From the mom of a kid who hits

Dear Mom of the kid who my kid just hit, kicked, pushed, scratched or grabbed,

I’m sorry. It is horrifying to watch my child hurt another. It’s like putting on by best outfit, going out and trying to be the good person I know I am and suddenly having a surprise third arm lurch out from under my coat and start flipping everyone off.

I worry now that you’ll think less of me, even though I’m a good woman.

Is your kid okay? I’m sorry. And if it’ll make you feel better, I’ll try to get J to tell your child that he’s sorry. I read somewhere that it matters less to a toddler to make them say they’re sorry, and that it impacts them more to show them the face and body language of the child they hurt, so they understand how their actions affected the other child. So I tend to do that instead of angling for an apology.

I’m ashamed to admit that this has been a problem for a while. I’ve been working with J on this for a year and a half, and it grieves me when this happens—it makes me doubt myself as a mother.

At multiple stages, some approach I’ve taken has worked, so I think that we we’re past this. And I heave a huge sigh and take the opportunity not to shadow him at every moment when there are other children around. So lately, I’ve gotten more relaxed when I’m in public. And now he’s doing it again. I don’t know why. I don’t hit him at home. And I try to use forms of discipline that will be effective but not prey on his fears or break his will.

It’s times like this when I wish that I could break his will, but I’m not sure if that would work with this particular child. And after thinking about it for more than a few seconds, I don’t want to break his will. Because I believe in him.

This picture helps remind me of why I believe in him.

I also believe that he will grow out of this and that it’s my responsibility to minimize damages in the mean time.

If you feel empathetic towards me, I’d love to hear any ideas you might have for how to handle this, particularly if you’ve struggled with this yourself. And if you have struggled with this yourself, PLEASE tell me. It’ll make me feel less like a social pariah, and more like a woman who is trying her best. And I’ll admit. Sometimes I get lazy, or I just need to believe that today will be better. Because I want to be able to sit at the park and zone out for 5 minutes. Or I want to be able to talk to you and enjoy our conversation instead of lurking 3 feet behind my son trying to anticipate his frustration, fear or anger.

And if you feel extra, super empathetic, and if you know us, please remind me that you know J is a good kid and that you care about him even when stuff like this happens.


A mom of a kid who physically hurts other kids sometimes

30 thoughts on “From the mom of a kid who hits

  1. oh s. we have ALL felt that way… maybe it is not hitting, but a hurtful word heard, a lie told, We mums take it to heart. …as we always will. But steady the course, i can tell simply by his angel voice with Beluga that he is a grand kiddo. ps. I am reminded by my brothers that while climbing a terraced backyard.. i bit into the derriere of a fellow climber, Teddy Emerson. full on, teeth marks. I wonder what my mother thought?

  2. I just want to share a few things that may or may not resinate. I just got back from a nice conference on Pre and Perinatal psychology. I have been studying with Ray Castellino who works with Birth trauma. My assessment might be totally off for your particular case however sometimes children will bit or hit because they are in physical pain or because they are trying to tell you a story of something that happen to them.
    So I wondering What kind of birth did J Have? Was he vaginal or was he cesarian. Was it gentle? A few examples: A boy kept hitting is head over and over again in the same spot, you can imagine the emotions of the parents about this . However it turns out at his birth he had forceps and he was still remembering the pain of it and his way of showing this was by hitting himself. Once this was acknowledged they boy stopped hitting himself. (Sometimes biting is sign that their Jaw is hurting) Remember children can not express themselves like adults, this might be the only way he knows how to tell his story.
    Biodynamic Craniosacral is really good for healing of birth trauma. There are lots of great practitioners around to support this kind of stuff. Again this may not be the path you choose to look but I just felt compelled to share.

  3. I’m sending you BIG love. My daughter went through a hitting/biting phase ~ I used to flinch when she would lean in for a kiss, in fear of those nipping teeth. I have to admit that I bit her back…she stopped biting. I got her the book Hands Are Not For Hitting. We read it A LOT and talked about it A LOT. The hitting slowly went away and sometimes I still have to remind her that Hands Are Not For Hitting. It will pass, Sweet Mama.

