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Toddlers & Hitting: What To Do?

7 December 2010 18 Comments

By Christine Lee-McNaughton

Have you ever gone to a play date, play group, birthday party, dinner party, or other kind of social gathering where you have noticed a child pushing, hitting, or biting other kids?

Do you intervene or let the children try to work things out themselves?

Personally, I feel awkward having to step up and say something. I always feel like it’s not my place to discipline other people’s children. Unless it’s in my classroom, and in which case I feel it is fine to teach them what kind of behaviour is acceptable and unacceptable in the classroom. Otherwise (in other social settings), if the parent is present, I’d expect them to speak to their child.

I usually wait for the parents to tell their children not to throw that plastic fire truck at little Jimmy or that we do not hit little Sammy on the head with a toy hammer. If the parent does not do anything, I usually take the toy away and firmly tell the child that hitting hurts or that throwing toys is dangerous and not nice.

It is try that children learn the laws of the playground very quickly. They learn the natural pecking order (as awful as that sounds). Some kids emerge as leaders of the pack, others are happy to follow, while others enjoy doing their own thing. They learn how to interact, socialize, share, and participate in group activities. Unfortunately, they also pick up the not so pleasant things too.

Our 22 month old is very social, yet enjoys “independent play” as well. She was a preemie and is smaller than all the kids her age. She gets pushed around by some of the bigger kids, but that doesn’t seem to faze her. She continues to play and to do whatever it was she was doing. Kids seem to seek her out because she’s the smallest and they try to bully her. For some reason, she usually just ignores them. When they snatch her toys away from her (yes, even in her own house), she moves onto something else and doesn’t seem perturbed.

One of the hardest things about being a parent is letting your kids learn things on their own. Of course, we have to teach them what is acceptable and what is not, but watching them go through things and not hovering is a bit difficult for this Mama to take.

I  have noticed that recently she has started pushing. This is something she picked up from a few of the other children. What a nightmare. It’s been a challenge teaching her that hands are not for pushing and we do not push other people. It’s constant reinforcing and I’ve even had to divert her attention onto other things when I see that she is about to push someone because she is being bullied by that person.

I’ve just ordered Hands Are Not For Hitting from Chapters. “It’s never too soon for children to learn that violence is never okay, hands can do many good things, and everyone is capable of positive, loving actions.” I’d like to teach Little One this as early as possible. For safe measure, I also ordered Teeth Are Not For Biting, Words Are Not For Hurting, and Feet Are Not For Kicking. You know…Just in case.

Christine is member of the BornFree Mom Panel.

As a parent, do you have any issues with stepping in when a child (that is not yours) hits another child? Or do you feel it is not your place and that that child’s parents should deal with the issue themselves?

One person who comments will win a Twin Pack of 9oz BornFree Eco-Friendly Recyclable Bottles!

The winner is Evelyn with the email address: eve*****@hotmail.com


  • Lori said:

    Our little one has decided she has become quite the hitter too! We are trying to use positive reinforcement and a smidge of time-out’s to deal with it.

    As for stepping in with another child, I think it would be tricky – but I am absolutely going to say something if they hit mine!

  • Janet said:

    I think it’s a parent’s responsibility to discipline their child, but if their child hits mine, then it becomes my business as well, and I have no problem telling their child why it is wrong! I think I would likely step in if something happens and the childs parent is not doing anything, but I would awkward about doing it. Someone needs to stand up for the child who is being bullied! :)

  • Christine said:

    Argh. I just noticed a few type-o’s! In “It is *try* that children learn the laws of the playground very quickly”, *try* should be *true*.

    I agree with the other moms here :) Lately, I’ve started to realize that we do need to say something even if the child who is hitting is not our own. Children as young as my toddler aren’t old enough to understand or stand up for themselves.

