Success Training for Toddler Hitting

Success Training for Toddler Hitting

QUESTION: My 2 YO daughter is struggling with hitting. Before this began she was a very timid girl and at play dates would often get run over.


Four months ago I had a baby, and the first time I witnessed my 2 YO hitting was when she hit the baby. She was giving the baby a hug and started getting a little excited which then turned into getting a little too rough with the baby, and when I asked her to “give Sissy some space,” she whacked her.


My mother-in-law gasped, and I said, “No!” with a very stern voice, and my 2 YO started crying. I then explained to her that hitting hurts, and that we do not hit Sissy. This continued for the next month but not too frequently.


Two months later she started school 3 days a week. On the days off, I would get a sitter to watch the baby for a few hours so that my 2 YO and I could have “special time,” and I noticed she started pushing and hitting other kids on our play dates. I would tell her, “No hit, use gentle hands,” and have her say “sorry.” The hitting wasn’t excessive; it would occur once or twice during a 2.5 hr play date, and she didn’t seem to do it aggressively.


Then the hitting began at school, and around this time the hitting at home with Sissy become more frequently. She usually hits the baby when she gets over excited, and I’m asking her to be more gentle with the baby, or when I’m feeding the baby.


I have tried to catch her hand before she hits. I have tried moving her away from the baby when she does hit. I have tried to say, “No hit, be friendly, use gentle hands, hands are for hugs, hands are for clapping.” I have tried asking her if she needs a hug from mommy, and is that why she is hitting. I have tried telling her if she hits Sissy then she doesn’t get to play with Sissy. I have tried to convey how hitting and pushing her friends at school hurts.


Nothing is changing. Am I expecting results too quickly? Should I be approaching this a different way?


Now at bed time when I am tucking her in she says “Sara push, Gina push.” These are the kids that she is pushing at school. I am not even bringing up the subject, but she seems to want to tell me this before bed. When she tells me this, I tell her, “Be friendly to Gina, be friendly to Sara. Use gentle hands on friends.”


I am not sure if she brings this up because she actually wants to talk about it or if she just wants to keep me in the room longer. The kids that she is hitting and pushing at school are smaller than she is. The teachers tell me that she isn’t hitting or pushing aggressively.


I have read the Janet Lansbury book regarding positive discipline, I have read a book called NO drama discipline, I just bought your book, Say What You See. What am I doing wrong? — Lina (children 4 mo, 2 years), Austin, TX

ANSWER: Trying to help a toddler stop herself from doing something is not easy unless you understand her true goal. When you understand that, you can get on her side and find alternatives that work for everyone.

Plus with a few simple coaching skills you can take what you do a step farther to bring out her STRENGTHs so she can feel good about herself, not defensive. That’s what I call Success Training which is the hallmark of Language of Listening®.

You can figure out what she is trying to accomplish with her hitting in several ways, but the easiest may be by offering her something she can hit that she will accept.

The CAN DO will have to meet her needs — experience, connection AND power.

Gentle touch obviously does not meet her need for power, so that probably feels corrective to her, which would leave her feeling defensive like you don’t understand, increase her need for connection, and keep the cycle going. When you find something that actually works for her, like hitting your hand in a high five or low five, or hitting a bop bag, you can turn that momentary cooperation into a STRENGTH she can use to change her own behavior. You can see what I mean in the example I share in the video segment at the bottom of my Online Training Center registration page.

You can speed it up with “practice” by replaying situations with her.

For example, when you say she can hit your hand, and she hits it instead of the baby, to reinforce the success encourage her to “show you” the desired behavior and then add the STRENGTH as in:

CAN DO: “Show me that again. Yea!”


STRENGTH: “You know what to hit!”


CAN DO: “Again…there! What else can you hit? Yea! The couch.”


STRENGTH: “You know what to hit!”

With other kids, show her how to get what she wants without pushing or hitting them. To be able to stop pushing/hitting, she will need another action to replace it that actually works. If it doesn’t work to meet her needs, she will return to pushing/hitting.

At 2, kids only care about what works. They are way too young to care about social boundaries or other people. Don’t try to make them care; focus on their actions instead.

Caring about other people and how they feel will naturally arise the closer she gets to 3. Just point it out as her awareness shows up. You can read about that and more here: video segment.

And as you will see in my book, SAY WHAT YOU SEE®, making hitting (or anything) a taboo sets it up as a challenge so that she basically has to prove hitting is OK, especially if she thinks she has a good reason for it that you don’t understand, like simply wanting to. And in the bigger picture, she is right, because in some cases hitting really is OK — for example in the sport of boxing, though she may not have heard of it yet.

This is a perfect time for you to gain the coaching skills you need to help your 2 YO find her STRENGTHs, learn how to play well with other children, and avoid the problems that could arise from sibling rivalry. You’ll find more great tips in my book that take what you are already doing to the next level.

LINA’S REPLY: Thank you. Those extra suggestions are great, I would have never thought about that on my own! I really appreciate your help. Thank you so much!


  1. Sandy, some great tips here. We will be sharing this weekend on Kriz

  2. Robin |

    i’ve been scouring the internet for weeks now trying to find a solution for my sons hitting and shoving. I can’t wait to use this method

    • Such a loving mama! You are clearly determined to help your son and won’t stop until you find a solution. I can tell by your excitement that this approach rings true for you. Helping toddlers meet their need for power and teaching via Success Training can make a big difference for you both. I hope you will let me know how it goes.–Sandy

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