  4. As one who knows you and knows your struggles with this, I want to let you know how super extra empathetic I am. I know J’s a good kid and you’re a good mom and that you do the best you can with the tools you’ve got to help him through this. We love you and we love J.

  5. You are not alone, mama! Apollo was kicked out of daycare for biting last year (he went on a bit of a rampage) and although his biting has mostly subsided, he still hits, kicks, and pinches at daycare – most days. We talk to him about it at home. His teachers talk to him about it at school. We have a call into a behavioral specialist. I am sick with worry that we have done something to mess up his way of navigating the world and that people (mostly the kids that he is aggressive with) think he is a bad kid. He’s a wonderful boy, with an amazing sense of humor and so smart I am always in awe of what he says. And recently I find myself doubting him and worrying and obsessing so much about his behavior that “Apollo” is getting lost and the aggression is taking center stage.
    So again, you are not alone! We realized that perhaps things are a bit too rushed for our very in-tune toddler and that we need to slow down. Maybe he is feeling anxious. I don’t know what to do. We’re trying more sleep, staying calm, and trying to focus on Apollo as a whole amazing being rather than just the bit that acts out in a socially-unacceptable way. You are in good company. I didn’t realize how much I was stressing about this until I read your post and it totally spoke to me. Way to show off, universe!

    1. Oh, Becky. Thank you for this. I actually just got home from a dreamy afternoon with a new mom friend of mine and her daughter and J…and it was EXACTLY what I needed. Her daughter F is quite physical and she and J did get into a couple of skirmishes. But my friend, C was totally at ease, and happy to wait and see how they would resolve it as long as they weren’t really hurting each other. We sat inside and watched the kids in her back yard from a window. There were moments that were definite grey areas, where I would see J walk over and push F, and C would put a hand on my shoulder and say “wait.” And F would turn around and laugh. Their physical play was a game. And a couple of times, it escalated a bit, and then they would talk and get some space and laugh and keep playing ON THEIR OWN. It was a revelation to spend time with a mom who was relaxed about J’s physicality and for me to not feel the need to step in at every indication of physical roughness. I realize how on edge I’ve been lately when hanging out with other friends of ours. I adore them and their kids, and also know that they have different perspectives on physicality–their kids are not very physically aggressive at all, and so J stands way out by comparison. It just felt like a huge VIOLA! that when he’s going through these more physical phases, I need to spend more time with my friends that feel at ease with that. In this single afternoon, I didn’t feel my anxiety over another parents’ potential worry looming over the interaction. And it helped me feel light, happy, relaxed and helped me to see the whole, lovely boy that my son is. Just wanted to share this with you to say that I have hope. And that I think the environment really matters. And that I also have utmost confidence that this will pass w/ Apollo. In the meantime, vent with me WHENEVER. We can start a club.

  6. I know J is a good kid and I care about him even when he hits. Promise. It helps that my kid sort of takes it in stride and never once, afterwards, says anything like “man that J is rough!” (He is much more likely to make up a story about the most mild-mannered kid at his school hitting him.) Honestly, I always think J’s roughness has to do with frustration, like he can’t express himself verbally in exactly the way he wants. He’s a verbal kid…but he’s an extremely physical kid, first. So I don’t know. Maybe just continually urging him to use words instead? And honor what he’s feeling (“You’re really frustrated that L. won’t share the dumptruck.”) I know you already do these things. Might be a phase. A loooong phase. If it’s any consolation, my kid does not usually hit but he has started SCREAMING (as you witnessed last week) and throwing shit. Ugh. Both are also violent acts.

