Children hit each other out of anger or frustration, and it’s often a normal part of growing up. However, it can be distressing to see your child be aggressive towards other children.
Often the answer to stopping these episodes is through consequences. Losing privileges like video time or leaving a playdate can be an effective deterrent. Anti-bullying games are also something to consider teaching children.
The first thing you must do when your child hurts another is take a deep breath and calm yourself. It is tempting to get upset, but this will only cause you to lose control and say something you may later regret. If you are able to remain calm, it will show your children that you care about them and can handle their emotions. This will also help you set a positive example for them.
If your kids are close in age, you can try to separate them for a brief time (anywhere from 1 to 15 minutes, depending on the children’s temperament). Make sure to not treat this as a punishment or a “time out” – instead, let them know that they each need some space and that you will come to check on them in a few minutes. This can help them work out their feelings without escalating the situation further, and it will give you an opportunity to address each child individually.
Once your children are alone, it is important to take a few minutes to ask them how they’re feeling. This will allow them to express their true emotions, which may include anger, fear, frustration, disappointment, or sadness. It will also give you an opportunity to teach them about healthy ways to express those feelings.
For example, if your daughter slaps her sister because she is frustrated with the 1-year-old constantly pestering her, you can tell her how sad and disappointed you are that she kicked her sister. You can then talk with her about some alternatives next time she feels like kicking someone, such as calling a parent for help or walking away.
It is also important to explain to your child that hurting others is never okay. This can be hard for some children to understand, especially if they believe that what they did was justified. It is possible that your child doesn’t fully understand what they did wrong, so you may need to pull them aside and more carefully explain it.
If you need to, you can even role-play with your child to demonstrate appropriate behaviors. For example, if your son hits his sister and it is obvious that he’s angry, you can tell him how much it hurts when someone kicks you in the stomach and encourage him to use a different way of expressing his anger.
Let Your Child Explain
It is important to give your child a chance to talk about what happened. This will help them get it out of their system and start to understand that what they did was wrong. When you talk to them, be compassionate and listen to their explanations without judging them. This will let them know you are listening and care about their feelings. It is also important to remind them that hurting others is not okay and will not be tolerated.
When you talk to your child, use a gentle and reasonable voice, even if you are angry. If you use a harsh or critical tone, they will be on the defensive and less likely to listen. This will not allow you to convey that your love for them is strong enough to keep them from hurting other children.
Your child will need your emotional support as they learn to be kind. Telling them to not hurt their sister or telling them you are angry with them for hurting a friend will not help them because they do not have the tools to deal with these intense feelings. They need your help to calm down and be able to see their actions in a more objective way.
Try using a cue word that you come up with your child to use when they are about to engage in an unkind act. Brian, a dad I work with, uses the word “banana brain” when his son is about to tease another child on the playground. This gives his son a chance to pause and think about the impact his behavior could have on the other child before continuing the teasing. When he does, his son often realizes that teasing isn’t cool and stops the behavior immediately.
You can also use this approach with other adults in your child’s life. For example, if your child is about to go up to an adult they don’t know, calmly explain that strangers are people you do not know, and it is important to always ask permission before approaching.
Ask Your Child to Apologize
A true apology can help children express empathy, repair relationships, and learn to take responsibility for their actions. In fact, researchers have found that even preschool-aged kids are able to experience better feelings when they receive an apology from the person they hurt. However, the apology must be genuine, and coercing kids into saying sorry can actually make them feel worse! It can also teach them how to fake remorse.
When kids are unable to genuinely apologize, they often become defensive and lash out at the victim or at other people who have a legitimate role in resolving the conflict. This is why it is important for parents to teach kids healthy ways to handle anger. This could include talking it out, using music to cool down, or journaling. In addition, parents should monitor kids’ television viewing habits to make sure they are not watching too many shows that glorify aggressive behavior.
In the heat of the moment, your child may not be able to hear what you are telling them. It is best to wait until they are calmer and then reassure them that apologizing for their actions will help them feel better. You can also ask them if they are ready to forgive their sibling.
Children need to recognize and understand their own emotions before they can recognize and understand the feelings of others. It is important to start this process early; this worksheet helps kids work through the steps of a genuine apology.
As kids get older, they will be able to recognize and name more complex emotions and should be able to use an apology to explain how their actions have made others feel. However, even a 10-year-old may still need your support in recognizing the nuances of certain emotions, such as jealousy and fear. In some cases, kids whose needs are not fully met can get caught in a pattern of victimization of a younger sibling. This is why it is so important to teach kids how to apologize and empower them to repair their relationship with their siblings if they have hurt them somehow.
Remind Your Child of the Consequences
It is understandable that many parents are upset when they see one child hurting another. However, reacting with anger is not the best way to handle it. Instead, calmly but firmly remind them that it is not okay to hit each other, and you will not tolerate it. If you have to, you may need to separate them and tell them each that they can come to play with you separately in X minutes (anywhere from 1 to 15, depending on age/temperament).
Reminding your children of the consequences can be a good deterrent against further aggression. Consequences can be natural or imposed, such as forgetting to bring a jacket on a cold day, getting cold, or leaving toys out in the living room and getting stepped on and broken. Consequences can also include taking away something a child enjoys, like TV or computer time, until they work out how to resolve conflicts without hurting each other.
The key is to make sure that the consequences are related to the misbehavior and that they are appropriate for your child’s age and abilities. It is important to remember that it can be difficult for a child to understand why their actions are not okay. This is especially true if they are young and do not yet have the ability to put themselves in other people’s shoes. Angry reactions from parents can confuse them and lead to a negative feedback loop.
Keeping the lines of communication open is also important for your child and other children. You might need to talk to the other child’s parents or, in some cases, the school if the incident occurs at school. For example, if your child hits another child at home and they fight back, it is likely that the other parent will want to know what happened so that he or she can help the children learn how to solve problems peacefully.
As you are helping your children solve their issues, be sure to take the time to listen to their feelings and validate them. Remind them that everyone feels angry sometimes, and it is important to find other ways of dealing with anger, such as deep breathing or punching a pillow, rather than physical aggression.