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100 Tips for Nannies and Families

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Kids Who Hit

Some kids just seem more prone to hitting than others.  Why?  And how do you change that behavior?

Why?

All kids experience frustration, anger, etc. on a nearly daily basis, but not all kids hit to communicate what they’re thinking or feeling or to fulfill their objectives.  Kids who choose to hit do so for a variety of reasons.  They may have learned that behavior by watching someone else hit.  They may be physically-oriented kids; all kids are at least somewhat physically oriented, but some kids are more oriented toward physical experience and expression than others.  They may have ADHD.  These and many more reasons can explain why some kids may be more prone to hitting.

How do you change that behavior?

Immediately put the child in time out.  Calmly and lovingly explain that hitting is not nice and should not happen again.  Maintain a peaceful environment (i.e., no loud, fast-paced music; no harried activity; etc.) throughout the time out so as to avoid escalating the situation.  If your child hit to accomplish an objective, do not let the objective be fulfilled at this point lest s/he learn that hitting does, indeed, help him/her accomplish objectives.  If you find his/her objective reasonable, you can bring it to pass later: ensure, however, that your child does not draw a connection between hitting and accomplishment of his/her objective.

When the child is not dealing with the emotions of the moment, ask the child why s/he chose to hit.  Where did s/he learn that behavior?  If television or movie viewing was the source, you may want to restrict what s/he watches until s/he is a little older.  If another child modeled that behavior for him/her, restrict his/her access to the physically abusive child.  (Note: you may need to follow up with others about this.  For example, if the hitting occurred in a daycare context, you should communicate your concern to the daycare center staff.) 

Talk with your child about empathy and exhibit empathy in your daily activities so that your child can see empathy reinforced daily.  For example, you may ask your child the following questions: “Has someone ever hit you, even if by accident?  Did that hurt?  How did you feel about that?  Do you want to do that to someone else?”

Discuss alternatives to hitting with your child.  For example, “I know it made you angry when Chris took your toy.  Rather than hitting Chris, what else could you have done to let Chris know that taking your toy was not ok?”  If your child can’t find preferred alternatives, you can provide some of your own.  You might suggest that your child verbalize his position to Chris (i.e., “That’s my toy, and I would like you to give it back.”), notify you if Chris doesn’t comply (parental intervention may be appropriate in some but not all situations), decide if the situation is worth creating conflict (perhaps sharing the toy with Chris is ok), etc.  If all else fails, teach your child to walk away when s/he feels like hitting someone.

If you subsequently see your child exhibit improved behaviors, praise your child generously.  If you do not see your child exhibit improved behaviors after repeated time outs and discussions, then perhaps it is time for your child to visit with a counselor to address whatever underlying concerns there may be.

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2 comments to Kids Who Hit

  • Those are pretty useful tips. One thing to add is that parents or the nanny should be very, very consistent in applying discipline (e.g., time-outs). It’s more fair to the children, and they’ll learn much better that way.

  • Lauren

    When I child hits, I think it’s very important to communicate to the child that hands are for helping. It is very important for children to learn that hitting is never okay. Communicate the pain hitting causes, and praise children when they help, communicating on their level that they used their hands to help (put the toys away, wipe up a spill, etc.) Explain when you help them (preparing food, tying shoes, etc) that you are using your hands to help them. At a young age, a child needs to learn that hands are for helping. After all, older children that hit usually end up in serious trouble. Who needs that headache?

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