  7. J is a reflection of his loving parents. There are times though, I believe, based upon what I recall when I was young, when the intense desire to get what I wanted overrode how I knew people (my parents) wanted my behavior and thoughtfulness to be. I was determined to get what I wanted. I eventually realized, based upon the consequences of my behavior, that what I wanted was not always best for others, but only best for me. I come to you from a loving, caring place. J is a precious grandson. He has a good heart. His mother & father have good, caring, loving hearts. There is a website that may be helpful without me prescribing a course of action. Take a look at Parenting With Love and Logic. You may find some gems there. These grandparents were unbelievably blessed to have two girls who never presented us with those challenges, except for occasionally hitting each other. We made it through it and so will you. You have to do what is right for you, just as we did. We’re proud and love who you have become. Hang in there Mom. Persistence & determination has its rewards. Our love surrounds you, A and a wonderful grandson who has our hearts and love.
    Grandpa John

  8. My son (almost 3) also struggles with biting and hitting- especially with my husband and me. It is an easy way for him to assert himself when he wants our attention, is hungry, tired, feeling uncomfortable, feeling overwhelmed, etc.
    He has also used this tactic at preschool on the other children. Usually it is when another is too close to him, in his way, takes away his toy, etc. A child’s primal instinct is fight or flight so hitting, biting, pinching, and kicking are the tools these kids use unless they are given other tools to effectively get their needs met.
    I like the RIE and Conscious Discipline approaches to these situations.

    Handy CD phrases when a child hits, etc.:

    Acknowledge the victim first to your child:
    “See his face? His face says he doesn’t like it when you _____.”

    Then attribute positive attention:
    “You wanted _____ so you _____. You may NOT ____. When you want ____ say ____. Try it now for practice.”

    This is much less ambiguous than the general statement “hands are not for hitting”. It’s a well-enough intentioned phrase and book, but those kinds of general statements do not give the brain a clear picture or an alternative tool to get what they need.
    The idea is clarify the situation to your child so they can become aware of their actions, see how it affects others, and have clarity of what TO do.

    I often say to my son, “Ouch! That hurt! You wanted to get my attention so you hit me. You may NOT hit me. When you want my attention say Mommy or give me a tap-tap. Try it now for practice.”

    This usually works really well for us & more and more he uses these respectful methods to get what he needs. He also sees how quickly I can respond to respectful methods too.

    We are also active in using these phrases in play situations. I’ve said:

    “Look at Marco’s face. He fell down and now he’s crying. He doesn’t like it when you push him. You wanted to get into the playhouse so you pushed him out of your way. You may not push. When you want to get by Marco say excuse me or give him a tap-tap. Do it now for practice.” (My child is still predominantly non-verbal so a gentle action is more likely for him than a phrase, hence the tapping.)

    Another helpful technique (in conjunction with the phrases above) is to encourage and notice gentle touches, kind actions, etc. Instead of simply saying a general “good job” when your child acts kindly, describe in detail what the child did and then relay how the behavior helped:
    “You ____ so _____. That was helpful!”

    (Example: “You handed Marco the scissors so he could cut too. That was helpful!”
    “You did it! You gave Marco a tap-tap to get into the playhouse!”

    I hope this info can be of some use to you. Perhaps you already practice or know of these techniques. We really believe in RIE (Magda Gerber) and Conscious Discipline (Becky Bailey).

    I’m sure your son is an absolute treasure and I would not doubt for a moment his wonderfulness during this time of growth and learning. It’s not so much about avoiding conflict or judging it but rather knowing how to handle conflict productively, positively, and respectfully.

    It sounds like you’re already doing an amazing job. I sure am grateful for your posts and honestness. Then I don’t have to feel so alone in this crazy journey we call motherhood! Thank you, thank you, thank you!

    Wishing you well,

    1. Amanda….Thank you too!!! Your specific, concrete examples are SO helpful. I too really love RIE and it has helped me many times, but I haven’t come across these concrete examples for 3 year olds, so this is GOLD. I’m feeling much more prepared and in good company after the conversations that have been sparked from this post. Thank you so much for taking the time to share. Where did you find these concrete 3-year-old-appropriate ideas?! I’d love to add any recommendations you have to my resource list.

