The topic of hitting / fighting seems to be a recurring one with my parent coaching clients at the moment - I don't know if it's because we're a few weeks in to the new school year, and in the playground there are a few 'who's in charge' wars going on, or because they're a bit tired, so come home and take it out on their sibling, or you.. (did you read last week's blog about after-school restraint collapse)..
Or there's just something in the air?!!
But I wanted to let you know, I've been there. When the boys were younger, it felt like every Saturday morning was tricky. I don't know what it was - maybe the combination of still waking up early, but then not having enough structure in the day, but something just meant that by 11am, there'd been an argument over a toy, and someone was hurt. I'll come back to our specific solution, but first I wanted to give you my tips and wisdom from 10 years of both handling my own kids' disagreements, and supporting other parents in finding solutions for their family.
Tip #1 - Let's separate the child from their behaviour (My child is hitting ≠ my child is a hitter)
The first thing I want you to know about your child, and that your child needs to know about themselves, is that there's a reason for their behaviour. And they are not their behaviour. Let me try and explain that one. When we see our child hitting another child - the first thoughts that go through our head are 'you naughty child'. And then comes our fear 'my kid's never going to be invited on a playdate/will become a juvenile delinquent)
So let's take a step back. First of all, just because my child has just hit another child, that doesn't mean that they are 'naughty'. All behaviour is communication, and if my child hit another, there is a reason for it. If it's a one-off, it can be helpful to look for the 'step before' (another child took their toy/my child is hungry/thirsty/tired). If it's more regular behaviour, in Positive Discipline we look for the 'belief behind the behaviour (is my child in need of connection, is it a power struggle, are they getting 'revenge' or feeling incapable about something). Belief behind the behaviour is a whole other blog post, but for now, just try to make a guess. We'll come back to it in tip 5.
Also, my child hitting or biting another child does NOT mean that they will always hit / bite in response to situations. My child is fundamentally a good child, and they're doing the best that they can with the tools that they have (as am I) I need to teach him new skills, and you've already realised you need some new skills - that's why you're reading this post.
Tip #2 - Keep everyone safe
These next two tips are about what to do 'in the moment'.
First - your job as a parent is to keep everyone safe, including the child who is doing the hitting. So you want to prevent them from hitting/biting anyone, including you.
You might want to wrap your arms around your child, to keep them safe and prevent them from hitting, while saying 'It's okay, I'm not going to let you hit anyone'.
Then, make sure the other child is okay too.
Tip #3 - In the moment - Treat everyone the same
You might think the best thing is to remove the child who is being hurt, but actually, you want to try to keep both kids together. If needed, remove the one who is doing the hitting, but you are going to stay with them. If possible, go to a smaller space with them.
Now, you want to help everyone to feel better (regulate). I try to avoid telling them to calm down, because who has ever found that being told to calm down helps them to calm down?! Certainly not me!
So, instead, you are going to model it. Sit down, start taking deep breaths, and make sure to breathe out slower than you are breathing in. You might want to notice and name things in the room around you, or to think or your favourite place in the world to be! Then, wait. Slowly, as you notice your child slowing down - offer eye contact or touch.
When kids fight, says Jane Nelsen, Positive Discipline expert,".. put them in the same boat and treat them the same."
Tip #4 - Once you're feeling better, get curious with your child
Your heart rate has slowed, your child seems to be feeling a bit better. So only now, is the time to start getting curious (because now their thinking brain has re-connected, and they are able to understand/explain a bit. You might want to test out your theory about they 'why' for their behaviour.. 'I saw Johnny was playing with your red car, I bet that made you really mad'. Try to avoid asking them 'Why did you hit Johnny?' as it's likely to lead to a 'I don't know' or a shrug of the shoulders. That's because your child, rationally, didn't want to hit - they were mad, and when they got mad, their thinking brain was disconnected. So we're looking for the step before. What made them angry, sad, upset?
Tip #5 - Find solutions - future proofing
So, now we know the 'why' (either from what our child says, or what we notice, or probably a bit of both.
Take a look at the time of day / situation when the hitting happens - is it around sharing toys? If so, suggest practicing with role plays - you play your child, and they play their friend/sibling.
Learn more about what feelings feel like in their body, and how to spot the feeling a bit earlier.
Set up agreements for how they are going to play with each other and what you are going to do when it goes wrong.
Change your expectations, it will happen again! AND, it will decrease.
Decide what you're going to do and follow through.
Agree together which toys they do and don't want to share.
The most important thing when kids are righting is to stay calm and remember that everyone is doing the best that they can - your child, and You. The solutions that I've listed above are just some of the ways to decrease fighting. As I sid, when the boys were little, Satuyrdayu mornings were tricky. Our solution was to arrange play-dates with a neighbour every Saturday morning! If you'd like support in working out the best solutions for your child, or in helping them (and you) manage your emotions in the moment, then book a free chat with me today.