Hitting! It's one of those behaviours that we see happen SUPER often in the age group 0-5.
A lot of parents and educators fall back on phrases like: 'It hurts to hit!' when they see it … which is fine, and likely not going to have a detrimental effect on their behaviour.
The problem with this idea, however, is that children this age really don't understand the concept of 'hurt'! So prompting them to consider this as a reason to not hit … it's just not going to be that effective.
We ideally want to use those precious moments and energy that we have as parents and educators to focus instead on supporting children in a way that will help the child meet their needs in a more appropriate way in the future.
SO – how can we effectively respond to children hitting so the behaviour decreases?
First of all, we need to figure out why the behaviour is happening in the first place.
In my experience, the most common reasons hitting happens are below:
Seeking connection with a peer or adult
Looking for sensory input
Expressing an emotion such as frustration
How can you figure out why the behaviour is happening?
Try and look at what happens just before the hitting – is it that another child took their toy? Is it because you were really busy doing something else and they haven't played with you for a while? Is it because another child has a toy they want? Or is it happening in their room they're banging on an object merrily by themselves?
How to support them to learn a new behaviour instead:
If your child is hitting you because they want to connect, you could try saying 'I wonder if you're hitting me because you want a hug. You could just come up to me and have a cuddle!'
If they're looking for sensory input and hitting things that may break, direct them to things they can hit instead – 'You can't hit that, but you can hit this.'
If your child is hitting because they feel frustrated, prompt them to express their frustration by saying 'I wonder if you're feeling frustrated. You could try saying 'RR' instead!'
It's also important to remember that in the heat of the moment is not typically a perfect learning opportunity for children aged 0-5 – so consider weaving in learning opportunities throughout the day to embed this new skill.
You can just talk through scenarios with them when you're playing, during mealtimes, or when they're calm and connected in the day at other times.
'Sometimes when someone takes your toy, you feel frustrated. You could say 'RR' or 'My turn' or come get me to help' 'If you feel like hitting, that's fine! Just remember to hit that pillow, because the glass might break.' 'If you want a big cuddle from me, I'd love to give you one. You can come right up to me and tug my shirt and I'll know you want a hug.'
Lastly – should you make your child say sorry for hitting?
No, not really. Don't waste your breath or energy!
Children don't understand the idea of sorry and remorse at that age (they won't until they're around 8!). What would be useful instead is if you explain to each child involved the intentions behind the behaviour, to demystify it.
'T, it looks like H hit you because he wanted your toy. H, you could try saying 'I want a turn' next time. T after you're finished with the toy maybe you could give H a turn.'
'H, J was feeling frustrated so he hit. We all feel frustrated sometimes, do you have any ideas of what helps you feel better when you're frustrated? Maybe J could try this next time.'
Hope these ideas help!
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