  9. J is a charming, curious cutie pie. He’ll grow out of it. I, too, think forced apologies from toddlers are the wrong strategy. Good luck.

  10. S, I know exactly what you are going through. I remember Cole’s three year old days when he was likely to knock over a kid, pull hair or bite when he couldn’t get what he wanted. Mya is in the same phase now though she mostly just bites her brother! Three is the worst in my book. Our wonderful kids have so many ideas, their bodies are growing like crazy but their words just can’t keep up. The book, The Happiest Toddler on the Block (Harvey Carp) has a really helpful description of this phase, likening our toddlers to cavemen and us parents to ambassadors to a previous era. He has some very practical suggestions for communicating with our little heathens.

    I found the phase lasted til sometime around four though it comes back now and again. Cole just got in to a tussle at school with 3 other little boys, ugh! Hope this helps, at least you know you are not alone.

  11. Have faith: diabolical toddlers make placid teens apparently. That’s what I told when my son was going through his ‘yobbo’ phase 🙂 He’s only ten now though so too early to tell but he’s nothing like the maniac he was at two – in fact he’s pretty zen.

    I agree that forced (and insincere) apologies are a bad strategy.

    Good luck – it’l pass 🙂

  12. I’m so glad you find those phrases helpful- I also see them as GOLD! LOL! RIE was a great introduction into respectful parenting, but once he became older I found myself wanting for more techniques for older toddlers too. Between Janet Lansbury’s ideas and phrases like, “I’m not going to let you hit me,” and the Becky Bailey’s Conscious Discipline phrases, I have felt much better equipped to cope and help my son.

    The phrases I mentioned in my first comment are from my Conscious Discipline class. The teacher outlined many of Becky Bailey’s ideas and phrases and made some handy-dandy handouts and note cards for the parents and caregivers. (They are also great techniques for teachers. I am teaching again and after CD study feel much better equipped to understand where my children are coming from and why some may act out in certain ways. It has honestly blown my mind!)

    Her books are Managing Emotional Mayhem and East to Love, Difficult to Discipline. She’s all about teaching how the brain works and using that knowledge to connect with the children, and create a safe and loving environment with respectful boundaries. Then both the child and parent can get what they need.

    One awesome CD technique that was like a magic wand this afternoon for us (my son was feeling scared about going outside for family playtime and felt unable to control his body from hitting and biting) was when we created a safe space. My husband was like, “Don’t we need to put him in a timeout or something???!” It was then that I realized that I still hadn’t made my son a safe space— somewhere not too isolated (like his bedroom) or not too up in the family’s business (like the dining table- where I was trying and trying and TRYING to eat my lunch without getting bitten) where he can spend some time by himself to calm down and feel safe.
    I chose this extra mattress/couch we happen to have in the living room area and brought over some books, 2 stuffed animals, scissors and paper (as he loves cutting), and a small Playmobil pirate set. I said, “It looks like you need to spend some time in this safe space to help you calm down.” And man if that boy didn’t hop right up and take to that instantly! He took it a step further by pulling over 4 dining chairs to make himself a little boundary wall for privacy. So cute. My husband I were overcome with relief and joy. He spent 15 minutes in there doing his little activities as if there was never an issue or problem before that at all.
    Once he was calm, we told him simply we were going outside as a family to play. I said, “You may still feel scared, but Mommy and Daddy will keep you safe. I think you’re going to have fun.” He was on board and happy as a pea. It wasn’t until much later in the evening that he struggled again when he got too hungry. (This was my mistake for not having a snack readily available after all that soccer!) So he went with a snack to his safe place while we prepared dinner and loved it a second time today. Hopefully it continues to do the trick!
    Feel free to check out the CD website: Becky Bailey is very well spoken and has done a series of introductory Webinar videos that you can find under the Workshops tab; “Webinars” is at the bottom.

