How can I stop my child from hitting?
Having opened a childcare center over seven years ago, I have plenty of experience handling challenging behaviors, such as hitting, on a daily basis. Hitting is, after all, one of the behaviors I've learned to describe as one of the less socially acceptable normal behaviors of early childhood.
When focusing on toddlers and preschoolers who hit, I always start by pointing out that not hitting takes quite a bit of impulse control. And impulse control is not a skill that most young children start to master on any sort of consistent basis until closer to kindergarten. In fact, hitting represents just one of many common impulsive behaviors of early childhood, along with such other not-so-charming behaviors as biting, screeching, throwing, and laying down on the floor and throwing a tantrum. As I mentioned, these are all actually considered normal behaviors of early childhood. That's not to say that they're acceptable, but rather predictable.
Very concrete steps you can take include taking away whatever it is that caused your child to hit (if, for example, he was hitting because he wanted a toy) so that he is not rewarded for his behavior. Firmly tell your child (repeatedly, as necessary) "no hitting" and, for kids who are verbal, "use your words!" This helps children learn that the consequences associated with hitting are not desirable.
Other things to take into account that can cause children to have outbursts of impulsive behavior can include being overly tired, being provoked, and/or seeking attention. That's why it's also always a good idea to pay attention to the circumstances and focus on correcting any inciting factors such as separating two squabbling children, removing a toy, or simply insuring children get enough sleep.
And finally, realize that some children are simply more impulsive and/or physically aggressive than others. Having an impulsive child in and of itself does not reflect on you as a parent. Rather, it's how you understandingly, consistently, yet decisively teach your child to express himself in much more socially acceptable ways that will reflect your true parenting impact.