Around half a year ago, I paid a visit to my childhood friend with my then two years three months old son. My friend and I were meeting after years and had everything possible under the sun to talk about. My friend’s one year old nephew and my son were playing with toys on a mat near us as we got chatty. A few minutes later, I noticed my son hit the young boy with a toy and he began to wail. I cannot explain how I felt then, I was deeply hurt, I understand he reacted because he did not get the toy of his choice, I understand it was a reflex action, I understand he was expressing his emotions, but I was hurt, least embarrassed but plain hurt.
A few days later, I heard from his teacher, she noticed him hit other kids for the first time in the classroom. By then, I was no alien to the fact that he had learnt to hit, push, pinch or hurt others.
If you are a mom or a teacher you know exactly how it feels when your child hits somebody. I was equally mortified. I would get into an emergency mode each time he’d hit, and his aggression would trigger my emotions. I felt the urgent need to take action.
However within a few days I knew this needed to change – here I speak of change in my behaviour and not his!
punishing a child who hits won’t stop the hitting. It just increases the child’s fear, making future hitting more likely. To stop the hitting once and for all, we’d have to address the feelings that are driving the hitting.
You probably have heard that before. You are perhaps aware of what you should do and what you shouldn’t. I know mamma, it’s easier said than done. But we as parent do all it takes to mould our young babies.
Here is what I thought was the right thing to do when my son became the guy who’d hit :
#1 When my son hit, I’d breathe
Yeah! I was judged for being an overtly “cool” mom. But the situation is already tense, your child has hit because he is scared or overwhelmed or just encompassed by an extreme emotion. As a parent, if I simply breathe, consciously lower my voice and blow out the tension, I am able to avoid more violence and model self regulation. Also I think if you scream, hit or punish a child for hitting, he becomes immune to that behaviour and hitting becomes a habit.
#2 Model care and repair
My son would hit less in a social set up and more at home. So when he’d hit his dad I’d run up to my husband and demonstrate my love and care for him and apologise on my son’s behalf. And then I’d hug my son and ask him what made him so angry. I also did this when he hit children in the neighbourhood or his cousins. I’d demonstrate care and Love towards other kids being extremely careful that I don’t criticise my son in any way.
#3 Teach empathy
When your child hits another child, it’s best to tell him how hurt his friend felt. But playing the blame game won’t help. When you tell your son, “X was hurt when you hit, it must have been so painful,” that’s about it, stop there. I did not at all want my son to feel that he was a bad person because he hit. I mean, that little human is already going through a turmoil of emotions (that lead to hitting) and on top of that he is made to feel like a bad guy. It could get a bit too much to handle. Teaching to empathise instead, helped!
#4 No lectures
It is so tough for me to resist the urge to lecture. But lectures are best avoided. Well, but shouldn’t we tell our kids it’s wrong to hit? But don’t they already know it ? Haven’t we already told them? Making small talks instead of telling what he did was wrong worked for us. At that point of time he needed my compassion the most. It’s a good idea to address the feelings first, the teaching can happen later.
#5 When both you and your child are calm it’s time to teach
This time may arrive a few minutes later or you may have to wait for a few hours till you and your child have calmed down. I’d randomly talk about why hitting is not a nice way of communicating your feelings when he’d be in a happy and playful mood. You can suggest alternatives to your child, like come to me when you are bothered, you can take turns to play with a toy, walk out of a place if you are getting upset and so on.
#6 Story telling
My son is extremely fond of listening to stories since he was one. His love for stories turned to be the best tool for getting him off hitting. I’d built up stories about how two boys fought and one was severely hurt and had to be rushed to the hospital and the other one felt so guilty but there was no way he could reverse his actions, about a little girl who was isolated because she would hit other friends. All of these came in with the other stories, without making the agenda very obvious to him.
#7 Keep the teachers and other care givers in the loop
My husband was the first person I had to discuss ways of dealing with our son’s disruptive behaviour. We both found a way that we thought was right. It is also important that the teachers in school are on the same page as you. if you are seeing a pattern make sure you are communicating with the teachers. When parents and teachers work together the child benefits.
#8 Watch What Your Toddler Watches
Kids are exposed to a new environment each day and a parent cannot fully control what that environment teaches a child. We must teach our kids to be themselves in this very environment just the way it is. However, Limiting or eliminating exposure to violence and aggressive behaviour will benefit a child. Certain games, toys and television programs should be monitored. If parents laugh at people hitting each other on TV, toddlers are noting this.
#9 Monitor your own behaviour
Are you expressing your fear, anger, anxiety or any other emotion by hitting? A child is most likely to learn from you. when you can manage your fear and stay compassionate, your child feels safe enough to work through her own fear.
We as Moms have some big feelings about our child hitting. especially if a child is hitting with regularity. Behind the anger, there is fear, fear that something is wrong with your child, or you’re a bad parent. None of these things are true. But you need to let that fear come up and feel it, so it’s exposed to the light of day. Once that feeling shrivels up and blows away and you’ll be better able to help your child.
At two years and nonentity months of age, my son does raise his hand or voice at rare occasions. But both him and I have learnt how to deal with our emotions.