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Wednesday
Sep282011

Toddler Hitting: 5 Strategies to Handle It

Does your child use hitting as a way to express displeasure? Do they smack other kids on the playground? Do they hit you if they don't get what they want? This is natural and normal behaviour for children who do not always have the words or the skills to handle difficult situations. Toddlers and preschoolers will often respond physically to situations that upset them because they have not yet learned other ways to respond. In this post, I'll share some ideas for dealing with hitting in toddlers.

1. Stop the Hitting

The first thing that I do is to stop the hitting. As gently as possible, I will hold my child's hands and look her in the eye and explain in as few words as possible that we do not hit. A child who is angry and lashing out is not likely to listen to a long philosophical explanation of why physical violence is wrong, so I keep it simple.

Depending on the situation, I may also remove her. If she hit me or another child and is able to calm down immediately, then I wouldn't remove her. However, if she continues to lash out at me or at someone else, then I would pick her up calmly and take her somewhere else before dealing with the situation further. I have left playgrounds, stores, restaurants, and parties with children who could not calm down until they were outside of the situation.

The other benefit of removing your child is that you aren't having to deal with the situation directly under the eyes of everyone else who was witnessing it. I hate disciplining my children in public because I find myself making choices based on what would look right rather than what is the best thing to do.

2. Give Your Child's Feelings Words

If a child is hitting or kicking, there is a reason that they are doing so. That doesn't mean that it is okay for them to hit, but it is important to validate their feelings. I don't always do that in the heat of the moment, because I find that they are not usually ready to listen at that point. However, once things have settled down, I will try to talk to them and mirror their feelings back to them in words. I will try to express what was making them angry and ensure that they know that I understand that. I will help them to find words that they can use next time instead of hitting.

With non-verbal toddlers, it is hard to tell whether it is their lack of maturity or lack of words that is causing them to lash out. Last year, when we were in Berlin for the summer with our kids, I noticed my 3 year old was hitting kids on the playground more often than she usually did at home. She was also grabbing toys away from them. I realized quickly that she was simply lacking the words to say "stop that" or "please move" or "can I play with you". Once we gave her the few key phrases she needed in German and practiced them with her, she was fine. With toddlers that are just learning to talk, it may be worth practicing phrases that they can use instead of hitting.

3. Address Unmet Needs

Some natural parenting "experts" claim that hitting or other violent outbursts are always related to unmet needs. I don't think it is necessarily true that they always relate to unmet needs, however I do think that is frequently the case. Kids may hit to get attention, because they are hungry or tired, because they feel that they are not being listened to (by you, by other children), or simply because they feel like they have too little control over their own lives. If my child has started hitting more often, I try to figure out which of those needs isn't being met. Often they will not know it themselves. They just know that they are feeling off and end up lashing out as a result.

Sometimes hitting comes from parents telling kids what to do and not giving them any options. If parents give children more control, they should be less likely to lash out. Instead of asking my kids to do something, I prefer to tell them what to do, but provide options. So, instead of saying "would you like to put your shoes on now?", I'll say "It is time to put your shoes on. Would you like to wear the red ones or the blue ones?"

In terms of other needs, I try to figure out what they are and meet them. If they are tired or hungry, then maybe we need to shift gears for a snack, nap or relaxing activity. Maybe the day has just been too busy. If they are not getting enough attention, then maybe some special one-on-one time is needed to reconnect.

4. Give Them Alternatives to Hitting

Some kids hit because they don't know what else to do. They are angry or feel like they have been treated unfairly and don't know what to do about it, so they hit. I try to teach my kids alternatives to hitting. This can include:

  • Using words: Helping them to express their feelings and use words to solve problems instead of hitting people. Sometimes that is as simple as saying "no". However, if kids feel like "no" is never respected, then they are unlikely to feel like that is an appropriate option instead of hitting.

  • Walking away: Teaching them that they can walk away when someone is treating them badly instead of lashing back at that person.

  • Stomping feet: If they do feel the need to react physically to their anger, I like to give them options like stomping their feet or pounding their fists into a pillow.

  • Asking for help: I think it is good for children to learn to solve their own problems and disputes. However, I would rather my kids ask for help with a difficult situation than have them resort to violence. So if they are having trouble with another kid, I would encourage them to ask me, a teacher or other trusted adult for help.

