THE SOURCE: IT'S OK TO ASK

My child keeps hitting, how can I help?
 

MY CHILD KEEPS HITTING, HOW CAN I HELP?

Hitting, biting or other forms of aggression are a normal part of toddler development. Toddlers are learning so much about the world around them, which can be a confusing place. Their still-developing language and emotional regulation skills make hitting and biting an easy way for toddlers to react to a situation. When our child hits or bites it’s easy for us as parents or caregivers to get angry and punish the child without thinking about why it happened.

Toddlers get frustrated, just like adults do. As adults, we’ve had time to learn how to respond to frustration (or other emotions) in a way that doesn’t hurt ourselves or others. Toddlers need your help to learn how to do this. They don’t have the necessary language, social or emotional regulation skills to rely on when the world overwhelms them.

When a toddler is aggressive, the first thing to do is calm ourselves. This way we help keep the situation from becoming even more intense for the child.

It is also a good idea to make these situations about learning. We need to teach children what to do, not just what not to do.

By explaining that hitting (or other type of aggression) is not an okay response and then practicing what is okay, we are helping the child learn how to make better choices in the future.

Part of this is also letting the toddler know what to expect if she does choose to repeat the aggressive behavior. Perhaps she will get a time-out or have a toy taken away for the day.

When the toddler is successful (doing something you want him to do), notice it. Pay attention to the good choice being made and use words to describe what it is the child has done well. If we can help our children feel proud of themselves, they will want to repeat the behaviors that made them feel proud in the future.
When our child hits or bites it’s easy for us as parents or caregivers to get angry and punish the child without thinking about why it happened.
When our child hits or bites it’s easy for us as parents or caregivers to get angry and punish the child without thinking about why it happened.

Other things to think about

It can be hard as a parent to decide if our toddler’s behavior is typical. Here are some examples of behaviors that are concerning:

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Does she break toys or other objects when she is upset?

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Does he hurt himself on purpose, such as by banging his head on walls or floors, picking his skin until it bleeds, or biting himself?

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Does she have more than 10 tantrums a day, more than once a month?

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Does his aggression or anger last more than 25 minutes?

Has she recently experienced a traumatic event, such as a car accident, divorce, death of a caregiver, physical or sexual abuse, or other upsetting change?

Learn more about traumatic events and the impact they can have on children on our Education Topics page.

Where to go for help

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Talk with your primary care doctor. The doctor can rule out medical reasons for the child’s behavior and make suggestions for other services, if they are needed.

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Talk with a trusted faith leader or community member for support or to be connected to others who can help.

And remember, IT’S OK TO ASK!

From the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University

InBrief: Early Childhood Mental Health

“Science tells us that the foundations of sound mental health are built early in life. Early experiences—including children’s relationships with parents, caregivers, relatives, teachers, and peers—interact with genes to shape the architecture of the developing brain. Disruptions in this developmental process can impair a child’s capacities for learning and relating to others, with lifelong implications.”
The Source • Youth Mental Health Network

MORE RESOURCES

There are a lot of places in your city that can help, too.
Here is a list of some community resources.

IF THIS IS AN EMERGENCY CALL 911 or GO TO NEAREST EMERGENCY ROOM

For the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline call 1-800-273-8255 or text the word ‘home’ to 741741 for Crisis Text Line.

IF THIS IS AN EMERGENCY CALL 911 or GO TO NEAREST EMERGENCY ROOM

For the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline call 1-800-273-8255 or text the word ‘home’ to 741741 for Crisis Text Line.

CONTACT US

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If you need someone to talk to, text “Help” to 741741, or call 1-800-273-8255.