Challenging Behaviours: Hitting

My child is hitting other children. What can I do?

Children often hit to cope. They may be overwhelmed with a situation or trying to meet their needs. Understanding why this behaviour is happening will help you figure out what you can do about it.

Some common reasons why young children hit others include:

  • They do not have the language skills to express their feelings, frustration, anger, joy, or excitement.
  • They are overwhelmed with their surroundings, loud noises, and lights.
  • They want to see what will happen if they hit; they are learning.
  • They are overtired.

Put some thought into what is happening when your child hits other children. Ask yourself:

  • What time of day was it?
  • Who was there?
  • What was your child doing?
  • What were others doing? Who was caring for your child?
  • Was your child very tired?

You may be able to find the cause and act to prevent it in the future.

Hands Are Not For Hitting

Check out the book “Hands are Not for Hitting” by Martine Agassi,
available at NL Public Libraries!

Why is it happening? (click to expand) »

Any time your child is aggressive, they are communicating. Infants and toddlers do not have the brain maturity to express their needs through language. They do not yet understand social behaviours such as sharing, waiting, and taking turns.  Learn what you can about child development and your child’s characteristics. Knowing what to expect at each stage will help you deal more effectively with your child’s behaviours.

Your child’s temperament impacts how they react toward others and their environment.

What can I do about it? (click to expand) »

“Some people say I should hit my child to show them how it feels.”

You may be tempted to yell or use physical punishment. However, when parents use physical force, they send a message to their children that hitting is okay. Studies have proven that when children are exposed to physical punishment, they are at risk of violent behaviours throughout their life.

Your child needs you to teach them how to behave and express their needs without using physical force. 

Try the following:

  • Respond quickly and calmly.
  • Say “no” to your child, firmly but gently.
  • Turn your attention to the child who is hurt. Show concern for this child. Paying attention to the child that is hurt (which is necessary) shows your child that aggressive behaviours do not result in more attention being paid to them. It also models sympathy and concern for the child who is hurt, which helps your child learn empathy.
  • Help the children move to the next activity
  • If the behaviour continues, it may be better to move away from the situation with your child until they have calmed down.
  • When things have settled, talk to your child about what happened and what they can do next time instead of hitting.

Also:

  • When you read books to your child, label the characters’ emotions.
  • Sing songs that include emotional words such as “When you’re happy, and you know it.”
  • Look for the positive behaviours and give loads of attention and praise, e.g., “Mommy is so happy you picked up your toys!”
What if it doesn’t work? (click to expand) »

Children need time to learn new behaviours. They need conversations about things that happen in their day to learn and make sense of them. Responding to your child in positive ways helps build your relationship. Providing structure before these behaviours happen is important, as well as providing support to your child after they have misbehaved.   If the things you try don’t seem to be working,  rethink the situation and try again.

Reach out for help when you need it.

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Last updated: 2022-07-07