5. Don't Hit Your Child

This probably goes without saying for most of the readers of this blog, but hitting teaches hitting. It is pretty hard to teach a child not to hit if you are hitting them. A lot of parents seem to think it is okay to spank their child when the child isn't behaving the way they want them to, but then they expect their child not to hit anyone. Or, parents respond to hitting with more hitting, which may appear to "work" in the moment, but in the long-term just teaches the idea that the person who can hit the hardest wins. Modeling gentle responses and teaching our children how to handle difficult situations without resorting to hitting is the best thing we can do in the long-term to teach them that physical violence is not only wrong and disrespectful, but also unnecessary. I remind my children regularly, both when they have just hit me or someone else, as well as on peaceful occasions, that it is never okay for them to hit someone else and it is never okay for someone else to hit them.

More Resources

Gently Responding to an Aggressive Toddler - Natural Parents Network

Getting Out the Angries - Christine Benevuto - Mothering.com

Why Does He Hurt Me - Teresa Pitman - TodaysParent.com

Raising Your Spirited Child  (Book) - Mary Sheedy Kurcinka

   

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Reader Comments (65)

This is great, thanks. My 2yo hits me all the time, and I've noticed it's definitely a) when she's frustrated about not getting something; or b) when I'm ignoring her by talking on the phone or with a friend. The problem with my daughter is that her anger/frustration escalates extremely quickly (within a span of seconds). She could be content and quiet, and the second something frustrates her the teeniest bit, she's off on a tantrum. So I have to be extra vigilant about catching her immediately - I usually scoop her up into my arms and grab her attention with a loud voice, and then quickly calm down into a soothing tone. Some days when I'm really tired and frustrated myself, I probably don't react very well (by raising my voice). But most days I hope that I mirror the behaviour I want her to have, by speaking softly and reiterating that we don't hit people.

September 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMisty

Thanks for the wonderful reminders of the do's and don'ts of re-directing aggressive behaviors. Sometimes it is so hard to remove yourself from the frustration and think empathetically about our toddler's point of view! I love having someone to remind me of the things I know but don't always practice!

September 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAngie

Thank you for this! I have definitely noticed my 13 month old hitting when he is tired and not getting exactly what He wants! I am going to implement the suggestions and hopefully mommy will stop getting so battered (and the hair pulling!)

September 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLiz

This couldn't be more timely. My 2 year old started hitting recently. Hitting the little girl at daycare who he's always been jealous of but had never hit before. Hitting the little boy he had a play date with. Hitting us (his parents) when he is unhappy with restrictions we impose or not getting our full attention.

The intriguing thing is, he seems unhappy with his own behaviour. He repeatedly talks about every single one of these incidents. He repeats that he shouldn't push, or shouldn't hit so and so. Without being prompted, he brings up the topic and explains why he did it (s/he had the toy I wanted).

But he does it again. And again.

So the new strategies are very welcome.
I think I'll try to implement the stomp-your-feet instead part very soon. Develop new ways of listening that are more validating. In any case, it's reassuring to read that we are not alone.

September 28, 2011 | Unregistered Commenter'away from your crazy mom'

Thank you for this! I am really looking forward to all your toddler advice! I have some follow-up questions about hitting. There are many instances when my 21mo non-verbal toddler hits even though he is not upset or angry. For example, every day when I come home from work, we have a 10-15 minute nursing session. It's his most active nursing session of the day, so he's usually twisting and turning, and his hands are active, but it usually ends with him hitting my face, harder and harder, until he's not nursing anymore, just trying to hit me. He's smiling like he thinks it's fun. Also, he sometimes tries to dominate other kids physically, by pushing and squeezing (sometimes around the neck - agh!). He doesn't seem angry, just sort of exploring what he can do. He's been doing this for about a year. He used to hit my face different times throughout the day, but now it's pretty much limited to the nursing I described above. Any explanations/suggestions would be appreciated!

September 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSam

Sam:

I would just try gently holding his hand and explaining that he cannot hit you because it hurts. If he continues, let him know that you are going to have to put him down if he keeps hitting you. If he does it again, get up and put him down and move away from him. I would remain calm through all of this because he may just be looking for a reaction more than anything else.