  • Carly said:

    It is hard. I have seen my daughter (who is small) get bullied, and the other parents do not do anything! I have had to full out ask a mom to stop letting her child hit my little one the back with a drum stick. I tell my little one in two seconds to stop, or give the toy back and say sorry etc if she is hitting, pushing, snatching etc. It would be nice if other parents did the same. Yes they need to work it out, but if it’s happening repeatedly , then we have to do something as a parent. If somebody hits my child , and the parent’s ignore it? I have no problem telling him or her that hitting is not nice.

  • Sarah Ahmad said:

    If the parent of the child is not around or has not seen their child hitting the other child, I would definitely step in and say something politely.
    Kids at that age need to be told repeatedly to be nice and not use their hands or even bite other children. Their memories just aren’t that great at remembering things and they need constant reminders. My daughter used to bite other kids up until the age of 2, I had to watch her like a hawk when she was around other kids. Thankfully she gave up the habit around 2 years of age. So with constant reminders and a time out if necessary, kids do grow out of this bad habit.

  • Michelle Proulx said:

    My Daughter who is in between the age of 3.5-4 years has just recently started pushing and hitting her little brother who is 14 months old. This is something that we have been battling with for a few months, I am not sure where she picked this up but we have tried time outs and putting her in her room to “cool down”. I find that this is most prevelant when Dominic has a toy that she thinks is “hers” and does not want him anywhere near it….my parenting friends say that it is a “stage” but this is not a stage that I am okay with….

    As for diciplining other ppls children when out in public, I feel that if the parent is not willing to step in then someone needs to correct the behaviour, even if the child is not mine I somehow feel responsible for watching out for everyone. I am not afraid to speak up if it is necessary!

  • Jen Hooper said:

    I really hate when my kids hit, push, or bite. Each other, someone else’s kid…..it’s all the same. They need to learn to control themselves. I will say something if I see kids misbehaving, and try to distract them if it’s at a playgroup or something. I have taught my 5 year old son to say “I am walking away from you not because you scare me, but because I don’t really care” when he is in one of those situations….As for my daughter…watch out world- she’s coming through….

  • Melanie P. said:

    If a parent sees their child hit another or see their child being hit then I feel like it’s not my place to say something. If the parents don’t see it, I’ll say something if they’re close by but unless someone is really being hurt, I have to say I don’t go out of my way to say something. If someone hits my child though, that’s my business and I will say something! At this point, my little boy is still pretty young so we don’t really have to worry about it too much yet. When he gets to the hitting stage, I would obviously say something if he hit another child and if I didn’t notice, I would hope that that child’s parent said something to (preferably) myself or to my son.

  • Evelyn said:

    I have no issues telling other kids that it’s not okay to hit others. A stern talking to and an “Ouch! That hurts!” or “OW! That’s not nice” has worked for us.

  • Nancy said:

    With four little ones under the age of 6, we have been working on “hands are not for hitting” for a while now. If I saw another child hit one of mine, I would definitely ask them to be gentle and tell them that hands are not for hitting, and I would expect the same thing if someone saw one of mine hurting another child.

  • Teresa said:

    Absolutely I would step in If there was another child that was hitting mine. Once they touch your child I feel like you have no choice but to become involved!

  • Valerie said:

    Yes, I think it is our duty as parents to guide children and teach them right and wrong. It is not acceptable to hurt other children. For sure I’d step in.

  • AMotherhoodBlog said:

    persistamce is the key when it comes to my kids. My youngest is now 2 and often hits when he becomes frustrated with his sister or sometimes even with me. I simply tell him that hitting is not nice and ask him to apologize. He usually complies and gives his sister a kiss to say sorry.

    It’s difficult when it’s not your kids though. Dd is 6 now she used to have problems with hitting in daycare but over time with persistence (and time outs!) she eventually caught on that you can solve problems without resulting in physically hurting someone.

    Good luck!

  • John said:

    I would hope that parents take care of matters if their child were to hit another. If parents are unaware, stepping in is not a bad thing. Children need to learn acceptable behavior. Hopefully the other parents feel the same.

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