Hitting

Let's talk about kids who hit. Let's also talk about adults who hit. This kind of behavior is taboo, especially as kids get older. We aren't as open to talking with friends about it, and sometimes we feel like we're the only parent facing this problem. There's a lot of self-blame that goes into this as well. I know this because I have a kid who hit and occasionally still does hit. Hitting can trigger many emotions in us as parents.

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First, I want to share a little bit about where my personal philosophy on hitting comes from and how I've landed on the approach that I use within my own home.

I started my career as a clinical social worker. I worked as a therapist in environments with kids who had behavior disorders. I was really interested in understanding the why behind these behaviors, and also the what; how should we most effectively handle these behaviors? Now, when I say effectively "handle behaviors", a lot of times what we're thinking is, how do we curb these behaviors? How do we stop these behaviors? And with hitting, that is often one that we want to stop immediately.

So after finishing my master's degree and working for several years, I went back and did a post-graduate certification in behavior analysis: learning the ins and outs of behavior modification; understanding what drives behavior; and how to change it. So if you asked me to write up a behavior plan, create a reward chart, implement punishments and consequences, I can do all that. I've been trained to do all that. However, I went on to do my Ph.D. in Child Development, and then I became a mom. 

And when I became a mom, I had all these tools in my tool belt. Yet the traditional behavioral modification reward-consequences stuff, never really sat well with me in my gut with my own kids. Positive parenting, using discipline to teach has always been something that has felt right to me. My intuition tells me that it is the right way for my family, but it's not always the easiest way, nor is it the fastest way to change behavior. 

What to Do When Kids Hit

I want to talk about escalation. 

What happens if you ask your kids nicely to put their shoes on and they don't respond? You might ask nicely again. Then you might raise your voice a little bit, then you might raise it again. The situation is escalating. You are getting louder. Your escalation as an adult has a peak. Your peak escalation point is probably vocal. It's might be screaming. 

Maybe it's screaming at the top of your lungs and feeling like you're out of control, but it might only be vocal. Often, by the time we get to adulthood, we're able to control our bodies. 

Even if we tense up and we feel like we could hit somebody, we don't (or at least we usually don't, more on that in a moment).

Now, kids escalate just like adults do. They get angry and angrier and angrier, especially when they feel like their needs and wants are not being met. But for some kids, that escalation doesn't peak with a vocalization.

They haven't yet developed the ability to control their body. So when things escalate, they resort to hitting and kicking and biting and hurting.

It's vital to understand this core piece: Our kids escalate just like we do.

But as adults, we have the ability to put a cap on it and to restrain our frustrations, to avoid using our bodies to hit and to hurt. We have fully developed brains and lots and lots of practice managing conflict. Our kids don't have either of those. As a result, many, but not all, will struggle to put a cap on it when they're escalating.

Now, this is not true of all adults. Not all adults can control their bodies. Some adults hit. And I'm sure there are adults who hit that are reading this right now. It's not something we talk about openly. It's deeply shameful.  And in some parts of the world, it is illegal. 

Now I want to say, first of all, that I don't approve of spanking or hitting, nor do I in any way advocate for it. But I do think it's important to understand it a little bit.

There are two main paths for adults who hit children. The first is, there are adults who hit impulsively out of anger. The escalation hits a peak where they lose control of their bodies, and it happens out of control. This happens when you feel powerless, and you use your physical power to control the situation. 

If this sounds like you, you need support. You need support to manage your frustrations and your anger, and probably your stress and overwhelm too. This is a huge safety risk for everyone in your family. I encourage you to get the support that you need. Reach out for a helping hand. If you're in the U.S., you can call the Child Help Hotline. It's 1-800-FOR-A-CHILD, or you can talk to a mental health professional.

In addition to the adults who hit impulsively out of anger, there's a second subgroup of adults that hit. This is the group of adults that hit as a calculated, planned punishment. Adults who use hitting and hurting as a planned punishment are lacking tools. Maybe this is the way you were raised. Maybe you've used this punishment and it works, because it can absolutely work.

Let's say you have a rule that your kids are not allowed to play in the road, which is a rule that exists for safety purposes. But your kid loves to ride her bike on the road because it's paved and your driveway is gravel, so it's not as fun. It's tempting to just roll that bike out and ride it in the road. 

Let's pretend an adult said, "If I see you riding your bike on the road, again, I'm going to spank you." Which is basically, "If you don't do what I say, I'm going to hurt you." There's a good chance that that kid is going to listen. If that threat is real, and they've seen that adult hurt before, it's probably going to stop the behavior in its tracks.

Now let's flip this on ourselves and think about how this would feel. 

Now let's say you're on a diet and there is a tray of cupcakes, delicious cupcakes, on your counter. And you're really trying to avoid eating those cupcakes, but they are so temptingIt's hard to say no. It's hard to stop yourself.

Then a much bigger person came along, a much stronger person; it's Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson. If 'The Rock' is standing next to me saying, "Denaye, if you eat that cupcake, I'm going to hit you,"...

I would absolutely not eat that cupcake. 

This threat would work on me. But now, how do I feel about that person? I used to think 'The Rock' was this big fuzzy teddy bear, but not anymore. I'd feel scared, on edge, and anxious. I think I'd have a hard time developing real intimacy with 'The Rock' after he threatened to hurt me.

