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What To Do About A Child Who Hits

Thanks for your question, Randie.

Today’s Facebook page question is, “Why does my child hit?”

Having a child who has decided to start hitting can be frustrating for a parent. Why are they doing that? What can I do about it?

Most kids go through a hitting phase, or at least try it once. It typically happens in the young toddler/early childhood stage (15-30 months). It is really common. Kids hit for a variety of reasons.

Why do kids hit?

  1. Because they can
  2. To see what sort of response they will get
  3. Due to emotion (frustration, anger, etc.)
  4. Because they have been hit (and they do what they know).

How to respond when a kid hits

The proper response when hitting occurs is key. Grab the child’s hand when they are swinging (either at you, sibling, or other) and respond “no hitting.” The way you deliver the message is super important. Look the child in the eye. Get at his/her eye level (e.g., if the child is standing, crouch down to the same level). Make your tone of voice low and loud (not yelling, but slightly louder than normal to get their attention). Keep a serious face (one of the worst things to do is smile and laugh). Then put the child in time out. Don’t give warnings before putting a child who is hitting in time out. Just go straight to time out. The child needs to learn that you mean business.

Great question, Randie. Thanks!

Discipline: No Spanking Or Hitting

Children need to learn boundaries and to be taught by their parents. Discipline is a form of teaching, but spanking or hitting children does not teach children what parents think it does. Well-meaning parents tell me all the time, “…but I don’t hurt my child,” or “…but it’s the only way to get my child’s attention,” or “…
I was spanked and I turned out just fine.” While those parents may be right, spanking or hitting will ultimately result in a negative outcome. It is never the answer. In case you can’t tell, it is a topic that I feel very passionate about. I have had the misfortune of taking care of a number of children who have been physically injured or have emotional issues (anger, fear, resentment, etc.) as a result of being spanked or hit.

I have taken the following information directly from The American Academy of Pediatrics website:

Why spanking is not the best choice

The American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend spanking. Although most Americans were spanked as children, we now know that it has several important side effects.

  • Even though spanking may seem to “work” at first, it loses its impact after a while.
  • Because most parents do not want to spank, they are less likely to be consistent.
  • Spanking increases aggression and anger instead of teaching responsibility.
  • Parents may intend to stay calm but often do not, and then regret their actions later.
  • Spanking can lead to physical struggles and even grow to the point of harming the child.

It is true that many adults who were spanked as children may be well-adjusted and caring people today. However, research has shown that, when compared with children who are not spanked, children who are spanked are more likely to become adults who are depressed, use alcohol, have more anger, hit their own children, hit their spouses, and engage in crime and violence. These adult outcomes make sense because spanking teaches a child that causing others pain is OK if you’re frustrated or want to maintain control—even with those you love. A child is not likely to see the difference between getting spanked from his parents and hitting a sibling or another child when he doesn’t get what he wants.