My friend’s little boy hits all the time! She tells him over and over not to hit, but he just keeps doing it! Is there any advice I can give her?
She is saying, “Don’t hit,” but what is she doing? She needs to take his hands, stop him from hitting, hold him and, if neccessary, move away. Mostly she needs to stop fearing his body. She needs to stop being a victim to his aggression.
One way I know she is uncomfortable with his aggressive energy (we usually call it toddler energy or boy energy) is that she is trying to get him to abandon it and be “nice and gentle.” What this does is actually convey to him that gentle=good and aggressive=bad. But that’s not true. What is true is that there is a time and a place, and a purpose for aggression, and it is not on Mommy’s body or other people’s. Also, the more she equates gentle with good, the more he will be aggressive because he will equate aggression with bad and himself with aggressive and, therefore, himself with bad. People who feel bad act bad. She’s intensifying the behavior by trying to make it go away.
I recommend two things – get a boppy (one of those lead bottomed kiddo punching bags) and a “hitting pillow.” These are the only two things he may hit, and any time he starts hitting, his parents need to redirect him to the appropriate places for it. He also needs to be wrestling with Daddy and getting his big energy out. They also need to stop any calling him “rough,” “tough,” and “aggressive,” and start calling him their “kind and gentle boy,” even though he is still being aggressive. They must force themselves to notice the times he is being gentle, and point those out to him. Not in a praising, “This is how you should be” way, but in a “See, you are gentle” way.
This is normal. The only way he will grow up to be a bully is if he’s parented in a way that causes him to feel bad about who he is, so that he needs to keep others down to feel good about himself. He’s still so little. He definitely needs constant supervision when with other children, and I would institute a rule that if he hurts, he leaves. Eventually he will make the connection, but until he does, this rule keeps others safe.
This is even more of a problem if both parents are the less physical, more intellectual types. Nothing wrong with being that type, but usually parents who are more physical are less concerned about more aggressive children. These parents need to know there is nothing wrong with their child. They also need to start shaping this quality in him rather than trying to make it go away.
What I do when my 2-year-old hits is jump in immediately and take his hands in mine. I say, “Hitting hurts. You may not hit. Your hands are for gentle touches,” and then I apologize to the child (and parents if there) who was hit. Modeling apologies teaches sincerity in apologizing, but forcing apologies can teach a child to lie if they aren’t really sorry. I teach my children the words, “I’m sorry,” and talk to them about what they mean, but I never force the apology. I might ask, instead, “Do you feel bad that you hurt them? If yes, you need to apologize.” I also say, “You need to make this right,” and they might offer an “I’m sorry,” or a hug, or something else like giving the toy back to the child.
I also address the issue of why my child was hitting, though, so that he knows he is protected. If another child took his toy, I would gently take it from her hands while I said, “He was angry that you took his shovel. He was playing with it. You may have a next turn and I will make sure you get it.” I might also try to get my child to say, “Next turn.” By the time they are verbal, my children can tell someone they may have the next turn, and ask for the next turn.
It sounds like he’s typically hitting because he doesn’t have the words to express himself. By addressing both aspects of the situation, you will deal with the aftermath of the hitting and teach him what to do next time.