Now I know that example may seem a little extreme, but for many of us, we're double the size of our kids, just like 'The Rock' is double the size of me. We can make ourselves feel big and scary; it's not that hard. 

But raising kids with fear, especially fear of harm, will likely have negative impacts on their self-esteem and on their emotional wellbeing. So if you use spanking and hitting as a planned punishment, I encourage you to seek out new tools. Because even though this one can seem like it works, it has negative side effects.

A Change in Parenting Approaches

This example illustrates the change in parenting from the last generation to this generation. This generation of parents who are raising kids now, are having to supervise kids more closely for longer periods of time. Because that kid who wants to ride her bike in the road and has impulse control problems, well she is going to need closer supervision for longer. And I, myself, would rather provide that as opposed to using fear-based parenting, which may include threatening, shaming, and actually having to hurt my child in order to prevent behavior from happening again. 

And that's a choice that many of us are making for the sake of our children's wellbeing as they grow. We're choosing respectful parenting, even when it's not fast and easy.

And when I say that, I don't want to imply that using fear-based parenting is fast and easy, because I don't think that any parent has ever hurt or threatened to hurt a child because they wanted to. They're usually doing it as a last resort because of a lack of better tools and resources.

Where do kids learn to hit?

Now, as parents, we might think if we never hit our kids, then our kids are never going to hit. It's a learned behavior, right? Wrong. I wish it was that easy. We often assume that hitting is in some way, shape, or form a learned behavior, so we tend to self-blame. We feel like we've gone wrong somewhere. We are very confused and baffled by it. We can feel like they have violated the peace and harmony of our home.

Hitting feels fundamentally wrong to most of us as adults. That's because most of us have developed the ability to manage our conflicts without the use of physical force. Physical force feels completely foreign to us. When we have a kid who hits and we're got off guard by it, we want to first and foremost, curb this behavior overnight. It may happen once, and we never want it to happen again. Sadly, this sort of sudden behavior change usually doesn't happen. Now...to understand why this can be a long, slow and painful process, we have to understand why kids are hitting.

Why do kids hit?

For me, it helps to think of parenting as this sort of giant socialization process, right? We've got these babies who are born, and we're trying to teach them how to be acceptable members of society. Now that looks very different for every family. But one of the things that we're teaching our kids as they grow is that hitting is not okay. "We use our words to manage our conflicts." "We stay calm." We place a lot of big expectations on our kids.

In the early years, they struggle to use their voices, and they struggle to feel heard. You'll find that hitting and using the body to express themselves happens more so in the early years before their language is fully developed. And even as they grow and language develops more and more, it can still be hard to use words to communicate. It might not be their first go-to action. They might use their bodies before they use their words, when language still feels hard for them. 

In addition to language, young brains have a more challenging time controlling their impulses. That means they act impulsively more often.

Now that's also not a blanket statement. I have two kids. My first kid would never hurt a fly. The most gentle kid I've ever met. And you better believe that I patted myself on the back because that was definitely "all my parenting" to credit. Until my second child came along and humbled me and continues to humble me every day. My first child never really showed these impulsive behaviors like my second child does. Every child is unique. 

Yesterday, I picked my kids up from school and my son got in the car. My daughter was already in the car and she threw a shoe at his head. Now the first word that comes to my brain is, "Why?" Like, "Why did you throw your shoe at your brother?" Because it's so hard to understand these impulsive actions. She's four now, and this behavior has faded significantly as she's grown. But they still emerge on occasion.

Rewind back to when she was 13 or 14 months old, just passed her first birthday. She would walk up to kids on the playground and scratch them or push them down. We went through a solid 1 to 2 years where it was really hard to take her out into public because we didn't know what was going to happen. It was hard to trust that she was going to be safe if she was further than an arm's reach away from us.

This behavior started indiscriminately with just random kids at the park; mostly strangers. But as she's grown and has developed some impulse control, actually a lot more impulse control, especially in the last year, it happens less and less. And when it does happens, it's exclusively at home in the safety, intimacy of family. And this sort of fading is typical. 

It doesn't disappear overnight. You don't stop it on a dime. But as they grow and they're able to use their voices to feel heard, they learn to communicate, their brains develop, they get some of those impulses under control, and it starts to get better a little at a time. It can be hard to see this progress. I can tell you this firsthand.

Now, if you have a kid whose behaviors don't seem to be fading, I would encourage you to talk to your pediatrician. While this behavior is normal in the early years, if it doesn't start to fade, it could be a sign of sensory sensitivities, or other developmental challenges that are worth diving a little deeper into.

During this difficult period, I had my daughter enrolled in a preschool Montessori program. She was 20 months old. There was a little girl there that she would push down. The irony in this is that she was the youngest, smallest kid in the class. And this other child was the biggest, oldest kid in the class. She would walk up to this kid with one finger and just push her down and get a huge reaction out of the other child. 

It was stressful for me as a parent, even though I understood the reasons why she was hitting. It just feels heavy. I felt for that other kid, and I felt for that other kid's parent who was upset at the situation. It doesn't feel good to be on either side of this; the parent of the kid who's hurting or the parent of the kid who's getting hurt. 

But I want to tell you, if you are a parent of a kid who's hurting, your child is not bad. You are not bad. Remember there is a developmental piece to this that takes time. Change doesn't happen overnight.

