We’ve all seen a happy play date turn into a toy tug-of-war. Though it may feel like one child is bullying another by taking toys or hitting, this kind of behavior among toddlers is perfectly natural and developmentally normal. Toddlers are still learning which behaviors are socially acceptable, and many will go through a stage of hitting to express their frustration or wants.
Is It Bullying?
While toddler hitting isn’t a purposefully mean or bullying behavior, it can feel that way to you, especially when your child is the one crying. Many Circle of Moms members who’ve experienced a playground or play date conflict, whether their child was the one who got hit or who did the hitting, say it’s important to intervene when it occurs--but to keep your emotions in check.
What Do I Do?
What’s the best way to intervene? Circle of Moms members have offered up some great tips for responding, both to your toddler and to other parents:
- Supervise playtime. Keep a close eye on playing toddlers so that when one of the children starts being more than a little bit grabby, you can quickly intervene and offer alternatives to aggressive behavior—like taking turns with toys or using words instead of hands to say what they want.
- Respond quickly and calmly, and offer attention to the victim first. A swift, firm, calm response helps teach the child that there are immediate consequences. Try to first offer comfort to the child who has been hit (you don’t want to reward the child who hit with positive attention).
- Use simple statements to explain what your toddler did wrong. When you turn your attention to the child who hit, stay calm and use a low, serious tone of voice to explain that hitting isn’t allowed. Use simple statements like “We don’t hit,” and “Hitting hurts,” and try to avoid using logic or hypothetical questions (“How would you feel if someone hit you?”), which your toddler won’t understand. As Dawn D. sums up in the Toddlers forum: “Get to her level, hold her hands and be stern while explaining, in simple terms, that we don't hit people.”
- Focus on empathetic actions, not spoken apologies. Instead of forcing a spoken apology from the child, you can teach empathy by focusing on how the other child is hurt. The hitter can help comfort the other child with a blanket, Band-Aid, or a toy. Then separate the children; the child will learn that hitting means losing the chance to play with the friend.
- Suggest alternative behavior. As Kayliecia C. suggests in the Toddler Moms community, “If your toddler is hitting to make a point or out of frustration, help him explore other options to solve the problem. If he hits a playmate that takes a toy, show him how to use words to get the toy back.” You can also tell your child ask you or another adult for help.
- Talk to the other parent without assigning blame. Parents often disagree over whether it’s okay to discipline someone else’s child. If hitting is happening at your child’s play dates, talk to the other parent without being accusatory or confrontational. Hitting is perfectly normal toddler behavior, so it doesn’t help to blame either the parent or the child. Still, every parent should feel confident that their child will be safe at a play date, and you should confirm that parents will intervene if aggressive behavior escalates.
Looking for more toddler behavior advice? Got a great tip we missed?
For more advice on toddler behaviors, try exploring the Circle of Moms communities like Toddlers and Toddler Moms (each has over 300,000 moms as members!). You can also search the site for toddler-related threads on hitting, biting, and temper tantrums.