A year ago at this time, I was at a total loss for what to do about my son Nick. He was 2.5 years old and he hit all the time. I knew I needed to stop aggressive behavior and get a handle on his hitting, but I myself was struggling with keeping my temper in check after a hormonal pregnancy and postpartum period. In a way, I blamed myself for creating Nick’s hitting problems because of how poorly I handled my emotions during my third pregnancy.
After I talked with many different moms about my troubles, I heard over and over again, “My second child was a hitter.” It seems almost everyone dealt with aggressive physical behavior in their second born, whether that be biting, hitting, pinching, or kicking. The hypothesis I have for this is that your second does not have the words at age 2 or 3 to compete with their older sibling for toys, food, attention, or anything. They resort to physical harm to enact their frustration or gain the attention of their parent.
Obviously, your child will eventually gain the skills to articulate their thoughts in words and the self-control to refrain from hitting, but what do you do in the mean time? Your toddler cannot gain a huge vocabulary overnight. I worked very hard helping Nick to stop aggressive behavior over the last year and I am happy to say he is a LOT better. I do not know for sure if he improved simply because of his age or because of my efforts. Regardless, these are the tactics I use to handle hitting and stop aggressive behavior with my son.
Intervene On Their Behalf
I am more of a detached parent and like to let my kids work out their sibling rivalry on their own. But after a few months of Nick hitting, I realized my older child, Lily, was just getting beat on and things weren’t improving. It occurred to me that Nick was hitting more because of Lily’s instigating than his aggression. While her transgressions were less serious–bossing him around and making fun of him–they were still the catalyst for setting him off. So, I began intervening when my children would fight. First I would make them both sit down and take deep breaths. Then, I would begin explaining to Lily what she did to cause Nick to hit. Last, I would address Nick and give him ideas of the words he could say in response to Lily’s provocation.
Offer a Hug Instead
One day I was thinking about just how incredibly physical my little boy is. He is more athletically inclined than his peers, loves to wrestle and snuggle, and relates to the world in a very physical way. It occurred to me I could substitute a negative physical reaction to his emotions (hitting) with a positive physical reaction (hugging). The next time he was very angry with me, came swinging at me with his open hands to hit me, I offered him a hug. I simply said, “Nick are you trying to hit? Do you want a hug instead?” And I couldn’t believe it, it worked. It worked all the time; it still works today. Nick just needs a physical response when he’s feeling upset. To him, hitting and hugging are one in the same.
Schedule Physical Activity Every Day
Children are all physical, active little people. Their bodies and minds are meant to explore the physical world around them, running through the yard, tromping through the woods, or climbing on the playground. Children who utilize physical outlets like hitting to express their unhappiness need appropriate physical outlets even more than other kids. I make a point to get outside with my children every day to play, as long as it is warmer than 20 degrees outside. If it’s too cold, we go to an indoor play place, inflatables arcade, trampoline park, or open gym to exercise. If there’s absolutely no other option, I make obstacle courses in our basement or wrestle the kids to satiate their need for physicality. I cannot wait until Nick is old enough to play sports; I know it will help him channel his natural aggression more appropriately.
These tactics to stop aggressive behavior with my son have helped. We are looking forward to him starting preschool in the fall so that he can have more practice getting along with others.
Do you struggle with an aggressive child or hitting in your household? I’d love to connect with other parents for support on this issue!