Siblings fighting usually drives most parents up a wall, and getting a question like “What do I do when my son hits my daughter?” is an extremely common parenting question. Usually it’s an odd hit or push there, but sometimes the behaviour becomes extreme, and then it becomes a far bigger parent problem to solve. Having said that, if you find out the core reason for the behaviour, a parenting solution is not far behind. Here’s Heather’s question below:
My son hits my daughter. He’s 3, and I have a two-year-old daughter. He hits her and pushes her all the time. He talks back and yells. My daughter will throw a temper tantrum over anything. When will they stop fighting?
Thanks for writing to me. This sounds very hard for you, and all this fighting must be driving you up a wall. I have to be honest here and say your children are expressing some “red flag” behaviours. What I mean by that is that children have a habit of being very forceful if they don’t get what they need. Think of it like your child being locked outside the door in the rain and banging on the door until you let them in. Would you be surprised if they kept banging harder to get your attention? Now please don’t get me wrong; I’m sure you are doing your level best to parent these kids, and be assured that of all the years I’ve worked with parents, there hasn’t been one that hasn’t cared or isn’t trying their hardest. It’s more a question of where you are putting that effort.
My son hits my daughter: What are children’s real needs?
So first, we have to understand what children really need here. I go on and on about this on my website, but that is only because the message is so critical. Children need love and leadership. You obviously love your children very much, so no problem there; but leadership is where you are having an issue, and it directly relates to all the behaviours you are seeing.
Leadership is critical.
By leadership, I mean providing direction. Implicit in that is a hierarchy, not because of some need to be controlling but because you are the adult and they are the children, and they are programmed to want to get that direction from you. You are the one who must provide limits to their world and explain to them what they can and cannot do. If you provide that consistently and calmly, then everything is well and good. If you don’t or are inconsistent in your efforts, your children will show the insecurity that you create in them through their behaviour. I believe that’s what you’re seeing.
My son hits my daughter: There’s a reason why you’re getting this behaviour.
Dr. Gordon Neufeld, in his book “Hold on to Your Kids,” explains that kids need the right amount of nurturing and dominance, and that too much of one or the other leads to children who, among other things, feel it necessary to dominate their peers. While it isn’t possible to love too much, it is very possible to nurture too much or, rather, incorrectly. Where Dr. Neufeld sees nurturing, I see leadership.
Sometimes you see nurturing in the real world overdone simply because a parent wants to be their child’s friend. By doing that, they deny the child the direction they need. You can read more about Mr. Neufeld’s point of view and leadership style and how important it is to get it right in my article, “How to Stop Bullying.”
Here’s what happens if leadership is not established.
You might be interested to know that many animal species display the same needs as their human counterparts. Mr. Neufeld goes on to explain the repercussions of a lack of dominance by using what happened at a wildlife reserve in South Africa as an example. Essentially, it caused bullying. The reserve needed to relocate some young African elephants in the 1980s as they were running out of room. Younger elephants were chosen over adult males because the latter were already too large to transport. By the 1990s, however, rare white rhinos started showing up dead in the reserve. It turns out that they hadn’t just been killed but had been gored and stamped on, and frankly, it looked like they had been bullied to death.
They would never have guessed who was responsible.
Initially, it was thought that the cause might be poachers, but the tusks remained intact, so that was ruled out. It was eventually discovered that some of the adolescent male elephants had turned into bullies, throwing sticks at, mounting, and, in some cases, knocking over the rhinos, kneeling on them, and crushing them to death.I think it could almost be referred to as a “Lord of the Flies” moment if ever there was one. In 1998, some adult males were introduced to the group, who re-established a hierarchy and kept the young males in check; as a result, the killings promptly stopped.
My son hits my daughter: Look for red flag behaviours.
So why am I telling you this? Well, because red flag behaviours are controlling behaviours and your children are showing through their behaviour that your love/leadership equation is out of whack. You can find a full list of what I mean by “red flag” behaviours in my article, “When to Seek Behaviour Intervention.” The need for your son to dominate is showing itself in his behaviour toward you and your daughter. I know that may be difficult to hear, but I think it’s important for you to have the whole picture so you can get this behaviour to stop.
What I do want to point out, though, is that please don’t think this behaviour will go away by itself. These “red flag” behaviours are your children expressing a need, one that must be satisfied. If it is, terrific. If not, the lack of having that need met creates a hole, one that shows itself in all sorts of disturbing ways in later life. Still, in your case, you still have time on your side, and that’s a great thing that should not be underestimated.
Address the issue quickly and you’ll never know you had it.
Unfortunately, I can’t address what to do exactly in this letter, as the ramifications of what I’m seeing here have many aspects to them. What I can tell you is that my website has numerous letters and blogs that explain the day-to-day aspects of restoring leadership. You can also reach out to a professional who understands this dynamic. Whatever avenue you take, you have a window of opportunity to change what you’re doing and have both you and your children reap the benefits.
I hope you find this helpful.
Here’s Annie the Nanny’s advice on how to get your child to listen.
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