Help! My 21 month old toddler is hitting me – what can I do?

Recently, an old friend posted a question on face book wondering what she could do  when her 21-month-old toddler has hit her. She was looking to join the “mothers of  toddlers to slap their parents group”, however; to her dismay there was none.

Two-year-olds  tend to be territorial. Everything is “it’s mine.” Typically, aggressive behavior may be a sign of an assertive child because more passive children often cry.  At this stage, they are  absorbing an incredible amount of information and realize that they can act upon the world to make things happen. They are beginning to experiment with cause and effect. Toddlers are typically beginning to interact with the environment to solve problems.  It is impossible to prevent children of the stage from hitting. Some children just don’t do it while others do. Parents often become alarmed and confused at this viewing these moments “acts of aggression”   and may be fearful that their  will be an aggressive person. While it is more likely that the child may be realizing  “I AM ME”   and you are witnessing the signs of booming individuality and  self-consciousness.  At the same time,  they are learning that they can’t do as they please. It is the parents job to begin teaching them about socialization, communicating in enforcing boundaries,   healthy expressions of emotion,limits, and the rules that govern  these expressions of independence.

The first thing to realize is that  toddlers don’t have the cognitive or language skills to express their emotions in meaningful and adult like manner.   They often experience strong feelings of frustration and inadequacy because  their cognitive abilities exceed their ability to express what they want to express. In other words, they often understand what is going on around them and what is being said, however; feel helpless to interact in a meaningful manner. Toddlers  also don’t realize that people have feelings. What I mean by this is they often play harshly with inanimate objects, such as toys, furniture and other items.   They do not view human beings or other live objects being any different than an inanimate object.  They don’t yet realize that people have feelings unlike inanimate objects.  Therefore approach people much as they would an object. That is another reason why children are so harsh on pets because they don’t realize that they are living animals.

Let’s get back to the question of what to do.   Parenting in 25 words or less described as my friend Bill Whelen, PhD.  Ph.D.from the Mary Ainsworth attachment Institute is “always be bigger stronger wiser and kind.”    This needs to be approached using this mindset. The parent ought to firmly state  on their level while making eye contact “it hurts mommy when you hit. There is no hitting!”  and then walk away. Do not continue to stand there and allow your child to hit you again or use any more words than described above.  one of the mistakes that parents often make us to believe that children are little adults and a good calm explanation of why what they did was wrong will just help them solve a problem and it will go away  never to return.

It is also important to recognize what was happening just prior to their hitting. Was this because they were frustrated about something or that they were prevented from achieving some goal and they needed some help that they do not receive? These are important questions that will also lead to how your address your child after being firm with them. This is where then understanding in helping a child explore their emotion world can be helpful.  Such as, ” I know you feel frustrated when you….”  this step is very important as research indicates that children who are able to be aware of their emotional worlds tend to be more successful later in life, academically, peer relations, and   engage in healthy coping behavior as adolescents and adults.

Lastly, keep in mind it will take many times for the child to learn us at that age. After the age of two, you may begin to introduce the concept of time out.  Professionals do not recommend using the concept of a timeout prior to that age.  There are many great resources  In self-help for child management after the age of two.  Feel free to check out some of the  resources at we have under parenting  on our website.


  1. Great article Ted. Thanks for sharing your expertise. The more I learn know, the better prepared I will be in the future 😉

    Have a great day! – Scott

  2. very interesting, thanks