2 Year Old Toddler Won't Stop Hitting, We Have Tried Everything, Please Help!

Updated on May 25, 2010
M.B. asks from Aliso Viejo, CA
14 answers

I have a little boy who turned 2 in February. He has been hitting other toddlers, me and even little babies for over 6 months now. Honestly, I am at my wits end, I don't know what to do. We have tried all of the following and they have not worked--- timeouts (done the proper way), explaining that hitting hurts and we don't do it, making him leave immediately when he hits (at the park, etc.), really long time outs, taking away favorite toys, tv time, etc., talking about it and feelings, making him apologize to the child he hit and explaining it hurts them. We have never hit him or spanked him, ours is not a violent household, we use words. So as you can see, we've tried a bunch of things. I am not sure what else to try??? Today I am on the verge of tears because he hit the same little girl who is just a couple of months younger than him for probably the 50th time at the park. Understandably, her mom has become not so understanding. I am truly embarrased by my son's behavior. I cannot believe he hits other children, especially girls and babies that are helpless. Usually they have not done anything to him, they are simply there.

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answers from Los Angeles on

Hi M.,
I'm sorry you're going through this but wanted to share I experienced the same thing when my son was the same age. I agree with Peg, at this age 2 year olds don't have much impulse control and what I did was constantly shadow my son ALL the time. For a good 6-9 months, I kept him within arms length any time we were at a park, play date or activity that included other children. I would also let the other moms or parents know he was going through this phase and most were very understanding and even offered their own advice or tips.
I know this can be quite stressful and embarrassing for parents who have little ones that hit, pull hair, bite, etc, etc. Have you noticed certain times of the day when he tends to hit? I know my son would act up right before nap time or if he was tired, hungry or over stimulated.
Just be consistent in correcting him and know you are not alone. Good luck and hang in there!

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answers from Portland on

At two, kids don't have a very good understanding of cause and effect, so any follow-through must be immediate to connect it emotionally to the behavior (this is true of any behavior). Hitting is a perfectly logical and normal thing for your son to do, because kids that age have little empathy, and because it gets him whatever he wants, even if that is only a sense of physical control. Taking away toys or other activities would be puzzling or meaningless, because it's not logically connected to the behavior. Spanking might only reinforce the behavior (hitting to stop hitting?), so I'm glad you avoid that.

And children that young have little-to-no impulse control, and will not develop much for another year or three, depending on the child. Two year-olds are fascinated by other tiny people, but really don't know what to do with them, and easily become possessive or overexcited around other kids.

Since you know this to be a problem, and know the times and places where it happens regularly, you will need to shadow your son. The closer the adult response is to the behavior, the better. This is what child-care professionals do in daycare situations when a child consistently hits, pushes or bites. Watch for the signals that the hitting is about to happen, and intercept him then. Hold his arm and tell him firmly "No hitting," then remove him from his potential victim. Give the other mom permission to do the same thing with your son – it will probably have twice the effect that way.

This will work, but it will still take time. Don't keep switching your tactics, because there is no logical pattern that way to make a consistent impression on your son. Good luck, and hang in there, M.. You are not alone in this. Your little guy will get it eventually.

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answers from Los Angeles on

when my son was going through a hitting phase i got some books..one was
"Hands are not for Hitting" and also "Mouths Are Not for Biting" and "I Can Share" i read them every day to him and he got the message..i also have taught him to "hug it out" so we hug when he gets upset..he sometimes hits me when he doesn't get his way and i say.."do u need a hug?" we hug and its all over with..try those books and try hugging him when he flips out..and teach him to hug not hit..

good luck


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answers from Los Angeles on

Two year olds can't reason. They don't understand that they are hurting others-their brains just haven't developed that way yet. Keep talking to him it will sink in eventually.
It comes down to he wants what he wants and hitting gets it for him quicker than anything else. He's not a bad kid, hitting at this age is normal and he's not being mean, he's being two! When he grows up these traits help him become a leader and you'll be grateful for his ability to assess what needs to be done and find solutions. Right now it just needs to be channeled.

Warning other mom's, watching him like a hawk, watching when he's tired/ hungry/ frustrated all help. Always making sure there are enough toys around (2 year olds DON'T share) and distracting will help. Since control is part of the issue allow him a little leeway in other things. Are there decisions he wants to make but isn't allowed? See what you can do to loosen up and give him control.

