Teaching children to not hit requires commitment and patience. Here are some techniques I've used with my children that have been successful.

Teaching Children to Not Hit

Mommy Crusader Being a Mommy, Parenting 15 Comments

I remember the first time it happened. We were new to a city, and I had managed to arrange a play date for my toddler and baby. (I only had two children at the time.) I was chatting amiably with my new friend watching our two older children play creatively together, and keeping an eye on what the baby might or might not be eating. Suddenly, there was a loud noise, and then crying . . . lots and lots of crying. My “perfect” 3 year old had just clobbered my friend’s 4 year old. My friend was gracious and forgiving, but our conversation turned to ideas for teaching children to not hit.

Many times children hit because they are frustrated with a situation and don’t have the skills to alleviate their frustration. Some of these skills are cognitive and some of these skills are verbal. And, unfortunately some of these skills just take time to develop. But there are things that can be done to scaffold, or support, the child until the skills have had time to develop.

Scaffolding Cognitive Skills
Some of the most difficult playtime situations involve playing with playmates and toys and trying get the game to go the way everyone wants. The issue is that the children involved don’t have the thinking skills to solve the problems presented. It’s not that the children are lacking in intelligence, it’s just that the children’s brains haven’t had time to develop the logic and reasoning skills needed.

When this kind of situation happens, the best way to help as a parent is actually to step in and model the behavior that should be taking place. This takes playing with the children and actively talking about how to solve the problem. It also means, when the children are distressed, talking a lot about how they are feeling. Recognizing that they are frustrated, sad, upset, or angry will help them develop the vocabulary to name how they are feeling.

Saying things like “I can tell you are really angry right now,” or “I can tell you are really frustrated with this toy,” or “I can tell you are sad,” will begin to enable the children to understand and name how they are feeling. The ability to talk about how they are feeling will help reduce the desire to hit because they will know how to get help for what they are feeling.

Immediate Behavioral Changes
All of the above is work that is done from infancy with children. But when the children are hitting, some immediate behavioral changes need to take place. When a young child hits another child, my immediate response is to take my child out of the situation and gently hold on to the child’s hands. I talk to them about how they are feeling, and I explain that even when we are feeling frustrated or angry, it is still not okay to hit. I make sure I’m clear about the feelings being okay to experience, but that hurting others is never okay. I also issue a warning that hitting is not something we do in our family, and if it continues there will be a formal time out. If it happens a third time, I usually resort to removing my child from the situation.

If the behavior keeps occurring during the same outing, then I will quietly excuse myself and my child. The loss of being with friends and playing, though inconvenient, is often exactly what is needed in order for the child to regain his or her self-control. This also reinforces the severity of the actions the child is engaging in and teaches that these actions will result in a loss of privileges.

These parental responses have to be immediate, gentle, firm, and consistent. If they are not immediate, they lose their effectiveness. If they are not gentle, they teach a double standard – “I as the parent can be mean and rough, but you as a child cannot”. If they are not firm, then the child will get away with the antisocial behavior and continue doing it. And if they are not consistent, then the child will not know what to expect and therefore not know how to behave. It is important to remember that children really want to please their parents and will do their best to meet clear expectations.

Also, these recommendations are for children with age appropriate development. Children with special needs will need to have different interventions to help them overcome the obstacles and frustrations that often lead to hitting. And, children who have been abused will also need to have different interventions to help them overcome their frustrations and antisocial behaviors.

Anyway parents go about it, teaching children to not hit is a journey that takes practice and a lot of patience.

Do you have any special techniques you used to teach your children to not hit? I’d love to hear about them. Let me know in the comments below.

Teaching Children to Not Hit fbTeaching children to not hit requires commitment and patience. Here are some techniques I've used with my children that have been successful.

Comments 15

  1. My son had not hit another child yet but he hits my husband and I. Sometimes he seems to think it is funny when we tell him not to and then he does it again. He is twenty two months. Sometimes I am not sure if maybe I should ignore the behaviour to avoid accidentally reinforcing it with the amount of attention I pay to it.