Now, if you're someone who uses time-out, you might be wondering, "Well, where does that fit in? Why don't you just put a kid in time out for doing something they're not supposed to be doing?" Now, my answer to this is long and complicated. I actually did a whole episode on time out.

Time-out is actually a short version of the term "time-out from reinforcement", which is a technique that was coined by behavioral psychologists and it can be effective at changing behavior. 

But the way that most parents are using it is for lack of better words, just not right and not effective. And as a result, most parents do time-out over and over and over again to no avail, not seeing any progress. But they continue doing it because they feel like they're doing something. And we often need to "check that box." We need to feel like we're acting and we're not being complacent.

Typically, the most impactful part of time-out is that parents feel good that they actually "did something" in order to "discipline their kids". But it actually doesn't really do a good job of changing behavior. 

In part, because it's often not being used correctly, but in larger part, because these behaviors are driven by developmental challenges. The brains are not yet developed. The impulse controls are not yet developed. The language is not yet developed. Even if we're trying to correct and teach better behaviors and alternatives to hitting, it's still a slow process.

Often hitting in kids doesn't always happen out of escalation. Sometimes it's random like the shoe-throwing thing, that was totally unprovoked. The first step in managing any kind of behavior within our children is having empathy and understanding "the why." When we do that, we are much more likely to stay calm. And it is hard to stay calm when your child is hitting. We can feel very provoked. We can feel very violated. 

So remember, kids who hit are kids who struggle to have their voices heard, kids who struggle with impulse control, kids whose brains are still developing. They are still a work in progress. They are not bad. They are still learning. Remind yourself of that.

Now, I get messages all the time from people saying, "My kid hits, and this is what I'm doing," and they describe exactly what I'm about to tell you. And I say, "You're doing everything right! Keep it up...keep up the good work." But then they're like, "Well, is this enough? Should I be giving them time-out?" 

Now that's that tricky part of respectful parenting that forces us to view behaviors, not as a light switch, where we turn on and off and we stop on a dime, but more as behaviors that our kids are slowly learning to control. 

In respectful parenting, we are teaching as discipline--teaching new and better alternatives--along with respecting their natural development and maturation (re: being patient). 

So how do I handle hitting? As with most things that I say, if this approach doesn't resonate with you, forget it. Take it or leave it. I tell you a lot of things here on Simple Families. A lot of them aren't going to resonate with you. If they're not going to work with your family, and that's okay. Here's my approach to hitting. 

What to do When Kids Hit

First and foremost, it's being proactive.

In the early years when my daughter was unexpectedly pushing other kids on the playground, it wasn't all the time, but it was unpredictable. We didn't know when it was going to happen, which was almost more nerve-wracking. I had to be on her. She had to be close to me or to my husband all the time. We had to prevent this type of interaction from happening. Now, that sounds really exhausting. And it was, I assure you, it was exhausting.

When I saw these interactions in the very early years, I viewed them as an invitation to play. She was approaching these kids as, "Hey, I see you. I'm interested in you and I would like to engage with you, but I don't know-how. I can't yet talk. I can't yet ask you to come play and go down the slide with me. I can't ask you your name, so I'm going to use my body to communicate and to get a reaction."

During the early years, they're really starting to learn the impact that they have on the world. And using their body to hit and to hurt can really elicit a strong reaction. This is what I saw with my daughter when she was in the class with the larger girl. She could use her hands to get quite a large reaction out of this other child. She was learning the impact of her actions on the world around her.

So in these early years, when I was following her super closely, I was teaching her. When she would walk up to a child, I would take her hand and slowly stroke the child's arm and say, "Hi." I was modeling some simple words and I was modeling soft touch. So instead of letting her toddle up and use her hands, however she chose to use them, I'd walk up with her and I would guide her hand to gently touch their arm and say, "Hi." 

Something like this is called errorless teaching. You're not giving them room to make an error. It was my job to make sure that both children were safe, especially the child that my daughter was approaching. And to do that, I couldn't just wait and see what she did. I needed to help teach her how to initiate those interactions. I didn't want to take away all those social interactions, but I wanted her to learn how to respectfully approach other small children. And remember, I'm talking mainly about really young children in this example. This is mostly pre-verbal and early verbal.

Now, this is when the hitting or the hurting was an attempt to engage with another child. And often in the earliest years, that's what this is, in some way, shape, or form. It's an attempt to engage, or it's a curious experiment to see what sort of impact they have on the world. 

"If I touch your arm gently, I get a very small reaction out of you. If I touch you hard and push you, I get a huge reaction out of you."

Now, I know there are some people thinking that I should have been teaching my daughter to ask permission to touch that other child, to approach the child and say, "Hey, can I touch you?" before touching the child's arm. But the important piece to remember is that she was pre-verbal. She wasn't speaking yet, so I couldn't teach her those words. Could I have planted the seeds for those words and said those words so she could hear them and internalize them? Yes. But my goal in this behavior was to actually teach her how to do it on her own, with tools she already had within her. She could touch gently. She could say hi. Those were already skills that she had.

So by trying to get her to ask permission to touch and then wait to touch, and then to say hi, would have been more than she was developmentally capable of at that age. Therefore, if I would have tried to teach her that sequence of actions, she would not have been able to execute it and probably would have gotten frustrated and resorted to that default way of pushing. 

Because remember, when we're teaching, we have to be mindful of the child that we have right in front of us and of the skills that they have available to them at that time.