September 28, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Thanks. I have tried that, and interestingly, when I do walk away from our nursing (explaining what I am doing & why), he starts crying and throws a tantrum. So then I come back & nurse him again and it's fine. It just seems kind of dysfunctional to me. But thanks for your advice. I feel like we'll work through it, I suppose eventually it will probably drop off. I'm really looking forward to his verbal development because I think it will be so wonderful to talk with him about things like this.

September 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSam

Thank you!! These are all really good suggestions. I especially like the foot-stomping as a possible alternative for expressing anger, especially since my little boy is speech-delayed, so he has a hard time expressing himself verbally (which in turn partially explains his use of force to get his point across).

Also, don't parent in public! Truer words were never spoken! This is very difficult for me. I think I should just remove remove remove and stop imagining that I will be able to negotiate a solution with my (hello, barely verbal!) toddler in public.

I think some "aggressive" children are probably on the "sensory-seeking" end of the sensory threshold spectrum ... I try to play lots of very physical games with my boy, to channel his love for rough, physical play in an acceptable direction.

Spending more time with temperamentally compatible toddler playmates also helps lower my stress levels. It's really hard when he is paired with a more sensitive child - who usually has a very protective parent! I feel judged and miserable, and the other parent is appalled at my little bully. But when I pair him with another rough-and-tumble kiddo, things go much better. Obviously I want to expose him to all types eventually, but for now, this seems to help.

September 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterInder

Thanks So Much for answering to my email! I already started implementing this and I'm sure I'll see improvement. I cannot thank you enough!

September 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterVeronica Hernandez

Just curious if you have any thoughts on older kids who hit. I have a 5 year old who hits his brother occasionally and impulsively. We've used all of the above suggestions, but it seems like when his temper flares he simply loses all of his tools for dealing with his anger in any other way.

September 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCasey

My 13 month old has been scratching and pulling hair recently too! Glad I'm not alone!

September 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAmanda

My 35 month old daughter will only slap/lash out when she has been exposed to something. I'm still trying to figure out exactly what, and it seems to be several things. If she eats some conventional junk foods, for example, such as an oreo, she turns into another person in front of my eyes. Just tonight in fact, I gave her a bath and used some supposedly "natural" foaming bath formula with "real" lavendar from the "organic" section of the store. She is still up and running around, making weird shrieking noises and hitting the walls, or any people in her way. :( Perhaps EOs just don't do well with her IF there is nothing else in that foaming bath formula.

Whenever I hear a parent mention a consistent struggle with physical attacks from her toddler, I immediately wonder about environmental triggers. Eliminate fake sugar, excess sugar, food coloring and other chemicals or perfumes from the environment. Even if the hitting doesn't go away, it is still way healthier and well worth the change.

September 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGuggie Daly

My youngest went through a hitting stage at his preschool when he was four. After initially reacting with horror and making it all worse I realised that he hadn't felt heard by the adults who had been attempting to resolve the conflicts he's been having with the other kids and it seemed to him that the only option he had left was to "take the law into his own hands" but he didn't have the tools to do it non-violently. Once he felt that he was going to be heard and conflicts between children would be resolved fairly he stopped feeling like he had to handle everything alone and the hitting stopped and, with good communication skills being modelled, he soon learned to resolve many conflicts for himself without the hitting.

September 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterIsabel

What about when they think it's FUN, not out of frustration?

My 18 month old is hitting our dogs, about half the time with her hands and half the time with a toy. My husband was taking away whatever she was using to hit, but in that case, she would sometimes just pick up something else to use. I implemented a 1-minute "time out" in which I sit her on the couch, face her, tell her we don't hit and make her wait for one minute. She cries and fights me during this time.

But here's the thing, like another posted mentioned: she is not angry at the dogs, they are not in her way, and sometimes they'll even be walking AWAY and she'll chase after them to hit them. She'll say "Ow! ow!" as she hits them, FOR them (because that's what I say if she hits me) and laugh or smile. It's fun to her-- she's not angry, not frustrated. I can hold her hand for a moment, ask he if we hit or if hitting is okay, she'll say "no", and as soon as I let go, hit the dog again. What IS this?

September 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLeigh

This is a fabulous post. I believe in long term parenting strategies but sometimes it is hard to find the right approach for your child at that moment. Your ideas are always really practical and workable in the real world and I look forward to reading them. Thank you.

