Help – My Toddler Is Becoming a Bully!

Biting, kicking, grabbing toys, and name calling – where do we draw the line between developmentally appropriate learning exploration and actual bullying? What can parents and caregivers do to keep children on the straight and narrow? In this blog, we’ll discuss practical tips to help parents navigate what to do in the inevitable situation where their child presents challenging behavior, with special emphasis on how to handle when a toddler hits.

How to Respond When Your Toddler Hits

One of the most difficult things for parents of young children to decipher is the difference between developmentally appropriate phases of learning and behavior that should be corrected immediately.

At this stage, toddlers fiercely desire independence, but their limited language skills and lack of impulse control often get in the way and create waves. Rest assured, your child is not actually being a “bully”, although it may feel that way at times (especially when you’re getting side-eye looks from other parents on the playground). While aggressive behavior is considered a normal part of toddler development, it should not be ignored.

So how should parents and caregivers respond when their toddler hits? BabyCenter offers the following tips:

Keep Your Cool

Yelling, hitting, or telling your child they’re bad won’t get them to make positive changes to their behavior – you’ll just get them more riled up and give them examples of new things to try. Showing them that you can control your temper helps them learn to control theirs.

Set Clear Limits

Respond immediately whenever your toddler hurts someone. Remove them from the situation for a brief time-out. Tell your toddler, “No hitting. Hitting hurts.” Avoid lecturing, since your toddler probably isn’t capable of imagining themself in another child’s place or changing their behavior based on verbal reasoning.

Give Logical Consequences

If your child gets into the ball pit at the indoor play center and starts throwing the balls at other kids, take them out of the ball pit immediately. Let them know they can try again once they understand the rules.

Discipline Consistently

As much as possible, respond to each episode the same way each time. Your predictable response sets up a pattern that your child eventually learns to recognize and expect. Your predictability will help build important brain connections that support their emotional regulation skills.

Teach Alternatives

Wait until your toddler has settled down, then calmly and gently review what happened. “You felt frustrated when Sally took your truck. Hitting is not okay. Instead, you can stomp your feet and ask for help.” Use a book like Martine Agassi’s “Hands Are Not for Hitting” to clarify this message.

Encouraging your child to apologize may be appropriate for older kids who can understand another person’s feelings. Toddlers won’t learn much from a forced apology, but you can model empathy by apologizing when you make mistakes or pointing out the feelings of other children and discussing them with your toddler.

How to Stop Your Toddler from Hitting or Pushing

With time, patience, and consistent discipline strategies, your child will learn not to hit or push other children. In the meantime, here are ways you can get ahead of the situation and help prevent it from happening.

Reinforce Good Behavior

When a child is seeking attention from you, they’ll get it any way they know how. If they get the biggest reaction from you when they’re acting up, chances are they’ll keep doing it. So instead, be sure to point out when they’re doing great things. Try phrases like, “Wow, good sharing! That was very nice!” or, “Thank you for asking; yes you can have a turn, too!”

Supervise and Redirect

Be vigilant when supervising your toddler’s interactions with other children to prevent future incidents. If you notice any signs of frustration or aggression, redirect their attention to a different activity or offer comfort. You know your child best.

Depending on the scenario, sometimes it’s wise to just throw in the towel and remove your child from the situation entirely. If you’re tearing your hair out with redirects and reminders, maybe it’s just not a good day for social interaction and your child needs some quiet time at home or elsewhere. And that’s fine! Try again another day and pat yourself on the back for trusting your gut.

Supervise Media Exposure

Unfortunately, many “kids’ shows” don’t actually have children’s best interests in mind. When kids see their favorite characters shouting, shoving, or engaging in other aggressive behavior, they’re more likely to do it, too. Be picky about what your children watch – it can make a huge difference!

Keep Your Child Active

Give your kiddo plenty of opportunities to burn off steam throughout the day. Unstructured play time – especially outdoors – is highly valuable to children. The more energy they burn in healthy ways, the less capacity they’ll have for mischief.

When Toddlers Bite or Throw Toys

Toddlers hit, bite, and throw toys all for similar reasons, generally speaking. Simply put, they’re exploring, processing their feelings, and/or trying to communicate with you.

The methods listed in the previous section can be applied to biting and throwing toys as well, but for specific guidance on these topics, visit these articles: What to Expect: Why Do Toddlers Throw Everything? and Zero to Three: Toddler Biting – Finding the Right Response.

Preschool Bullying

When a toddler hits or bites, they are most likely doing so without malicious intent. Preschoolers are another story. As kids get older and more aware of their actions, parenting strategies must adjust accordingly. Visit What to Expect’s blog, When Your Child’s the Bully at Preschool, for advice on this topic.

Schedule a Tour at Kiddi Kollege

When it comes to parenting strategies, there are many gray areas, and everyone seems to have a wildly different interpretation of best practices. Furthermore, what works for one child may not work for another.

Above all, remember that toddlers are still developing their social and emotional skills. Rest assured, with consistent guidance and positive reinforcement, your child will grow and mature into an empathetic and respectful citizen of the world. You’ve got this!

If you’re looking for an education-based social outlet for your child in Johnson County, Kansas, look no further than Kiddi Kollege! Our family-owned and operated schools are accredited and follow a research-based curriculum. We offer child care and early childhood education classes for children aged six weeks through pre-K, and after-school care for kids up to age 12. Schedule a tour today!