My child hits, kicks and screams. What to do?

My child hits, kicks and screams. What to do?

Do you feel that your child is the only one hitting others in the playground? That he's the only child screaming and kicking when he doesn't get what he wants? Do you feel embarrassed when it happens in public?

As parents, aggressiveness is one of the hardest types of behaviors we have to deal with when raising our children. However, it is good to know that aggressive behaviors, like hitting, screaming, pushing and throwing things, are very common in children especially young ones. Physical aggression is a part of the child's emotional and behavioral development. When a child feels angry, he may want to express this "strange" feeling by hitting or kicking just because he lacks the language to express himself verbally or lack the impulse control to cope with these feelings and not engage in physical aggression.

How will you react when you are with friends and your child hits one of their kids? Or when you are in public and your child show aggressive behaviors towards other? You may sometimes, if not most of the times, feel embarrassed and disappointed, right? You may feel that you failed in raising your child to be kind and deal "nicely" with other kids. You may even react with an aggressive behavior yourself like punishing him or pushing him away or maybe even hitting him to "make him feel the same pain he caused to others". I'm definitely not blaming you here, I'm just reassuring you that YOU'RE NOT ALONE. Yes, almost all parents will have to deal with physical aggression throughout their parenting journey. Therefore, keep in mind that it is how you, as a parent, attend to this behavior that will make a big difference in how your child will react to similar situations in the future.

Practically, here are a few things you can do to deal with physical aggression when it strikes:


  1. Get down to your child's eye level and stop it immediately by asking him verbally or even by moving the other child away if you feel your child's behavior is uncontrollable at this moment
  2. Console the other child (in any way deemed appropriate) to model empathy. Your child needs to know that you care for the person who got hurt.
  3. Attend to your child in a firm and loving way. Keep your tone of voice low, acknowledge his feelings and state that you don't accept his behavior "You are angry now! But WE DON'T HIT".
  4. If he's not able to calm down, remove him from the situation itself and allow him time to calm down in isolation.
  5. Don't give too much attention to him or to the situation by talking it through and trying to reason with him. Also, never ever discuss the situation over and over again; children work best with brief interventions as well as firm and concise statements. Forcing him to apologize when he doesn't wish to means also giving attention to what happened. This behavior can be taught separately on other occasions.
  6. When he calms down, remind him to use his words or help him put words on what just happened as well as on his feelings. You can also help him figure out what he might do to solve the problem now or prevent it from happening in the future.
  7. Tell him that there will be consequences if he hits again (like going back home from the playground). On the other hand, don't forget to state that you expect him to play and enjoy his time with his friends. When he behaves well, praise him immediately: "Chris, I like how you're playing gently with your friend".

You can also try, at another time, when you are both calm, to suggest or help him come up with ways of dealing with his anger when it hits through; maybe taking a break, walking away, telling an adult or taking 5 deep breaths. This way, you will be teaching him strategies to regulate his anger in the future.

Finally, let every behavior lead you to REFLECT on the reason behind its occurrence. Sometimes, children engage in aggressive behavior because of feeling unsafe or anxious, a lack of sleep or neurological disorders (ADHD or other), over-stimulation or exhaustion, extreme frustration or anger or sometimes he may just be mirroring the behavior of another child or adult... Knowing the reasons and putting in place serious action plans will definitely reduce the probability of aggressiveness in the future. However, if you find that at any point of your child's development  you are unable to deal with the aggressiveness and you feel that there is something else going on, don't hesitate to seek professional advice and support.