My Child Won’t Stop Hitting People

Posted by on Jul 19, 2015 in Uncategorized | No Comments
Annie The Nanny

Annie The Nanny

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Annie the Nanny is a professional parenting educator. She writes a weekly advice column for parents who need help with their children's behaviour. Her advice has also been featured on CTV, CBC and in all kinds of print media. For more information about Annie, please go to her 'about' page.

Hi Annie,

My child won’t stop hitting people.  There weeks ago, my son turned 3.   The one thing we are struggling with is anger.  When he gets hurt physically, if he bumps his head or falls down or emotionally if another child pushes him or screams at him, he will start to cry, come find me or dad or any adult and start to hit us.  This is something we never display so I’m not sure why he does this and how do we stop it?

The other day at play school he bumped his head on another child’s knee and I was across the gym in the bathroom.   I had asked the instructor to watch him as I was in the washroom and when I came out I saw the instructor holding him as he was crying and hitting her.  I’m afraid to leave him at all because I would rather he hit me than someone else.  He will also get upset when he sees another child crying.  He will start to cry and hit.  He is an emotional child and both my husband and I were emotional children too. I just don’t understand why he’s hitting.  There are also trigger words too.  If someone says “are you ok,” or “Sorry,” if after they bump into him or see him get mildly hurt, that’s his cue to get upset.

When this happens we take him away to calm him down by usually not saying anything and just consoling him as we know he won’t understand anything when he is in a rage. Then after a half hour or so when he is calm we try to talk to him about what happened and we try to identify how he was feeling and then voice other options instead of hitting, such as stomping his feet.  He is receptive to the questions, and he identifies his feelings.  He even repeats different venting options.  However, it doesn’t seem to work, though. Any ideas? Thanks, Kira

Hi  Kira,

my child won't stop hitting peopleTo answer your question about why your child won’t stop hitting people succinctly, yes I do have some ideas but first let me say that I understand how frustrating this must be for you.  Luckily the answer is actually quite simple.  The only trouble with a simple answer is that people think that it can’t possibly work because it’s well, so simple.  But I digress.

Ok, what we have here is a little guy that gets cross when he’s hurt and can’t seem to deal with that emotion.  You’ve mentioned that you were an emotional child, as was your husband.  That’s all well and good but I don’t think we can put this simply in the court of genetics.  The main thing about his ‘hurt’ response is that’s he’s hitting people.  That is obviously a problem which you have noted but it does concern me that you would rather have him hit you than someone else, as though if it’s ok for you to be his punching bag whilst he learns to deal with his feelings.  Hitting you is not a way for him to express his feelings, something that my behaviour intervention services addresses.

First, look where the attention is going

Let’s look at what’s happening when he gets upset.  Getting a bump hurts and as parents we should be sympathetic.  However, hurting someone else in response to that bump is not on.  Children want your attention, so it makes sense when you’re trying to figure out what’s going on, that you understand at what period and in response to what stimuli, you are offering that attention.

Right now you are offering attention for both his responses.  You are consoling him (giving attention) when he’s hurt,  followed by also giving him attention when he hits someone else.  In order to stop the behaviour you need to separate the two.

Explain to him beforehand in very simple terms, that when he’s hurt it’s ok and good to come to mom or Dad for a hug but that hitting is not allowed.  If he hits you, he will be in time out, hurt or not.  Nobody likes being ignored and it will be particularly galling if he’s got a bump on the head to cope with as well.  However, he has to realize that hitting someone else for any reason is not ok.

You can explain your position and indeed the position of the any of his victims until the cows come home but children have to experience consequences to help concepts sink in.   All you are doing is letting that consequence happen.  Hitting people will upset them and they will not want him near them, so it’s much better that he learns that now whilst the lesson is easily absorbed, rather than later when it has become an entrenched habit.

At the same time try and notice every occasion where he controls his temper and frustrations and offer him encouragement.  “Well done….I liked the way you…..It’s so nice to see you doing…..”

Don’t treat him like an adult because he isn’t

I appreciate that you’re trying in your own way to deal with the problem but many parents believe small children to have the same reasoning powers that adults do.  You learned what you could and couldn’t do by experience of the world.  Your child must do the same.  You cannot explain that experience.  Learning through consequence is what makes life rich.  I don’t know about you but it’s my mistakes and the consequences of them that are in retrospect, my best learning experiences.

I would also look at other venting options because foot stamping will drive you crazy too at one point.  Anything physical will help but try and keep it positive physical, jumping jacks or whatever,  recognizing that there’s a time and place to be physical and that as he gets older it isn’t appropriate to act out his frustration unless he can do it in the privacy of his bedroom.    My grandmother got around that one by sweeping the floor every time she got mad.  The plus was she had very clean floors!  Teaching deep breathing would be a good idea and using counting or a rhyme to calm down.

For more help with your parenting, please visit my parenting services page.

Hope this helps,

All the best,



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