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      You bring up an interesting situation. Usually when a child is hitting an adult it’s because the child wants attention. My own children have done this and I’ve gently taken their hands, talked to them about how hitting is not something that is okay, and given the child a brief (one minute per year) time out, and then reinforced their positive behavior with more attention. This seemed to help them realize that hitting didn’t get them what they wanted. What ever you do, stay consistent. . . he will change. Good luck and let me know how it goes. 🙂 Thanks for commenting.

  2. If they have caused an injury tht needs TLC I have the child help take care of the other child so they see what their negative action has done to a friend. Ex give them a cold compress, watch me care for an open wind that needs an band aid, etc

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  3. I Would love your suggestion on getting my 15 month old not to hit. We do all the examples you laid out but still have a hitter, especially when he’s frustrated. He’s 99.9% of the time happy and easily gets along with people and animals but when the frustration sets in…watch out. How do we explain to him that hitting is not nice, wrong, hurts, unacceptable, etc?

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      It sounds like your little guy is hitting more because he cannot tell you what is frustrating him, than because he is acting out. Explaining the “badness” of hitting isn’t going to help him at this stage. You’re in a tricky situation, that’s for sure.
      I would recommend watching him a bit more closely while he’s playing and see what his frustration triggers are. Then the next time he’s presented with those situational triggers, help him work through them. Also, naming what is frustrating him can help calm the situation back down.
      I hope some of this helps.
      You may find other ideas from this post: http://mommycrusader.com/seven-tips-for-surviving-the-terrible-twos/

  4. I have three year old triplets and they have always been great with other children. Today though, one of my boys took a dislike to another smaller child and pushed him. I took his hands and talked to him about being kind – although the caregiver of the other child was not helpful with her “naughty” comment towards my son.

    I later explained that it’s ok not to like somebody, but if we do not like somebody we should stay away from them, we do not push/hit (however justified it may seem!) Thanks for your tips, I’ll be using them!

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  5. My son never hit her sis. I never found on eye he hitting somebody else. But recently i had a complaint from school that he hit a child and also bite him. When i enquired my kid about it, he answered the other kid has frustrated him. Even i try to explain him… he is not taking to ear. All my trials are invain. I believe he learnt this way of hurting from other kids. Can you please suggest me in this…TIA

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      I apologize for taking so long to respond. I’ve been thinking a lot about what you told me. I think you are in a tough situation. It might be helpful for you to spend sometime in your son’s classroom and watch how the other children and your son behave. That might give you some insight into his behavior. And perhaps speaking with his teacher, so that you are all on the same page, will help the situation. I wish you the best of luck.

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  6. Thanks for your tips and these are what I have done whenever my 4 yo hits her 2 yo little brother. But after everything is over, she will forget all the hitting is bad, we don’t hit we hug and we share and it repeats over and over again. Last night, she hit the brother with the pail she snatched from the brother. Brought her to a corner, told her hitting is wrong she should let brother have the pail as he is too young to understand sharing and she should show him by letting him have the pail. Made her say sentences like i will not hit, i will let my brother play with my toys. Gave her situation and ask her for respond and all replies were positive. But this morning, she pushes her brother just to make sure she reaches first when i asked both to come over for breakfast. I’m really at wits ends and making me look bad as she also hits her brother when we were out and about. And it’s only to her brother. She’s an angel in class and gets along very well with other kids. What should I do? Thanks in advance.

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      My friend, I have pondered a lot about your situation. The more I think about it the more I think your 4 year old is jealous of her brother. This is common and something that can be fixed. Try including her in the care of her brother more, spend some one on one time with her, and try letting her know she is important and loved just as much as the little boy is. Good luck, I’m sure this will work out.

  7. Hello! I found your post very interesting and have read through the comments as well… I am currently dealing with a few aggressive outbursts in my 22 month old boy. I have tried the methods that you laid out and continue to do so, but our situation seems to be a little different and has yet to get any better. My son is a happy-go-lucky kid and doesn’t hit/push out of aggression (at least what I have witnessed). The problem is his ‘play’. He has hit his 3.5 year old sister with a plastic golf club he is pretending to be a sword, or the stool that he want to throw across the room or has pushed her because he’s a dinosaur. When we show him how his actions hurt his sister and how we do not hit or push, he seems so confused. He says sorry and gives a hug, but doesn’t understand. I don’t know how to get it across to him that this rough play has consequences. Thanks in advance for any advice!

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