Stop Hitting Me! What to Do When Kids Hit Parents
When kids confront feelings of anger and frustration, which is all in a day's work when it comes to the under-five crowd, they handle those feelings in a variety of ways. Some yell. Some go boneless and scream on the floor, no matter where in the world they are. Some collapse into a sobbing heap and struggle to get the words out. And some hit. Some hit siblings or other kids, and some hit their parents.
My kids are of the sobbing heap variety when it comes to coping with overwhelming feelings, which is a good thing for me. Quite honestly, I think I would be broken hearted if they ever lashed out physically. Clearly, it happens, and some kids do this more than others, and it's all within normal behavioral expectations, but I'm pretty sure that kind of thing would break my heart because physical aggression is so not my thing. And maybe I'm just a little bit sensitive.
Still, it happens. Kids hitting parents can trigger big feelings in parents. The frustration grows exponentially when nothing seems to be working and a child lashes out in a physical manner. So what can emotionally exhausted and possibly bruised parents do to stop the cycle of hitting out of frustration? They can begin by uncovering the source of the frustration.
Look for clues
Little kids have big feelings, and any number of factors can exacerbate those feelings. My son does not do well when over-tired. Not only does lack of sleep lead to night terrors for my little one, but it also triggers feelings of frustration, tears, and impatience. If we have a late night for one reason or another, I know that I have to adjust the following day to make sure that he gets enough downtime. That reduces the moments of frustration.
Keep calm and use your words. We can't expect kids to choose adaptive coping strategies if we scream and throw parent-sized tantrums every time they have a tantrum.
Keeping a list of triggers of frustration is always a good idea, as it helps you establish a pattern. If loud noise and bright lights send your little one into a fit of frustration, you might want to reconsider time spent at overwhelming parties and indoor play spaces. If hunger causes your toddler to blow, don't leave home without snacks and water. Does sharing result in a scream-fest during every play date? Perhaps your kid isn’t play date ready just yet.
It can be hard to assess the triggers and environmental factors in the moment (ice cream can be iffy, you know), but it does help make sense of the behavior. Consider time of day, location, sleep patterns, eating patterns, people, and circumstances. Finding the pattern will help you establish a plan that works.
Use your words
Believe me, I know that feeling. I know how frustrating it can be when kids seem to lose it over nothing. But nothing to us can mean something to them, and we have to be the role models in the situation.
Keep calm and use your words. We can't expect kids to choose adaptive coping strategies if we scream and throw parent-sized tantrums every time they have a tantrum. Empathize with your child. Show your child that you understand. Help your child calm down in the moment.
State the limit. Repeat the limit. Provide an alternative.
Little kids are not generally known for being rational under frustrating situations. You might think your child is overly dramatic at times, but your child probably thinks he's just being a child. Either way, you have to set the limit.
State it. Repeat it. Provide an alternative.
In the case of the little one who hits when angry, you want to use a calm and clear voice tone with simple language. “We don't hit in this family. Hitting isn't nice. You can't hit others in this family. I can see that you are angry and you want to use your hands. Try ripping up this paper, instead.”
Paper tearing, stomping feet, clapping hands super hard, jumping up and down, scribbling in red pen, squeezing a stress ball, and throwing a ball against a wall are all great alternatives to hitting. Help your child try out a few alternatives when calm, and provide calm reminders during moments of frustration. Your child will be better for it.
Please share your tips on how you handle a frustrated child who hits.