Emma, my 2nd child likes to stomp, scream, and hit when she is mad.
Back when she was a so-called threenager, she could be vicious. Now entering more of the pre-teen stages, she and some of my other children have learned to deal with emotions better, but they’re still learning that using force is not the most effective way to communicate their own needs.
Whether preschoolers or older children, they can resort to hitting or biting when emotions boil over to the point of using action to express them. In fact, it can be really difficult to deal with because it’s so easy for kids of all ages to use force when they feel upset. But this positive parenting hitting advice helps ease the effects of those problems in order to lessen the hitting over time.
Don’t forget to find more information about the benefits of positive parenting on a child’s development here.
Why logical consequences and natural discipling are important
Logical consequences are the type of action that happens directly because of something else instead of a punishment that may not be related to what happened at all. So it is logical that a glass breaks when it hits the floor because it fell off the table. We can all expect that outcome. So the next time a glass falls from the table, we wouldn’t expect it to float.
Likewise, setting natural consequences means we’re directly addressing an issue and in this case hitting.
A child’s behavior is almost always a reflection of their needs or their inability to express themselves and communicate effectively.
Positive parenting in the case of hitting includes not just looking for a trigger to the situation, but healthy outlets for kids to express the emotions to the stimulus.
What positive parents can do for a child who hits and is aggressive
- Affirm that they have big feelings that want to be expressed. Acknowledge how hurt or upset they feel. But remind them that feelings are not the same as actions. We choose to act on feelings.
- Help give them boundaries by framing what you want them to do rather than saying no or what you don’t want from them.
- Don’t force sorry, but encourage them by asking “how can you apologize and make it right?“
5+ logical consequences or alternative solutions for hitting at any age
If a child uses their hands inappropriately, then there has to be a solution for how they can use their hands and/or a consequence for making a bad decision to use their hands against someone or something else.
Keep your hands in your pockets or fold your hands together
This is the most simple and basic of the logical consequences of hitting but it is only a short term solution.
It is a loss privileges and in this case it’s the use of their hands. In fact, we try to say something like “keep your hands to yourself” and the best way to do that is to make sure they’re not available to use.
The middle-term solution associated with this is having a child wear a jacket and remind them that when they feel like hitting, they can put their hands in their jacket pockets so they don’t face more serious consequences.Grab your free “parents’ guide to behaviors” download.
Analyze both the intent and the outcome of the hitting, the best long term solution.
This means that maybe it was a small swipe or it might be a more aggressive hit that cause harm to a person or damage to belongings. A lot of times we want to just address the hitting and not the intent or the outcome but those are the two most important pieces. Because those are the two pieces of the puzzle that can create a better understanding of logical consequences and how their actions impact both themselves and others.
The intent (usually 3 different options):
1. If it was an emotional response, anxiety, or power struggle then the first and foremost issue is to start naming the emotion or feeling and naming the outcome vs the appropriate way to handle the situation.
“Do you feel out of control?”
“Do you feel overwhelmed?”
“Do you feel…”
If a child doesn’t know, which might very well be the case, it’s ok to say “It looks like you feel…” and then give them positive reinforcement to tell them how you typically deal with that feeling. And even show them how you fail! None of us are perfect and this is a great learning and growing opportunity to develop social skills and the ability to regulate their own emotions.
2. If it is aggressive behaviors and the intent is to hurt, frustrate, or otherwise have a negative impact, then the root cause needs to be addressed more than the outcome. Addressing and naming the feeling and having them practice working through situations so that they learn to better regulate in the moment instead of simply reacting is most helpful. (I recognize that a lot of non-neurotypical kids like those with adhd do not have impulse control and have experienced this myself. However, the primary audience of this post is for children that have or have the ability to show even small amounts of impulse control).
