3 Year old hits you and laughs

What to do when your 3 year old hits you and laughs?

Crack! Her hand hits you square in the jaw. It shouldn’t hurt, I mean she’s only a small child, but it does. What hurts more is the thought that she did it on purpose. You look at her for some kind of acknowledgement of remorse, but there isn’t any. Then a smile creeps across her face and then that smile breaks into a laugh.

Ask any 3 year old parent, this is not uncommon. It can be very confusing and hurtful. Didn’t you bring them up to know better? Surely I had told her plenty of times that hitting was wrong, I’d hoped she’d have learnt by now? Is there something wrong with my 3 year old that makes her violent? I’m here to help you understand her behaviour. I’ve done the research for you and let me make this clear now. You are not a bad parent and they are not a bad child. They are not taking some kind of evil pleasure through hitting. So why does my 3 year old hit me and laugh?

3 year olds may hit you and laugh because they are experimenting and exploring their world and don’t have a strong sense of understanding right and wrong. At this time it is crucial to help them learn it. Your 3 year old may feel intense emotions and lash out as they are yet to fully understand pain from another perspective. Laughing is actually closely related to the emotion of fear, so by laughing your 3 year old is trying to get rid of the tense emotional feelings caused by the situation.

If your 3 year old has just hit you and you are feeling confused about how to deal with it, then you are in the right place. I have done the research and found that what you do next after they hit you is crucial to nipping this unwanted behaviour in the bud and if your immediate response is harshness and aggression in return then we need to change that now, for the sake of both your future happiness. Read on to find out how.


“Children need love, especially when they don’t deserve it” – Harold Hulburt

I will now run through exactly what you should do if your 3 year old hits you and laughs. I have spent hours on research and compiled this list with thorough explanations so that you can’t possibly go wrong.

  1. Keep calm: Firstly and most importantly you need to control your own emotions and keep calm. If you give your child the impression that your angry or scared then they will pick up on these strong emotions and they may be confused about their cause, further imprinting on their minds that hitting is something they need to explore more.
  1. Stay close and block: With your new calm approach, you should stay close to your 3 year old if you aren’t already and get ready to block their arms when they try to hit you or somebody else. You may even want to hold their arm gently if they try to hit repeatedly. You should do all this in a soft and gentle manner. While doing this you should tell them calmly that this is not how we act towards others. Don’t let any frustration creep into your voice and remember we are not telling them off. We are guiding their interactions with other people and letting them know that they have hit a hard boundary for their hitting experiment.
  1. Get ready for the tantrum: After the previous stage as we are gently blocking or even holding them and gently telling them that their actions aren’t welcome we need to prepare for the upcoming tantrum. It was pretty much inevitable with a 3 year old that this was going to lead to a tantrum, but don’t worry, we are prepared. This is good, it’s the release of all this tension and fear. 3 year olds don’t yet have the equipment to filter out these kinds of outbursts. Their brains are far from having the social skills to stop and think about it all rationally.  Just stay close, hug them and keep them safe. It will pass, after a lot of cries and tears and throwing themselves around.
  1. Time to calm the situation: This is the time for you to step in and calm the situation down. You should use soothing and calming words of encouragement. This is not the time to hold a grudge or stay mad at them. Reassure them by saying that everything will be ok and that they will go back to whatever fun activity they were doing previously. It was just a little blip and their day will carry on being a good one. Listen to them and answer their questions in a calm and positive manner. Their tantrums should now subside.

Congratulations! You just handled an extremely difficult situation that most parents really struggle with at first. I know its hard for me to keep calm but when you see the results it has on them, it becomes much easier.

Tears of confusion


It’s one of the first thoughts that popped into my head, “is this normal?”. Should my 3 year old really be hitting out like this. They are so aggressive. Where is the good little kid under all this anger?

Always remember, this is a completely normal part of growing up and developing as a person. It’s a sign that your child is experimenting with social boundaries.

When you have a child you are full of expectations, which they then trample all over. The fact is, if we had perfect memories from the day we were born, then we would recognize ourselves in their actions and realise that we grew out of that phase too.

Look, I know how hard it is to persevere with these tough emotional battles with your little 3 year old but always remember that your putting in the incredibly hard groundwork for them to become beautiful, socially balanced adults. Liked and loved by their family and friends. 3 year olds are learning all the time, whether you’re teaching them or not. They are soaking in information constantly from the world around them. The big emotional battles are to be had now, not later, when It will be much harder to undo what they have already learnt. You are giving them a chance to be amazing, kind and thoughtful adults.

I work in mental health, I see the issues that young people come to us for help with. It all starts young. 3 year olds are already developing into the adults they will become. The importance of proper guidance in our early years always reminds me of this quote:

“Give me a child until he is 7 and I will show you the man” – Aristotle.

Hopefully Playing nicely.


Attacks on you are one thing, but hitting other children or adults puts you in an awkward situation. Don’t worry though. I am here to help you and your 3 year old through this stage with what I have found out.

  • 3 year olds need supervision whilst playing together: A lovely play session can soon turn into a nightmare if children of 3 aren’t supervised. Kids can be little angels most of the time but when their devilish side comes out, as uncommon as that may be, we need to be there to guide them in the right direction.
  • Saying sorry probably won’t work: Unfortunately at 3 years old, your child may not be able to fully understand the meaning behind the word sorry. Even if they can repeat it parrot fashion, they are likely to also repeat the hitting that lead to it. It much better to help them acknowledge what happened and how it lead up to that point. For example you could say, “You hit John and that hurt John. You hit him because you didn’t want to share with John. Next time, if John asks you to share your toy then you will because you are a good boy”.
  • Make it known to the other parents: Correcting your 3 year old should be done in front of the other parents around you. Don’t try and do it secretively, I know it feels embarrassing when your child acts out, but don’t let it be. It’s perfectly normal. Projecting your voice a little louder lets the other parents know you have dealt with the situation and made sure your little one has learnt their lesson at the same time.
  • Should I punish my 3 year old?: No, it seems like a good thing to do to make an example of the situation. Maybe in a few more years an appropriate punishment might be a good idea. At 3 years old your child’s memory isn’t very well developed. It’s far better to deal with the situation at the time with proper guidance.


I hope this guide has helped demystify a difficult situation for you and your 3 year old. I know doing the research did for me. I found an excellent resource for you to take a look at, it’s a look at a full run through of a similar situation in the very informative Psychology Today. It takes you through the whole process that we just discussed. Take a look here.