MY CHILD IS HITTING

It is important for kids to express their feelings, at the same time they need to learn that they don't have the right to hurt someone else. So what do you do?

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Children as early as one may start experimenting with hitting. This is typical behaviour of a toddler, and although it is not desirable, how we respond to their behaviour determines how they learn to respond in future as they grow and develop.

Children use hitting as a means to communicate. All behaviour is communication. Your child either has a need, a feeling or an emotion that they are trying to express.

Let's have a look at your current responses:

1️⃣ Are you teaching your child that it's ok to hurt someone else? Are you teaching them that aggression is an acceptable way to express their feelings? We may do this unintentionally by giving in to our children's requests when they start hitting as a means to get them to stop. Hitting should not be a means of getting what they want. This teaches them that aggression is an acceptable means to get what they want or to express themselves.

2️⃣ Are you spanking your child when they have hit you, a sibling or a friend? Punishing your child by means of spanking reinforces point 1, and is not a model for resolving the deeper underlying issue.

3️⃣ Do any of the below sound familiar to your current responses?

"Stop it! Hit me one more time and I'm taking you to time out!"

"Go to your room and when you've had some time to think about what you've done you can come out."

"Why are you hitting me?" 

If you currently responding in any of the above ways, know that you are not a bad parent. When we know better, we do better. So let's investigate better ways of responding to our children when they act out physically. First, let's look at why your child is hitting.

WHY IS YOUR LITTLE ONE HITTING?

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1️⃣ Little ones hit to communicate. They are conveying a message and aren't able to articulate their thoughts and feelings well. In order to stop the hitting, you have to help your little one find a new way to communicate.

2️⃣ Little ones love to experience using their body in different ways, and it’s incredibly normal and important for children to use movement with their bodies. It’s a matter of helping your child meet the need for experience within your boundaries to stop the hitting.

3️⃣ When children are frustrated, angry or upset, they will have a very high need for power and control. One way to quickly meet that need for power is to hit something. A child can feel very powerful that way. When a child lacks self-control – as all little ones do – they will resort to using their bodies to feel powerful over others and things.

Getting to the root cause:

All children will continue to "communicate" until they feel seen, heard and understood. Here are just a few examples of what you can do if you find your child hitting due to the following reasons:

  • Boredom → Try to make things a little more exciting around the house. Create lots of movement activities. Dance parties are always fun!

  • Frustration, Anger, Upset → Try to repeat back what your child is trying to do or say. Validate what your child is showing you. "You must have been so angry to hit the floor. You are trying to build that toy and you're battling to fit the pieces together. At the same time, I can't let you damage property or yourself" (or another person if they have hit someone).

  • Seeking attention → Try to offer more distraction-free quality time.

  • Tired → Try to implement better bedtime routines. Contact Nanny Knows should you require assistance herewith.

  • Lack of language skills → Teach your child to use baby sign language from a young age, visual routine cards and repeat back what you think your child is trying to say.

  • Experimenting → Sometimes children are just testing boundaries. Make sure you are holding boundaries, are consistent and help your child to find alternatives to meet their underlying need.

HOW DO YOU STOP YOUR CHILD FROM HITTING?

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1️⃣ Tell your child calmly but firmly: "I can see that you're angry, at the same time, we don't hit people. Hands are not for hitting and I can't let you hurt my body/your brother or sister/your friend."

 

Help your child find a healthy way to meet their need:

  • If your child is trying to meet the need through more movement you can help your child find ways to move their body in a way that you are ok with.

  • If your child is working to meet the need for power, you can help your child find things that he or she can control, by setting appropriate limits.

  • If your child is working to meet the need for connection, you can describe what your child is thinking, feeling, doing or saying without questioning, fixing or judging.

 

2️⃣ Bring out kind and loving behaviours:

When you see your child acting in a kind and loving way, praise them and point out the positive behaviour.

For example:

“You shared the toy with your sister. That shows you’re kind.”

Likewise, when the child gets angry or upset and does not hit, it is important to name a STRENGTH:

For example:

“You’re angry AND you didn’t hit. That shows your self-control!”

3️⃣ Be clear that it is not your child's anger that you disapprove of, but rather their way of expressing their anger. Let them know that it's ok to be angry, but that how we manage that anger is important.

A STEP-BY-STEP "IN THE MOMENT" GUIDE

1. Create physical safety. If your child is hurting themselves, or another person, intervene as soon as possible so that nobody gets hurt. Simply separate or remove your child from the situation. 

2. Become Curious. Ask your child: "What happened?"

3. Acknowledge Your Child's Feelings (Say what you see): "You're so angry that your brother smashed your tower that you hit him."

 

4. Validate your Child's Feelings with loving limits: "It's ok to be angry. It's not ok to hit."

5. Teach skills whilst giving your child the opportunity to solve their own problems: "What can you do next time your brother smashes your tower?" It is important to acknowledge any solution your child comes up with. For example, if they say "I could bite my brother next time." You can respond by saying, "Yes, you could do that. What else could you do?"

6. Teach your child how to take ownership: "How can you help your brother to feel better?"

EXAMPLE OF A VISUAL TOOL

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Have a bowl of water balloons ready for when your child has an outburst of anger. Ask them if they need to release their anger in an appropriate manner. Let them throw a water balloon from a higher level (eg. by them standing on a step). Explain to your child that the balloon is like their body, and the water is their anger.

Explain that when the water has broken out of the balloon, that is their anger being released. Sometimes children need a visual reference to emotions that they are feeling, and this can be a good task to visualise an anger outburst in conjunction with effective anger management. Ask your child if they feel better after seeing the anger being released from the balloon. Repeat this until you can see that your child has physically relaxed, before it becomes a game. Commend your child for having handled the situation more effectively, and that you can work together in figuring out how to handle any tough situation. Remind your child that they can handle hard things (to promote growth mindset).

FINDING AN OUTLET

Research has indicated that finding an outlet for a child's anger is contradictory in terms. For example, letting them punch into a punching bag when angry can have long term effects, and a child may begin to view punching (an object or person) as acceptable behaviour.

What can one do instead of encouraging an outlet such as punching a punching bag, or throwing a pillow etc? This EQ Pack includes calming strategies and how to implement them in your home.

Includes:

  • 4 Basic Emotions

  • Emotions Vocabulary: Bringing awareness of emotions

  • What Am I feeling? Figuring out the feeling to decode your child's behaviour

  • 48 Calming Strategies

  • List of ideas to include in the calming basket

  • How To Implement Your Calming Corner At Home

MORE RESOURCES

Related Video: Coaching Kids Through Conflict

Why Kids Hit Younger Siblings, and How To Help Them Stop

What To Do When Your Child Gets Angry: An excellent resource by Dr Laura Markham from Aha Parenting.

Emotional Intelligence: An angry child: Another excellent resource by Dr Laura Markham from Aha Parenting.

Need more help? Contact me for support to guide you in building a loving relationship with your child based on mutual respect.

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