Sunday, December 04, 2011


A couple of months ago, Isaac started hitting, or really, patting really hard and in places that aren't very comfortable like my face. Also, Margaret has started more pushing/kicking in order to keep Isaac away from her and her things (see last blog post).

I know this is where some people come in and advocate spanking because it "shows the child that hitting hurts." This doesn't make sense to me. If someone turns around and treats me badly because I treated them badly, I don't think, "Hmm. Maybe I shouldn't have done that." I think, "JERK FACE." I think kids think similarly.

But I do think that it's true: Isaac didn't know what he was doing hurt. He didn't know his own strength.

I took piano for many many years. I made the most progress under a teacher who instructed us to split each new piece into small sections and practice each section 10 times daily. In a row. You couldn't do 5, eat dinner, then finish the other 5 repetitions. She said that the first 5 (or so) times, your fingers were getting used to the notes and order and feel of the song. The second 5 times, muscle memory was developed. And after doing this for a few days (or more, depending on the piece), it would be in your muscles and then you could think about musicality.

But back to hitting. One year old Isaac doesn't know his own strength. His muscles do not know what it feels like to be soft with another person. But like my muscles needed to get used to the new note patterns in a new song, Isaac's muscles need to get used to being a person and soft with the people around him. So when he hits, I will take his hand and demonstrate with it how to be soft by using it to pat or caress my arm or hand. I think taking his hand is important because children are very much inside their bodies and their bodies need direction. Eventually, he'll learn how it feels to be soft and how much force is appropriate for interacting with other people. It'll take repetition, but eventually his muscles will commit safe patting to memory. We've been doing this for a few months and already he does more "patting" than hitting and it hasn't been on my face lately.

Of course there are issues in which this will be difficult. I know some kids have sensory issues and crave high-impact force. It's like their brains can't feel something unless they really feel it with a lot of oompf. Handling the sensory issues with a therapist trained in such issues will be important.

But it's not all Isaac. Like I said above, Margaret's been doing more kicking and pushing. Because she is verbal, we do more verbal cues. "You are the bigger person, Margaret. You can walk away from him." But sometimes the kicking comes from a place of pent-up frustration. I've tried a lot of things like stomping with her. Once I even said, "I think you can scream louder than that," to help her get the energy out. It turns it to a game and the upset passes.

Usually the kicking stems from another issue: Isaac won't leave her or her stuff alone. So addressing the original issue helps.

And as sappy as it sounds, asking, "How big is your mad? What color is your mad?" really helps. It would probably get an eye-roll from a 9 year old, but from a 3 year old, I get, "It's green and pink and chocolate. Chocolate chip! Ice cream mad!" "That sounds really sad." "Yeah." And then she's done and distracted from what she was upset about and able to start over.

In the past, I've taken her hands and have said, "Hands are for helping and loving." Maybe I should start that with Isaac, now that I think about it.

And we do the breathing I mentioned in the previous post.

Lastly, there are times when I don't intervene because the kids to like to wrestle. I try to watch to make sure that when someone is done, their wishes are respected. Multiple times a week, we actively practice saying, "Stop!" and getting a parent for those sorts of situations. I actively enforce the "stops," when they wrestle. Additionally, each time we practice "Stop!" I explicitly remind them that they should even tell mommy and daddy to stop if we are hurting them and then to tell the other parent about the incident.

As far as where we are right this moment, we've actually had a pretty bad week this past week. Many meltdowns and bodies not knowing how to be soft. Kids were sick, Daddy went out of town for a bit, we didn't go out and get our sunshine, sleep well, or get enough exercise. This next week, we'll try to get more sunlight and exercise and see if that helps. I think the winter is already getting to us- and it's not even that cold! I'm just bad at finding the energy to have outings.

I plan on doing another post of links to more ideas and books/websites that help. Stay tuned.


  1. My son loves to hit. He doesn't love to hurt -- just to hit. Especially with objects like sticks or toothbrushes or spatulas. And he gleefully sings out, "Hitting the dog! Hitting the floor! Hitting the chair! Hitting the Mama!"

    The way he does it easily shows me that he just likes the way it feels to swing something and have it connect with something else. It isn't about hurting people. So I just try to teach him what things he can hit and what things he can't. I know the conventional wisdom is "no hitting at all," but I don't think that's necessary, and I don't think I could enforce that either. I think hitting is like throwing -- fun with the right thing, could hurt someone with the wrong thing. So we practice hitting the floor, the wall, the fence, the couch, the grass ... and patting Mama, Daddy, the cat, and the dog.

    It would help if the dog didn't lap up all the attention, even if it's hitting. But I guess it isn't really hurting him much and he just likes the game. Still, I referee because even if OUR dog likes getting smacked with a hairbrush, MOST dogs don't and I'd like to make the distinction that we only hit things that aren't alive and aren't breakable.

  2. In a semi-related note, when some of my kiddos who are cognitively at a level similar to your children we use the terms "nice hands," "quiet hands" or "soft hands" when hitting others, objects, self, i. e. is occurring and if possible have them say it too. We usually also gently place our hands around theirs while saying this. Not the same kids or the same situation but, it is often successful at reminding what we are supposed to be doing.
    As the child of parents who were all about being non-violent and never once spanked us, I now see how much this has shaped my perception on how to treat people and use manners and words to express yourself.

  3. I really need this right now. My daughter is losing it constantly. If I try to keep her from hurting others (by restraint or redirection) she screams and spits in my face. She also screams, ALL THE TIME. She is getting enough sleep, we try to validate her and we don't spank or yell ourselves so we are at our wits end. While we don't practice time out I have had to shut myself away to keep from losing it but she follows me screaming and spitting the whole way and then kicking at and slamming doors. There is so much aggression there and I can't figure it out.

    This behavior started around the time she turned 3 and has been escalating ever since. We are afraid to take her anywhere.

  4. i've been dealing with this a lot from all the kids. I love you for posting this- just what I needed to read!

  5. With my toddler, I've found that hitting (or not soft touching) happens a lot more when she's not getting enough outdoor play/exercise. She needs to burn off a lot of energy each day.

  6. I am so loving your "How big is your mad? What color is your mad?"" and "Hands are for helping and loving. Going to start using those with my 2 yr old who hits not only out of anger and frustration, but just for the great reaction she gets from her big sister.


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