What to do when your toddler starts hitting herself

Why Do Kids Hit Themselves?

1. Stress

1. Stress

A lot of kids act out this way because they are stressed.

Just like adults, they struggle to handle this emotion and can feel overwhelmed.

They don’t know how to tell you how they feel and this results in the build-up of stress.

They then end up hitting themselves as a way to release the stress they are feeling.

It’s worth figuring out the reason for the stress in their life.

It might be that they have started nursery or maybe they have moved out of their cot.

Finding the route of the stress will help to calm their emotions and will stop the hitting from occurring.

2. Frustration

Toddlers love to explore the world around them. There are so many fun things to look at and try.

Therefore, when their parents stop them, it can lead to frustration.

They can’t understand why this has happened and things haven’t gone their way.

This frustration can often lead them to have to let off steam.

Therefore, you may find that the child acts out and hits themselves due to this feeling.

The best thing you can do is to explain to them why they can’t do a particular thing.

If it’s dangerous, explain they will hurt themselves. When they become more aware, the frustration will ease and the hitting will stop.

4. Create a safe environment

Create a safe environment to ensure they can’t hurt themselves if they fall when hitting themselves.

And remember to speak soothingly to your child during the tough situation.

In the majority of causes, your child is going through a developmental phase and it will usually pass.

Be patient with them and try your best to remain calm.

Remember, being Proactive will help you manage your child as they transition through these volatile developmental milestones.


Reasons toddlers hit

Once your precious angel lashes out and hits your chest or walks up to another toddler and whacks them, don’t panic. Or worry about other moms judging you.

Because 99.9% of them have probably had a kid who went through a hitting phase and felt clueless about what to do at first.

Hide the smoke that’s coming out of your nostrils. And think about why they might try hitting in that moment. Here’s a few reasons:

They are curious

What will happen if I…(bite my sibling’s arm to get the toy or smack mom in the face).

They are upset

These poor little things have to be taught how to handle emotions. What’s appropriate and what’s not isn’t obvious to them at first.

No self control

Self control is not natural!

But it’s never too early to start teaching toddlers self control, even at 18 months! This is how a baby can be taught not to touch a light socket, or refrain from hitting you.

Need more attention

Sometimes toddlers hit because they want you to pay attention to them! Hitting works to get your attention, right?

My experience is that it always goes well for me when I pay more attention to my kids than less…not saying I do it well or enough even as a stay at home mom.

Try praising them for dumb little things that are good, rather than saying mostly “no, stop that, don’t hit, put that down…” You get the idea. I’ve done it both ways and positive attention wins every time!

Over tired

At some point with each toddler I’ve seen them hit because in all reality they NEED their nap.

If this is likely the reason, you just gotta get through it, try not to blame them, and it sucks.

They want what someone else has

Toddlers have to be taught they can’t hit to get what they want. Maybe it’s a toy at the park.

If this happens, it’s really important that they don’t get what they were after unless they do what you ask. Like wait till the other toddler is done playing with it. Or say please, etc.

Model the Behavior You want to See

Children look to parents for clues about how to live in the world. That’s how they learn. So parents who want to stop a toddler from hitting should make sure that they aren’t hitting either.


The best way to help a child learn more appropriate ways to deal with their anger is to model that behavior yourself. That might mean taking deep breaths when you’re frustrated, giving yourself a time-out to cool down, or simply expressing your frustration verbally, in a calm manner.


Dr. Larry Kazdin of the Yale Parenting Center places practice at the center of his behavioral interventions for toddlers. He notes that the concept is similar to giving pilots time in a flight simulator — you don’t expect to tell someone how to fly and then expect them to hope in the cockpit and do it right the first time.

Parents can help kids make a habit of the appropriate reactions through practice. Role play a scenario in which your child might hit out of anger. But instead of hitting, offer them a more appropriate reaction that you can live with — maybe a mean look, a stomped foot, or some slow breaths. Make time to practice several times a week until it becomes second nature.



To solve anything, you need to understand why the problem is happening. Is hitting behavior normal? Should you be concerned?

The short answer? Yes, it’s normal. This is referred to as a toddler hitting phase. Toddlers are developing emotions and don’t know fully how to deal with them.

Here are a few top reasons why your toddler may hit:



This is the time to be a good role model for your child.

Actions speak louder than words. It’s important to take a calm and reasonable approach with your child.

Do not hit your child back. If you hit them back and say “no hitting,” you’re teaching them hitting is an okay response. I mean you’re hitting them for the same reason they may have hit you.

Do not yell at them. Yelling at your child only teaches them to yell when angry as well. Toddlers are soaking up everything they learn around them and mimicking it.

If a toddler hits and screams, stay calm and offer an alternative by distracting the child.