I'm so glad you posted this. I have a hitting non-verbal 16 month old girl on my hands, and I'm kind of at a loss for how to handle it. She hits me only, never other children, never the cats, and never her father. She hits primarily in three different circumstances: 1, when she's nursing (exactly like Sam above), 2, when she's excited and playing, and 3) When she wants me to pay attention to her but I can't.

The third point is hardest for me to deal with. Supposing that she's hitting because of an unmet need (i.e. the need for attention), I should cuddle her, or play with her, or otherwise entertain her. But that isn't always possible. She needs 100 percent of my attention about 97 percent of the time, and I DO have to do other things like cook dinner and wash dishes.
At some stage I want her to realize that she can't have 100 percent of my attention 100 percent of the time, and grown ups have to do grown up things. It's not a punishment, it's just life. And you can't hit about it. So I'm left wondering, how much does one have to sacrifice their household and family rhythm in order to "meet the needs" of the kids?
(I hope the tone of this comment doesn't come across as confrontational. It's not my intention. Its a sensitive issue for me, and I'm not sure of the best way to deal with it.)

September 29, 2011 | Unregistered Commentererica @ expatriababy

This is a very timely post for me. My almost four year old has started hitting me when he gets frustrated and it's very hard to deal with. It's combined with generally not complying with anything I'm asking him to do (e.g. getting dressed, getting ready for bed) and running around laughing (which I'm ashamed to admit makes me very cross for some reason). He seems to think that I am joking and don't really mean that it is time for getting dressed or whatever. I try to give him options and encourage him to do things himself rather than having me dress him.

It often coincides with him coming back from his dad's house for the day or when I am sick.

September 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJulie

Leigh, reading your comment for a moment I thought you were talking about my son! While he hits he says no no don't hit. It IS, at times, a very elaborate game. Aren't toddlers strange...

September 29, 2011 | Unregistered Commenter'Away from your crazy mom'

Oh yes, my 2yo hits and smiles, it's fun. I just try to redirect with an activity I can do with her. I think a lot of times for my child it's bordem or lack of knowing what to do next- how to entertain herself, or attention seeking (she likes my reaction) . So off we go to build blocks or read a book... As I'm saying " gentle hands please and ask mommy if you want to play."

I really liked this article! Gave me a few extra tips and confirmed what I'm already doing. THANKS!

September 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSteph "Shine"

"Stomping feet: If they do feel the need to react physically to their anger, I like to give them options like stomping their feet or pounding their fists into a pillow."

This option is especially important for children who need a physical outlet. I believe it's important when you have a child who needs to express through motion that it is OKAY when you are angry to let off steam physically if you need to, BUT THAT IT SHOULD BE DIRECTED IN A WAY THAT DOESN'T INFLICT HARM - either to yourself or to others. I've found that physically restricting my children when they are angry, even when done in a gentle manner as you suggested, only escalates their agitation and leads to greater outbursts. Some kids really need a physical outlet for anger. This can be especially difficult, I have found as a parent, when you yourself may not be a physical-expression type of person; it makes it more difficult to empathize & understand, when, to you, walking away seems easy (who wouldn't want to just take a deep breath, and release anger gently & peacefully, then distract ourselves with a good book, haha?), and physically acting out seems over-the-top or uncomfortable.

Some other options:
Pounding/smashing clay
Lying in bed kicking
Opening the back door & run and/or kick a ball
Punching a punching bag/beanbag (my MIL tells me of how, as opposed to violence as she was, once bought her boys [she had 4] a blow-up punching bag and instructed them to punch THAT instead of each other or damaging things around the house - it worked)

Annie, I SO very much appreciate when you share gentle parenting wisdom, especially to as large a following as you have. It's such a good message to get out there, that peaceful, non-violent parenting IS POSSIBLE. There will ONLY be peace in the future of our world if it is understood and cherished by our children.

September 29, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterkelly @kellynaturally

Erica:

I don't think that hitting due to need for attention necessarily means that you need to give them attention right then and there. I think hitting from wanting attention comes more in scenarios where the parents have not been able to give the child the attention that she needs over a longer period of time (e.g. new baby, new job, very busy, etc.). So I don't think that you need to sacrifice household and family rhythm necessarily. However, it can help sometimes to engage the children in the process - i.e. give them a "job" to do while you are cooking or doing dishes.

