Hitting others can be common and is obviously distressing for all concerned. It needs to be handled firmly and consistently so that children learn to behave in a more appropriate way. Young children can’t explain what motivates them to hit, and it is not helpful to ask them why they are doing it. Sometimes it is because they are frustrated – they are protecting what they perceive as theirs. It could be due to feeling threatened, crowded, or inferior to others in terms of strength or verbal ability.
Some ways to intervene
- Address the behaviour immediately by briefly but firmly stating the rule – “In our family, we do not hit.”
- Avoid getting into long discussions about why we don’t hit etc. – this can empower the behaviour by creating too much focus on it
- Be boring – don’t yell or show heaps of emotion, let your consistent actions show this behaviour is not allowed in your family
- Act early – don’t wait until you are fed up with the hitting – act on the first hit
- Remove your child to the thinking chair, cot or time out
- Ask two important questions, “ Why did Mummy need to take you to the thinking chair? What do you need to do to put it right?” Verbalise for your child if she cannot yet do it herself, e.g. “I am here because I hit Mummy.” “I need to say sorry to Mummy.”
- Anticipate what the triggers for hitting might be – is she nervous, tired, needing your attention? Does she know how to ask for something the correct way?
- Be aware that constant talk about the hitting or being labeled negatively may be setting yourself up for a self-fulfilling prophecy. Excessive attention to the undesirable behaviour may actually reinforce it.