As kids they grow their skills and language develops, but in many ways, language will still be hard, and they may still struggle to use their voice appropriately. We can help practice giving them language, especially when hitting happens due to escalation. 

"I want that toy. I want that toy." 

And then they're screaming and they're slapping.

So how do I intervene in these kinds of situations? 

It's my responsibility to keep everyone safe. In that situation, I would say, "It sounds like you really want that toy and you're frustrated. I won't let you hit, but I'll sit with you until it's your turn." 

So what have I done there? I've acknowledged their feelings and firmly told them that hitting and using their body is not the appropriate way of solving problems.

Now, if that was the end of the incident and it was one hit and everybody moved on, I would move on too. Early social interactions are rarely graceful. I find with my kids that a couple of minutes later, they're hugging and playing. By practicing giving words and firmly telling them that that behavior is not allowed--we are teaching. And discipline is teaching. 

If the behavior stops, I let the play resume. I let them move on.

Now, if you have a child that is escalated and continues to hit repeatedly...the behavior doesn't stop once you've given them words...you've tried to teach them what to say instead. 

Once you've told them that hitting or hurting is not okay, that child often needs to be removed from the room. This is for the safety of everyone.

Now, this is a different than a time-out. A time-out would be if you said, "If you hit again, I'm going to put you into time-out." That's not effective. The reason for removing a child from the room is for safety. A child who's continuing to hit and continuing to hurt is not safe.

So when you give them words and you can say, 

"It looks like you're really frustrated, and you're having a hard time controlling your body. I'm going to take you to your room so you can have some space to calm down and we can keep everyone safe." 

That might mean making the bedroom a safe zone, which means no heavy things, nothing that they can get angry and throw. It doesn't have to be an abandoning, "Go to your room, get out of here!" 

It can be a firm yet gentle, "It looks like you need some space to calm down. I'm going to walk with you to your room." Now, sometimes they say, "I don't want to go to my room." And in those situations, I'll say, "Okay, I'll give you a choice. Either you can walk to your room or I'll carry you to your room. What do you prefer?"

If you only have one child, you may never need to remove the child from the room. You may be able to keep everyone safe while keeping them with you. When you have multiple children, this changes. You have a responsibility to care for the physical and emotional wellbeing of all of your children. And sometimes that means one needs to be removed in order for the others to feel safe.

This approach can also be helpful for kids who are not necessarily using their bodies to hurt, but who are using their words to hurt. Although my oldest child has never hurt anyone, he's definitely used his voice to say hurtful things, and I use the same approach for this. If it's one thing, I acknowledge his feelings, I give a simple alternative of kind words that he can use instead.

For example, if he said, "Get away from me, I don't like you." 

I would say, "It sounds like you're feeling frustrated. Can you ask her for some personal space? When you say 'I don't like you', that's hurtful." 

If it stops, we move on. If it continues, then I tell him he needs to go to his room to calm down. Now we started this early, probably when he was about three-years-old. And by the time he was five, he would go to his room on his own just to calm down. I didn't have to tell him. He would go willingly on his own accord, because he could feel the benefit of taking that personal space to calm his body and mind. 

Now, if a child goes to their room to calm down and to take some quiet space away, you have to explore whether or not they want you there. Some kids don't want to be touched. They don't want to be talked to when they're upset. You can always offer, but if they say, no, you have to respect that. 

They might just want to go and be alone and that's okay too.

If you have multiple kids, you might not have the capacity to go and be with them in their room after they've hurt somebody. You have one kid who just hurt the other...you've got at least one kid who is crying. 

You can only be at one place at one time, and that's okay because you're human. You are only one person.

So if I have a child who has gone to his or her room, when they come out, I don't cue them to apologize, but I will cue them to check on the other person, the person that they hurt. 

And I'll say, "Hey, let's go check on your brother and see if he's okay." And then we go ask if the other child is okay. This is an attempt at getting them to understand the impact that they have on the world. As they're growing, their bodies are growing and they're getting stronger, and they can really hurt people. 

So it's not my preference to force an apology, but I do think it's important for kids to check on and see the impact that they have on the people around them.

Remember that hitting is not usually something that you can stop overnight. It's often something that slowly fades with time. You're probably first to see it fade in public settings and then in more intimate settings.

When possible, prevention is our best friend. We can notice when our kids are getting escalated, we can give them words so that they don't have to use their bodies. And then we can forgive ourselves when we miss all those cues and we don't prevent it. Our goal is to keep everybody safe. That's our job as parents.

I want you to know that if you have a kid who hits, you are not alone, you are in very good company. Take a deep breath. If your neighbor has a kid who never hits, it's not because they're a better parent than you, it's because they have a different kid than you. You're doing better than you know.

Let's talk about kids who hit. Let's also talk about adults who hit this kind of behavior can be really taboo, especially as kids get older, we aren't as open to talking with friends about it. And sometimes we feel like we're the only ones facing this problem. There's also a lot of self-blame that goes into this as well. I know this because I have a kid who hit Andrew occasionally still does hit. Hitting, can trigger a whole lot of emotions in us as parents. And we'll chat more about that today.

Hi, this is Denaye. I'm the founder of Simple Families. Simple families is an online community for parents who are seeking a simpler more intentional life. In this show, we focus on minimalism with kids, positive parenting, family wellness, and decreasing the mental load. My perspectives are based in my firsthand experience, raising kids, but also rooted in my PhD in child development. So you're going to hear conversations that are based in research, but more importantly, real life. Thanks for joining us. Thanks so much for tuning in today. Today, we're talking all about hitting kids, hitting assaults, hitting what it means and what we can do about it.

