My toddler is hitting and throwing things
One of the most common ‘challenging’ behaviours from toddlers is throwing things. Their other favourite is hitting. But why are our toddlers doing this to us? Can’t they see how inappropriate and embarrassing – not to mention inconvenient – hitting and throwing is?
As parents, one of the most helpful things we can do when our toddlers challenge us with their behaviour is to see things from their perspective.
Of course, when we are upset and inconvenienced, this is the last thing we want to do. Injustice has been done! Someone may have been hit or hurt, something may have been thrown and broken or inappropriately treated.
We are generally not inclined to try and empathise with the offending toddler in these situations! But our initial response to this behaviour is often not the best response in these situations. While we want to lecture, demand, scold, and even punish, these things are unlikely to improve things for our toddler.
There are typically three general reasons that our toddlers hit, throw, and cause similar kinds of bad behaviour and ‘mischief’.
Hitting and throwing due to limited skills
Our toddlers and preschoolers may be walking around, and even talking, but they are extremely limited in their ability to deal with emotions, challenging situations, and general tiredness or hunger. As parents it’s easy to forget that they are only one, two, three, or four years old. Throwing and hitting, particularly when part of a tantrum, are the few ways that our children can express themselves or plead for attention.
Hitting and throwing due to curiosity
In some ways our toddlers are like little scientists. They want to know how throwing works. They want to see what will happen. They are curious about how hitting things feels. They love repetition, experimenting, and developing an understanding of cause and effect through this behaviour.
Hitting and throwing for fun
A toddler might enjoy throwing and hitting. They feel a sense of control. They know that they’re going to get some attention from the behaviour. Sometimes throwing something or hitting someone or something is just what our young children feel like doing, and because they don’t know how to inhibit their behaviour like bigger people, they throw and hit.
Coping with throwing, hitting and other challenging toddler behaviour
So, what can we do, as parents, when our little people present these challenging behaviours?
See the world through your toddler's eyes
Understanding our child’s frustration, anger, fatigue, or fear can give us powerful insight into why they behave as they do, and change the way we respond to them from being cranky to being compassionate.
Model appropriate behaviour
Telling your three year-old to stop hitting his five year-old sister is unlikely to be effective if it is accompanied by a parent slapping or hitting him at the same time.
Explain yourself clearly to your toddler
When your child has calmed down be clear and concise. “Parents are not for hitting.” “We don’t throw our toy blocks at the baby.” Also offer appropriate alternative behaviours. “Blocks are for building.” “Hands are for helping.”
Help your toddler understand the effects of negative actions
It can be helpful to ask “What happens to the television when you throw your car at it?” “How does mummy feel when you hit her?” Before age four or five it can be difficult for a child to understand another person’s point of view, but with practice our children will develop this crucial social skill.
Suggest an alternative to hitting or throwing
Offer alternative behaviours or, better still, invite your child to explore other ways he could achieve what it is he wants.
Go to your toddler last
If someone has been hit or hurt by something being thrown, go straight to the victim and help her first. You will model compassion. You will also show your child that challenging behaviours will not promote your attention.
Hitting, throwing, and other challenging behaviours create distress for parents, and more than a little embarrassment. Most of the time this is fairly normal toddler behaviour. Rather than doing things to our children, if we can guide them compassionately, privately, and quickly, they will learn more effective ways of exploring their world and expressing their emotions.