I’d really rather not be this person, but sometimes I am that mother in the schoolyard sought out by otherwise very busy teachers because my son has hit someone in his class. It doesn’t happen all the time, but a few more times than once. Disclaimer: I’m not a child psychologist, or a professional educator, and I have no experience with more serious or targeted forms of aggression. But as a mom on the ground with sons who have thrown a punch or five, here are my best strategies for working through these painful episodes.
1. Talk with the children. Talk with the child who was struck, and make sure they are okay if their parents aren’t already doing this. Talk with your child about the importance of gentle hands, and strategies to favour over hitting. (Say “stop!” if you don’t like something. Find a safe spot. Put your hands under your shirt. Pound the ground. Seek help from an adult.) Encourage the children to talk to each other, to find out how each child feels, and what motivated the hitting to happen. Sometimes I use a “talking stone”, where the child holding the stone gets to speak. Even if the hitting recurs, talking it through models appropriate response to your child.
2. Find out what really happened. Sometimes the flying hand is just the tip of the iceberg. Find out what led to the aggression. There are many ways to hurt a person, and hitting is just one of these. Your child may have a legitimate grievance too, and needs to be able to express it. You can validate your child’s feelings without justifying the hitting.
3. Supervise closely. If your child is going through a hitting spell, or you know that a particular environment may lead to tensions among children, supervise closely to prevent an altercation before it happens.
3. Stay calm. Also known as, don’t freak at your kid for hitting. Easier said than done, frankly. But important.
4. Make amends. Let the child who has been hit know that you care about them, and that you are sorry they are hurt. If your child is willing, take the time to write a sorry note or drawing. Even (and especially) if your child is unwilling to make amends, do it yourself. Contact the parents and apologize. Showing genuine concern over the altercation and reassuring parents that you are actively working on gentle hands goes a long way to keep community bonds intact.
5. Have empathy. Maybe you manage conflict really well, using neutral and direct communication, and staying only in the present. Maybe your disagreements don’t escalate into anger because you always know what to do when someone steals your parking spot, shoves you as they bud in front, or lets their dog bite your kid at the park. Most of us aren’t like that, though. It’s taken me decades to acquire my very imperfect conflict-resolution skills, and I try to remember that and give my kids some space to screw up too. Especially at school where they are on their own and have almost no control over their schedule and environment, children’s lives are full of stressors, and they haven’t had that much time to figure out how to successfully address them.
6. Be Patient. Remember that the hitting is likely a stage that will pass. I’ve heard this from so many parents, and I’ve entered their ranks. With my oldest son, these episodes happened when he was six. But he’s seven now, in a new grade, and the hitting has vanished. Sometimes kids hit because they are immature, and need to grow.
Do you have kids who hit? What do you do?