Before we get into this episode, I want to share a little bit about where my own personal philosophy on hitting comes from and how I've landed on the approach that I use with it. In my own home, I started my career off as a clinical social worker, working as a therapist in settings with kids who had behavior disorders. I was really interested in understanding the why behind these behaviors and also the what, how should we most effectively handle these behaviors? Now, when I say effectively handle behaviors, a lot of times what we're thinking is how do we curb these behaviors? How do we stop these behaviors? And with hitting that is often one that we want to stop immediately. So after finishing my master's degree and working for several years, I went back and did a post-graduate certification in behavior analysis, learning the ins and outs of behavior modification, understanding what drives behavior and how to change it.

So if you asked me to write up a behavior plan, create a reward chart, or a reinforcement chart, implement punishments and consequences. I can do all that. I've been trained to do all that. However, I went on to do my PhD in child development, and then I became a mom. And when I became a mom, I had all these tools in my tool belt and the traditional behavioral modification reward consequences stuff, never really sat well with me and my gut with my own kids, positive parenting using discipline to teach has always been something that has felt right to me. My intuition tells me that it is the right way for my family, but it's not always the easiest way, nor is it the fastest way to change a behavior. And I'll talk more about that in this episode. I want to talk about escalation. So what happens if you ask your kids nicely to put their shoes on and they don't respond, you might ask nicely again, then you might raise your voice a little bit.

Then you might raise it again. The situation is escalating. Your escalation as an adult has a peak. Your peak escalation point is probably vocal. It's probably screaming, maybe screaming at the top of your lungs and feeling like you're out of control, but it might only be vocal often by the time we get to adulthood, we're able to control our bodies. So even if we tense up and we feel like we could hit somebody, we don't now kids escalate just like adults. Do they get angry and angrier and angrier, especially when they feel like their needs and wants are not being met. But for some kids that escalation doesn't peak with a vocalization, they haven't yet developed the ability to control their body. So when things escalate, they resort to hitting and kicking and biting and hurting. So I think understanding that core piece that our kids escalate, just like we do.

We just have an ability to put a cap on it and to restrain our frustrations, to avoid using our bodies, to hit and to hurt because we have fully developed brains and lots and lots of practice managing difficult conflict. Our kids don't have either of those and as a result, many, but not all will struggle to put a cap on it when they're escalating. Now, this is absolutely not true of all adults. Not all adults are able to control their bodies. There are adults who hit and I'm sure there are adults who hit listening to this podcast right now. It's not something we talk about openly when it comes to adults who hit or to spank, which in different parts of the world, it's illegal. Now I want to say, first of all, that I don't approve of spanking or hitting nor do I in any way advocate for it.

But I do think it's important to understand it a little bit. Now, when I think about adults hitting, I think about two paths. The first is there are adults who hit impulsively out of anger. The escalation hits a peak where they lose control of their bodies. And it happens out of control. You feel powerless and you use your physical power to control the situation. If this sounds like you, you need support. You need support on managing your frustrations and your anger and probably your stress and overwhelm too. This is a huge safety risk for everyone. And I encourage you to get the support that you need. Reach out for helping hand. If you're in the U S you can call the child help hotline. It's one, 800 for a child, or you can talk to a mental health professional. Now there's a second subgroup of adults that hit, and these are the adults that hit as a planned punishment. So let's say you have a rule

That your kids are not allowed to play in the road, which is a rule that exists for very good purposes, safe purposes, but your kid loves to ride her bike in the road because it's paved and your driveway is really Rocky. So, It's not as fun. It's so tempting to just roll that bike out and ride it in the road. I will say that adults who use hitting and hurting as a planned punishment are lacking tools. Maybe this is the way you were raised. Maybe you've used this punishment and it works because it can absolutely work.

So let's talk about that kid. Who's really tempted to ride their bike in the road because it's paved and it's fun. So if an adult said, if I see you riding your bike on the road, again, I'm going to spank you, which is basically, if you don't do what I say, I'm going to hurt you. There's a good chance that that kid is going to listen. If that threat is real, and they've seen that adult hurt before, it's probably going to stop the behavior in its tracks. Now let's flip this on ourselves and think about how this would feel. So let's say you're on a diet and there is a tray of cupcakes, delicious cupcakes on your counter. And you're to really try and to avoid eating those cupcakes, but they are so tempting.

Kicks on the counter. You're really attempted. It's hard to say no, it's hard to stop yourself. So let's say a much bigger person came along a much stronger person. Maybe it's Dwayne Johnson the Rock. So if Dwayne Johnson, the rock is standing next to me saying Denaye. If you eat that cupcake, I'm going to hit it. I would absolutely not eat that cupcake. This threat would work on me, but now how do I feel about that person?

