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When the Sweet Turns Sour: Lessons I’ve Learned While Parenting through the Hitting Phase

This adorable face on the left is my one and a half year old daughter. She’s sweet, spunky, independent, and FULL of personality. Did I say sweet? Sometimes I need to remind myself of that because…

Right before the holidays hit, we entered what we refer to in my house as the “Fight Club” phase of toddlerhood… So far, not my fave.

We would be playing, or talking, or even just watching a movie, when out of nowhere (not really out nowhere… I’ll come back to that) she would smack me or my husband. At first we thought it was a one-time thing and didn’t think much of it. We mostly ignored it and tried to move on. But it kept happening. That’s when we realized something needed to be done about it and we took action. Now that we are *mostly* on the other side of the “Fight Club” phase, I can share some of the most important lessons I learned along the way:

Hitting ≠ Bad Kid or Bad Parent.

My first reaction when I realized my kid was “the hitter” was to blame myself. More than any other phase of parenthood so far, this phase had me questioning my entire parenting style. I learned it’s important to keep in mind that hitting is a typical stage in toddler development. Toddlers are learning to control very real and very big emotions and are often keen on testing the limits of what is acceptable behavior in a variety of situations. But while this stage is normal, it is definitely something you want to address in a strategic way. 

Go with your gut (and your research).

When we entered this stage, we were so graciously given a ton of unsolicited advice on how to deal with it: “smack her hands, put her in time out, take away toys”. While we appreciated the advice, we knew several of these weren’t in line with our agreed-upon parenting practices or developmentally appropriate for her age. Luckily the internet is full of articles, books, and resources on how to deal with this very issue in a way that promotes gentle correction, empathy, and positive parenting.

Spend time learning why.

Understanding and avoiding her triggers was our first line of defense. Most often, she hit for one of three reasons:



–Attention seeking


As I mentioned previously, this phase began right around the holiday season when life is busy, routines are interrupted, and typically when general chaos ensues. For my daughter, moments of overstimulation were the #1 reason she hit. By ensuring she had naps, snacks, and time alone to recuperate from that chaos was the best way for us to prevent hitting from occurring in the first place.

My big reactions were ZERO help.

As mentioned in #3, frustration and attention-seeking were also big factors in her hitting rampages. I quickly realized that if I had a big reaction to her hitting me, I was making the situation worse. When she was hitting out of frustration, the best thing I could do for her was to remain calm, model composure, and empathize with her feelings. She is still learning how to control and cope with these big feelings, so teaching her alternative ways to handle her frustration was key. When she was hitting for the purposes of getting attention, my big reactions only enticed her to continue the behavior. This was the HARDEST lesson of all for me to learn (and I still sometimes struggle with it). But it’s helpful to remember that I am the calm to her storm. 

This too shall pass.

Like any phase of toddlerhood, the hitting phase won’t last forever. If you are taking steps to address the issue, recognizing and avoiding triggers, and, most of all, loving the heck out of your kid, they (and you!) will get through this. Hang in there!

For tips on what to say and do when the dreaded hitting phase hits your household, check out this blog from Big Little Feelings (also– follow them on social media, they are fantastic!)