When a child hits you or someone else, you can feel frustrated or embarrassed. It may be hard to keep your own feelings in check. For some parents or teachers, it can feel like they’ve somehow failed.
It’s important to understand that at some point, every child will hit. Knowing what causes this behavior and how to stop it from happening will help.
What Causes Children to Hit?
Children may hit another person for several different reasons:
- Feelings – One of the biggest reasons a child may hit someone else is because they are unable to manage their own feelings. They find it difficult to express those feelings in a socially acceptable way. Understanding emotions and how they are feeling is a big part of a child’s development. This is a skill that a child will start to learn over time.
- Impulse control – Without impulse control, it makes it almost impossible for a child to control how they react when something makes them feel upset or frustrated. As an adult, you understand how difficult it can be to control your own impulses when you’re faced with a less-than-desirable situation. Now imagine how difficult it can be for a child to figure out impulse control at such a young age. Again, it’s a skill that they will learn over time.
- Language – When a child doesn’t have the words to express how they are feeling, they will express their emotions in another way – in this case, by hitting. If a child is quite young or their vocabulary isn’t as developed, not having the words they need creates its own problem and they will likely resort to what feels easiest at the time.
- Consequences – As a child gets older and they’re faced with different situations, they will begin to learn that their actions have consequences. Without this understanding, a younger child especially will hit someone else not fully comprehending how that makes the other person feel.
- Manipulation – Think about how difficult it can be to be a child that doesn’t always have choices. The urge to get their own way can easily overpower them, and they will use hitting to manipulate someone else in order to get it. They will use aggression to get someone else to change their mind or allow them to do something.
How to Get a Child to Stop Hitting: 7 Tips
So where do you start when it comes to getting your child to stop hitting? It comes down to a combination of teaching and discipline. These 7 tips can help.
1. Teaching skills that matter
Without having skills to manage their anger, simply telling a child to “quit hitting” will have no impact. Anger management skills are learned. A parent or teacher is a great role model.
It starts with understanding their feelings – not only anger, but sadness and frustration as well. When they hit someone else, sit down and talk with them about how they were feeling when it happened. Once they are able to clearly understand their emotions, you’re able to help them find ways to cope with their anger and other feelings as well.
Help them find ways to deal with their anger. Taking deep breaths, listening to music, drawing a picture, reading a book, or finding a spot to sit alone are all great tools to manage their feelings.
2. Establishing clear rules
Before you create a list of rules, help them to understand the concept of respect. Let them know that they should not only respect others, but that they deserve respect as well.
First and foremost, make sure they understand that no type of physical aggression should be tolerated. That includes biting, kicking, pushing, and hitting. It’s easy for rules to feel like their own punishment, so try and keep things positive as much as possible. For example, instead of saying “no pushing”, say “keep your hands to yourself”. From these rules will come consequences.
3. Create consequences – Once a child knows the rules, it’s time to explain and enforce the consequences of breaking them. Having consequences is a great deterrent that will keep them from hitting again. These three basic consequences are a great place to start:
- Losing privileges – Taking away a privilege can be very effective. The age of the child will help you determine the appropriate privilege to take away. This may mean that they are unable to play with a favorite toy, screen time is reduced or eliminated altogether, or they aren’t able to participate in a favorite activity. Make sure that you keep the time to less than 24 hours, depending on the age of the child and how serious the situation was.
- Having a time out – Time outs come back to regulating a child’s emotions. It is a simple way to separate them from the situation they are reacting to and allow them time to cool off. When their time out is over, be sure to talk with them about how they reacted and let them know that hitting is not an appropriate response.
- Making amends – Once they are calm, encourage them to make amends. For younger children and older children as well, a verbal apology can be difficult. Help them to use their words to say they’re sorry. Actions can also heal a situation – a handmade picture or another act of kindness works well too.
4. Avoid certain punishments
Physical punishment sends the wrong message at any time, but especially when the action you are punishing is physical. It can in fact increase their aggression. Modeling and teaching self-control will help a child deal with those negative emotions without being physical.
5. Focus on the positive
Try to make learning a positive experience whenever possible. When a child makes a good choice other than hitting, reward them with praise. You can also help them keep track of their good choices with a reward system such as a sticker chart.
6. Think about yourself
Ask yourself, “Am I handling myself in the way I want them to handle themself when faced with a difficult situation?” A calm voice and gentle words can go a long way. Understandably, it can be hard to react the way we want to every time. However, our negative emotions and behavior can be a trigger for children.
7. Ask for help
A child’s pediatrician can help when you find yourself unable to handle the situation on your own. They will ask questions and evaluate them to determine the next best steps.
Remember, how you respond to a child matters more than anything else. It can be difficult to find the patience you need. Just know that you’re their best teacher. Over time, they will gain the mental and emotional tools they need to manage their feelings and their behavior.
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