I used to think the rock was like this big fuzzy Teddy bear, but not anymore. I'd feel scared on edge anxious. I think I'd have A hard time developing real intimacy with the rock after he threatened to hurt me. If I had a cupcake. Now I know that example may seem a little extreme, but for many of us we're double the size of our kids. Just like the rock has probably doubled size of me. We can make ourselves feel big and scary. It's not that hard, but raising kids with fear, especially fear of harm will likely

They have negative impacts on their self-esteem and on their emotional wellbeing. So if you usse spanking and hitting as a person

And punishment, I encourage you to seek out new tools because even though this one can seem like it works, it has negative side effects. And this example in some ways, illustrates

The change in parenting from this generation to the last generation, the generation of parents right now, us who are raising these kids are having to supervise our kids more closely for longer periods of time. Because that kid who wants to ride their bike in the road, who impulse control problems

Is going to need closer supervision for longer. And I myself would rather provide that as opposed to using fear-based parenting, as opposed to threatening and actually having to hurt my child in order to prevent behavior from happening again. And that's a choice that many of us are making for the sake of our children's wellbeing as they grow. We're choosing respectful parenting, even when it's not fast and easy. And when I say that, I don't want to imply that using fear-based parenting is fast and easy, because I don't think that any parent has ever hurt or threatened to hurt a child because they wanted to. They're usually doing it as a last resort because of a lack of better tools. Now, as parents, we might think if we never hit our kids, then our kids are never going to hit. It's a learned behavior, right? Wrong.

I wish it was that easy. So because we often assume that hitting is in some way, shape or form a learned behavior, we tend to self-blame. We feel like we've gone wrong somewhere. We are very confused and baffled by it. We can feel like they have violated the peace and harmony of our home hitting feels fundamentally wrong to most of us as adults that's because most of us have developed the ability to manage our conflicts without the use of physical force. So physical force feels completely foreign to us. So when we have a kid who hits and we're got off guard by it, we want to first and foremost, curb this behavior overnight happen once. And we never want it to happen again, sadly, this sort of sudden behavior change. Usually doesn't happen now to understand why this can be a long, slow and painful process.

We have to understand why kids are heading for me. It helps to think of parenting as this sort of giant socialization process, right? We've got these babies who are born and we're trying to teach them how to be acceptable members of society. Now that looks very different for every family. But one of the things that we're teaching our kids as they grow is that hitting is not okay. We use our words to manage our conflicts. We stay calm. We place a lot of big expectations on our kids. In the early years, they struggle to use their voices and they struggle to feel heard even once their language is developed. Well, first of all, you'll find that hitting and using their body to express themselves happens more so in the early years or their language is fully developed. And even as they grow and their language develops more and more, it can still be hard to use their words to communicate.

So it might not be their first go-to action. They might use their bodies before they use their words. When language still feels hard for them and young brains have a harder time controlling their impulses. That means they act impulsively more often. Now that's also not a blanket. I have two kids. My first kid would never hurt a fly. The most gentle kid I've ever met. And you better believe that I patted myself on the back because that was definitely all my parenting until my second child came along and humbled me and continues to humble me every day. My first child never really showed these impulsive behaviors. Like my second child does yesterday. I picked my kids up from school and my son got in the car. My daughter was already in the car and she threw a shoe at his head. Now the first word that comes to my brain is why, like, why did you throw your shoe at your brother?

Because of it's so hard to understand these impulsive actions. Now she's four, and this behavior has faded significantly. As she's grown, rewind back to when she was probably 13 or 14 months old, just passed her first birthday. She would walk up to cats on the playground and scratch them in the face or push them down. We went through a solid year and a half to two years where it was really hard to take her out into public because we didn't know what was going to happen. It was hard to trust that she was going to be safe. If she was further than arms reach away from us. Now it started, I did indiscriminately with just random kids at the park. Strangers she's grown and has developed some impulse control, a lot more impulse control, especially in the last year. It happens less and less. And when it does happens, it's exclusively at home in the safety intimacy of home.

And this sort of fading is typical. It doesn't disappear overnight. You don't stop it on a dime, but as they grow and they're able to use their voices to feel heard, they learn to communicate their brains develop. They get some of those impulses under control, and it starts to get better a little at a time. It can be hard to see this progress. I can tell you this firsthand. Now, if you have a kid whose behaviors don't seem to be fading, I would encourage you to talk to your pediatrician while this behavior is normal. In the early years, if it doesn't start to fade, it could be a sign of sensory, sensitivities, or other developmental stuff. That's worth diving. A little deeper into. I remember I had my daughter enrolled in a preschool Montessori program when she was 20 months old. And there was a little girl there that she would push down.

And the irony in this is that she was the youngest, smallest kid in the class. And this other child was the biggest kid in the class. And she would walk up to this kid with one finger and just push her down and we'd get a huge reaction out of the other child. It was stressful for me as a parent, even though I understood the reasons why she was hitting, it just feels heavy. I felt Oh, that other kid. And I felt for that other kid's parent who was upset at the situation, it doesn't feel good to be on either side of this, the parent of the kid who's hurting or the parent of the kid who's getting hurt. But I want to tell you, if you are a parent of a kid who's hurting, your child is not bad. You are not bad, but remember there is a developmental piece to

That takes time. Change doesn't happen overnight. Now, if you're someone who uses time out, you might be wondering, well, where does that fit in? Why don't you just put a kid in time out for doing something like kidding something they're not supposed to be doing? Now, my answer to this is kind of a long and complicated. I actually did a whole episode on timeout.

