Hitting & Discipline

The preschool years are a remarkable time for growth and development — yet the swing in moods, problem solving skills and behavior is enormous. Language skills pop and questions flow freely, yet at times of stress, kids seems only a moment away from being toddlers. Temper tantrums, inability to use words, and hitting are all common responses.

When hitting occurs, I suggest giving the child a swift, stern response followed by whatever disciplinary action is used at your house: timeout (doesn’t start till the screaming stops); favorite television/video removed for the day/night; favorite toy put away for the day. Do NOT get emotionally involved with a big reaction, followed by the perfunctory lecture about being “nice.”

You might say something simple such as, “Do not touch your baby brother when you are mad,” or “Do not hit me when you are mad,” or “Absolutely no hitting when angry.” Label the feeling, and the behavior. After the dust has settled, you can talk about things to do with the “mad that you feel,” to help kids learn about having those big feelings.

We teach kids manners and safety, and we also need to help them learn about the big feelings in life (how to get attention appropriately, how to express anger, frustration appropriately, how to have fun and be all revved up without crossing the line).  If your child remains upset about the taken toy or television show, don’t tell them again that it is their fault and they have a punishment; tell them that you think they will remember the rule next time they are mad, or that tomorrow the toy will return, and you think they will be able to be the boss of their body and not hit anyone for a whole day.

Do not go on and on, and do not give your child a big emotional reaction. Preschoolers are trying to take control of the emotional tone of the household. So stay calm — do not give them the satisfaction of being emotionally controlling — and be clear. Be clearn and stern, and then back away. Later, hope for a better tomorrow, and know that you’re teach them how to understand and manage the BIG, hard feelings in life.

Diana Schwab is our Kids Plus developmental consultant. She works with parents to help them sort out their developmental concerns, manage significant changes in their families, and find and use all the resources they need.