All You Need To Know About Hitting and Pushing In Toddlers

Hitting, pushing, pulling is a part of playdates or almost any area where you put 3 kids together with some toys. It’s one behavior moms screech about, and often this is the behavior that makes us lose our temper the most. Even the smartest know-it-all moms feel lost when it comes to their toddler hitting and pushing another child. 

Here’s a recent incident;

I was at the library at story-time and my 9-month-old daughter had crawled away from me. As we were getting ready to get up and to do crafts at the end. A little boy less than 2 yrs old, came running towards my daughter and flung his leg at her. Thankfully his mom swooped him in her arms before he hit the little girl, and my daughter kept admiring her surroundings unaware of the happenings behind her. But this could have easily been turned into a very uncomfortable moment for a lot of people in the room, and the little young boy could have got the tag of an aggressive child, and God forbid even a tag of a bully.

The Reason Behind Hitting and Pushing

What is the basic reason for this? Why do kids push or hit or display more aggressive behaviors?

They are confused and feel stressed and this is their way to relieve stress. It’s more like an adult saying out loud; “ Wow; I’ve no idea what to do, it’s so frustrating, I wish I could escape this right now”.

Since kids can’t articulate and express such complex feeling and words, they work on their instincts which tells them to push people around to make them go away, in the futile hope of feeling better.

Aggressive behavior in kids is not really bullying; it’s more like testing the waters of the feeling of dominance. It’s our animal instinct expressing itself, it’s seen in animal kingdom all the time. They don’t really need to see one person hitting another person to know that hitting someone feels dominant, they just know it.

Now knowing that hitting someone is wrong and it would hurt the other person’s feelings; comes from empathy which is our human instinct. Although young children are capable of understanding empathy, it’s a little more complex understanding and is often realized after they see the other child getting upset because of their action.

On the other hand, the desire to hit or push is strong, easy and just comes naturally, so they practice dominance more often than controlling the urge to be dominant.

Hitting and Pushing.

What Triggers Hitting and Pushing?

So now that we know that aggression is not a learned behavior, it’s more like an instinctive reaction from a feeling. Although this can become a habitual behavior when adults don’t take appropriate measures for it.

This brings us the other question of what triggers this behavior?

Here are a few common instances:

New playmates

Especially when children who are at different developmental stages are put together, someone is sure to behave confused (aka aggressive). A 2-3-year-old child likes to play with each other, while the 1-2 yr olds like to play parallel. When the younger child does not play “with” the older child but likes to play by themselves the older child gets frustrated and their way to ask the child to play with them is to push them. It’s like saying, “Hey what’s wrong with you? Why wouldn’t you play with me?”

Even children of the same age have different temperament, which might create differences.

A child hitting another child is like; “Well, if you can’t play with me, you can’t play anyway”.

I’m not saying you can let them behave this way, I’m just telling you this is what goes in their mind.

New environment

This one is obvious to make them confused since they don’t know the environment. It’s really important for us to know the environment to trust it. A lot of things make an environment it’s not just playing or toys; its people, it’s toys or lack of it, kind of area, is it someone’s home, an outdoor play setting, public place, etc. An easy fix to this is sharing with them ahead of time what to expect, the more detailed, the less chaos.

Good Schedule for kids

Change in their schedule

Kids like consistency and predictability it’s comforting to them. When we change their schedule abruptly they feel frustrated, and express it by trying to push the change, which is expressed by pushing people around in toddler language.

I see moms often complaining about traveling with a toddler being so hard; change in their schedule is the reason for that. With all the wonderful learning opportunities, traveling brings an obvious change in schedule which is difficult for kids to deal with sometimes.

If you have a fixed schedule which is being interrupted, let them know ahead of time. Talking about it a night before, or in the morning during the breakfast are some good times to let me know what to expect.

Feeling threatened:

This is the major reason for hitting and pushing in playgroups. Kids feel threatened for various reasons which are difficult for adults to accept. Reasons which adults feel trivial are big for kids.

When they have a toy with them it’s theirs, they are working on it. They are learning more about it. At this time when another curious person comes to learn more about what they are working on, they feel interrupted and fear that their progress will be disrupted, they feel threatened. In an attempt to save their work, they try to get rid of that person, by telling them to leave with a push.

Toddler snatching toy from a baby.

We faced this one big time. As my daughter begun crawling, and started disrupting my son’s creations, or going for his favorite toys. He became really upset about it, he clearly felt threatened. Where things were exclusively his own, he now had someone trying to take them away from him. His way of trying to stop this was pushing and hitting.

Attention Seeking:

Sometimes they are curious and want to see what happens when I hit or push this child or adult. And when more attention is given to this behavior by yelling at them, or telling them what to do, or demanding apologies. It feels good to them, yup it does.

Attention is attention is attention to young children. Positive or Negative, both kinds of attention feels like a reward at this age.

