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Friday, December 7, 2012

no hurting hands!

My Story
Hi, my name is Angela, and my son was a hitter.
My son was 21 months old when he started hitting his buddy at daycare. He hit us at home also at the same time, and then moved on to his cousins, friends. Just about daily, sometimes multiple times a day, he hit. He hit because he wanted a toy that someone else took. He hit when he didn't want to take a bath or get dressed or eat his dinner. He hit when he was truly just playing around, but it was not appropriate because it was way too rough even though he thought it was just playing. He hit when nothing at all was happening to trigger him. He hit when kids would nag at him. He hit when he was overtired, hungry, and emotional. He hit as a response to me being pregnant at the time and not able to pick him up as much, baby on the way, busy.

It was terrible.
It went on almost daily for 10 months.
I cried a lot over it. I was so frustrated. We tried EVERYTHING.
It was one of the hardest situations I've dealt with yet as a parent. Long, exhausting, disappointing.
We lost friends. We avoided going certain places at specific times. We got stares and weird looks.
We felt judged. We felt hopeless. We felt like bad parents, like it was our fault.
We were angry and sad, utterly confused and clueless.

And now that it's over, the hitting stopped months ago, I'm in a place to reflect back on it for what it was - A PHASE. A toddler tantrum phase. I was told by few that it would pass, that he'd stop eventually. In the moment though, that's hard to hang on to or accept as truth. You feel like your child won't ever stop. But I swear they do. They will. You just have to figure it out along the way and be as patient as you possibly can. And know you are NOT alone! I wish someone had said that to me when we were were going through this with my son - "you're not alone, your son is not a bad kid, he's just going through a thing right now, this too will pass." I wish someone had said that to me, so I'm saying it to you now. 

Why hitting?
There are a zillion reasons why kids hit.
-Overtired, hungry, overwhelmed - some physical response
-Angry, frustrated, upset, sad, disappointed, jealous - over a new sibling, a change in the home, etc.
-Wanting attention
-Asserting new independence
-Sick, so increase in their aggression, decrease in their tolerance
-Watching another kid do it at daycare or play dates, copy cat behavior 
-Peer troubles - not able to share easily, jealousy over taking toys or playing with others, etc.
-Unable to express feelings with words
-Got attention for hitting before so now keeps trying to get more attention for it
-Pretend, playing, thinking it's a game or how to play actively with someone
-Because someone older is picking on them so they pick on those younger than they are to feel in control or powerful (yes, even young toddlers can get this)
-Developmentally impulsive by nature
-TV characters on shows portraying aggression or rough playing that kids interpret as hitting
-wants to see what will happen (cause and effect)

Whatever the reason, it's our job as parents to figure it out, at least to the best of our ability, in an attempt to help our child through it. They can't tell us what their behavior means, not in words anyway. If they could, they'd just simply ask for whatever it is that they need. So instead, they do what they can and know - physically react.

What's the trigger?
You first need to figure out what the trigger is. What is causing the hitting behavior? Why is my child resorting to hitting another person? Start tracking it in your head, or even on paper. Jot down what happened just before or even in the hour before the incident. Did your child give you clues before he ended up hitting that showed you he was escalating?

When I started tracking this I realized my son WAS showing me clues that he was "all done" with a given situation, he wanted to leave, he was tired or hungry, he was upset with a particular friend and didn't want to be near her anymore, etc. I started watching these signs that would ultimately lead up to my son hitting someone. He knew that if he did it enough we'd leave a situation he didn't like or want anymore. So I became smarter and more clued into my son, having to leave play dates and events numerous times before I was ready to do so because I knew it was best for him.

Things to try:
Once you figure out the triggers you can attempt to prevent those situations from coming up. You can't always prevent though, so in the situations when hitting does happen here are some things we tried:
-Teach them how to express their feelings with words. "Tell me with words how you are feeling. What's wrong? What's going on right now that makes you want to hit? Are you angry? Frustrated?"