I also have a few other related articles on balancing parents' needs and children's needs that might be useful:
http://www.phdinparenting.com/2010/01/14/childs-hierarchy-of-needs/" rel="nofollow">Child's Hierarchy of Needs
http://www.phdinparenting.com/2010/01/20/intersecting-needs-maslow-interdependence-parenting-caregiving-relationships/" rel="nofollow">Intersecting Needs: Maslow, interdependence, parenting, caregiving, relationships

September 29, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Leigh:

I think sometimes it is just trying things out, testing limits, and looking for a reaction. I would just calmly say "if you can't be gentle with the dogs, you can't be around the dogs" and keep them separated.

September 29, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Casey:

I've heard good things about the book http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0060931027/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&tag=phdinpar-20&linkCode=as2&camp=217145&creative=399369&creativeASIN=0060931027" rel="nofollow">The Explosive Child for older children. I haven't read it myself though.

September 29, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

You're welcome Veronica. I think the important thing to remember is that there is no golden ticket. It is a gradual process of gently teaching them the appropriate way to handle themselves. My 4 year old still hits sometimes, but not nearly as much as she used to. My seven year old, however, never hits anymore even though he was a hitter when he was a toddler. They do get it eventually!

September 29, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

We spent the better part of six months running interference between our toddler and our two dogs. We still have to sometimes. It's a lot of work. Fortunately/unfortunately, my dogs are very tolerant of abuse (which is what it is at times, getting jumped on by a 18 month old). We just kept reinforcing "gentle" at every opportunity. Good luck!

September 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterInder

Sam:

I http://www.phdinparenting.com/2008/07/12/ill-hold-you-while-you-cry/" rel="nofollow">don't see a tantrum as something that I need to solve or stop. I see a tantrum as my child's way of expressing frustration and anger, but I don't think it is always my job to fix it. In this scenario, your toddler is mad that he can no longer nurse/hit you, but I think it is a lesson that he needs to learn. You can help him to find words for his anger and help him to understand that he can only nurse if he doesn't hit. You can also help to find other options for his hands. My toddler always needed to "grab" something while she was nursing.

September 29, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Great tips! I only have my 5 month old right now so no issues with hitting...yet. I have seen this type of behavior in my niece though and am planning on passing these tips along to her parents.

September 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterVanessa Lee

Great tips. My son (just over two years old) is a total hitter largely IMO because he has limited vocabulary, and is just so frustrated that he can't express himself. I remember being told by a woman in a crowded open gym that my son (who was only 18 months at the time) HAD TO "say he was sorry" to her son for hitting him. I was totally taken aback. I apologized to her son but didn't make Theo do anything, took him away from the highly overstimulating situation and regrouped. I realized that he was so overstimulated, clearly tired, and I had just let him go too long. I found the whole thing very upsetting. Now he can say sorry and if I pre-warn him, he'll hug and pat rather than hit. I just need to be right on top of it.

September 29, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterharrietglynn

Hitting isn't our primary issue, but we've just started seeing it more, and this post is really appreciated! I see hitting when:

1) We're offering something he doesn't want, like certain foods (we or the food get hit, or the food gets thrown, with a frustrated grunt and a frown, like, "DUDE! I don't want that!")

2) When he's really disappointed, like if his dad takes him from me when I'm heading to work. Daddy gets hit, and it can morph into a tantrum if we don't immediately distract.

3) For fun, and this hitting is much more controlled. It's excited patting of the cats that turns into hitting, or patting me while nursing that turns into hitting. In this case, we say, "Be gentle!" Lately, though, saying, "Be gentle!" has resulted in instant, heartbreaking tears, like we've wounded him to the quick. I'm not sure why, but it's the same reaction he has if he accidentally bites me while nursing and I react with a squeal or gasp. It's as though he's saying, "But I didn't mean to hurt anybody--OH, NO! WAAAAH!" We're working on a gentler way to tell him to be gentle now. :-)

September 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMelissa

These tips are very helpful. Our 26 month old is generally delightful but tends to hit her 4 year old sister when her sister is getting my attention rather then her. Then her sister hits or pushes back. Sometimes they quickly progress to having a good laugh about it but not always.

Yesterday evening 4 year old was sitting on my lap for a cuddle and 2 yo objected and started hitting. I told her not to hit (and big sister growled at her) and suggested she stomp her feet instead. At that point she turned on her heel and walked off, muttering something about going to the bedroom. 4 yo and I were quite astounded!

