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What to Do if Your Kids Hit

Knowing why it’s happening is half the battle.

By
Cherylyn Feierabend
Episode #130

What to Do if Your Kids Hit

Hey there! You’re listening to the Mighty Mommy with some Quick and Dirty Tips for Practical Parenting.

Recently a few of you have written in to request some help regarding children who are using their hands and fists to communicate. In the case of Kaz, her son is biting, kicking, and hitting her. In Julie’s case, her son is hitting his brother. Unfortunately, hitting appears to be a universal language among many children and sometimes even adults. That doesn’t, however, make it right or acceptable. In this episode I’ll be sharing some tips to help you encourage your children to use other means of communication to get their points across.

Why Do Kids Hit?

Whether children are hitting other children, adults, or their own parents, there are generally only a few reasons why kids hit:

  • They’ve witnessed hitting and they are mimicking behavior.

  • They are frustrated and are responding physically because they don’t know how to verbalize their feelings.

  • They are angry and want to hurt someone who has upset them.

  • They want attention.

Kids will see violence in their lifetime. It’s just a fact. We can’t shelter them so much so that they never ever see someone hitting someone else. Not only does it happen on TV and in the movies, but they may see it at school if a fight breaks out, or they simply may have friends or siblings who roughhouse. When your children witness one of these events, it is a great time for you to have a conversation with them about hitting. Advise your children that hitting can hurt another person. Let them know that you don’t approve of that type of behavior and that they can-- and should--play with their friends or siblings without hurting them.

What Should You Do When Your Kids Hit?

When your children are lashing out at you or others because of frustration or anger, it’s important to step in right away and stop the behavior. I recommend tending to the child who received the blows first. Make sure he isn’t injured and provide any necessary comfort. Then you will want to talk with your child. Treat hitting just as you would any other bad behavior. Be firm and consistent with your child. Let him know that you recognize his frustration, but he’ll need to take a break or have a time-out to calm down before you can address the issue. Once your child is able to focus and listen, make sure you are at eye level and let him know that his behavior was not acceptable. Ask him why he chose to hit instead of using his words, and attempt to find out what has upset him. You can also ask him how he could have better handled the situation and give him some suggestions on how he can handle himself better in the future.

What to Do if a Child Hits for Attention

If a child is hitting for attention, the person he is usually hitting is a parent, older sibling, or other type of caregiver. In cases such as this, the person being hit needs to be firm and consistent. If you are the person being hit you need to immediately tell the aggressive child, “no hitting,” place him in a time-out, and remove yourself from the child’s reach. If possible, walk away and go into a different room. If that isn’t possible, at least position yourself away from the child and avoid eye contact. Sometimes when my son is being overly-aggressive with me I put him in what I refer to as a “Mommy-time-out” where he knows that Mommy is not going to play with or cuddle with him for a certain amount of time. I’ll let him know that he’s going into “Mommy-time-out” because his actions are making me feel sad or hurt. Once his time-out has expired I will ask him why he was in time-out and ensure that he is aware of his actions. If he wants Mommy’s attention, he’ll need to use more positive methods to get it. Keep in mind that children who are seeking negative attention often do so because they aren’t receiving the positive attention they are craving. If you notice your child is acting out in this way more often, make sure you are doing all you can to prevent negative-attention-seeking by acknowledging and praising good behavior often and excitedly. We all go through difficult times and it could be that your child needs a little extra encouragement now and then. If you see your child doing something good, be sure to let him know and be generous with the “I love yous” and the hugs.

Be a Good Role Model

Finally, as always, you are the role model for your child. If you hit or spank your children out of frustration or anger, they are going to be much more likely to mimic your behavior above and beyond anyone else’s. If they see this as a normal behavior-- to hit someone when they’ve upset you-- they will almost always repeat the behavior. Remember to communicate through words, and if you are angry or frustrated to the point that you want to hit someone, walk away and ask for help. We’d all like to think we never feel this way, but as I’ve said before, we are only human.

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Fighting Children image from Shutterstock

About the Author

Cherylyn Feierabend
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