Children hit and shove. They do. It doesn’t make you a bad parent.
How do you deal with violent behavior in children? It can be difficult.
Why is your child hitting? This can often be difficult to answer, and it is probably for different reasons on different occasions.
For my oldest son, I find he usually hits as a way of expressing himself, in place of using words.
When he was very young, around a year, if he hit, we would say “no,” and show him “nice hands.” As he got older, he understood the difference between being gentle and rough. Violent behavior resulted in immediately being removed from the situation and isolated in “time out.” He was usually frustrated with something and needed time to cool off. Now that he’s older, and is much better at speaking, we are beginning to encourage him to use words to express what he was trying to say through hitting. We’ve found that hitting usually means only a few different things:
1. I am upset about how you are acting.
2. I do not want to do what you want me to do.
3. Pay attention to me.
4. I want to play with you.
5. I want what you have.
So, after an incident of hitting, we will be using a little detective work to discover what he is actually trying to say. We will pretend to recreate the situation, but have him practice using appropriate words in place of hitting.
I also like to recreate the situation in other ways, outside of the incident. For instance, on the way to the park, I might say, “If a boy is trying to go down the slide while you are putting leaves down it, what could you say to him?” Then we might practice it together. We could draw a picture together, and I could explain what is happening in it. I could start to draw the arm of the child, then say, “wait, this boy wants his Dad to play with him, but his Dad is laying down. Should I draw him hitting him, or asking him to play?” Puppets and stuffed animals are also great for acting out these situations, but be careful not to have the stuffed animals hit each other because that can be a comical situation that a two year-old may want to create in real life. When talking or drawing, I will bring up the choice of a child hitting or using words, but only if it is a fictional character in the story. I could always criticize this character for even thinking about hitting, and say something like, “Joe, you are such a big boy, you know that hitting is wrong, but that cat has a lot to learn!”
I also use the instance when my child witnesses another child being violent as a teaching moment. He sees it when we’re out often, and I don’t want to just ignore the situation. He has to process what happened, and I’d rather he process it with my help. I’ll often say something like, “did you see that poor boy who was having a hard day? It’s too bad he didn’t just ask his sister for a turn with her toy instead of hitting her.”
Finally, I have read the book, Hands are Not for Hitting to past students, and they’ve loved it. I think we’ll be making a trip to the library soon!