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What Do You Do If Your Child Hits You?

14/08/2014 17:00 | Updated 20 May 2015

What do you do if your child hits you?

What do you do when your child hits you? I think it may be the parenting issue I struggle with the most. My four-year-old is going through a hitting phase at the moment and it's driving me mad.

He hits me, he hits his dad, he hits his nine-year-old brother. He's never hit anyone outside of immediate family, which is, on the one hand, a relief, but on the other it proves he knows he's doing something wrong... and yet he keeps doing it. And I just don't know the best way to deal with it.

I've tried time-outs - even though I'm not a fan - but when I put him in his room he just plays with his toys and has a lovely old time. I've tried explaining to him why hitting is unacceptable, but that usually results in him hitting me again.

I asked friends how they deal with their children hitting. Scott said: "If Ethan ever hit Martha (when they were both very young). I made him throw away a toy. I selected three or four of his favourites and explained that as hitting was bad he had to choose which toy would go in the bin. He had to put it in the bin himself. I only had to do it twice.

"The agony of seeing a child throw away a beloved toy wasn't easy but it soon sorted out the problem. A telling off is quickly forgotten, they never forget throwing away a toy."

I couldn't do this. I'm too much of a wuss. Joe would cry, Harry would also cry (he gets wild sentimental attachments to things like toothbrushes, so throwing out a toy would be much too cruel) and then I actually think Joe would just get over it. They've got a lot of toys...

Karen's son Oli went through a hitting phase too. She says: "I gave him a cushion to hit and told him we don't hit people, only the cushion. Seemed to work well."

I've tried the cushion trick with Joe too. He's managed it a couple of times, but obviously he's usually hitting in the heat of the moment and so doesn't stop and think about an alternative. Although the other day, he raised his hand and then just went "Argggh!" and put it down again, which was quite entertaining and also proves he's old enough to understand he's doing something wrong.

Parenting expert Liat Hughes Joshi suggests our first step is to work out the cause of the hitting. Is he genuinely feeling angry, could it be for attention or is he anxious about something? "If it happens when he and a sibling are squabbling over a toy, pre-empt that by reminding them of rules around turn taking," Liat says.

"If it happens when he's very tired, consider if he's getting enough sleep and ways to remedy that. These aren't an excuse for hitting, but understanding what's going on can help shape your response but also might even help HIM understand his own actions."

This is something I'm admittedly not great at. I could probably keep a closer eye on situations and distract or redirect Joe if I see him starting to become annoyed.

Liat also suggests discussing the hitting at a calmer time - not immediately after it's just happened or as part of the punishment. She suggests saying something like "I'm finding it really hard when you hit and I think it isn't fun for you getting told off all the time" and then asking him what he thinks is causing it. "You can then discuss together what will happen if he hits and also ways he can stop himself hitting," she says.

I like this idea - it's a lesson I'm learning very slowly that when there's a problem with the children, asking them about it usually helps! So far Joe's only told me that he hates his brother (which isn't the case, of course) but he certainly seemed intrigued and pleased to be asked.

"Teach him to count to three or think of his favourite song even when he gets that angry feeling," Liat says. "Help him deal with his anger in a different way."

Great advice whether you're four or much, much older.

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