At a grocery store, an elementary school-aged boy named John asked his mother to buy him chocolate. When she refused, the boy started hitting her in front of others. The mother reacted to this by raising her voice and saying, “Yes, go ahead, hit me, hit me!!!”
Unfortunately, children hitting (or biting or kicking) parents is not new and is a frequent behavior at various points in their development and in a variety of settings. All parents would agree that this behavior is absolutely unacceptable. However, many parents don’t know what to do when children hit them, like the mother in the above example.
Some of the reasons why children hit their parents:
When children hit, they do not want to physically hurt their parents. It is more of an impulsive behavior and sometimes hitting is the only option children have. Some of the situations that might push a child to hit his/her parents are:
- Frustration and anger – some children lack the tools to express their frustration appropriately when denied something. This further frustrates them and they explode in anger by hitting the parent.
- Inability to communicate
- Need to control
- Lack of attention from parents
- Lack of parental supervision
- Inconsistent parenting
- Lack of routine or structure
- Sudden changes without the child being aware of them, such as when a parent suddenly decides to leave the park cutting short child’s playtime.
It can be embarrassing as well as frightening when your child bites, kicks, or hits you to get his or her way. Children hitting shouldn’t be tolerated. When this behavior becomes very frequent or seems to be their consistent way of reacting to something they don’t like, it’s time to step in and help them change their behavior. It is parents’ job to teach their children how to regulate their emotions and express what they feel and want in socially appropriate and respectful manners.
Here’s what you can do when your child hits you:
- Track the trigger: Notice the situations that seem to trigger your child’s hitting episodes. Is he/she tired, hungry, bored, or angry? See if there is a pattern. Once you’ve identified the trigger, try to address it.
- Control your own anger and do not raise your voice: Stay calm and don’t reciprocate their hitting by spanking them. Spanking them means it is okay to hit. You can’t expect them to stop hitting if your own answer is to spank them. Instead, use forms of discipline such as a timeout for 30 minutes or taking away some privileges to show that their behavior was unacceptable.
- Verbalize or communicate that you’re hurt: Let them know “It hurts when you hit me.” Your child needs to know the effects of hitting. Tell them you don’t hit the people you love and that is why “I don’t spank you or hurt you physically.”
- Ask your child why he hit you: Encourage your child to talk about his anger or frustration.
- Set clear, firm limits on actions and teach them what is acceptable and what is not: Teach about safety.
- Give more attention to them: As a parent, you can prevent your child from hitting you if you give more attention to them, like deciding to interact with them when they play in the park rather than reading a book; letting them know you are going to leave the park soon and that they still have 15 minutes to play so that they can prepare themselves.
- Model/teach them alternate and safer ways to express angry feelings.
- Do not expose your child to violent television or video games.
- Do not personalize your child’s bad behavior by blaming yourself such as “It is my fault” or “I am a bad parent.”
- Do not blame your partner for your child’s behavior: Rather, work with your partner as a team to provide consistency and structure to your child.
- Be appreciative of their efforts: When you notice your child being good, be sure to praise their hard work and efforts and encourage them to continue it. Give them positive attention.
Remember that if your child hits, it doesn’t mean that he or she will grow up to be a bad person or become a bully. It indicates that something is not working for your child and he/she needs help but does not know how to express it. It is your job as a parent to stop the inappropriate action and properly discipline your child through guidance, modeling, and age-appropriate communications.