If you go way back to episode 113 simplefamilies.com/episode113, that was from a couple of years ago. I explained in detail what timeout is and how it can be used. Effectively. Timeout is actually a short version of the term timeout from reinforcement, which is a technique that was coined by behavioral psychologists. And it can be effective at changing behavior, but the way that most parents are using it is for lack of better words, just not right and not effective. And as a result, most parents do timeout over and over and over again to no avail, not seeing any progress, but they continue doing it because they feel like they're doing something. And we often need to check that box. We need to feel like we're acting and we're not being complacent. So usually the most impactful part of timeout is that parents feel good that they actually did something in order to quote unquote, discipline their kids. But it actually doesn't really do a good job of changing behavior in part, because it's often not being used correctly, but in larger part, because these behaviors are driven by developmental challenges, the brains are underdeveloped. The impulse controls are under developed. The language is under developed. Even if we're trying to correct and teach better behaviors, better alternatives to hitting, it's still a slow process. I'm going to take a quick break for a 62nd word from today's Sponsor.

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Or use the promo code "simple" at checkout for 20% off your first order. Now, sometimes hitting in kids doesn't always happen out of escalation. Sometimes it's random like the shoe throwing thing that was totally unprovoked. The first step in managing any kind of behavior within our children is having empathy and understanding the why. When we do that, we are much more likely to stay calm. And it is hard to stay calm when your child is hitting, we can feel very provoked. We can feel very violated. So remember kids who hit our kids, who struggle to have their voices heard kids who struggle with impulse control, kids whose brains are still developing. They are still a work in progress. They are not bad. They are still learning. Remind yourself of that. Yeah. I get messages all the time from people saying my kid hits, and this is what I'm doing.

And they describe exactly what I'm about to tell you. And I say, you're doing everything right? Keep it up, keep up the good work. But then they're like, well, is this enough? Should I be giving them time out now? That's that tricky part of respectful parenting that forces us to view behaviors, not as a light switch, where we turn on and off that we stop on a dime, but more as behaviors that our kids are slowly learning to control in conjunction with our teaching as disciplined teaching new and better alternatives along with respecting their natural development and maturation. So how do I handle hitting as with most things that I say, if this approach doesn't resonate with you, forget it, take it or leave it. I tell you a lot of things on this podcast. A lot of them are going to resonate with you.

They're not going to work with your family. And that's okay. Here's my approach to hitting first and foremost, it's being proactive in the early years when my daughter was unexpectedly pushing other kids on the playground. It wasn't all the time, but it was unpredictable. So we didn't know when it was going to happen, which was almost more nerve wracking. I had to be on her. She had to be close to me or to my husband all the time. We had to prevent this type of interaction from happening. Now, that sounds really exhausting. And it was, I assure you, it was exhausting. Now, when I saw these interactions in the very early years, I viewed them as an invitation to play. She was approaching these kids as, Hey, I see you. I'm interested in you. And I would like to engage with you, but I don't know how I can't yet talk.

I can't yet ask you to come play and go down the side with me. I can't ask you your name. So I'm going to use my body to communicate and to get a reaction. During the early years, they're really starting to learn the impact that they have on the world and using their body to hit and to hurt can really elicit a strong reaction. This is what I saw with my daughter. When she was in the class with a larger girl, she could use her hands to get quite a large reaction out of this other child. She was learning the impact of her actions on the world, around her. So in these early years, when I was following her super closely, I was cuing her. When she would walk up to a child, I would take her hand and slowly stroke the child's arm and say, hi, all right.

So I was modeling some simple words and I was modeling soft touch. So instead of letting her toddle up and use her hands, however she wanted to use them. If she was approaching a new child and I didn't know what she was going to do, I'd walk up with her and I would guide her hand to gently touch their arm and say hi. Now I know there's a lot of people out there who will say, I probably should have asked that child's permission before touching that child and that could have triggered the other child. Yes, probably. But in many of these situations, it kind of felt like an either. Or if my child was going to be approaching that child, it could either be hurting that other child or touching them gently on the arm. So we went with the ladder, something like this is called errorless teaching.

You're not giving them room to make an error. It was my job to make sure that both children were safe, especially the child that my daughter was approaching. And to do that, I couldn't just wait and see what she did. I needed to help teach her how to initiate those interactions. I didn't want to take away all those social interactions, but I wanted her to learn how to respectfully approach other small children. And remember, I'm talking mainly about really young children. In this example, this is mostly pre-verbal early verbal. Now this is when the hitting or the hurting was in attempt to engage with another child. And often in the earliest years, that's what this is in some form, some way shape or form, it's an attempt to engage, or it's sort of a curious experiment to see what sort of impact they have on the world.

If I touch your arm gently, I get a very small reaction out of you. If I touch you hard and push you, I get a huge reaction out of you. Now, I know there's some people thinking that I should have been teaching my daughter to ask permission, to touch that other child, to approach the child and say, Hey, can I touch you before touching the child's arm? But the important piece to remember is that she was pre-verbal. She wasn't speaking yet. So I couldn't teach her those words. Could I have planted the seeds for those words and said those words so she could hear them and internalize them? Yes, but my goal in this behavior was to actually teach her how to do it on her own, with tools she already had within her. She could touch gently. She could say hi, those were already skills that she had.

So by trying to get her to ask permission, to teach and then wait to touch, and then to say, hi would have been more than she was developmentally capable of at that age. So if I would have tried to teach her that sequence of events, she would not have been able to execute. It probably would have gotten frustrated and resorted to that default way of pushing. Because remember when we're teaching, we have to be mindful of the child that we have right in front of us and have the skills that they have available to them at that time. Now, as they grow and their skills and their language develops in many ways, language will still be hard and they will still struggle to use their voice appropriately. We can help practice giving them language, especially when they're getting escalated, especially when hitting happens due to escalation.