September 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTamara

I'm no so sure about the foot stomping or encouraging any kind of physical outlet (except maybe deep breathing) in normally-developed children. You can't go around stomping your feet, pounding tables, or even squeezing clay or whatever as an adult. And seriously, it seems like the parenting trend among some tribes leans too much toward coddling the child and preserving their feelings (important, yes, but...) and not enough toward teaching discipline. I have a naturally mellow child who would never dream of hitting another (she is now 5 so I can say this, it's not like she's going to start now) but she has definitely been the VICTIM of others' lousy, lenient parenting. When your kid hits my kid, it is NOT OK and for you to just take them aside and have a talk is not enough. At the very least they should be yelled at in a loud and scary voice. I see alot of kids that very clearly have not had enough discipline. I am all about AP when it comes to being in-touch, being there for the kid, etc. but you have to be firm and let them know your displeasure with inappropriate behavior. Kids of certain ages do no understand subtlety, often times. I am no "expert" but I do have a very well-behaved child. And before anyone says they'd rather have some openminded, authority-challenging explorer than a well-behaved child, I will tell you they are NOT mutually exclusive (as it seems many soft liberal parents think) and in fact, nobody in the public world and in school, etc. will give a crap about your free and authority-questioning self if you can't keep your emotions under control and act appropriately.

September 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMrs Rochester

I find it odd that you think foot stomping is inappropriate, but you're completely okay with (and even insist on) yelling in a loud and scary voice.

September 29, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

To be honest, I don't see how yelling at them in a loud and scary voice teaches children to keep their emotions under control and act appropriately. It seems likely to send the precisely opposite message.

September 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTamara

oh snap!

September 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTamara

Thanks Annie for covering this topic! Very well written!

September 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJennifer Walker

Thanks very much for the links - I think I've read these two a while ago, but I'll re-read them and see what jumps out at me in light of my current concerns re. hitting.

Hitting and the correction thereof is part of a broader dialogue that I'm having with myself: how AP practices and permissive parenting relate to the empathy deficit and also a lack of emotional resilience. I do believe that a balance needs to be drawn between entirely permissive AP approach (I understand that AP doctrine does not view itself as permissive, yet many practitioners of the approach arguably could be labeled as such) and a more assertive approach. I want my daughter to learn that in life you can't always get what you want. I want her to know how to accept and then bounce back from disappointment. For me, personally, I'm not sure exactly where that line lies.

September 30, 2011 | Unregistered Commentererica @ expatriababy

Sorry, I wasn't really clear. I don't think yelling, like screaming my head off in public, in fact, I like your "get out of the public eye" point and I am big on not making scenes in public. Perhaps I was just trying to emphasize that you have to be more stern than I have observed parents being (there's that public eye thing again) and than how I understand them to be from reading different crunchy blogs about what devils some of these kids are. I am AP, but stern, and I have a very well-behaved child. It is important for children to know who is in charge, and this notion often gets seriously diluted by AP types.

September 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMrs Rochester

When a parent does it, the parent should be under control and using the sternness strategically to impress upon the child that they are in charge and that the child's behaviour is not acceptable. The parent, if doing this correctly, would not be out of control. The words I chose to express this about yelling loud were not correct. The being scary I am fine with. That's the point. You scare them, what they did---hit my child--was *that* wrong. I won't deal with someone else's child in a situation like this, I will just comfort my own child and hope that the parent of the bad, awful nasty brat will appropriately deal with theirs. Unfortunately, this is not usually the case, which is why the kid would think its OK to hit another kid in the first place.

September 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMrs Rochester

I bet the kid your brutish son hit found it upsetting, too. Geesh! I would not have insisted your son apologize because kids don't get it and it's not my job to raise YOUR kid. I would have, though, walked away, rolled my eyes and thought you were probably not the best parent unless I heard you tell the kid quite sternly that it's wrong to hit other people. At least you got him out of there right away, and I hope you made him stay out for the duration to teach him not to hit.

This illustrates one reason I think little kids act out, though, when you mention "overstimulating situation"...parents drag their kids to childcare, playdates, public places, and on and on and on and it *is* too much for them to live publicly and be around loads of people for all this time when they are so little. I think maybe one reason why my kid is so non-aggressive is because I did not force her into overloading social situations at too young and age with too large of groups of children. Hell, *I* can't handle that chaotic and "lord of the flies" dynamic of that, how can a small child?

