 seconds later, turn her back around to face you. There should be no anger in your face now, just a loving smile. Say in a nice voice “no hitting.” Then continue whatever you were doing.

For toddlers, this sort of negative punishment should only be used for the most major of offenses: aggressive behavior. Don’t overuse this, and don’t use it for minor infractions. Also, don’t warn that you’re going to do it, or otherwise give her a chance to get away with a hit. You and all other caretakers have to go through these steps instantly without hesitation every single time she hits. Often, right at first she’ll even start to hit more as she tests your limits; just continue with the plan. In about 10-14 days, the hitting will stop.

© 2008 Roy Benaroch, MD from

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