How To Stop Your Child From Hitting Others | End Hitting BehaviorFeb 01, 2024
Amazing parents all strive to raise kind and compassionate children who treat others with respect. However, it's not uncommon for young children to engage in rough behavior, such as hitting. Most kids struggle with hitting at some point in their early development, and there is usually no major cause for concern. Still, there are strategies parents can use to help their children navigate swiftly and smoothly through the hitting phase. In this episode, we will explore how the 5 C's parenting framework can guide us in teaching our children not to hit. By incorporating Communication, Consistency, Choices and Checkpoints, Consequences, and Check Yourself, we can foster a gentle and empathetic environment within our families. Keep listening, and I’ll teach you an actionable psychology-based strategy from each of the 5 C’s that you can start using today to better manage hitting behavior in your child.
Effective communication is key when teaching our children not to hit. By using a calm and instructive tone, we can help them understand the importance of gentle behavior without escalating the situation. It can be shocking and embarrassing to parents when their child hits their sibling or another child, and sometimes parents react strongly. This takes the focus away from the teaching moment and can even be exciting and unintentionally reinforcing to children, causing them to hit more in the future. So, do your best to stay calm and use a gentle tone, taking advantage of this teaching opportunity.
One powerful tool is establishing a family mantra that embodies your core values, such as “Listen and be kind.” Repeating this mantra regularly reinforces the message and helps your child internalize these values. Additionally, engaging in open and age-appropriate conversations about feelings and appropriate ways to express emotions can help children understand the impact of their actions on others. We’re striving for awareness, not invoking guilt.
Consistency is crucial in teaching children not to hit. Younger children may struggle to grasp this concept immediately, so having a set response that is consistently used can be helpful. For example, calmly saying, “We don’t hit. Hitting hurts others.” and directing their attention to a more appropriate action can reinforce the message. This might be, “Ask Susan for the toy back rather than hitting,” or “Tell Lawrence, please stop doing that. I don’t like it.”
Keeping a close eye on children who have been struggling with rough behavior ensures that consistent responses are provided. Regularly checking in with your child and offering reminders about gentle behavior can help reinforce the message and encourage self-regulation. Consistency also means enforcing the same rules and consequences across different caregivers and environments to avoid confusion.
Children learn by observing their parents' actions. Modeling gentle behavior within our households is an essential element in teaching children not to hit. By consistently demonstrating kindness, empathy, and gentle touch, we provide a positive example for our children to emulate. It's important to remember that children are always watching, so being mindful of our own behavior and reactions is essential.
Engaging in activities that promote empathy, such as reading books about kindness or engaging in acts of kindness as a family, can further reinforce these values. One of my favorite books on this topic that teaches the overall theme of positive psychology is How Full is Your Bucket.
If you’re looking for a resource that directly talks about hitting and what kids can do instead of hitting, check out What to Do When You Feel Like Hitting.
3. Choices & Checkpoints
Understanding that hitting can be developmentally appropriate at younger ages is essential. Most children learn not to hit between the ages of 2 and 4 as they develop better impulse control and communication skills. Knowledge about developmental checkpoints guides parents about what issues to expect at different ages and by what age they should expect to see hitting becoming less of an issue. This doesn’t mean that parents should disregard hitting behavior, but rather, this knowledge can help prevent parents from experiencing excessive stress or guilt related to their child’s behavior.
Another key strategy in the Choices & Checkpoints category is presenting your child with choices. Providing children with choices can empower them and give them a sense of autonomy. For example, saying, "You can treat your sister gently, or I will have to sit between the two of you," allows them to make a decision while setting clear boundaries. The next section will cover what to do when your child makes an unfavorable choice.
When I talk about Consequences in my 5 C’s parenting framework, I’m talking about reactions to your child’s behavior. What happens after they hit plays a vital role in teaching children about the impact of their actions. Corrective feedback, such as showing a child what a gentle touch looks like and having them practice it on you, can help them understand the difference between gentle and aggressive behavior. They’re learning that hitting is not okay and that when they hit, there’s a pause in whatever activity they were doing at the time while they spend time talking with you about appropriate behavior. This is the most basic form of corrective feedback for young children - simply talk through what happened and what should be done differently next time. Consistently applying this gentle discipline technique is enough for many children.
Remember in the Choices & Checkpoints above, we talked about the importance of offering your child choices to help them learn to make a good decision and not repeat the hitting behavior. The choice may be to continue sitting next to their friend or to be separated. Or the choice may be to continue playing with their friend or to take a short break until they are ready to practice gentle touch. Following through with stated consequences, such as moving between the children if the rough behavior continues, reinforces the message that hitting is not acceptable and teaches your child to respect your words. Follow through is paramount whenever utilizing consequences in your parenting. Keep in mind that it is important to ensure that consequences are age-appropriate and focus on teaching rather than shaming or punishing the child.
5. Check Yourself
In addition to guiding our children, it's important to engage in self-reflection as parents. Take the time to assess your own reactions and responses when your child hits. Are you responding with anger or frustration? Not only does that detract from your learning opportunity, but as mentioned above, a strong reaction can actually be unintentionally reinforcing to kids because they get excited by big reactions. Are there any underlying triggers that may be contributing to your child's behavior? By understanding our own emotions and triggers, we can better support our children in developing alternative ways to express themselves.
It’s also helpful to remind yourself of developmental checkpoints and understand that you are not a bad parent because your child hits. Your child is still learning this important social skill. Practicing self-care and seeking support from other parents or professionals can also help us navigate challenging situations with patience and empathy.
Seeking Professional Help
If your child's hitting behavior persists or escalates despite your consistent efforts, it may be beneficial to seek professional help. A pediatrician, child psychologist, or family therapist can provide guidance and support tailored to your child's specific needs. They can help identify any underlying issues or challenges that may be contributing to the hitting behavior and offer strategies to address it effectively. Remember, seeking help is not a sign of failure as a parent but rather a proactive step towards supporting your child's development.
Take Home Message:
Teaching our children not to hit requires patience, consistency, and a deep understanding of child development. By incorporating the 5 C's parenting framework into our approach, we can create a nurturing environment that fosters gentle behavior and empathy. Remember, hitting is a normal part of development, and consistent, gentle discipline is the solution to supporting your child through this tricky developmental stage. Together, let's guide our children towards becoming kind-hearted individuals who treat others with respect and compassion. Reflect upon each of the recommendations covered above, and see which new ideas you can implement in your parenting practice this week!
Managing your child’s rough behavior involves all 5 C’s in my 5 C’s parenting framework. For another great example of the 5 C’s in action, download my free resource, “How to Make Dining Out With Your Children More Enjoyable”. You can also dive deeper into each of the 5 C’s using the category search menu on the right of your screen. Thanks for joining me to fill your parenting toolbox with psychology-based tools to feel more confident and capable in your parenting. Keep up the good work on your amazing parenting journey!