Inside this post: Learn what to do when your child hits you. Effectively stop your child from hurting others without yelling, time out or getting physical.
I literally stepped out of the room for 20 seconds. That’s the amount of time it took for my oldest to tackle his little sister while she proceeded to whack him in the head. The two wrangled on the floor as I attempted to separate them.
Both kids were screaming. I was frustrated. And I would’ve given my tallest cup of black coffee and a biscotti to anyone who could make it stop. I just kept wondering why is my child so angry and aggressive?
Why kids hit, bite and kick.
When kids struggle to find words such as “I don’t like that” or “please stop” or “pay attention to me,” they will turn to hitting, kicking, biting and pushing to help others hear what they are trying to say.
From ages three and below, it’s especially normal to see aggressive behavior in kids. They live in a very physical world of communication that is often lacking in words.
When you get to ages four to seven, it’s also pretty normal to see aggressive behavior from time to time. Especially when kids get tired, frustrated, or in general, do not feel heard and understood.
It’s almost always about power.
The main reason you will see any child (or adult!) try to hit, kick or bite someone is to feel a sense of power and control.
This is why when you tell kids to “stop that” or ask “why are you hitting?” or “how many times have I told you not to hit?” or put kids in time out, you will often see more aggression, screaming or even laughing at you.
This is the child continuing to try and fill their need for power because that need wasn’t met yet.
So…what’s the solution?
Here’s what to do when your child hits you.
Hitting, biting or kicking each other is never okay, and we always try to nip this behavior in the bud asap. In the past we’ve used these toddler biting strategies and empathetic parenting, and while those things do work, the 3-step method I’m going to share is by far the fastest I’ve ever tried.
It’s worked beautifully when I’ve used it at the playground or social gatherings when kids get into squabbles.
Step 1: Put your arm out.
This isn’t specifically part of the method, but each time I see aggressive behavior, I always intervene using the least amount of physical intervention needed.
This usually looks like me placing an arm between the kids to block them from continuing to hit or kick. The majority of the time (like 90%) I don’t need to touch either child, unless there is some major hurt or pummeling going on.
Step 2: SAY WHAT YOU SEE®.
“You’re hitting AND he doesn’t like that.”
“You’re angry AND it’s not okay to hit people.”
Step 3: Offer a CAN DO.
“You can hit this pillow / chair / stuffed animal over here.”
“You can play more gently. Show me gentle play.”
Offering a CAN DO that allows the child to act out their hiting, kicking or biting in a safe way is the easiest and quickest way to help them feel a sense of power while still keeping everyone safe!
Step 4: Name those STRENGTHS.
“You found a way to play well together. That shows you’re cooperative.”
“You hit the chair. That’s right! You know what to hit. You kept everyone safe.”
“You bit the stuffed animal. That’s right. You know what to bite without hurting anyone!”
“You were so angry about xyz. You really wanted to hit me, but you hit the chair instead. That took a ton of self-control!”
This works incredibly well.
In the moment, this 3-step coaching method is an amazing tool where everybody wins. I also love using this at the playground or when other kids are around because—again—everybody wins.
The child gets to hit, kick or bite to fill their need for power or express any anger or frustration they need to get out. And the parent or teacher or caregiver avoids yelling or getting physical with the kids.
More tools to use when your child hits you.
If you are seeing a pattern of aggressive behavior, there are some awesome ways to work on this when everyone is calm. Kids are best able to learn when they aren’t revved up, upset or frustrated. Working on these things ahead of time made a world of difference for our family.
Read books on empathy.
Teaching empathy to kids is a key component for peaceful and kind behavior, and it’s the number one thing that ultimately helped stop our toddler from biting in the long run.
Here are several books to help…
Practice taking care of a doll.
This is great for both girls and boys. Help your child practice gentle and kind behavior towards a doll in different play scenarios. You could even act aggressively towards the doll and your child could help you make a better choice through play. Allowing your child to teach YOU…that is learning and understanding at the highest level.
Dolls we love for boys and girls…
Get a punching bag or biting bear.
Have toys in the house that are specifically for biting and hitting. Then each time the child bites or hits, direct them towards the toy that is safe to act aggressively towards.
This is key.
While this 3-step coaching method won’t prevent aggressive behavior from ever happening again–kids are always learning–but it is amazing to watch our oldest stop himself most of the time from hitting and biting others, while reaching for a couch cushion, toy or other object to hit and bite when he needs to get it all out.
The best part is I didn’t have to give away all my coffee and biscotti to find someone to stop the hitting. Talk about a win-win.
Print this free printable!
Chances are you won’t remember all the phrases talked about in this post. I’ve done the heavy lifting for you! This post comes with a free printable to help you remember the easy coaching method.
Here’s a sneak peak…
Download Your Free Printable
- Download the checklist. You’ll get the printable, plus join my weekly parenting newsletter! Just click here to download and subscribe.
- Print. Any paper will do the trick, but card stock would be ideal.
- Place it on your refrigerator. Use it as a quick reference to keep parenting simple!