    And thanks for sharing about your new mom play date. Finding another faithful mom who is not afraid to let the kids play and work out conflict on their own is magical! That is probably the most important/meaningful skill I learned from RIE class… trouble is how do you practice such interactions outside of class? The park? Yeah right! So glad J found a friend with whom he can play authentically.

    I hope you and yours have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

    PS- You have an incredible dad. What a sweet and helpful post. Amazing!

    All my best,

    1. I’m loving your concrete examples, Amanda. And will definitely check out Conscious Discipline. I’ve been trying the “You wanted _____ so you _____. You may NOT ____. When you want ____ say ____. Try it now for practice.” And have been having some amazing results. THANK YOU. The thing I love about RIE and now CD is that not only does it work for J, but it helps me wrap my head around the situation. It helps me take my own hand and walk myself through what is happening and why, rather than just getting effing frustrated as hell, which is easy to do.

  13. When my son was 3 he bit another kid in his preschool class so hard he drew blood. And that was just the biggest example of his biting. It was awful. I felt like a complete pariah – at preschool, at play group, with my friends, with his friends, with the grandparents. I felt like everyone was just looking at me like, “Why can’t you fix this?!? He’s YOUR son.” And I was screaming that in my own head all the time! So it didn’t help when his preschool teacher said to me, “You SHOULD be worried.” Awesome. And I did worry. Plenty. But what I eventually did more, was just love him. E was not even remotely a verbal kid then, but he was EXTREMELY physical so he tapped biting as his biggest “word” that he used when he was feeling any BIG emotion – Happy? Bite. Sad? Bite. Angry? Bite. Frustrated? Bite. That was the biggest mind fuck of it all – he would be playing happily with another kid and suddenly BITE and E would have a big smile on his face. As if he didn’t care that he had just hurt another kid. But it wasn’t that he didn’t care, he was telling the kid how happy he was to be playing with him. Craziness. I did not bite him back. I worked like a madwoman on his verbal skills. And I gave him the opportunity to play with other kids who were as physical as he was (I was smiling and nodding like a big ‘ol bobblehead at your post above about this topic) so that he could have an outlet for the HUGE amounts of energy he had (has). I focused on the response/reactions to his actions more than judging them so that he could really wrap his 3-year-old brain around the cause and effect of it all. But mostly I just loved him through it. And that was HARD. E was and continues to be to this day (he’s 9 now), the most challenging kid I’ve ever met. He challenges me on every single level – he makes me rise to his occasion every single day. But he is extraordinary. Truly. And at the end of the day, all of these kiddos we love but who put us through hell, are worth it. All of it. Which is a damn good thing, because 3 REALLY sucks. Hang in there mama…you’re not alone.

      1. Nope. No more biting for E! 🙂 It lasted about a year off and on…the worst parts of it were from about 3 to 3 1/2 or so, by the time he was 4 1/2 he had completely outgrown the hitting and biting phase. And he even helped another friend who was a little younger than him through a biting phase. That was what really stopped it for him, having to teach a friend how to do (or not do) what he had just learned. It was a glorious transformation to watch…This will pass, I promise! And my next two kids skipped the phase altogether…so that’s even better news! 😉

  14. Hi. You obviously love your son very much! Through my experience and research I would
    suggest that the behaviour you describe is the result of some type of frustration. My suggestion would be to have him physically checked out ie. a hearing test, auditory processing assessment, assessment of vision in case there is a perceptual difficulty interfering with communication skills. I recall reading about one mother whose child
    displayed the same behaviours and she eventually discovered he had a hearing problem.
    (An Article in Brisbane Kids or Brisabane Child magazine)

    Also it may be helpful to try and acertain whether his behaviour is linked to anxiety, reduced
    impulse control that may be food / additive related. My son reacts to salicylates and recently discovered MSG is a big problem for him. A good reference is Fed Up with Food by Sue Dengate , she also has a website.

    I wish you all the best. Just keep loving him and take a step at a time.

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