Hi Annie, I’m wondering about the best approach when it comes to what to do when your child gets hit by another child. Thanks, Jennifer
Hi Jennifer, Being in a situation where your child gets hit by another child happens a lot, yet we often deal in a way that causes even more problems later on. Let’s look at what happens in a historical context. Society would not have flourished the way it has if groups of humans had allowed violence to grow out of control within their own communities. So how have societies grown up to naturally dissuade children from being overly aggressive and hurting their own?
Well, firstly, we need to see how children learn about the natural consequences of their actions. I’ve been lucky enough to spend time in Tanzania, and when I did, I watched with fascination how village children dissuaded overly aggressive actions amongst their peers. I looked at how they did that and found that they used social isolation in a very effective way. They would simply ignore the offending child for long enough to make an impression, never longer. Since our connections with how things have been done for millennia, particularly in the western world, have been lost, it begs the question of what is the most natural way to handle what to do when a child hits yours?
First off you cannot control other people’s reactions, only yours
Often in social situations, the aggressor gets either the same or more attention from the assembled parents than the victim. Everyone stops what they’re doing and looks horrified, etc. The mother of the aggressor likely looks red and upset. Wow, what great attention!
If you’re in a social situation and a child hits yours, the first thing to keep in mind is that you cannot control the other parent’s reactions to events, even though you might really want to. That leaves you with your reaction to your child, which should, of course, be sympathetic. My only advice is that often children take their reaction to events from you, so if you approach the whole thing calmly, it’s likely they’ll get over it quickly and not create a massive trauma out of the whole thing.
What to do when your child gets hit: Naturally practice scenarios
Depending on your child’s age, make sure you chat with your child often (preferably when you are both focused on another important activity) about what happens when they get together with friends and how they feel about it. They’ll often open up and tell you they don’t like whoever it is because they’re always hitting them. Talking about it and discussing potential solutions will make them feel as if you are looking out for them while also assisting them in solving their own problems.
Pay attention to the victim, not the aggressor
If you’re in a situation where a child hits you and the other parent is not around, then you have to make sure that there is a marked differentiation between the attention you offer the victim versus the aggressor. First separate them and then direct your calm attention to your child, the victim, completely ignoring the other child. Depending on the aggressor’s age (i.e., if they’re in the two- to three-year-old age bracket), that is probably all that’s necessary, along with perhaps a comment to your child along the lines of “Let’s go over here and you can play with this or Josh can play with us when he decides to play nicely and not hit other people, because that’s not kind.”
What to do when your child gets hit: Ignore the aggressor completely
Make certain that when you say something like the above, you are only speaking to your child. Believe me, the aggressive child will get the picture when you ignore him completely! It’s likely your child will want to leave him behind for a bit too. Having said that, children are very forgiving.
If he tries again, isolate him to a chair or away from the play area and the other kids, but be careful not to draw undue attention to him by being overly concerned with his behaviour. After all, if he gets negative attention from you in the form of a raised voice, a red face, a totally upset demeanour or any combination of those, he’ll just keep repeating the behaviour.
Avoid eye contact and give him the impression that it’s very simple. You want him to learn that if he behaves well, he will be included, but if he doesn’t, life is going to be rather exclusionary. Don’t stand over him and hover because otherwise you betray your feelings by showing you don’t expect him to listen to you or stay where he is. Look busy and be engaged away from him, but be in a position where you can take him back to where he is being isolated if need be, again and again, with no attention attached.
Be clear in you expectations
Older children need the same thing, but you can be a little more pointed and very clear. Please sit over there, and you can come out when you’re prepared to be kind and play nicely. The other kids don’t want to be around you if you’re going to hit them. Say “I’ll check back in five minutes” and then leave. If the behaviour is a chronic problem, I wouldn’t be afraid to politely terminate the playdate and make it entirely clear why you are doing so. These lessons may at first glance seem difficult, but no child likes to be socially isolated for long, and most will do whatever it takes to avoid it.
I hope that answers your question. For more help with your parenting, please visit my parenting services page.
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