"Raise your hand if your child has ever hit" is a question I try to ask the room in almost every parenting workshop I facilitate. And interestingly every single time the results of my unofficial survey are the same: Practically all hands go up in the air - and the few that don't are usually explainable by the fact that the parents are still pregnant or that their firstborn is still just an infant. Isn't that wild?
So the first thing I want to make sure you understand as a parent, searching for strategies to cope with your child's hitting is: You are not alone.
I believe it's absolutely crucial for parents to realise that hitting.is.totally.normal, it’s to be expected, it’s something that dare I say (and based on my unofficial data collection) ALL of our children will do at some point.
Since hitting is such a common behaviour in children, learning how to best respond to it is something all parents will benefit greatly from understanding. Not just so they can get through these challenging moments with more grace but more importantly because it is our in the moment reaction that ultimately determines if our child’s hitting phase fades out organically (and hopefully more quickly) or if they get stuck in hitting mode and the behaviour becomes worse.
So what is the most effective way to respond to hitting?
Here is a step-by-step response I hope you be of value to you:
1. Don't take their hitting personally
Always remember that our children's off-track behaviour is not personal, it's developmental! The first step to responding to a challenging behaviour in an effective, calm and confident way is always to reframe our perception of the behaviour and shift our mindset. Mantra "My child is not giving me a hard time, my child is having a hard time"
2. Remind yourself that lashing out when overwhelmed is normal
There is nothing to be afraid of here. Hitting is simply what dysregulation and frustration often looks like in children. Your child is not violent, aggressive, unkind or mean... No.
When our children hit it is because they are simply having a hard time regulating big emotions that easily override their tiny bodies.
To help me with this perspective I have found it helpful to recognise that we parents fall prey to the same overwhelming emotions as well when WE get triggered and end up act in a completely dysregulated way. Often regretting deeply how we acted afterwards, feeling confused how we could even have done what we just did: yelled at our kids, grabbed them forcefully, slammed doors, kick furniture or in any way hurt or scared the people we love the most and want nothing but the best for... and we’re the ones with a fully developed prefrontal cortex and 20+ years experience in this thing called life... Get the point?
3. Calmly block the hand/s while setting a limit
"I can't let you hit, that hurts"
If you didn't manage to 'catch the first one' (we don't always see it coming and that's ok!) you can still say the same thing but remember that there is never much productive you can do after the fact.
Instead of resorting to punishment or giving a consequence (which does not teach the lesson well), simply focus on being ready to block the hand if it comes up again.
4. Acknowledge feelings and validate
"You're upset tat I had to remove the remote from your hand. You really wanted to play with that, I hear you"
"Wow, you really feel like hitting/scratching/kicking right now. You know you can always tell me what you are feeling. Sometimes we feel like hitting when we are angry and frustarted. I'ts ok to be angry but I can't let you hit"
(This script is not meant to be used as a monologue, but rather to It's purpose is to give you a sense of the energy/thought process we want to bring to this type of scenario. Saying less is often better, especially when tension run very high - It's our attitude that matters more than our words)
5. If necessery help your child stop and be safe by following through with the limit
"It seems like you're having a hard time not hitting. I'll help you be safe and stop, no worries honey. I'm going to put you down/ block your hands/move over here so that everyone is safe"
6. Get curious:
Is your child tired? Hungry? What time of day is it? Are you stressed out or emotionally unbalanced? Are there big changes going on in their or your lives? Are you pregnant? Is there a new baby? Have they recently given up nap? HAve you had recent visitors? Has it been a very busy week? Are you travelling or is one parent away? Have they recently started a new school?....
7. And lastly, Allow for the emotional release (meltdown/tantrum) they might need to have in response to your limit. Support them by being patient and understanding. What children need most when big emotions take over their tiny bodies is not to be "taught a lesson" but for you to simply model what emotional regulation looks like and be ready to hold the loving limit your child needs to be and feel safe. "We have to be it to teach it"
Xo, Kristin Mariella