What to Do When Your 3 Year Old Hits You and Laughs?

What to do when Your 3 Year Old Hits you and Laughs

Toddlers hitting you and others at home, in public, and at daycare can be a distressing problem. You need to help them stop, now.

Jump straight to How to Stop Your Toddler Hitting – 4 Simple Steps.

Jump straight to Help! My Toddler Hits Other Children.

Crack! Her hand hit me square in the jaw. It shouldn’t hurt, I mean she’s only a small child, but it did. But what hurts more is the thought that she did it on purpose.

You look at her for some kind of acknowledgment of remorse, but there isn’t any. Then a smile creeps across her face, then the smile breaks into a laugh. What kind of child did I raise?

This type of behavior in 3 year olds is surprisingly common. Although, 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 learned by now? Is there something wrong with my 3 year old that makes her violent?

Let’s make this clear. You are not a bad parent and they are not a bad child. They are not some kind of anti-social psychopath in the making. But if that is true, why does my 3 year old hit me and laugh?

3 year olds may hit you and laugh because they are experimenting with and exploring their world. They don’t fully understand right and wrong. It is crucial that you help them learn it. Your 3 year old may feel intense emotions and lash out as they are yet to develop full control of their emotions and fully understand pain from another person’s perspective. But why the laughter then? Laughing is 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. If your immediate response is a harsh word and aggression. Then we need to change that right now, for the sake of both you and your toddler. The future relationship between you both depends on it.


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

– Harold S. Hulburt. American psychiatrist.

1. CALM – Keep in the right frame of mind:

STOP!, take a deep breath. Remember that your toddler is young and developing their emotional skills, and right now what they need are guidance and love. I know how hard it is not to feel the need to get upset, rush in, and feel massive frustration. Now you are in the right frame of mind to tackle the situation and in control of your own emotions.

Being angry or frustrated, your toddler will pick up on these strong emotions. They might be confused about why? This attracts them more towards the behavior. Further imprinting on their minds that hitting is something they need to explore and understand.

2. PROTECT – Stop them doing harm:

With your new calm approach, stay close to your toddler. Get ready to gently 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 can tell them calmly, “this is not how we act towards others”. You don’t need to repeat it multiple times. 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 boundary of behavior for their hitting experiment and now it has to stop.

3. THE TANTRUM – Weather the storm:

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 is pretty much inevitable that with a 2 / 3 year old that this behavior is going to lead to a tantrum, but don’t worry, we are prepared. In a way it’s good, it’s the release of all built-up tension and fear.

Toddlers don’t yet have the mental 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.

If you want more advice on How to deal with tantrums effectively, read my helpful article on the subject.

4. SOOTHE – Like only you know how:

This is the crucial time for you to step in and calm the situation down. Whereas before we didn’t want to give your toddler positive attention like soothing which would mistakenly reward hitting behavior.

When your toddler is calming down, now is the time to use soothing words of encouragement. This isn’t 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.

Let them know, It was just a little blip and their day will carry on being a good one. Listen to what they have to say and answer their questions in a calm and positive manner.

Then you can go back to your fun day together. With your toddler learning/reinforcing a new boundary and practicing their emotional regulation and without feeling guilty that you lost your temper.


You just handled an extremely difficult situation that most parents really struggle with at first. I know its hard for me to keep calm on your first try if you are used to getting frustrated, but when you see the results in your toddler’s behavior, it becomes much easier.

Just remember, they aren’t going to be perfect after a single try. It WILL take multiple times maybe even weeks of reinforcing those boundaries to see results. But they will come, and you will be positively impacting their future success as adults.

Hands Are Not For Hitting

by Martine Agassi Ph.D.

I found this book really useful in getting the message across to my toddlers. It was recommended to me by other parents and I am so thankful!


That awkward moment, at the playgroup, you can see your child getting frustrated and upset. Another child won’t give a toy up that they want. You see them raise their hand, you’re on your way over, but you’re too far away to stop it happening. Your child hits another.

Then the tears and crying start and embarrassment follows. I mean we, as parents, should all be grown up about this. Toddlers are going to lash out and hit each other occasionally as they learn how to interact socially and manage their emotions. It’s about how you deal with hitting after it has happened that really matters.

