What to do when your 3 year old hits you.

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Posted by: Sue Atkins

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In This Episode :

What to do when your 3 year old hits you.

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If I had a penny for every question, I’ve received about 2 and 3-year-olds who hit their parents, I would be a millionaire, but let’s say at least I could buy a lovely new pair of Kurt Geiger boots! – Sue Atkins

There are a couple of points that jump out at me here, the first being your reactions to the hitting. You mention the common techniques of timeouts, walking away and scolding your little one, and trust me, I’ve been there and got the T-shirt!  But it’s rare to meet a parent (myself included) who doesn’t try all of these strategies before finding them unsatisfactory because in the long run they just don’t work.

Why don’t they work?

When a young child hits, that means there has been an explosion of frustration. Young kids can’t handle their big emotions, and because they are immature, they don’t yet have self-control or self-regulation. Also, they don’t yet have the vocabulary to describe how they are feeling with words. So, your daughter’s frustration comes out physically in her body.

Naughty Steps just don’t work because they don’t TEACH your child HOW to handle their emotions.

They just give you a few minutes to compose yourself – which can be helpful short term but not in the long run.

So, if you grab your child and send her to a step or a seat and expect her to sit still and “learn,” you are simply adding to her frustration.

My Easy Peasy – Lemon Squeezy Button is much more fun and effective – you can buy it here as it’s a far more positive and enjoyable way to encourage the behaviour you DO want to see more of and IT WORKS!

Scolding her, similar to the timeout, will bring out shame in your young child and result in more frustration and, hence, more angry outbursts and ‘violence’. Walking away and talking to her are better options, but how you do these things — as how you handle your anger is important too – as your child is learning from you. So, the tone you set — is important.

Everything you have tried falls into the category of “reaction, reaction, reaction.”

I know first-hand just how frustrating living with a toddler is – one day they want their red cup, the next day they won’t eat their favourite food – it’s like trying to tame jelly – all wobbles and no rules

But I think a better way is to respond not to react to your child’s behaviour.

You are the grown-up and are able to step back press your Pause Button.

The Pause Button

A similar technique is to press an imaginary pause button like the one on your remote control zapper. Imagine you are holding the remote control zapper on your TV – really feel the shape of the remote in your hand and really see it in your imagination.  Take a deep breath and press the pause button. This helps you to detach and step back from the scenario that’s winding you up and helps you get back in control of your emotions.

Now imagine your favourite TV character or actor coming up really closely beside your ear and asking you a really important question.  Hear them saying:

“What’s the best thing to do or say right now for everyone to feel good and win here?”

Take a look here to find out more about my technique:


Become a Detective

Find out what your little girl’s triggers are and make a list of what is setting her off. Clarifying the triggers will guide you in where to step in before the tantrums and hitting begin. For instance, maybe she’s tired, hungry, or bored, or maybe you notice that when you give too many commands, demands and choices, she becomes overwhelmed, leading to a build-up of frustration.

In either case pre empt your child’s triggers and slow down your commands, so she becomes less frustrated.

Prevention, rather than reaction, so you can compassionately support both your children. As the saying goes: ‘Your daughter isn’t giving you a hard time, she’s having a hard time.’


Name the Emotion

Catch her frustration before it brings violence, you can drop to her level and say what you see: ‘Stacey, I see you are really frustrated! Did the blocks fall down again? That is so hard!’ By using descriptive language, you may be able to connect with her before she becomes more frustrated. This connection could help her feel seen and heard, as well as compassionately supported, therefore preventing the hitting and the meltdowns.

Think of the WHY

When you want your kids to cooperate with you, it is far easier if they can understand why they need them to do something and how it is to their advantage to do so.

They need to see the importance of following your directions.

For example: – “When you get dressed, you can go outside with Daddy.”

“Which jumper would you like to put on, the red one or the blue one?” – limited choices helps kids feel in control

“When you finish your homework, you can then watch tv.”

“Which book would you like to read, this one or that one?”

“When you get dressed for school, you can then play with your toys.”

Adopting words like “when” and “which” makes the child feel as though they have choices, even though there is no room for negotiation – you’re still in control but your language helps your child feel they have some independence which takes down their frustration.

Using these words works far better than using “if” words.

Also, try to include your child in helping you solve a problem.

For example, instead of saying “Don’t leave your toy cars out there,” try saying “Sam, think about where you should store your toy cars, so they’re in a safe place, and come and tell me when you’ve decided on a good spot.”

Try to offer alternatives rather than saying a flat out “no” or “don’t.” For example, “You can’t get the paints out just now, but you can draw with the crayons instead.”

Hope that helps?

Join my Parenting Club for lots more ideas like these.

Try not to ask too many questions or use too much logic – just get calm and in control and compassionate

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