September 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMrs Rochester

Mrs Rochester,
When I use the strategy you suggest (the stern yet calm voice), it makes my child cry. As a child, I was terrified of people who talked to me with that stern voice, to the point that it still affects my relationships with my superiors today.
Now, making my son cry would perhaps be acceptable if it had a pedagogical impact regarding his occasional hitting. Unfortunately, it does not. Helping him find other ways than hitting to express what he needs to express (be it his playfulness or his frustration) has longer lasting effects. The result is not as flambloyant for an outsider's eyes, but I see the improvement over time.

As an aside, unless a parent has many many children, their toddler being well behaved cannot be directly connected to their good parenting (I was an extremely well behaved toddler, my brother was not).

You certainly are lucky to have a well behaved child, because calling your own child things like a 'bad, awful nasty brat' is proven to have long lasting detrimental effects.

September 30, 2011 | Unregistered Commenter'Away from your crazy mom'

Mrs Rochester:

Children who hit are not always "awful nasty brats". There are a lot of things that can lead to a child hitting that have nothing to do with bad parenting. That doesn't mean that hitting is right (it isn't) and parents have to deal with their children when they hit. However, it is up to each parent to determine which technique is going to work best to teach their child not to hit.

I want to share a comment from another blog post with you. My friend Candace wrote a post called "http://yummymummyclub.ca/someone-raising-bullies" rel="nofollow">Someone is Raising the Bullies" about how/why parents need to do their jobs. While I don't disagree with Candace's message, I do think that it is about more than parents not doing their jobs. This is the comment left on the post by Tara:

"My 9 year old son has Autism and we have a lot of trouble with him being bullied AND being a bully. He just doesn't understand social cues and he overreacts and can say & do some truly horrible things. My two younger children have been seriously affected by this.

My son does not consciously choose someone to bully... but he believes the world should act a certain way and when someone violates that he freaks out. If a child does something to him- teases him, harms him in any way, touches his stuff- my son gets fixated on his own concept of justice. He believes that they should get hurt since they hurt him. It is wrong and skewed but Autism does that to him. I am sure people look at us as his parents and think we suck and aren't doing enough. Actually I KNOW people think that because they have told me so. My son is on a heavy duty medication to help with his aggression. He goes to weekly counselling with an Autism specialist counsellor. His diet has been altered to avoid foods that make it worse. He has a full time aide at school. We do therapy. We read social stories. We talk about it daily. He ALWAYS has consequences for his actions. He never gets away with it. And I promise you I have never once said to him "I am going to kill you with a machete"... and yet that is what he screamed at me last night. I 100% agree with you that the parents need to step up and take responsibility. I also agree that a lot of bullying is not dealt with the way it should be and we MUST protect victims. And I also agree that sometimes kids are taught crappy behaviour from parents who should quit it. But be just a little gentle on those of us parents who really are doing our very best. It is incredibly painful to have a child who is so angry at the world and not know how to fix it. We know it is not ok. We are trying."

September 30, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Perhaps more people should have just one child and then they would be better equipped to focus their parenting on that one. I don't think it's so bad to make a child cry when they have done something wrong. I think at a young age a child's understanding that there ARE authority figures is more important to cultivate than the whole "question authority" ethos (which I would support more in a teen with whom I could have an intellectual conversation). The fact is, there are hierarchies in the world and there are some people who are in charge of you in some contexts, and yes, you have to accept it.

September 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMrs Rochester

That's all well and good and my sympathies go out to these folks, but this was not the case of the child who hit mine (that comment is somehow missing from this thread and I haven't the time to rewrite it). These parents need to be more careful then about "mainstreaming" their problem children. What if he decides to bash my kid in the head with a rock because she's in his way or something? (she would never take a toy away from someone else's hands because I taught her BOUNDARIES---a whole other topic of discuss that needs to be had in the wake of the whole "it takes a village" nonsense in which kids now think that every thing is fair game for sharing, any adult around is supposed to talk to them or help them, etc.) Am I still supposed to feel sorry for him, then?

September 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMrs Rochester

I don't think that attachment parenting is permissive parenting. I think attachment parenting means that you put your relationship with and respect for your child at the centre of your decisions about how you treat them. I also think it is about being clear and consistent in your expectations.

