How to Respond When Your Child Hits You

What should I do when my child hits me

Verywell / Miguel Co

Getting hit by your child can be frustrating, embarrassing, and infuriating. For some parents, it brings about a sense of shame and desperation. Many parents worry that their child's aggression toward them is a sign that they've somehow failed as a parent. But most kids hit at one time or another. The way you respond to your child's hitting is the key to nipping it in the bud.

Reasons Why Children Hit

There are several reasons why kids hit their parents. Sometimes they lash out because they don't have the skills to manage their feelings and express them in a more socially acceptable way. They may lack the language or impulse control to cope with their feelings. They hit without thinking about the consequences or other ways to get their needs met. 

Hitting can also be used as a manipulation tool. Sometimes kids hit in an attempt to get their way. A child who hits his mother when she says no maybe hoping his aggression will change her mind.

What To Do When Your Child Hits You

How you respond to hitting will influence how likely your child is to hit again. Below are some discipline strategies you can employ to protect yourself and them from harm while teaching them better ways of handling their feelings and managing their behavior.

Establish Rules

Create household rules that address respect. Make it clear that hitting, kicking, biting, or acts of physical aggression are not allowed in your home.

Frame your rules in a positive manner whenever possible. Instead of saying, "Don't hit," say, "Use respectful touches." Talk to your child about the rules to ensure they understand the consequences of breaking the rules.

When your child hits you, firmly say, “No hitting. Hitting hurts.” Keep your messages consistent to teach your child that hitting is not allowed and you will not tolerate it.

Use Consequences to Enforce Rules

If your child knows the rules but continues to hit, use some of the following consequences to deter them from hitting again.

  • Time-out or time-in: For some children, a time-out or time-in can be the most effective way to deter them from hitting again. Time-out or time-in teaches children how to calm themselves down and it removes them from the environment. It is important to teach them how to regulate themselves during this calm-down time.
  • Loss of privilege: Other kids may require additional consequences. Taking away privileges can be an effective discipline strategy. Restrict your child’s access to electronics or certain toys for 24 hours, or less, depending on the child's age. The younger the child, the less time they need away from an object.
  • Restitution: Make your child perform an extra chore for you or have him draw you a picture as a way to make amends.

Reinforcing good behaviors with positive consequences can encourage your child to stop hitting. For example, reward your child for using "gentle touches.” Break the day up into several time periods where he can earn stickers or tokens for good behaviors.

You can also praise your child when they use gentle touches. When they hug you, make a point of saying how much you like nice touches like hugs. Also, praise them when they listen to you and stop hitting.

Teach Appropriate Behavior

It’s not enough to simply tell kids, “Don’t hit.” Teach your child anger management skills as well. Encourage your child to read a book, draw a picture, take a deep breath, or go to his room when they feel angry.

Teach your child about feelings, such as sadness and frustration. Discuss the importance of dealing with these feelings in appropriate ways and help your child discover strategies that help him cope with his emotions safely.

Avoid Corporal Punishment

If you use spanking as a punishment, your child will be confused about why you’re allowed to hit and they're not. Instead of teaching self-control, spanking can increase your child's aggression.

Children learn more about behavior from what they see you do, rather than what they hear you say. Model behaviors you want to see in your child. Show your child how to deal with anger, sadness, and disappointment in socially appropriate ways.

Get Professional Help

If you have an older child who hits you, or you have an especially aggressive preschooler or toddler, seek professional help. Talk to your child’s pediatrician about your concerns. Your pediatrician may refer your child for an evaluation to help determine the cause of the aggression and a plan to address it.

Sometimes underlying issues can contribute to aggression in children. For example, children with ADHD or oppositional defiant disorder are more likely to hit. At other times, children with cognitive or developmental delays may hit because they lack the ability to use their words or manage their impulses.

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