Like I said, he's not bad, you're not a bad mom, he's not being mean, he's being a strong willed, achiever. Keep working with him (patience is key, if he feels over dominated he'll try to control more and it will make it worse). Set guidelines and rules, and help him see there are better ways to get things done.
Good luck

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answers from Minneapolis on

Have you asked him why he hits? what he is upset about? Maybe he does not know a different way to express his frustration. Do you get involved with the play time so right when he hits you know why he hit? Our nanny was amazing at getting right into the middle of play and when something would happen(or was about to happen) she would explain to our son what emotion he was feeling and a different way to handle the situation. While Mamapedia is very helpful, I usually post here when I am like you- on the verge of tears! Best of luck!

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answers from Minneapolis on

My son was a hitter, and it wasn't until he was about 4 that he started to restrain himself. It's upsetting, but not unusual for toddlers and early preschoolers to do things like this.

I'll just add my consensus to the other posts to stay close to your son and physically intervene (kindly and firmly) when he's ready to hit. He doesn't yet have a grasp of what the other person is feeling being on the receiving end. (or if he does, he doesn't yet care LOL) So you need to be his restraint for him until he matures enough to understand the full picture.

((hugs!) This is hard!

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answers from Reno on

I have to add my vote for the hit/bite/pinch back method. My brother was horrendous as a youngster, from birth to 16-17?... Major anger issues. Fits where he'd turn red-purple screaming he was sooo mad at 3 mos! He was really bad with pulling hair, hitting, biting, etc when he was 2-11 or so... With the biting, we tried everything (and my parents are both educated in child development/education, my mother (and grandmother) with a specialization in discipline). Eventually it took biting him back to stop the biting. Each of us had to do it. My dad was the first to try it, totally fed up with it, he quit biting dad, still bit everyone else... So, Mom bit him, he quit biting her. I was the last...too much of the he's your little brother, you're not supposed to hurt him, etc lol... I finally bit him back, that just left the poor dog, which wasn't allowed to bite anyone, so he just ran and hid from him til he finally quit biting at 4? So, there are times where you just have to make them understand it by doing it to them, not the nicest way, and it is "mortifying" as someone put, but when they're biting hard enough to leave marks all the time... you've got to do something, it's unacceptable, period, it hurts - see? Sucks, but sometimes, that's just what it takes.

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answers from Los Angeles on

My little boy tried that with us when he was 2. I think some of the kids try to test their limits, and that's one way to say "Hey Mom, what are you going to do about it?" With all of the books I have read, and my experience with my children, I would say there are a few important things to follow:
1) Be consistent, with routine and discipline. Repeat repeat repeat, so your child knows you mean business!
2) Are they tired? They need to nap until around 4yrs. If they are tired, they may act out.
3) Are they eating well? Many parents feed their kids chips and candy. That does not work! It creates mode swings. The artificial dyes in food and candy are more powerful than anything...and that causes HUGE dramatic episodes with my kids. I think Candy should be banned, seriously!
Be strong and loving. A mommies job is hard, but so rewarding.



answers from Los Angeles on

Where are you when he attacks other children? If you have a hitter on your hands, you need to remain closer to him while he is playing. Period.
I would not be very understanding either, if a child hit my child more than a few times - but 50 times?! Even 5 times is way too many.

I know our culture puts a premium on "independence" from a very young age (too young, IMO) but it sounds like you're not supervising him well enough. Stick close to him when he is playing with other children, or no one is going to want their children playing with or near theirs anymore.



answers from Los Angeles on

I can think of two none violent ideas. First of all keep him on a leash at all times except when he is asleep. This puts a limit on his wondering and you or another adult will always be able to put the strings and restrain him. If he raises his arm to hit, keep a spray bottle handy with water and douse him immediately. Every single time he hits or attempts to hit, he gets wet. I mean in the face. It won't hurt him, but it will sure get his attention. The water in the face is backed up immediately with a very loud " NO, we do not hit." You must be consistent. Consider a toddler like a puppy. Restraint, conditioning, averse conditioning and rewarding conditioning. If he does something good, reward with a loud praise. See if there is something that he really really wants and do a chart with stars on it and when he reaches say 5 stars or 5 days maybe even one day at the beginning of good behavior he gets his reward. You will be doing two things, immediate consequences for bad behavior and reward for good behavior. It won't take him long to figure it out.


