Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Teaching Kids NOT to Hit

I wish I had a magical answer for this one. If only there was a secret code or the perfect words to teach a toddler not to hit other kids when frustrated and determined to get their way. My 1 and 2 year old were never big on hitting and then that all changed when they began attending daycare about 3 months ago. Since then we've been battling against my almost three year old's desire to hit her brothers and even me. She's definitely tested our boundaries lately and in all the frustration of the past few weeks here's what I've learned:

Don't expect to teach a child NOT to hit by hitting them. Modeling appropriate behavior is never more impactful than when teaching a child to deal with frustration and SIMULTANEOUSLY keep their hands to themselves. If you find that your child is hitting lots of other children lately consider how often you're spanking your child to deal with frustrations. The moment you begin modeling peaceful reactions is the moment children begin to learn peaceful/reactive behaviors through your example.

Teach children in the moment. Hitting is typically an issue between the ages of 3 and 5. At this stage kids can't really comprehend choices and consequences too far after they've occurred. So it's critical to immediately respond to your child if they are hitting another child. 

Use affirmative words. Repeatedly telling a child "don't... stop...stop... don't" really loses its effect. Try phrases like "please keep your hands to yourself" and "remember to play kindly" or "please be gentle." Saying these things in an excited and clear voice will surely grab your child's attention. Make sure to get to their level and be very clear, stern and direct about this request. Also, tell them what is appropriate i.e "use your words... tell me what you want/need." 

For instance, my almost 7 year old has really had to practice patience to not hit his sister back when she's shoved or swatted at him. I've empowered him in this situation and explained what he can do instead of hitting back. First, I acknowledge that I understand how frustrated he must feel. I've then asked him to speak up for what he wants from her not what he doesn't. So he doesn't say "don't... stop... quit!" He'll instead say "please keep your hands to yourself... please be gentle... tell me what you want... use your words" Believe it or not even a first grader has learned to affirm his little sister and get her to think about what reaction works and what reaction doesn't, so that she hits less and talks more, because at the end of the day kids that are hitting are just trying to communicate something!

Children do not mean to be unkind or hurt other children so if you're on the receiving end of this situation feel free to use some of the above with children who might be hitting your child. You can ask other children to "keep their hands to themselves" and this shows your children how they should be able to verbally request respect from others.  

What techniques have you used to teach your child NOT to hit other children?


  1. In addition to modeling appropriate behavior and using affirmative words, I also like to name the emotion to the behavior. For example, you sound like you are upset. Are you upset because your brother has your toy? With my daughter, she gets cranky when she is hungry and will start hitting things so i will ask her " are you mad because your are hungry? When we are hungry and upset, we ask for a snack" For the most part it works but you have to be consistent and you will see they will get it over time =) great topic and tips!

    1. Thanks for this wonderful tip Jackie. We always appreciate when our readers comment. Again, great advice here, thank YOU!


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