But I can feel the disapproving stares from the other parents. Don’t be too hard on yourself, your child will have difficult to manage behavior, no matter how well they are raised.

You can learn how to handle your toddler hitting another and try to stop it from happening in the future.



A lovely play session can soon turn into a nightmare if toddlers aren’t supervised by an adult. Toddlers can be little angels most of the time but we all know they have a little devilish side that sometimes makes an appearance.

At 3 years old, they are just too young to be left alone to “play nicely” with others. Maybe they can play together with other children for a while. But eventually, there will be an argument, and that will lead to a push, grab or hit. Then come the tears.

A responsible adult needs to be around when toddlers are playing. You need to listen out for conflicts or behavior problems and be there for guidance. You don’t want to swoop in on every little disagreement that toddlers might have, but you do need to be there to help guide them back on the right path if you feel like disagreement is heading for a fight.

Try helping both toddlers talk through their problems. Encourage them to come up with solutions or suggest ways to them that they can resolve their differences without fighting or crying.

For example, if one toddler has a toy that another one wants. You can suggest that the toddler can ask if they can play with the toy after they are finished. Then tell the toyless toddler that you will help them wait or find a new toy until the original toy is free. You will be surprised how grown up and responsible toddlers can be if you give them the chance and help guide them.


Toddlers at 2 / 3 years old won’t be able to fully understand the meaning behind the word sorry. Even if they can repeat it parrot fashion. They are likely to repeat hitting behavior, which can be very frustrating to parents like me and you.

A more effective method is to help them acknowledge what happened and how everything lead up to that point where they felt the need to hit someone.

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 and you want to, then share. Because you are a good boy. If you want more time with your toy then give it to John when you are finished”.

That example has more meaning to a toddler than simply saying “sorry”. Thye can begin to work out their own feelings and recognize what got them into that situation and how they can avoid it in the future.

Saying sorry is an important skill to learn, but it should be backed up with an explanation that toddlers can understand if you don’t want them to repeat the same mistakes in the future.


Correcting your toddler 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 in a fair manner and made sure that if your toddler has hit out that they have been taught their lesson and encouraged to act differently next time.

Be the shining example for other parents on how to deal with the situation. Don’t try to hide it and tell your toddler off secretly. Everyone probably saw what happened anyway. So you might as well deal with it head on, in a grown up, confident, and caring manner.


No, at first glance, it seems like a good thing to do. To make an example of the situation. But your toddler hasn’t yet developed enough to really understand punishments. You could always use a time-out appropriate to their age if you really felt that it was deserved. But I would encourage you to stop the unwanted behavior, explain what went wrong and provide guidance to stop it happening in the future. Your toddler will learn more from help and guidance than punishment.

Maybe in a few more years an appropriate punishment might be a good idea. At 3 years old your child’s memory and thought processes aren’t well developed. It’s far better to deal with the situation at the time with proper guidance.

Tears of a confused toddler in need of love and guidance. Not a punishment.


It’s one of the first thoughts that popped into my head, “Is this normal?”. Should my 3 year old toddler really be hitting out like this? They can be so aggressive sometimes! Where is the good little kid under all this anger? If you have ever thought like this, don’t worry. You are not alone.

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 could remember everything from the day we were born, then we would recognize ourselves in our toddler’s actions and realize that we grew out of that phase too.

I know how hard it is to persevere with these tough emotional battles with your little 3 year old. But through these tough times, always remember that you are putting in the incredibly hard groundwork for them to become beautiful, socially balanced, and happy adults. Liked and loved by their family and friends.

2 / 3 year old toddlers are learning all the time, whether you’re teaching them or not. They are soaking up information constantly from the world around them.

These big emotional battles, over things like hitting, should be had right now. Not later, when It will be much harder to undo what they have already learned. You are setting up their future success in life and giving them a chance to be amazing, kind and thoughtful adults. Well done you!

I work in mental health, I see the issues that young people come to us for help with. It all starts young. At 3 years old, these toddlers of ours 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. Greek Philosopher.
Learning positive social skills now will help your toddler become successful in life.


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 step by step in a real example. Take a look at it here. I found it very helpful.