Teaching Kids Not to Hit

"He must have learned it from someone! Probably in daycare." These are the common thoughts when your toddler starts hitting. But, what if your child doesn't go to daycare? Did he learn it from you? Probably not.

The Hitting Gene

The fact is that toddlers hit because that's what they do. They don't have to be taught how to hit, it just comes naturally to them. Babies don't have the maturity to express the emotions and frustrations in a "civilized" fashion - they just let it all out in whatever way it comes. Furthermore, hitting may not even be an expression of emotion. Sometimes little ones are figuring out their bodies, what they are capable of and how to coordinate their motions. As adults, we see hitting as an act of aggression, even when it isn't.

Learning How to Express Themselves

Young children, particularly between the ages of one and four are the main perpetrators of this action. Expressing themselves emotionally or physically can manifest in crying, screaming, throwing objects or hitting. Initially it can be exploration, and then it can morph into a method to get a response of some sort. Your reaction to it will determine in large part how your child will formulate his ideas of interaction. Children (and plenty of adults) will always do what works. If crying works to get your attention, then crying is what will happen. If hitting works, then they'll hit. They learn to do what works.

It Takes Time, Patience and Consistency

Teaching your toddler not to hit takes time, patience and consistency. By patiently showing your child that hitting is not acceptable and by being consistent with your instruction (and patience), you will be able to show him better ways to express himself without harming others. You might even be able to create a drummer if you use drumming as an outlet for hitting.

Depending upon the age of your child, your responses to hitting can range from catching his hand when he strikes your face and guiding his hand to a stroking motion - which usually works for babies up to about a year and a half or so - to a time out complete with explanation.

If you know your child is hitting out of emotion or frustration, we suggest the following as a guideline for correcting and changing the behavior:

· As soon as your child hits someone, take firm hold of his arm or hand and hold it. You will distract him long enough to get his attention and to find out what caused the hitting in the first place. Hold your child to you - grabbing and hanging the child up by his arm isn't necessary and is pretty scary.

· If the hitting is because he wants a toy or he's frustrated, your communication will let him know two things: first, you understand he's upset and second, it isn't okay to hit. You can use a phrase such as: "Do not hit. I understand you are upset, but hitting hurts." Often hitting is a result of the inability to express emotions or to communicate with words. Letting him know you understand tells him he isn't bad, but hitting isn't appropriate.

· Your tone should convey seriousness. Speaking sternly and calmly communicates the gravity of the situation. Screaming at the child will only teach him another inappropriate way of dealing with things and speaking sweetly communicates that hitting is no big deal.

· If your toddler is yelling or crying, take him to a place where he can calm down. By separating him from the other child or children, he gets the message that his behavior is what took him out of the game. Keeping him in a separate space for a time will help him to calm down and perhaps even assess what happened.

· Rather than sitting there with him, make the separation a type of "time-out" where he sits quietly by himself. It won't be long before he'll want to join the other child or children. This is your teaching moment. By using his desire to return to play, you can tell him that he can rejoin the party and if the hitting was about a toy, you can use this time to teach the concept of sharing - probably for the umpteenth time.

· Apologies are important, however, it is also important that it isn't just rote. Helping your child to understand that hitting really does hurt other people makes his apology come from something that he recognizes rather than something he is supposed to do. A hug and "I'm sorry" is a good way to end the incident.

If you see your child about to hit another child, or vice versa, intercept the action if possible. Two things are accomplished: your child sees that hitting isn't acceptable, and you are protecting the other child.

Who said raising kids is a cakewalk? Pick up great tips and learn more from others who have been there and done it! Check out this site for more information.