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How to Discipline Your Child for Hitting Others

Learn how to discipline a child for hitting others. You can help them develop skills to teach them to stop hitting.  Get started on HealthyPlace.

Among the top parental concerns is how to discipline a child for hitting, including hitting you. When your child hits others, it disconcerting and often starts a cascade of worries and imagined scenarios involving a life of crime for their child. Understandably, parents are motivated to stop the aggressive behavior, but what works? While it seems daunting, you can learn how to discipline your children for hitting you and others and put your worries for their future to rest.

The first step in approaching your child who is hitting is to remember the meaning of “discipline.” To discipline means “to teach” and is about showing kids a better way to handle themselves and situations. Discipline is not about punishment. When disciplining a child that hits you or others, your goal is to teach them gently what to do instead of hitting.

The next step is understanding why, in general, kids hit. While children and circumstances are different, some prominent causes of hitting include:

  • High frustration
  • Stress
  • Feeling overwhelmed and overstimulated
  • Not knowing what else to do in a situation involving conflict with a peer or parent
  • A still-undeveloped verbal ability to express complex ideas like feelings
  • A fear-based reaction
  • Feeling left out
  • Reacting to being teased or bullied
  • Losing a game and not knowing how to handle defeat
  • Thinking their teacher, parent, or other adult is treating them unfairly

In most cases, kids don’t lash out on purpose. It’s an automatic response born out of a lack of skills to handle a frustrating situation differently. Some approaches to ending the hitting behavior help, but others actually increase hitting.

How to Discipline a Child for Hitting Others: What Works, What Makes Hitting Worse

Avoiding certain parenting styles will go a long way in stopping your child from hitting you, their siblings, and other kids. First and foremost, avoid hitting them back. This includes but isn’t limited to spanking. Sometimes parents believe that hitting a child back or spanking them will let them know that hitting is wrong: it will show them that it hurts, and it is a form of punishment that kids should want to avoid.

However, spanking only teaches kids that hitting is, indeed, an appropriate way to deal with anger and frustration. It also is deeply hurtful for kids and impairs the parent-child relationship.

Other parenting approaches increase a child’s tendency to hit, too. Lecturing, yelling, punishing, and shaming to make the child feel like a bad kid are harmful rather than helpful.

See: How to Discipline a Child Without Hitting or Yelling

Instead, positive methods reduce kids’ aggressive behavior. Approach the situation lightly rather than in anger. Use humor, and talk about the effect on the other person.

How you discipline a child who hits is as important as what you do. Approaching your child with love, kindness, and empathy is paramount. Understand their feelings, and speak gently to communicate that you’re there to help them rather than scold and punish them.

How to Discipline a Child Who Hits: Teach Them Skills

Because most hitting behavior in kids is due to a lack of knowledge or ability to respond to problems in more positive ways, your kids need your teaching and support to learn better skills.

Disciplining a young child can involve:

  • Removing your child—nicely and calmly—from a situation like a playgroup, telling them that you both need some time to yourselves to calm down; you’re teaching your child to self-soothe and deal with feelings.
  • At home, have a space for positive time outs where your kids can calm down and return when they’re ready.
  • Remind them that it’s not okay to hurt others, that people aren’t for hitting.
  • Help them develop different ways to deal with negative emotions, and then practice acting out different situations. Using stuffed animals or dolls works well.

With older kids, you can go a bit deeper. Disciplining a child for hitting at school is important for their social development and self-esteem. Try techniques like these:

  • Have them rate the level of anger they felt when they lashed out so they become aware of their feelings before they reach the hitting stage.
  • Help them name their feelings, and let them know that they’re okay. They just need to choose a different response.
  • Teach them to count to 10 and/or take deep breaths to calm down.
  • Encourage them to get some physical activity to burn away tension.
  • Ask them if listening to or playing their own music would be helpful when they’re angry.
  • Brainstorm the consequences of their behavior; rather than negative ones, focus on the positive—what will happen when they don’t hit?

See: How Do You Discipline a Child for Misbehaving in School?

Knowing how to discipline a child for hitting others is the key to replacing the behavior with more positive responses. The best discipline is empathy and teaching your child the skills they need to grow and thrive.

article references

APA Reference
Peterson, T. (2019, July 23). How to Discipline Your Child for Hitting Others, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, August 18 from https://www.healthyplace.com/parenting/discipline/how-to-discipline-your-child-for-hitting-others

Last Updated: August 8, 2019

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD