It can be extremely upsetting when you're trying to get your child to bed or to supper, or dressed to go out, only to have him start flinging fists at you. Being hit by anyone like this, even when it’s your child, will turn on the “fight or flight” instinct, which can be extremely difficult to hold in check.
But parents need to learn to do this in order to be able to deal with the aggression appropriately, and teach children a non-aggressive way of communicating their feelings or needs.
No-Hitting Strategy: Identify Triggers
1) Identify personality or situational triggers
When talking to teachers about my 6-year-old son I learned to ask, “What was he reacting to?” What triggered the hitting or aggressive action? This isn’t to excuse what he did. But it is essential in order to be able to talk to him about appropriate ways to react when he’s faced with that situation again.
Plenty of situations can be potential triggers. Does he and this other child have a history? Did someone take a toy or jump in front of him in line? Did someone hit him first without being observed, and your child got caught for the retaliation?
2) Identify or rule out physiological triggers
Be on the alert for possible physiological triggers. Did your child miss her nap? Was she up a couple times during the night? Was he hungry? Was it close to naptime? Was he overstimulated?
No-Hitting Strategy: Set Clear Limits and Address Triggers
3) Setting “no hitting” limits
Obviously, parents want to set firm limits about hitting. That’s why identifying the personality, as well as situational and physiological triggers is so important. It allows you, any caregivers and teachers the chance to intervene when your child is in that situation again and teach her appropriate ways of reacting, and communicating her needs or feelings.
This includes saying things like, “I know you’re angry because mommy can’t buy you that toy, but hitting me is not okay,” or “I know you’re angry because Jane got to play with the ball, but even if you’re angry, you do not hit her.”
4) Change potentially triggering circumstances if possible.
A child who lashes out could be tired or hungry. So look for patterns. If she usually gets aggressive right before dinner, then perhaps a low-sugar, protein-enriched snack would help keep her tummy satisfied and her mood happy until supper.
Does your child get aggressive around bedtime? She may be overtired and it’s a sign that bedtime may need to be a little earlier.
When you change activities or plans, give your child “transition” time. It’s not always possible because last-minute things will come up, but even if you’re in a rush, it’s important for you to stay calm, and explain what’s happening and what you need your child to do so they know what to expect and what you expect from them.
No-Hitting Strategy: Keep Quiet, Calm Down
5. Know when not to say anything and allow cool down time
Family Therapist Susan Stiffelman says, “There are no magic words you can say once your daughter is riled up; one she has lost control of herself, it will be nearly impossible for her to calm down until the storm of her emotions subsides. The best you can do once she has fallen apart is to try to contain her and keep both of you safe. An angry child is generally a hurting child. Wounded people wound. Set up a quiet time and space with your daughter to explore what might be triggering her outbursts.” (3)
1. What Should You Do When Your Child Hits You? Markham, Laura. Psychology Today. Web. Accessed: Aug 21, 2014.
2. Hitting, Biting and Kicking: How to Stop Aggressive Behavior in Young Children. Simeo Munson, Joan. Empowering Parents. Web. Accessed: Aug 21, 2014.
3. My Child Hits Me! What Can I Do? Stiffelman, Susan. Huffington Post Parents. Web. Accessed: Aug 21, 2014.
4. Hitting A-Z and More. Nelsen, Jane. Positive Discipline. Web. Accessed: Aug 21, 2014.
Reviewed August 29, 2014
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith