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What Does It Mean When a Toddler Hits? plus ideas about the best things to do and say!

Updated: Oct 3, 2023


Sometimes young children hit each other or hurt each other for no obvious reasons. We can't stop this from happening although we'd like to.


We deal with the problems when they happen and then we hope they don't happen again. But young children are persistent and they want what they want.


That's not always a bad thing but when children are feeling hurt, bullied and/or picked on, our job is to make things right.


And when it's happening more and more often, it's time to take a step back and look at the whole picture. At least that's what child care providers and preschool teachers tend to do. We know that when we're able to change the behavior right away, before it gets ingrained in their set of responses, we're much better off.


After all:

In the first few years of life, more than 1 million new neural connections form every second. After this period of rapid proliferation, connections are reduced through a process called pruning, which allows brain circuits to become more efficient. In light of these findings, focusing on early childhood only makes sense. -Center for the Developing Child, Harvard University-

So we need to help young children develop the pathways that work to help them get what they want without hurting others, mentally or physically. In the world of big people's business it's often called assertiveness training. Or boundary setting.


Here's a free gift to help you with what you're dealing with. It's a slideshow that outlines what to do and say when a child hurts another. I developed this after 40 years of experience and a few degrees earned in education, early childhood and human development. It's backed by both scientific and experiential research. I attached the document here for you. Feel free to keep and share it with others.


The next thing to do after dealing with an incident as it occurs is to think about it later and plot a course of action.

Our goal is not only to stop the inappropriate behaviors but to also address the other side of the coin which is teaching the appropriate ones as often as possible. This is how we become real teachers rather than just being disciplinarians.


I've always found this chart taken from the work of Rudolph Dreikurs to be helpful when thinking about hurtful and attention seeking behaviors. It builds on the fact that all behavior is learning and that misbehaviors are "missed" attempts to learn. I hope it helps you too!



Now's your chance to stay in contact with us and to get a free copy of my slideshow How To Get Kids To Listen Without Yelling Or Time Outs. In it you’ll find the exact words to use when a child hits, tattles, or refuses to clean up.


I also have a really cool and simple tip for improving normal childhood behaviors that I’m writing about next week so be sure to stay in touch here, or remember to come back and see us! Thanks so much for stopping by! If you care about early childhood and know that it counts, I want to be your new friend.

Nanci J Bradley is an early childhood and family educator, author, teacher, family aerobics instructor, and an all-around fun-loving person. She believes in the power of sleep, healthy eating, lifelong learning, and most of all, PLAY! She studied early childhood ed at Triton College and received her BS in education in 1986 from NIU. She received her MA in human development from Pacific Oaks College in 2011. She lives and teaches in Madison WI.



*click on the word PLAY!


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