This means if they are upset over a toy, distract them with another toy or bring them into another room. It is very important to discipline a toddler positively and not cause more stress on them.


Talk in words they will understand. If your child calms down and moves on, reward the positive behavior. No, not with a treat, but with praise, such as “Great job” or “You make mommy happy when you __.”

Teaching toddlers not to hit does not always need to happen after your toddler hits. At that point, they are already upset or angry about something.

Take time when your toddler is calm and playing to teach them how hitting affects the other person.

Martine Agassi Ph.D. has a great book called “Hands are Not For Hitting” that teaches toddlers on their level what hands are for and how hitting can make a person feel.

It is part of the Good Behavior Series that covers other potential issues, such as biting, kicking, and more.



It’s important to understand why your toddler hits you. There are usually triggers that start the aggressive behavior.

It can be something as simple as taking away something from them to being too tired and irritable that the next thing that goes wrong triggers them to hit.

Next time your toddler hits, think about what just happened. Did you take something away? Are you changing their routine?

Toddlers like a routine they can follow. They like familiarity and can rebel when something changes. Once you find the trigger, think of ways you can make that transition easier.


Yes, we were saying no in our original plan, but we changed it up. We JUST said “no.”

If your toddler hits or is acting out in any other way, do not repeat that word. It reinforces the behavior and creates a bigger problem.

We stopped using the word “hitting.” It didn’t exist in our household. When we said “no,” we said it firmly with no other words surrounding it.

My daughter got the point and there were no other confusing messages. We didn’t yell but said it with authority.


Your toddler may not even realize they just hit you or what hitting really is. If my daughter hit one of us, we would say, “No. One more time and you go in time out.”

This gave her a chance to improve their behavior before going into time out.

It also calls out the exact behavior that caused you to say no.

A lot of times, you can jump to putting a toddler in time out on the first offense and they may not even know why they were put there.

Step #4 Listen. Your support is a powerful antidote to the fear that causes hitting

While your child is upset, it helps them greatly when you can be loving and calm. They won’t have to be afraid of your impulsive behavior or your disapproval. Instead, your child can concentrate on letting all that tension tumble out.

Maybe they’ll cry. Or they may begin to perspire while they scream. Your child might arch their back in your arms, or throw themselves on the ground.

They might kick and flail.

Believe it or not, the more vigorous their reaction, the better the outcome of their emotional episode. They are expelling bad feelings—fear, in particular—using your calm presence as their signal that they are free to let go of the feelings that have infected their behavior.

Hello and welcome!

I’m Jo. A 50 year old Mum to a 6 year old li

I’m Jo. A 50 year old Mum to a 6 year old little one. Read on to find out more about our adventures in parenting, crafts and life in general!

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Our children’s fears cause hitting

Not all children hit when they’re scaredit’s not the only instinctive human reaction to the feeling of fear. But it is one of our innate fear responses. So whether your child smiles while they are hitting, or looks impassive, or only hits when they are clearly upset, you can safely assume that if your child is hitting, it’s because they are feeling scared.

Laughter is one of the ways children release their feelings of fear, so hitting is sometimes accompanied by laughter—your child is trying hard to release tension,  but can’t laugh it away fast enough to stop themselves from launching a hit or two.

Most children hide their feelings of fear at an early age. They pick up on our uneasiness with their big feelings. We try to get them not to cry, we distract them when they’re upset, we try to fix things so they won’t have an upset.


The magic rule of thumb for timeouts is their age in minutes.

My daughter is 2 years old, so she now has a 2 minute time out. Once she is 2 and a half years old, she will have a 2 and a half minute timeout.

Time tends to go by much slower when you’re younger, so 3 minutes for a 1-year-old can be an over punishment.

Mo Mulla

Mo Mulla is a work from home dad who enjoys reading and listening to music, He loves being a dad and husband to a growing family. He also loves writing about his passions and hopes to change the world, 1 blog post at a time!

Try to deal with toddler hitting privately

Another thing that often doesn’t work well for me is to try and work through it while other people are watching. The spotlight is NOT good for mom or toddler.

This has been a challenge for me as a mom when grandparents visit and are watching.

It opens up the door for a toddler to become embarrassed and feel like they have to perform or test you in front of people (maybe in-laws, siblings, friends, or strangers out in public). Plus, it also puts you on the spot to in an already volatile situation.

When possible, I always to try to take my child to another quiet room (or out of the park for a moment) so there is no pressure on me or them to have it figured out or “be right” in front of others.

Stay consistent

You got this mama! Don’t give up, even if it means trying out something new or seems to be taking longer than you think.

Stay calm, set your boundaries every time, and reassure them that you love them! There are a lot of emotions in that little body.


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