answers from Dallas on

Consistency is the issue it sounds like. Pick one and stick to it. We have a yeller/spitter ( 2 1/2 y/o girl) and we have to pop her mouth to get her to stop. Not hard, but just to get her attention. She quits immediately. Not saying you should do that with your son, just saying that you have to pick a consequence and stick to it. Don't be mad at him. He's still a baby, but I know the frustration! We went through a terribly embarrasing biting phase.
Both of my kids HATE time out, especially when they are having fun, so a time out at the park, store, etc is aweful!



answers from Honolulu on

Along with the other helpful suggestions... what you might want to try is, enroll him in Gymboree classes or something like that. The "classes" are per age group. It is fun as well.... but maybe, in a formal setting, where OTHER kids are also following direction and "learning" and having fun... maybe your son, via indirect observation of the other kids, will follow the lead of others.
For some kids, these types of classes are like a "light-bulb" and then they realize... what is what, and what is just not acceptable, and what is.
It is like an introduction... to concepts, that a child this age, will and can learn... and he will be with other kids his same age, AND you have to be right there with your child in these classes. So you both learn....

Both my kids have taken Gymboree (and no I am not promoting this business), but they loved it and learned tons from it, casually and it is fun and kids love going there.

Also, as the others said... do NOT take him anywhere when he is (a) tired and has not napped (b) hungry (c) over stimulated already.... or over-tired. Because these things do NOT bode well for a child and it WILL make them like mini-monsters. Fussy and more fussy.

Hitting... is also a way of "stopping" whatever is going on... and this is the only way a young toddler knows how to cope sometimes. Hitting can also be a way for some kids to "shut-out" external stimuli and other kids/things that are irking them. Hitting can also be exploratory, per their development and it can also be a way to express frustration etc., blah blah blah.

So, you NEED to KNOW his cues... to know his body language and ANTICIPATE him and his moods. AND, do not take him to certain places... or you MUST follow him/shadow him closely.
AND, yes, kids this age DO NOT have any impulse control... it is not even fully-developed yet... and they cannot do things "at-will' much less consciously... but they can hit spontaneously. As you see. So it is the dichotomy of a Toddler. Their Cognition and their motor-skills/impulses are NOT congruent... in development, nor developed in tandem.

Regardless... if he is not napping... you should be having him nap. Everyday. Routinely. Lack of sleep... MAJORLY affects kids and their moods... it affects the the ability to cope and levels or patience in some people. Lack of sleep alone... can really be the main thing that is tweaking a child... or at least create a real big part of it, negatively.

As your son matures emotionally (emotions are NOT even fully developed at this age either), he will need to learn social skills. Which is what you need to teach him, and about his emotions. And how to express it. But for now... he perhaps, STILL DOES "parallel play" versus, interacting with other kids in a social way. THUS, when he is at a park with other kids.. .he does not know how to engage properly... so he hits. Its experimental... and other babies/kids are like "toys" to him.. .meaning he does not yet know how to "empathize" or understand what is bad or good, hurt or happy.
To me... he is still in that "parallel play" stage of development... and not fully onto the reciprocal social play of like with older kids. Thus, his reactions to other kids/you etc. He does NOT know how to handle himself yet. Nor understand. He is only 2... and 2 year olds "Parallel Play."
Do not expect much else of him... don't expect him to have social skills or know how to "make friends" like an older child.

**I recommend, you research "Parallel Play" or "how do 2 year olds play" etc.

all the best,



answers from Honolulu on

He's at the age where he still sees others as objects, not beings with feelings. Like a little Scientist conducting an experiment, he just wants to see what will happen if he hits others. In a few months, he should start to understand that it hurts others, but honestly it sounds as if he's still too emotionally immature to grasp the concept. I know it's difficult and frustrating for you as a parent, but keep removing him from the situations where he's inflicting the pain and eventually he'll get it. Good luck!



answers from San Diego on

if you have a few hours - read "the Happiest Toddler on the Block" by Karp.
Basically.. you might need to really simplify your words. First let him know you 'get' why he's doing it. Tommy's (put your kid's name here) MAD, really MAD! It was Tommy's turn, Tommy want to go first. (or whatever the issue was - keep going till he realizes you "get" why he's upset.) then say BUT... NO hitting, we DONT hit. hitting hurts, Owee Owee, no hitting. hitting makes mommy SAD.
if he's doing it for a reaction, and not out of anger/frustration, then the opposite of reacting would be ignoring. get him away quickly, and not only ignoringhim, but showering attention on something else.

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