Your Step-by-Step Plan for Taming your Toddler’s Inner MMA Fighter
The first rule of Toddler Fight Club is we have to talk about Toddler Fight Club #amiright?
No one wants to be the parent of “the hitter.” And no, we’re not talking about a 3-year-old baseball prodigy. We’re talking about the kid whose tantrums include fists of fury, windmill arms, and more hits than Beyonce.
Parenting a toddler is stressful enough (can we get an amen?), but having a toddler who hits is enough to make even the most chill parents lose their cool.
So… is it your fault? Like, are you the worst parent ever?
No, and not even for a second.
Why do toddlers hit, kick, bite, and push?
If you’ve taken our course, Winning the Toddler Stage, you know aggressive behaviors are very, verrrrrrrrrrry common in toddlers. Because the emotion management and language skills areas of their brains aren’t fully developed quite yet, toddlers sometimes use their bodies to express their BIG feelings. So if your sweet, mild-mannered nugget has suddenly turned into Rocky Balboa, you’re not alone.
In fact, our DMs are full of caregivers just like you, all asking the same question: How do we keep our kids from hitting, and how can we avoid losing what’s left of our ever-loving minds?
We got you, boo.
First, here’s what you should not do.
You know how it goes: You’re minding your own business doing the dishes or folding your 14th load of laundry for the day, and WHAM: Kid 1 clocks Kid 2—and then it’s ON. You’re going to want to yell OMG, WHAT ON EARTH ARE YOU DOING? STOOOOOOOOOOOOOOP HIIIITTTTTIIIIIINGGG YOUR BROOOOOOOOOOOTHER! (Did you picture this scene in slow motion? Because we totally did.)
But can we tell you a secret? Yelling will only produce MORE hitting. When we have a BIG reaction to their behavior, we literally fuel it by giving them the attention they’ve been craving. So then they think, “Ohhhhh, THIS is how I get Mom’s or Dad’s attention. I’m gonna do that again!” We obviously don’t want them to do it again, so we need to get into the right headspace as quickly as possible.
Now listen up. If you’re thinking, “UGH, I screwed it all up again. I’m the worst parent ever,” just… stop it. You are NOT the worst parent ever. Matching a BIG behavior with a BIG response is natural—especially if that’s how your parents handled things. It’s just not helpful.
Here’s the first thing you should do.
Start by reminding yourself of this capital-t Truth: You are the calm, cool leader of your home.
We know it’s tough, but the key is to stay INCREDIBLY calm in the moment, no matter what. So, before you address any kind of behavior—including hitting—you need to find your cool, calm, Zen-master self.
Before you ever open your mouth, take a deep breath, sniff some essential oil, or go to your mental happy place—whatever gets your mind right and your blood pressure down.
Okay, now you’re ready to take on the situation like the amazing parent you are. (Insert superhero theme music here.)
Stop toddler hitting with the CONNECT+ CONTAIN Gameplan.
Our CONNECT + CONTAIN Gameplan is going to revolutionize the way you handle your hitter (and yourself). Instead of “tapping out” out in frustration, these three steps will keep you in the ring, ready to diffuse your toddler’s meltdown with the confidence of a heavy-weight champion.
Step 1: See them.
Contrary to how so many of us were raised, tantrums (with or without hitting), are NOT the time for correction. We know that feels weird and maybe even goes against everything you hold true.
But have you ever met a toddler who responded well to correction during a tantrum? Of course not. Your little ball of chaos is not in the right space to hear or retain your instructions, which is why we save correction for after the storm has passed.
Instead, in the heat of the moment, you are going to CONNECT with your child by saying something like this:
“I see you’re so frustrated because he took your toy.”
Step 2: Okay the feeling.
Now you’re going to okay the feeling. Notice we say the FEELING, not the BEHAVIOR. At no point will you okay the hitting or kicking or whatever, but you will acknowledge the feeling that triggered it.
“It’s okay to feel angry and frustrated.”
Think about how you feel when you’re upset and someone tells you, “What? You’re totally overreacting.” Yep. Now think about how you feel when you’re upset and someone acknowledges your feelings: “Oof, that sounds really hard. It’s okay to be upset about that.” It automatically lowers your defenses, right? The same thing happens when you see and okay your toddler’s feelings.
Note: This isn’t easy or natural, so it takes some practice. That’s especially true if you were parented differently. The entire first section of our course, Winning the Toddler Stage, explains all the science-y WHYS behind our approach (in a NOT boring way!) plus all the quick and simple tips to help you bring the happy back to your home.
Step 3: State the boundary.
Finally (and this is the part some of y’all have been waiting for), you’re going to remind your sweet baby child of the boundaries—the non-negotiable rules that keep everybody safe. Then, instead of saying, “Stop hitting your brother,” six times and then yelling, “DEAR GOD STOP HITTING YOUR BROTHER!” loud enough for the neighbors to notice, you’re going to step in and HOLD that boundary QUICKLY and CALMLY the FIRST TIME. So you’ll say something like:
“It’s not okay to hit when you feel upset. I’m going to move brother over here to keep him safe.”
If your kid’s hitting YOU? Try this:
“I won’t let you hit me. I’m going to move my body over here to stay safe.”
If they come at you (or brother) after you’ve moved away, try this:
“You’re angry, and that’s okay. It’s not okay to hurt anyone with your body. I’m going to hold your hands down now to keep everyone safe.” And then gently wrap them in a hug.
You may have to repeat these three steps several times (totes normal, btw) until your toddler calms down. Keep channeling your cool, calm leadership and go into broken-record mode until the tantrum is over and everyone involved is safe. Basically, you’re going to connect and contain, rinse and repeat as often as needed.
Will it be challenging at first? Sure.
Will your toddler push back to see if you’re for real? One hundo p.
Is it worth the hard work and consistency to regain your sanity and watch your toddler become emotionally healthy? ABSO-FREAKING-LUTELY.
#toddlerfightclub has nothing on you, boo.
But wait… there’s more.
Stopping unwanted behavior in the moment is good. But that ish is going to keep happening and keep happening and keep happening unless we teach our kids what to do instead.
So, in the case of hitting, you’d come back to your toddler much, MUCH later—when everyone’s calm and happy—and say something like:
“Earlier today, you were so mad when brother took your toy. It’s okay to feel mad. It’s not okay to hit. When you feel mad, what are some things you can do instead of hitting?”
Your response in the midst of a meltdown is important. But what you do outside the tantrum terror dome sets up your child for life-long emotional health and resilience.
Want to wave “bye-bye” to hitting—for good?
Our online course, Winning the Toddler Stage, has a whole section on aggressive behavior (silly OR intentional). You get step-by-step plans for what to do in the moment AND you’ll learn how to teach your toddler communication skills and coping tools for life.