3. Unintentional or a simple reaction is the third reaction where it wasn’t premeditated to hurt anyone but it also wasn’t an emotional response. It might be a knee-jerk reaction because of a need for more personal space or feeling threatened (right or wrong) then there might not be anything to do other than talk to the child about their needs and maybe even affirm their feelings of needing space but working through how there are appropriate ways to do this that don’t involve hitting.
For all three types of intent, the counting method is important. Teaching our children to respond and not simply react is a learned behavior and can be done by asking them that in the moment if they can stop, count to 3, and then make a decision and move forward, they’re more readily equipped to name the feeling, think through options, and not simply hit.
What happened because of the hitting? There are going to be different types of consequences based on what happened.
If someone was hurt, having a child (that is not completely out of control) help care for the person who is hurt can help develop a sense of empathy. Even the youngest children can help get ice packs, band-aids, and other for who they have hit.
Was something broken? The child needs to clean it up (with help if it was glass), replace it if it was someone else’s, and/or suffer the consequence of not getting a replacement if it was theirs. This might be a longer journey for some children as they may have to work and save up money for a replacement or maybe they hit a wall and they have to both learn to fix it and help do the job.
Another outcome? Look and analyze what actually happened. What consequence makes sense in relation to the actual outcome? When we look at the bigger picture we can show our children that what they do has a ripple effect.
A related article that will to help kids understand consequences is to teach them problem-solving skills.
Use the next day to clear the air
While it’s always important to address a situation in the moment, the most valuable lesson and growth in decision-making can be found in coming back to the problem the next day and sitting down to talk about what happened and how it was handled so that any future issues can be mitigated by talking about new skills and coping mechanisms to use in the future.
Seek a more physical extracurricular outlet
While our family would still seek out a natural consequence (especially if the hitting continued after repeat conversations), we would also seek out to find a time when hitting or swinging was actually allowed. This is also because if a child continued to hit someone or something else, the new directive would be “we must save hitting for ____”
- Marshall Arts
Or fill in the blank with another option that suits your child.
Refocus with a fidget toy to encourage emotional regulation
Finding a way to occupy a child’s hands in times of high stress to teach them appropriate ways to express their feeling or use their hands is also another way to immediately find another use for their hands.
Check out these hand fidgets!
We are personally fans of the wacky track and has grown with my kids… plus adults seem to play with it a lot too.
Find games at home that encourage Proprioceptive Input
Proprioception is understanding where one’s body is and is all about spatial awareness, muscle movement, etc.. Therefore offering input with a hitting and swinging motion like playing a piñata game or doing jumping jack where they clap their hands above their heads each time is just one way to help. It shifts the hitting away from a negative reaction to a positive solution.
Plus, you could offer a weighted blanket or any number of powerful proprioceptive activities. And yes, they’re good for kids of all ages.
Maybe even think about getting some small bongo drums!
Implement high fives to celebrate good behavior
Sometimes our kids need physical contact because it’s their love language along with many other things (most notably feeling big emotions as mentioned before). And maybe the negative consequence or loss of privileges isn’t the best way to get them to stop hitting but focusing on the good is the right approach for your child!
So when we take the time to recognize when they’re doing great instead of honing in on the unwanted behaviors, then it empowers our kids. It’s also a good way to show them that consequences are simply the outcomes of choices and don’t always have to be bad — there are absolutely positive consequences.
And for the kid that hits, opening up the door to appropriate hitting, this is huge!
Get the Positive Discipline Cheat Sheet
Need help reframing how you see or respond to situations with your kids? This cheat sheet will help you through some of those tough moments when you want to react with frustration instead of love. The sneak peek is below, but be sure to subscribe to download the full, printable version!
More resources on positive parenting and discipline
Kara is an author and advocate for positive, grace-filled parenting. She is homeschooler to her 5 children living on a farm in New England. She believes in creative educational approaches to help kids dive deeper into a rich learning experience and has her degree in Secondary Education & Adolescent Childhood Development. She is passionate about connecting with and helping other parents on their journey to raise awesome kids!