The preschool years (ages 3 – 5) are a time of on and off high conflict. Children start to understand social and moral norms in these years. All of it goes pretty terribly at first. It’s something to anticipate and plan for. This blog is about what to do if your preschooler is hitting.
When a child hits, the first thing to do is calm everyone down. If another child was involved, it usually makes sense to go to the child who was hit first, in part because they are likely to calm down much quicker. After this, the child who hit also needs, before all else, to be calmed down. They are actually probably having a much more difficult time. They felt something was wrong or out of sorts and had no control over the situation except to hit. This is where the process of imparting ideal conflict resolution skills comes in.
The first thing to do is soothe those big emotions. No lesson can be taught when a child is an angry state. This is a principle that applies throughout all of childhood. I write about that here, “Deal with the Emotion First.” An extremely powerful tool to calm a child down is to “Give in Fantasy What You Can’t Give in Reality.” You might need to reassure them that no one is going to take their toy and in an exaggerated way, e.g., “I would fly to the moon to get your toy if I needed to.” After the child has calmed down, you say, “You have a right to be angry. You don’t have a right to hit.” This phrase needs to be at the tip of your tongue throughout all of the preschool years, from ages 3 – 5. You’ll need it often.
No lessons can be given until she is happy again
Here is a story of when this worked when my daughter was 3 years, 9 months, 2 weeks
HOLY MOLY does meeting some developmental stages knock me on my butt sometimes. My daughter, 3 years, 9 months, 2 weeks has been meltdown city for several days. She cries if I peel a banana peel wrong or sing the wrong song or things just don’t go a certain way. I can handle the first meltdown with love but the second or third in a row can really wear on a person. I think however I am back in the saddle and recentered for this rough milestone:
I had given both of my older children snacks. Both of them had separate snacks. Something happened and my daughter perceived her brother as taking her snack. She dug her nails into him to hurt him. He was in tears. With a toddler in the house, the phrase, “All hell is breaking loose” sometimes describes my home.
I first consoled my son. He wasn’t too upset and I said I was sorry he got hurt and we would fix it. Then I came to my daughter, who had just previously been aggressive and was currently screaming bloody murder. I know that no lesson can be given while a child is in an angry and thus confused state. The emotion must be quelled first.
I asked her if she was angry with me or her brother or what. It came out that she thought he was taking her snack. I assured her he had his own snack and no one would take her snack and if she wanted more of what she was eating, we could get hundreds more if needed. She did calm down, mostly. After this, I said, “You have a right to be angry. But you don’t have a right to hit.” I know we are in for some rough riding as we teach her better conflict resolution skills–it is a long, slow process during the preschool years.
By the way, it is completely essential to be well rested and generally healthy to have this kind of calm response. Making a commitment to my health has helped matters greatly!
See my preschool summaries, which matches to each developmental milestone “surviving” and “thriving” tools.
You may like my more expanded thought here, “No Rules: Healthy Conflict Resolution with Children” and also “The Time my 5-year-old Stomped on His Sister in Public.”
Working on Misbehavior is Growth: Preschoolers now. See my book Misbehavior is Growth: An Observant Parent’s Guide to the Toddler Years