Top 6 Tips for When Your Child Hits

lonely-604086_640I’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?  


Am I the Mother of a Hitter?

A couple of times a week, we have a teenaged babysitter pick up Sam from afternoon kindergarten and play with the kids until I come home from work.  Two days ago, she was asked to convey a message from Sam’s kindergarten teacher:  Sam had been hitting in class.  We are scheduled for our first ever (10 minute) parent-teacher interview, and Sam’s teacher wants to discuss this issue at the meeting.

I had no inkling Sam was being rough at school, and this information bothered me.  I was very tired that night anyway, and it didn’t help that my youngest threw water at an oily pan while I was preparing dinner and that I burned my hand on a tray of kale chips taking them out of the oven and dropped them on the floor.   But I was also plain off-kilter at the news from school.  My son?  A hitter?  Advance notice of this agenda item for the parent-teacher meeting?

It’s always strange when you love someone intimately but then learn something about them you don’t know.  While Sam has some (fun and not-so-fun) agressive moments with his younger brother, I would easily characterize him as gentle.  In fact, with one of his rowdier playmates, he was allowing himself to be such a punching bag that my husband and I were coaching him on how to ask for help and to protect himself from being hit himself.

I’ve also been consciously revelling in what seems like a pretty idyllic time with Sam at home.  He loves being around me, is cooperative, enthusiastic and participates in most things we do, can be reasoned with, and is a very affectionate child.

And thus begins my initiation into the universal education of parents as we discover that our children aren’t perfect, not even in those special areas we hold dear.  I don’t care about being the mother of the unkempt child or the dusty home.  But I do not want to be the mother of the Hitter.

It helped to talk to a lovely new friend and more seasoned mother.  She happened to have a son who was aggressive when he was five and six and who has since morphed into an engaging, easy-going nine year old.  It also helped to watch my friend’s own kindergartner who, frustrated at having to share her toys, scream with such fury that she made the tantrums of my own boys look rather tame.  My friend has enviable mothering abilities, and I’d love for our kids to be friends.  I felt no judgment at all witnessing the meltdown, but actually appreciation.  Appreciation that kids can get violently mad.  Their emotional toolbox is still small.  They aren’t perfect.

While it seemed strange to me at the time, now I think Sam’s kindergartner teacher knew precisely what she was doing when she gave me advanced warning that we needed to talk about Sam hitting in class.  Maybe she was giving me a chance to acclimatize, so that the honest but unproductive sinking feeling I had in the kitchen upon first hearing the news that night could give way to a more useful impulse.  I’ve had some time to talk to Sam, to observe him, and to know that regardless of whatever he’s experimenting with now, he’s not a latent thug.

The meeting’s today.  Wish us luck.