Some kids may lack the language or impulse control to cope with their feelings. They hit without thinking about the consequences or other ways to get their needs met. Hitting can also be used as a manipulation tool. Sometimes kids hit in an attempt to get their way If your child’s taken to hitting others it can be decidedly stressful.
You might feel that your little one – and your parenting - is being judged by all and sundry, as well as being concerned for their ‘victims’, whilst also working out how to address this unwanted behaviour in the heat of the moment.
Rest assured there are things you can do to nip hitting in the bud before it becomes a long-term habit. Reinforcing good behaviors with positive consequences can encourage your child to stop hitting. For example, reward your child for using "gentle touches.” Break the day up into several time periods where he can earn stickers or tokens for good behaviors. You can also praise your child when they use gentle touches and use some of our expert advice in this article!
1. Look for any patterns behind when hitting incidents occur
Working out when and why your child is hitting will help you spot the best ways to prevent and tackle it. Generally little ones lash out because they have feelings they can’t yet express or even understand, in the same way that this can cause tantrums. Toddlers particularly are prone to this – it’s very much part of the so-called ‘Terrible Twos’. Remember we’re looking for explanations though, not excuses.
2. Consider whether any major changes in their life might be affecting behaviour
Think about whether there’s something going on in their life generally that’s leaving them unsettled. The arrival of a new baby, a family separation or a parent returning to work can leave small children craving attention. Hitting can be a way of getting you to notice them more.
3. Observe whether aggression arises when they’re especially tired, hungry or scared
Other causes include tiredness, hunger or feeling scared. If your little one is uncomfortable in a hectic playgroup or nursery environment for instance, it could be that hitting is a way of expressing this. Children who struggle to share toys or take turns might also lash out.
4. Address any underlying causes and triggers that you spot
If there’s an ongoing issue that you think underlies the aggressive behaviour, look at ways you can practically address this. If they’re overwhelmed at nursery or struggling to share, work with the staff on ways to help them feel more comfortable. Try role playing with taking turns for example. For those who are hitting for attention, look to carve out a spell of time for them and just you to share a story/ cuddle/ chat every day.
5. Have clear, immediate consequences Delaying your response until you’re back home from that playdate or playgroup will be too remote for a young child to link the hitting to the consequences. You must take action at the time.
When an incident happens, get down to your child’s level and state very firmly ‘no hitting’ (or similar), make them apologize to their ‘victim’ and calmly remove them from the situation for some time out. Be careful not to give them too much attention during this spell away if they are hitting to gain one-on-one time with you. Some parents find that giving the victim lots of attention works well in this scenario.