(I wrote this about boys, because a lot of mothers have been coming to me with their “boy challenges” lately, but of course ALL small children live in their bodies and can be physical when frustrated and angry. This is not so much about hitting as part of a temper tantrum though, for that post please refer to “Smearing Peas” found at this link: https://theparentingpassageway.com/2008/11/13/smearing-peas
Also, this post is written about neuro-typical children.)
On to the post:
Is hitting acceptable? Absolutely not.
Is it fun to be the referee of hitting in your family? No, but it is necessary!
Is hitting a phase that may just go away in boys under 7? Perhaps, but from what I personally have seen with the more immature, physical kinds of boys is that hitting starts with frustration and lack of words around 2 or 2 and a half, and just continues through the ages with special exacerbations at age 4 and later at age 6. The increased physical aggression at age 6 is often difficult for parents to handle calmly, so I urge you to go back in this blog and read the four posts I wrote about the six-year old. This is an important time!
So, the question becomes, what to do with hitting?
1. The first place, as always, is to start with yourself. How is the tone in your home? What is going on with all members of the home? Who is in a stage of developmental disequilibrium right now? Are you and your partner happy or upset with each other? Are you getting any time for you to re-build your own energy reserves for happy parenting?
2. How much outside time is your little one getting? Are there other issues going on – food or environmental allergens, lack of sleep, giving up naps, how is the rhythm in your house? Have you been going too many places? Have you rotated toys within your home lately, spruced up the playroom, changed the sensory table out with something new?
This, of course, does not immediately solves the hitting problem, but it does give one a few things to think about and possibly try to change to see an effect.
When hitting happens:
I have seen families try all kinds of approaches from reasoning, saying “We don’t hit in our family,” time-outs, ignoring some of it……Which of course begs the question, What to do?
Every family is different of course,and every child is different as well, but here are a few thoughts. See what resonates with you!
First of all, Steiner said it is possible to awaken a child’s sense of what is right or wrong only towards the fifth year.
Barbara Patterson and Pamela Bradley write on page 118 of “Beyond the Rainbow Bridge: Nurturing Our Children from Birth to Seven,”If we try to explain too much to children, to reason with them about what we want them to do or not do, we prematurely awaken their capacities of reason and intellect and pull them o too early out of the dreamier world of childhood. Through imitation, they start trying to out-reason us and become extremely good at it.”
This may not mean much when they are 4, but it will mean much more to you once your child is 6!
My first thought is with a child under the age of 6, is to immediately turn it into a hit, you must be by me kind of rule. A time-in.
My second thought with the child under the age of 5 is to attempt to turn it into a more acceptable physical activity, and perhaps to approach it with pure distraction. When a small child hears, “We don’t hit in this family,” over and over it seems to become less and less effective. (You can agree or disagree here, LOL). With a very small 2 or 3 year old, I like the idea of giving them something they can hit or a physical activity. If they hit, you immediately pick them up and bring them to a spot where they can throw bean bags at a line on the floor. Not a guilt trip, not a bunch of words going to their heads that they really don’t get and doesn’t help them control their arms anyway, but physical motion.
Dads are also great at sometimes defusing this into not only physical activity, but humor as well. Sometimes we are so convinced that if we do not seriously pound into our little 2 and 3 year olds the “wrongness” of this behavior, then it will just snowball into something bigger and bigger as they grow. I think this is the wrong attitude to take in many ways. Again, hitting is not acceptable, but it takes time until children can express their emotions in acceptable ways. It is a process, and not something you can also quickly fix. That being said, I do not believe the right thing to do is to ignore the behavior, because it is not a behavior you want to see your child using in a social setting.
Some Waldorf teachers take the child’s hands and bathe them in a special healing water, dry the hands gently and paint suns or something like that on the back of the hands to remind the child of their gentle hands. Some Waldorf teachers will wrap the child’s hands in a silk and tell them that hands that are warm and strong will not hit.
Most of all, it is important to listen to the child and hear the child’s frustrations. You don’t need to reason, just listen. Give your child your attention if you think this will help your child. (See below for another mother’s different perspective).
If the child is four or five, I think gently just saying, “We can use our hands to (peel these carrots for dinner, grate potatoes, knead bread, whatever)” can be effective. Exhausting for the parent? Absolutely, sometimes! But, real work is the cure for violence in small children under the age of 7.
For children age 6 and over, I think you can be a bit more direct. This is the time for the notion, “We are gentle in this family.” It is also the time for you to be the authority.
As far as hitting between siblings, I think many times, way too often, we leave our children alone in the guise of benign neglect and letting them “work it out” when they truly do not have the skills to work it out. I actually am all for benign neglect, but a child under the age of 7 does not have the skills to work it out with someone much bigger or much smaller than they are. They need your help. You can help them use their words. (But again, I feel this is for a child older than the ages of the children where many parents are using these techniques! Remember, do not put the cart before the horse with your little 2, 3 and 4 year old!)
Some other suggestions I have heard other mothers use:
- Make sure the “victim” who was hit receives more attention than the negative attention the hitter is getting. Hitting can be a way to get attention!
- Make sure you are not hitting when you play with your child, or your children are not play hitting one another. It then becomes confusing for the child when hitting is okay, and when it is not okay.
- Give your child tasks that involve being gentle physically with someone else – giving foot rubs, back rubs, those kinds of tasks. Give them a chance to have gentle hands!
- Some sources I have read advises parents to walk away from a child who is hitting you; I would love to hear parents’ experiences with this. In my family, this would not have worked for us and would have led to more hitting, but I am sure there are families where this worked. Please do share if this worked for you.
- Nancy Samalin writes in her book “Loving Each One Best: A Caring and Practical Approach to Raising Siblings” to not intervene unless the fighting is physically or emotionally hurtful. She writes that many children fight because they are bored, because they want you in the middle. I am not sure I agree with this for children under the age of 7 who are fighting. I do not think children under the age of 7 often have the skills to deal with this. If you look back on the four and six year old posts, you will see that most developmental experts on childhood agree that the social skills of four and six year olds are poor; aggressive even. Not a time to let them “work it out”, in my opinion.
- With fighting siblings, never ask “Who started it?”
I would love to hear everyone’s thoughts!