Toddlers don't just automatically "know" that their hitting actions will harm someone. After all, you encourage your tot to throw a ball, swing a bat or hit your hand (high-five, anyone?). And everyone loves to clap, stomp and play patty cake, right? So, a young mind may not truly grasp that it is any big deal to whack or hit a peer. Keeping in mind that toddlers don't typically mean to act badly or inappropriately helps parents to more calmly discipline their youngster. (Of course, ifthe same behaviors happen when a child is old enough to know better it is an entirely different matter altogether.)
Often, parents are outright astonished when they witness their toddler hit another classmate. Perhaps it comes out of nowhere; or maybe it is a tot who becomes over-stimulated and over-excited about activities at hand. Or, maybe it is because someone has something that he wants, and he takes it, and does what seems to come natural if there is resistance. At any rate, it's up to adults who are supervising to stop the behavior at once and render appropriate discipline to minimize the chances of hitting occurring again.
Discipline tips for stopping a child from hitting others:
- TALK with your child before he joins others in a playgroup about appropriate ways to act. Tell your child what you expect in easy-to-understand language. Once your child is old enough to really understand what you are saying, he is old enough to begin learning right from wrong.
- SUPERVISE your child and be prepared to react quickly. Too often, parents aren't attentive enough to young children playing together because they are so busy having an adult conversation that they don't see warning signs of potentially-hurtful behavior starting. Don't rely on someone else to watch your child. Your child and his behavior is always your responsibility. At the same time, don't do the helicopter hover either.
- REDIRECT any behavior that could lead to physical bopping or hitting. In many cases, what starts as fun and games ends with someone getting hurt. Don't be afraid to remove something that can cause harm or distress. Even an inflatable toy that doesn't hurt a child per se can reinforce negative behaviors of hitting one another, and should simply be discouraged.
- REMOVE a child from any situation in which he is deliberately hitting another child. If a child is a toddler and has begun socializing, consider ending the playdate and leave, howling and all. You need to teach your child that hitting another child ruins the activity for everyone. Of course, there are situations where you truly can't walk away. In this case a child must be removed from the others and not allowed to play with them. After a reasonable amount of time and after everyone has calmed down, you can talk with your child about the incident and then re-introduce the social play, but be sure to keep a very close eye on your child's actions. Nobody likes their child to be hit, and while some of the behavior is normal, it should be closely monitored and stopped. Plus, you don't want your own tot becoming known as a bully, or at the very least a child no one wants to be around.
- REMAIN calm and don't let your toddler see you get upset. You need to show a calm yet firm face so that your youngster knows that while you love him, you will not condone his actions and that it isn't ever okay to hit. Avoid over-reacting too. Use the redirection and firm "no hitting" words while removing the offender from the play area may be all that is needed.
- REFUSE to let your child play unattended with another child who consistently demonstrates hitting behaviors. It is your job to protect your child and to instill proper behaviors. You know what to do if your child is the one hitting, but don't hesitate stepping in if it is your child who is the one being hit (accidentally or not). You don't want your child to begin to think that he should also hit or hit back (or begin other bad behaviors, such as biting) in self-defense. You may need to speak up and even discipline another person's child to stop the inappropriate actions if the parent isn't acknowledging there is a problem. If you're comfortable, have a frank conversation with the parent of the child who is hitting. Consider choosing your words carefully to avoid anyone from becoming overly-defensive, and potentially ending a friendship. After all, next time it could be your own child with the behavioral issue.