Parenting a child that hits can be difficult. Socialization is an important developmental step for young children, having a child that hits adds additional challenges. Although frustrating, saddening and sometimes embarrassing, hitting behavior is a common issue for many young children. If your child is hitting, don’t despair. Luckily, there are proven and effective ways to help them stop.
Why Is My Child Displaying Hitting Behavior?
Oftentimes, hitting is perceived as an aggressive or “mean” behavior. In reality, most experts agree hitting is fear-based. Psychology Today tells us most children develop aggressive behaviors, like hitting, as a way to manage fear. This fear can stem from any number of rational or irrational feelings. You don’t necessarily have to know the cause of your child’s fear to help them work through it.
Hitting is also a coping mechanism for stress. You may think, “What stress, they’re only a kid?” Kids Health tells us small children may process stress – whether over things like losing a toy or being placed in a new environment — differently than adults, but it’s just as real to them as it is for us. Although hitting is socially unacceptable, it’s a common response to stress — similar to crying or having a tantrum.
What Are Triggers?
If your child develops a pattern of hitting it’s important to address the behavior quickly. Most children give cues before lashing out. Identifying patterns around hitting will make it easier to help your child better deal with triggers.
Here are some to keep on radars:
- Are they overtired or over-stimulated?
- Does the hitting occur around a toy?
- Is hitting spurred around a certain friend or sibling?
- Does your child become verbally aggressive before they become physically aggressive?
What Should You Do?
Work with your child to help them feel safe and secure. Teach them new and better coping mechanisms for dealing with stress. Be patient with your child and yourself. This process will take time, but with consistency and perseverance, you’ll get there.
Here are some ideas to help you through real-life situations:
Set aside one-on-one time. Schedule five to 10 minutes each day where you and your child can sit quietly, without distractions. Let them lead the conversation and/or activity. This daily ritual builds a sense of security, in turn reducing their fears.
Play Listening. This involves engaging in play, perhaps a game, with your child and their friends. Having you share in the activity will help your child feel safe and secure while engaging with their peers.
Remove them from the environment that triggered the behavior. This allows them to regain their composure and “reset.”
Talk to them about it after they’ve calmed down. Positive Discipline says this approach doesn’t give too much attention to an already exasperated situation and allows the child to talk through their feelings. Discuss better ways to deal with those feelings in the future.
Discuss consequences and have them apologize. Remind them hitting hurts others. Once they’re calm, help them apologize to the child they hit.
Give them tools. You can teach your child to take deep breaths, count to 10 or even leave the room when they start to feel overwhelmed.
Remain calm. As a parent, it’s incredibly stressful dealing with these situations. Keeping your cool is crucial. You’re letting your child know that although you don’t approve of their behavior, you love them. Through this approach, you’re modeling self-control and self-management.
Don’t opt out of playdates. We all want to avoid uncomfortable situations, but it’s important not to limit your child’s interaction with other kids. Playdates are an opportunity for you and your child to practice your newfound skills.
Hitting is frustrating for both parents and children alike. Patience is key. Know that with attention, consistency and love, both you and your child will make it through this difficult developmental period.