I want that toy. I want that toy. And then they're screaming and they're slapping. So how do I intervene in these kinds of situations? I first and foremost, see my responsibility as keeping everyone safe, keeping our home safe and that situation, I would say, it sounds like you really want that toy. And you're frustrated. I won't let you hit, but I'll sit with you until it's your turn. So what have I done there? I've acknowledged their feelings and firmly told them that hitting and using their body is not inappropriate way of solving problems. Now, if that was the end of the incident and it was one hit and everybody moved on, I would move on to early social interactions are her rarely graceful. And often I find with my kids that a couple of minutes later, they're hugging and playing. So by practicing, giving words and firmly telling them that that behavior is not allowed.

If the behavior stops, I let the play resume. I let them move on. Now, if you have a child that is escalated and continues to hit, they behavior doesn't stop. Once you've given them words, you've tried to teach them what to say. Instead, once you've told them that hitting or hurting is not okay, that child often needs to be removed from the room. This is for the safety of everyone. Now, this is a little different than a timeout. A timeout would be used. If you said, if you hit again, I'm going to put you into timeout. That's not effective. The reason for removing a child from the room is for safety. A child who's continuing to hit and continuing to hurt is not safe.

So when you give them words and you say, it looks like you're really frustrated, and you're having a hard time controlling your body, I'm going to take you to your room. So you can have some space to calm down and we can keep everyone safe. That might mean making the bedroom a safe zone, which means no heavy things, nothing that they can get angry and throw it. Doesn't have to be an abandoning, go to your room, get out of here. It can be, uh, it looks like you need some space to calm down. I'm going to walk with you to your room. Now, sometimes they say, I don't want to go to my room. And in those situations, I'll say, okay, I'll give you a choice. Either you can walk to your room or I'll carry you to your room. What do you prefer? Now, if you only have one child, you may never need to remove the child from the room.

You may be able to keep everyone safe while keeping them with you. When you have multiple children, this changes, you have a responsibility to care for the physical and emotional wellbeing of all of your children. And sometimes that means one needs to be removed in order for the others to feel safe. This approach can also be helpful for kids who are not necessarily using their bodies to hurt, but who are using their words to hurt. Although my oldest has never, ever hurt anyone. He's definitely used his voice to say hurtful things. And I use the same approach for this. If it's one thing, I acknowledge his feelings, I give a simple alternative of kind words that he can use. Instead, for example, if he said get away from me, I don't like you. I would say it sounds like you're feeling frustrated. Can you ask her for some personal space when you say I don't like you that's hurtful.

If it stops, we move on. If it continues, then I tell him he needs to go to his room to calm down. Now we started this early, probably when he was about three. And by the time he was five, you would go to his room on his own just to calm down. I didn't have to tell him he would go willingly on his own accord, because he could feel the benefit of taking that personal space to calm his body and mind. Now, if a child goes to their room to calm down and to take some quiet space away, you have to explore whether or not they want you there. Some kids don't want to be touched. They don't want to be talked to when they're upset, you can always offer. But if they say, no, you have to respect them. They might just want to go and be alone.

And that's okay too. Now, if you have multiple kids, you might not have the capacity to go and be with them in their room. After they've hurt somebody, you have one kid who just hurt the other. You've got one kid who is crying. You can only be at one place at one time and that's okay because you're human. You are only one person. So if I have a child who has gone to his or her room, when they come out, I don't cue them to apologize, but I will cue them to check on the other person, the person that they hurt. And I'll say, Hey, let's go check on your brother and see if he's okay. And then we go ask if the other child is okay, and this is an attempt at getting them to understand the impact that they have on the world.

As they're growing, their bodies are growing and they're getting stronger and they can really hurt people. So it's not my preference to force an apology, but I do think it's important for kids to check on and see the impact that they have on the people around them. So remember that hating is not usually something that you can stop overnight. It's often something that slowly fades with time. You're probably first to see it fade in public settings. And then in more intimate settings, when possible prevention is our best friend, you can notice when our kids are getting escalated, we can give them words so that they don't have to use their bodies. And then we can forgive ourselves when we miss all those cues and we don't prevent it. Our goal is to keep everybody safe. That's our job as parents. I hope that you found this episode to be helpful.

I want you to know that if you have a kid who hits you are not alone, you are in very good company. Take a deep breath. If your neighbor has a kid who never hits, it's not because they're a better parent than you. It's because they have a different kid than you. You're doing better than, you know, if you enjoyed this episode, take a screenshot of yourself, listening to it and post it up to Instagram. I'd love to hear from you. So make sure you tag me as always. Thanks for tuning in. Have a good one.

Denaye Barahona

Dr. Denaye Barahona is a loving wife and mama of two. She partners with families to tackle the challenges of raising children. Denaye is a minimalist who claims to be a decluttering expert (don't let her near your closet). She loves to travel, talk health-and-wellness, and give unsolicited advice. She has been featured on the likes of The Today Show, The Wall Street Journal, The Huffington Post, The Minimalists, Motherly, Becoming Minimalist, and numerous other media outlets. Denaye holds a Ph.D. in Child Development and is a Clinical Social Worker with a specialty in child and family practice.