September 30, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Mrs Rochester, I share some of your sentiments with regard to my (our?)perceived need for more assertive parenting, but I disagree with your explanation for why kids hit.
My daughter was a born hitter. She started hitting me at 10 mo, and I never tok her to daycare, playdates, mommy and me classes and the like. (I live in Asia, these types of things army available here). Her hitting was never a result of over stimulation, rather, frustration. It's one data point, true, but I suspect that there are many more examples like my child.
Some kids hit. It's the way they are. You spoke about your kid being well behaved -that's wonderful, and I believe it probably has more to do with your child's temperament than anything. My kid is really really well behaved in all other situations, but she's a hitter.

September 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterErica @ expatriababy.com

Thanks, Annie. Yes, I do understand that, thanks for clarifying. I didn't mean to paint the whole AP approach with the permissive brush, but my observation is that some parents are quick to give in and permit undesirable behavior under the auspices of AP. Perhaps that's clouded my view slightly.

September 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterErica @ expatriababy.com

Erica:

I think that more effective and less effective parenting exists in all types of parenting styles. I have a friend who had very authoritarian parents and her decisions about how to act were guided by (a) the chances of getting caught and (b) whether the it would be "worth it" even if she did get caught. She got slapped across the face by her mother every time she missed curfew, but missing curfew was so fun that she accepted the slap as a consequence of having fun.

I know other kids who were parented in the way that Mrs Rochester suggested and they were little angels as long as their parents were around/watching and then they turned into little devils as soon as they weren't watching. Ultimately, I think that teaching children what is appropriate and not appropriate and guiding them to make good decisions is the most important thing and I don't think that being strict is necessarily the best way to teach that. Being permissive and giving in obviously isn't either.

September 30, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Well, of course you don't have to let another child hurt your child, but a little compassion towards children different than yours, and parents who have to deal with challenges you haven't faced might be appropriate here. Sure, maybe some parents are too permissive. But also, you don't know their lives or their struggles.

Annie was offering advice to those of us who are TRYING to stop our child from hitting other children, and you step in to tell us that we are bad parents? How is that helpful? Really permissive parents wouldn't be reading this blog post and trying to come up with strategies to correct their child's behavior.

It must be nice knowing that you are superior to other parents and have everything figured out. Can you see how hurtful and unhelpful your comments might be to someone who is doing their very best to address this behavior?

September 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterInder

I think the fact that you (from your comments appear) to have one naturally mellow child is great. However, children come in all different shapes and sizes. I have three children who have all been parented in the liberal AP way that you seem to dislike. I have one child who has an extremely quick temper and he occasionally hits. He used to hit frequently. He no longer does. However, it happens. He feels frustrated afterwards, because he doesn't like to be out of control, and he doesn't like the result of his hitting (his brother will no longer play with him). My other two children do not hit. I do not have nasty brats.

But, one thing that I have experienced that you appear not to have experienced is that different techniques work differently with different children. If I were to yell at my son after he hits, he would simply start yelling at his brothers. He would yell at me. He would yell at others.

I don't see one comment here that says, "My child hits other children, and I'm okay with that. We talk afterward, but it's not a big deal." I see people who have developmentally appropriate children who struggle to express in words what they are able to express physically. I see parents looking for solutions to stopping this behavior. My guess is that many of these parents have tried things like scolding and that it didn't work.

You also say that it's not okay to teach children things like stomping, squeezing clay, or pounding on a table. I strongly disagree. This again comes from having a child who is very physical. He needs physical outlets. When he was younger, we got him one of those blow up toys with the sand in the bottom to push when he felt upset, and it helped him a lot. He's now in school, and he doesn't carry his blow up toy around. We actually no longer own the thing. These are transition behaviors. The options here are not only hitting or sitting calmly. There is a large area in between those two behaviors. The goal for all people when extinguishing an undesirable behavior is to replace it with a desired behavior. That target changes as a child grows. What is appropriate for toddlers in many areas isn't appropriate adult behavior, but we don't expect babies to transition to adults in one step. These are steps of the transition.

Perhaps a little understanding and a little less judgement would help.

September 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCasey

Hiya. Just to let you know I've shared this post on my weekly links post today http://freeyourparenting.com/2011/10/02/sharing-sunday-11/

Really helpful tips - dealing with hitting is such a problem, I find, when you want to discipline gently.

October 2, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterClare Kirkpatrick

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