Thursday, June 25, 2009

Teaching Children Not to Hit

In many families, hitting is a common way of resolving conflict between siblings (and sometimes between adults). This is not the best way. Is it possible to teach your family members not to hit? Is it possible to teach them to resolve conflicts without any physical violence? It is possible to have a family where everyone is working to find answers through verbal communication instead of throwing, shoving, and punching? Absolutely! As a matter of fact, learning not to hit is essential for all mature interactions in life. There are several great skills for ordering your family’s emotional life so physical conflict is eliminated (or at least reduced) and the inevitable challenges that come with living together are worked through without physical force.

Children that are allowed to hit as a way of resolving conflicts often become adults that hit each other (whether it be as husband or wife) or parents who inappropriately hit their children. This pattern of hitting can also lead to inappropriate moral activities and variance in social interactions as children mature. When children are allowed to hit without teaching them how to resolve conflicts appropriately, trouble is in store.

So begin an initiative in your own home that will change family interactions for the better. Discuss with your spouse what your conflict resolutions standards will be when the two of you get angry. Then talk with your family members about their feelings and ideas. Converse about possible new standards before, after, and during the challenges that are part of living together. Then formalize them in writing.

For example, you might begin teaching your children not to hit each other by specifically saying,

“Remember, we don’t hit in our family any more. Yes, we will have conflicts and challenges, but we can resolve them without hitting each other. Joan you sit there and Mary you sit there until you feel settled down a bit and then we will talk together.”

This will be a little difficult at first because children are very apt at hitting. If they are not taught properly, they are especially good at it when parent’s attention is diverted elsewhere. They get even better at hitting on the sly as they mature. But for family life to improve considerably and for peace to return, it is time for change now.

When older children squabble with each other and begin hitting, you separate them until they have cooled down a bit before resolving the issues. Then work with them to verbalize what happened, what they are feeling, and how to find answers. You can teach them to resolve their challenges by talking through their feelings and seeking for a mutual solution. Teach them that mature people do not hit to resolve problems. They talk through their challenges and disputes. They sit and discuss, share and suggest. They find answers together using calm, controlled voices whenever possible.

“Josh, you and Allie have been fighting and are both angry. Remember, we don’t hit to settle our arguments. We talk. Josh, you go to your bedroom and Allie you sit on the couch. In five minutes when we have all settled down a bit, we will talk together and begin to find solutions.”

If your children aren’t quite ready to have an equitable discussion right after their squabble, continue to keep them separated until they have cooled down and are a bit more teachable. Then work with them to teach these principles. At first it will not be easy and you might find that you have some learning to do yourself to keep in control, but stay with it. Remember, if you don’t get mad, you can keep the situation workable as you teach proper principles for conflict resolution.

“I’m feeling so upset at both of you right now. You know that hitting is not the best way to work through anger. Let’s just breathe deeply five times and then each find a chair in the family room. I’ll let each of you state your side of the story. Then I will share mine. Then we will talk about ways to find a solution to our problem.”

Teenagers seem to respond best to a family discussion about familial interactions and appropriate ways of expressing anger, frustration, and disagreement. Work with them until all parties have a clear perception of what, how, and when disputes will be resolved. Then reinforce these standards both by your own example and by continued training.

“Brad, I see that you are not following our family rules about hitting. Art has a bruise on his leg from you. Yes, I know that you were very mad at him, but still we must talk through our problems, not hit our way through them. Sit down here. I will go get Art and we will have a discussion together to find answers to both your needs.”

Even very small children can be taught not to hit. They will often strike or slap you in the face when you are holding them. One of the best ways to work through this is to simply hold their hands softly, but firmly, and say,

“Hitting is not permitted.”

They, of course, will do it again just to see what will happen. Again hold their hands and in a soft but firm voice say,

“Hitting is not permitted.”

Repeat this over and over again until the child begins to respond and comply.

Lastly, discuss with your spouse better, gentler ways to work through the friction that often happens in a marriage and which might lead, from time to time, to physical hitting. This simply cannot be the best way to have order at home.

“Stacy, I love you so much and still I struggle not to use my fists when I get angry. Let’s talk of what we can do so I feel like you are listening to me better. Let’s plan to separate ourselves from the kids and retire to our bedroom before our feelings get out of control. Then we can talk in private until answers come.”

So begin a no hitting initiative right away with your family. If you do this, there will be more peace and harmony between your children. There will be more love between you and your spouse as you train by example. There will be more order in your life in general. And, there will be a chance for a new generation to grow up learning how to peacefully handle life’s many pressures.

©2009 Marie Calder Ricks/


Christina said...

Lots of good ideas here. I think kids just plain shouldn't be allowed to hit. If you correct it every time it happens, then it doesn't happen anymore.

My husband grew up in a house where the rules were pretty lax and there was a lot of hitting between kids. It actually took me a few years to realize that when he talked about "fighting" with his brothers, it really meant "fighting," not the tame arguments that happened in my family, but wrestling, hitting and more. Eek! Luckily, my own kids are pretty gentle and are taught acceptable behavior from when they're young.

Marie Ricks said...

Thanks, Christina, for your comments. How much better each family's life would be if we make this small, but important change. No hitting, please! Thanks for making this a goal in your home. What a difference it will make as time goes on.

Kami said...

I have a 5 yr old and a 3 yr old that ALWAYS fight!! I'm getting so frustrated. I usually just put the hitter in time out for awhile and then make them apologize. Then the cycle will start again in another 10 minutes when they start playing again.

Thanks for your ideas. I might have to try more communication as a means of settling their disputes. I hope it works because I am almost at my wits end!

Marie Ricks said...

Kami, you face a common problem. How to stop the hitting when it is a well-established challenge in your home. I have learned that it must be more unpleasant to hit then to not hit. In other words, each time the children hit and you separate them, the discipline must be longer and more unpleasant. I'm not sure what that means to you (as each of us disciplines differently), but make sure that they find it nicer to play reasonably well together than to have their mother interceding. Take care now and let me know how it goes.

Mysorean said...

Great post! But I have a 2 and a 1/2 year old boy who goes to school and hits every other kid he can lay his hands on. I am at my wits' end on how to make him see that hitting is not the way. Any pointers would be greatly appreciated. Thanks in advance.