I see kids doing this all the time at parties and playdates. When they see mom-dad are busy visiting with friends they push the child next to them and literally wait for the adults rush to them.

It happens in my home quite often, when my son wants me to do drop my chores and come to the play zone, he goes for his younger sister. One time, in a calmer moment I asked him, do you push sister because I come to you? Very shyly he said; “yes..hehehe”.

Okay, these are the major reasons I see why young kids hit or push other kids.

Most of the times hitting and pushing happens because the child exhibiting that behavior is confused, feels threatened, or is emotionally suffering themselves. Click To Tweet

Let me say this again so we get it a little more ingrained in our minds. Most of the times hitting and pushing happens because the child exhibiting that behavior is confused, feels threatened, or is emotionally suffering themselves and this is their way to “push the situation away” in desperation of feeling normal again.

How Can We Stop Them?

So, now that we have understood the reasons and triggers of the hitting and pushing among kids happens. I’m sure you’re getting eager to know what can I do about it.

While a toy being snatched is considered an okay act; hitting and pushing is not. And, it shouldn’t be either. Yes, the child is acting impulsively because they are stressed, don’t know what to do, but there are better ways to express your feelings.

Situations involving hitting and pushing will need adult intervention. And there are only two things that work best in these situations:

Stating your point calmly — that hitting and pushing is unacceptable.

If there is a need, which most of the time there is — stopping them physically from hitting and pushing other the child.

Everyone needs to be clear about the fact that the adult in the vicinity is the leader. This is big. The sooner the kids realize that adults are the leaders of their herd, the more comfortable they feel and function within acceptable limits.

Now when I say adults are the leaders, by no way do I mean you need to be a loud, interrupting, strict, time-out giving parent. You know the classic difference between the leader and the boss? The leader leads by doing the right thing themselves. While a boss, just asks you to do the right thing without being accountable for their own actions.

In the context of this topic; an adult leader would be calm themselves while stating what needs to stop since they want to bring out the calm in the kids. On the other hand, a boss would yell at a child to be calm.

Being calm is extremely important, and the reason is simple; they are hitting and pushing because they are feeling anxious which is a negative feeling when we combat this anxiousness with loud “NO’s”, they become more stressed and the hitting and pushing escalate. Negative and negative does not equal to positive, when it comes to emotions

They are learning the difference between right and wrong. We need to tell them this difference, but we must be calm, straight-forward and explicit in our instructions.

The best way to discourage display of dominance in kids is to stop the child physically from hurting someone else. Or if it’s after the deed is done; the adult should come down to their level and tell them that their action was inappropriate, and it should not be repeated.

What Not to Do?

Before you think that the best solution to this, is to leave the place since your child is feeling uncomfortable. I’m gonna tell you it’s not a solution. We all feel anxious and nervous about new things or when we don’t get things done in our way, we don’t just drop all the plans when we get anxious. We take a breather and remind ourselves of the positives in the situation and push through. Our kids also learn this procedure in due time, when they go through enough of the anxious moments.

Stop Kids FIghting

Kids are smart they will often exhibit the unacceptable behavior when the adults are not around  (happens all the time in our house). All we should do is remind them what they did is wrong, if you talk elaborately about it, they are going to enjoy the attention. Rather give the attention to the child who’s hurt before you give the attention to the child who hurt the other child. Like I said above children often do this to gain attention, so it’s important that we don’t fuel the attention; positive or negative.

There is no need to give them a reason, everyone finds their own reasons to do the right things, including kids. When we try to explain the reason to kids in the heat of the moment, we confuse them even more. The right time to give them the reason to do something is at the calm positive bonding time.

We usually do a little snippet or wrap up of what we did during the day before nap or before going to bed. This is a perfect time for me to have a calm talk about what went wrong, and why was it important to set it right or submit my apologies for not behaving appropriately in a situation if that was the case.

A toddler pushing boundaries is them doing their job right, and a parent calmly staying put on their boundaries is them doing their job right. Click To Tweet

All we need to do is give kids boundaries. Kids are going to test and even break these boundaries; that’s their job but it’s our job to remind them of these. Let me also break this to you, testing limits is not just a toddler’s job; I have dealt with kids as old as 10 yrs old who test boundaries at the blink of an eye. So, there is no need to be afraid of your child, they’ll test the waters always; it’s their job.

This is a long battle especially if the habit is formed. It’s not exclusive to one kind of child either; they all go through this sometime or the other. Since the reasons why they do this are universal.

The topmost reason why little kids develop this hitting and pushing into a habit is that they are trying to convey their feelings of not feeling good about something and the adults are not able to understand.

Like I always say; observe your child to listen to them; it’s the key solution to a lot of problems!

If hitting and pushing are triggered in your child by another reason, comment about them in the section below, I’d love to talk more about them.