What To Do When Your Child Hits?

Hitting is one of those behaviours that can pop up commonly within children. The causes are wide and varied, but often we look to eliminate the behaviour in our children, without fully exploring the trigger.

Although hitting out is something that is widely accepted as being normal behaviour for children, it is possible to work through this issue quickly and gently, to prevent it continuing. In this short video I talk about not only the triggers, but how to deal with the underlying needs.

Along with the key point we need to remember that there are some other tips to keep in mind when parenting a child who is hitting.

Practice “Gentle hands.”

Reinforce the message that when we touch another person, or a pet, we always use gentle hands. It is a good reminder, and demonstrating “gentle hands” yourself can help to solidify the idea within our children. Take your child’s hands gently in yours (If they are happy for you to do so) bringing them up to your face and using a gentle pressure, as you demonstrate how you like to be touched, whilst saying “gentle hands.” Each time they hit, repeat and reinforce the message, “I only like gentle hands thank you.” When touching animals or younger children, we can talk through our own actions, explaining that “I am using gentle hands so that I don’t hurt him.”

Name the feelings

Teaching our children to name and talk about their emotions is very empowering for them. By saying, “I know, it was really frustrating when that happened, I can see you are feeling really angry/hurt/disappointed,” you enable them to own their feelings, and this prevents the emotion from controlling them, and leading to undesirable behaviours like hitting. Instead, they can voice what is happening and you can help them to work through it in a more healthy way. We can start to talk to our children about what they are feeling right from their first year. Of course, they won’t be able to articulate their feelings from the start, but repetition and keeping a cool and calm head to support them through the rollercoaster of emotions will benefit them, and ignite the habit of taking note of these intense feelings. This will enable them to take responsibility for where that feeling takes them. It needs to become a habit to really take effect, but it is really worth the effort. One of my proudest moments was when my toddler, at 18 months old, began to scream from the top of a small hill when told it was time to go, before quickly stopping himself to tell me “I am very angry now!” It gave him power, and gave me the ability to know what was going on and how I could help him through his anger.

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So those were my tips for parenting gently when children hit, but I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below! Has your child been through this phase? What did you identify to be the cause and what was your reaction at the time?

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6 thoughts on “What To Do When Your Child Hits?”

  1. This is great! I have read about this approach but hadn’t seen a video before and it is really helpful. I try to redirect the hitting to a sofa but I also try to hug my daughter after she has expelled the hitting elsewhere. I agree that just ignoring both builds it up and also shows that you are ignoring their expression/needs/feelings.

  2. any suggestions for infants hitting? my 10mo has started hitting my face and I don’t know how to get him to stop. I talk to him and say that it isn’t okay to hit me and that he needs to stop, but obviously he doesn’t really get it. I hold his hand down, but that just makes him angry. when he hits, it doesn’t seem to be for any reason except that he likes my face. it mostly happens when I have him in the carrier, where we are pretty much face-to-face (his eyes end up at about my chin level).

    1. The gentle hands technique was particularly useful for us at that stage – when he hit, I would hold his hand for as long as he would let me on my face, and each time he went to hit I would grab his hand before he got me, repeating gentle hands. We got in to the habit of talking about it several times a day, teaching him to stroke my face as I mirrored the action on him (it actually turned in to quite a bonding experience).

      It does take consistent reinforcing of the message that it is not okay to hit. At 10 months old it is done out of curiosity and can also quickly become a game, but by coming up with the same calm, repetitive and boring response, it won’t be as interesting as if you became angry or worked up. Also, when you are face to face like that, you are offering up a lot of temptation for him to have to resist. Have you considered back carrying? It offers more for the baby to look at over your shoulder, so he is less likely to be focused on you. It could be a simple case of boredom and a signal that he is ready for change. Worth a thought.

  3. This is great. Ill be sharing this with my husband as well.

    My 15mo has been a biter since he was 7 months old. He bites out of big feelings (anger, frustration, even excitement). He bites us, bites himself, and bites objects. I have tried absolutely every peaceful technique that i have seen (being consistent over weeks and weeks with each). I’ve tried ignoring. I’ve tried dietary changes. Nothing has worked. Do you have similar strategies for dealing with biting?

  4. Thank you for the post! I have a five year old and we have always struggled with aggressive behaviors with him. He has improved SO much, but still hits sometimes. He certainly has the ability to communicate clearly, and we have worked with him on using words to express how he’s feeling, that he needs to use gentle hands, that all feelings are okay but all behaviors (ie hitting) are not. We struggle with how to respond when he is clearly old enough to know better. Sometimes I think it’s impulse control, which I can understand and work with, but other times, he just seems to be acting out (possibly for attention, but often in situations where he is not lacking for attention). Any suggestions?

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