-Reflect back to your child what you see they must be feeling, in a child-like tone of voice, "It's no fair! You wanted to play with that toy, you're mad, right?" Once you express it back to them, they feel understood, heard, accepted in their moment of frustration. Then you can move on to saying the truth or fact... "I know it's no fair that your friend wants to play with the same toy you want, but we have to be a good sharer, right? Then you'll get another turn in a minute."

-Read books that show what good touch and bad touch are when it comes to hitting. Hands Are Not For Hurting was our favorite book by Free Spirit.
(image from Amazon)

-Talk about what it means to be a good friend - sharing toys, using nice words and hands, etc. Read books about this also.

-Show your child what they can do with their hands instead of hitting. They need a physical way to let out aggression if they are hitting, teach them something else. We first taught my son to clap his hands. Stomping feet, squeezing hands in and out in fists, running in place or jumping up and down, those are all good ways to let out energy.

-In the moment, address it every single time you see your child hit someone. Using a stern voice, on their level so you can see their eyes and they can really focus on what you're saying, say something like, "We do not hit. No hurting hands." Remove them from a situation if they do not stop. Discipline every time you see it.

-Praise - even exaggeratedly - the times you see your child behave, listen, act appropriately with peers, share, be kind, etc. You must show him how to behave.

-Make him apologize for his actions, every time, without fail. It's important.

-When your child witnesses another kid hitting someone talk about that. "That boy hit that other boy, that must have made him sad. Why do you think he did that? That's not nice. Friends do not hit. We don't have hurting hands. You are a good boy, you don't hurt with your hands, right?"

-Just leave! If it's getting worse or your child is not listening to you, leave the play date or event or even family function. It's not good for anyone for you to stick around.

-It can be so frustrating that sometimes you need a break, a step away from the situation. You also have to bounce back quickly from a situation and realize your child is just a 2-year-old or however old they are, they don't know what they are doing really, they are not purposely doing this to make your life miserable. They are kids. They don't like being in trouble all the time over hitting, but for some reason it's what they know to do right now. So be patient and understanding, and don't forget to console them and love them. They need you the most when they are at their worst.

Happy Ending
For us, the story has a happy ending. Knock on wood, my son has not hit in months. He's more verbal now, can express "I'm mad" much better than he could a year ago. He's adjusted to me being pregnant then bringing home his little sister. He has new friend situations that have just altered him into behaving differently. He's finally gotten sick of hearing us say "no hurting hands" over and over, I guess, who knows! I don't know the real reason he stopped hitting, I think it's a combination of things. Whatever it was, I'm HAPPY! He's happy! It was his terrible two tantrum phase "thing," that's what I chalk it up to being. A thing. And it sucked, boy did it really suck. But we got through it, all in one piece. And I know that I was not a bad mother, ever, during it. We did the best we could.

To those who see other mothers going through this, please don't judge. Whatever you are thinking, they have already thought before. If you are thinking, "Well why don't they just try this or that to deal with the hitting?" I can assure you we moms dealing with it have already thought of those things and 100 other ideas. Just have patience. That's what the moms and the kids in the situation really need - acceptance and patience.

To those just starting down this terrible hitting path, know you are not alone and that it WILL pass at some point. Just keep doing what you're doing, trying, being patient yourself, and ask for help. You are not a bad mom because your child hits. It will get better!

Some great tips from real moms on how to turn hitting into hugging!
Baby Center always has great ideas. This article explains why it happens and what to do about it.
Tips for if your child is hitting you.
Dr. Sears offers good advice like tracking the trigger of what happens just before the hitting starts.
Great article on 4 triggers to hitting and biting - including that kids explore with their mouths so biting is a natural thing sometimes, and that hitting can happen when kids are defending their turf.
Good strategies like removing your child from a situation that may be triggering her to hit. 
Some great ideas about why toddlers act the way they do -such as, It feels good I'm doing it, or I want to so I can and will.
This site always has good tips.
Based on info in a good book about discipline I've read, some good language to use with your child.

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