How to talk to my toddler to get her to understand?

Right now my struggle is my 3 yr old daughter. She's hitting and yelling at her friends or teachers at daycare. I have tried everything and I don't know what to do.
Asked by Catey

Dear Catey,

I am so glad that you are reaching out for support and help with your daughter.  When we don't know how to handle something in life, it is important but also humbling to ask for help. And this is a great place to land with questions about parenting.  

It seems like you are frustrated with your daughter's actions and have also tried everything you know to help her to stop hurting others with hitting and yelling. I can understand how you want to help her and do what is wise to guide her to a different action.  

If we were sitting together, we would chat about what you have done to help her with this action and we would dialogue about how you are feeling towards your daughter as well.  Because I am just answering your question, we miss out on that opportunity for you to explain more about what has helped, even for a little bit of time, as well as what your emotional state is like in this reality with your daughter.  Those are important factors in moving towards a solution for your daughter.  

So, because we're conversing in this kind of format, know that I am going to be writing things that you may already know and hopefully will also give you some guidance that you don't know so that things can shift and change.  

I also encourage you to keep working closely with the daycare facility to help your daughter in that setting.  Have you asked them what they recommend as a change agent for her in that environment?  

Let's chat about what your daughter needs to change.  

Because your daughter is three, it will not work to talk with her about her behavior and then expect change.  Three year olds, can not change just because we talk to them about their behavior.  She will need to have some behavior changes in her life in order for her to know in action, that she needs to change.  We will talk about what that means.  

Of course, you can still talk with your daughter about her actions and how they have affected others and ways she has hurt others.  And we can never expect a three year old to change because we tell them that they need to change.  

When a child is acting out, we get to help them learn how to respond to life by how we then respond to them.  What is the daycare facility doing in response to her hitting and yelling at the other kids and the teachers?  Their response is going to be a very important part of the equation.  Three year olds learn the best when the reactions to negative behaviors happen right away.  So when she is hitting, what are they doing in response to her hitting?  If they are doing nothing, that is telling your daughter that it is OK to continue with that behavior.  If they are saying don't do that and there is no other change, again, that is going to communicate with your daughter that it is OK to do that action.  Three year olds learn best by having a reaction in the moment after a bad decision, such as yelling or hitting.  This would look like, the teacher noticing her hitting another kid and then saying, "Sweetie, you have to go inside because you can't be outside when you hit friends."  And then taking her inside while everyone else is outside.  This could also look like, "Honey, because you hit your friend, you have to stop playing right now and have some time sitting on this bean bag chair."  
The immediate reaction to the hitting or yelling will teach your daughter that that action is not appropriate.  

I also wonder, what do you do when you are at home with your daughter and she is yelling at you or anyone else in the family?  If yelling and or hitting is something your daughter is seeing by you or anyone else in the home, without negative consequences, she will see and believe that that behavior is appropriate for other people and other settings.  

It is important that any kind of yelling or hitting be addressed at home. If your daughter is yelling at home, stop what you are doing, go to your daughter's level and then say with strength and kindness, "Honey you can't yell at the dog.  Now you have to sit on the stairs for three minutes."  Or "Sweetie, you can't hit your brother.  Now you have to be done with your snack for three minutes."  This reaction on your part or the part of any of the other care givers in the home, is important for your daugther to know, in the moment, that she can not do those behaviors.  

It is VERY important that that response is happening consistently when your daughter is yelling and hitting.  If she is given a consequence for only half or even two thirds of the times of yelling or hitting, she will learn that she can still get away with it.  If we want a child's behavior to go away, we have to be diligent to address it every time it is happening.  This may disrupt the family, because you might have to stop a grocery trip, or you may have to stop dinner or a movie, in order to give consequences AND there is a very positive long term gain for the short term pain of follow through. 

If you want some good resources for parenting, I would recommend several very good resources that will help with this as well as many other issues with parenting.

Good Inside by Dr Becky Kennedy. Dr Becky also has a parenting website that you can learn from as well.

How to Have a New Kid by Friday By Kevin Leman This is a Christian resource within the parent realm, if that is something you would like. 

I wish you the best of luck!