My Child is Hitting Other Children and It’s Freaking Me Out


Kids do the darnedest things; sometimes it’s cute and sometimes it’s not. And I think a lot of it has to do with the age and the perspective one has on the situation. For example, it might be cute when your brand new 1-year-old kisses you with her mouth wide open and her tongue out over and over again (gross, yes, but adorable). It might be a little less cute when your 10-year-old does the same thing. At some point, you’re just old enough to know that some things are appropriate and other things are not. So if your kid is going through something, like hitting other kids, you have to step back from the situation and evaluate before you decide to freak out. Now don’t get me wrong; you’re allowed to freak out. Kids are questionable in about a million ways and you never know what if you’re doing things correctly. When you find out yours has taking to hitting other kids, it’s natural to be freaked out and to worry; and we have a few suggestions for you.

Evaluate the Situation

How old is your child? I’ll readily admit that even with four kids, I’ve not yet encountered a hitter in my house. Though I think that our 1-year-old son might be that kid as I’ve caught him thoroughly enjoying bopping his twin sister on the head with various toys and household objects at times (she doesn’t seem to mind and he has the biggest smile on his face and it’s hard not to smile). In case you’re wondering, we redirect him to something else. But he’s 1, and we feel that it’s less malicious and more the age. He’s exploring and learning and he might not yet be fully aware that hitting his sister is not the nicest way of showing his love and affection (because as of yet he’s not doing it out of anger…just enjoyment…which sounds creepier than I intended).

If your child is 5, 6, 10, 12 or older, chances are good that your child has more of an issue since he or she should know by now that hitting is not appropriate – and that’s when it should start to freak you out.

How to Stop Hitting

With a small child, redirection has always worked. I’m not saying we are perfect parents (quite the opposite, really, especially if you ask our kids) but we’ve learned that in our house redirection works wonders when the kids are small. We don’t have hitters or biters and tantrum-throwers (95% of the time on the tantrums, anyway) so we think it’s working pretty well for us. We don’t give the inappropriate behavior much attention other than to say, “That’s not appropriate,” and we redirect the kids to something that is appropriate. For example, if a child were hitting we would stop the act and say, “It’s not nice to hit people, but it is okay to hit the drums,” and take the child to the drum set and let them hit that and enjoy.

With an older child, a simple time out, loss of a privilege or something of that nature might be a good option. Our kids often test our limits and we’ve learned that for us, what works is a simple discipline. If it’s a first offense, we will explain why it’s not appropriate and what will happen if they choose to do it again. The most difficult part is the follow-through, but you have to follow-through. Most of the time the loss of something they love is all it takes to remind them that their behavior is not acceptable and you will not tolerate it; and they’ll lose it.

Prevent Hitting

Sometimes it’s just not possible to stop your kids from hitting, especially if they are very young and not quite understanding of the severity of the situation. So we have a suggestion for that, too; avoid the situation by prevention. Small kids are often cranky before bed, if they miss naptime, if they are in certain situations, etc. Think about your child’s hitting pattern and ask yourself if there is a pattern. Does your child seem to lash out on play dates that interfere with nap time or when another child is around a certain toy? If so, perhaps you should stop planning play dates around nap time so that your overly-tired child is not in a situation that sets him or her off. If it always seems to be about a certain toy, put that toy away when you have guests or do not allow it to accompany you on adventures where other kids are present.

Talk to your Child Calmly

As parents, we often underestimate the power of discussion with kids old enough to understand. When I’m upset with my kids, my first reaction is to want to be very firm with them and discipline them in the moment. But I learned recently that sometimes my kids are more receptive to what I have to teach them when we are both calm and the moment has passed. So with that said, why not remove yourself and your child from the situation when hitting occurs and give it some time. Just let your child know that you will discuss this later, but you both need time to calm down and relax before you get into a discussion that will likely cause further upset on both parts.

When you feel a bit calmer, ask your child why he or she felt the need to hit another child and really listen to what your child has to say. This is when you will learn more than you thought possible, and it’s also a great time to teach a lesson.

For example, you can tell your child that while you understand he was upset because another child called him a sissy or a big baby for not wanting to do something that scared him, he cannot hit that other child. Offer him alternative suggestions, but also let him know that it’s all right to be angry, upset, mad, and hurt. It does help.

Photo by John Moore/Getty Images


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