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, That’s a great question and it is something that unfortunately happens a lot and which we often deal with in a way that causes even more problems later on. A lot of people have a strange way of looking at the subject, so much so that they inadvertently make the situation a lot worse and even encourage further aggression. I find the best way to look at what works is to see as close as possible what we do in nature. 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 natural consequences to 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 from 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. Mom 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 is 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.
Naturally practice senarios
Depending on your child’s age, make sure you chat to 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 chatting about possible solutions will make them feel that you are looking out for them but are helping them to solve their own problems.
Pay attention to the victim, not the aggressor
If you’re in a situation where a child hits yours 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 (ie. if they’re in the two year 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.
Ignore the aggressor completely
Make sure when you say something like the above though that you are talking to your child only. Believe me, the 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 purposely to a chair or away from the play area and the other kids but be careful not to show him any undue attention by being focused too much on his behaviour. After all, if he gets negative attention from you in the form of a raised voice or red face and 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, in that you are 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 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 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. I’ll check back in five minutes’ and then leave. If the behaviour is 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 hard, but no child likes to be socially isolated for long and most will do whatever it take to avoid it.
I hope that answers your question. For more help with your parenting, please visit my parenting services page.