How To Get Your Kids To Stop Fighting And Hitting Each Other
Fights among siblings are quite common - we all know that as parents. But when a fight escalates into a boxing match, things can get out of hand and complicated, especially if hitting each other turns into a habit. So how do you prevent your kids from hitting each other? Find out here...
Sibling squabbles happen in every family and during these confrontations, hitting is fairly common. You know the scenario: big brother grabs little brother’s toy dinosaur, little brother screams, protests and hits his brother… and big brother retaliates.
While kids are still young, hitting is quite benign. A 2-year-old hits because she is angry, confused or upset. She hits because she sees other kids hitting each other. She hits because she really has no idea that physically attacking someone can cause pain and damage.
But as a child grows older, if hitting is unchecked and becomes a habit, he is going to think that physical violence is the most effective way to solve a problem and/or get attention.
In fact, in extreme cases, physical aggression in the form of hitting between siblings can morph into bullying.
A study published in the July 2013 issue of the journal Pediatrics points out that being bullied by a brother or sister (including physical aggression such as hitting) was linked to poor mental health outcomes for kids and teenagers.
Thus, the lead author of this study urges parents to take sibling aggression seriously. Parents often dismiss siblings hitting each other as something that’s normal or harmless. But sibling aggression is actually related to the same serious mental health effects as peer bullying.
Lead by example
If you, as parents, hit your children in order to discipline them, your kids are going to think nothing of hitting each other to get their way. They are likely to internalise this behaviour as normal and may grow up thinking aggression is the only way to solve a problem.
Instead of hitting your kids as a form of discipline, try other, more gentle methods such as positive discipline.
Teach your kids basic negotiation and problem-solving skills
Guide them by the concept of win/win. This includes taking turns, dividing a treat (one person does the dividing, the other picks the first piece), trading, sweetening the deal (“We play your game first and then my game for longer”).
Often, my 2-year-old demands the same toy his brother is playing with. In such instances, I’ve told my 4-year-old to quietly tell his younger brother that he will hand over the toy once he finishes playing with it, and to offer him a different toy.
If this doesn’t work, he ‘pretends’ to play with a different toy, which of course his younger brother demands (and gets!)… and then goes back to playing with his favourite toy!
Give them other options
When your kids are angry or upset, remember that it’s human nature to want to strike out, verbally or physically. Help your kids find the words to express how they feel instead of hitting.
If your kids are older, teach them how to use the power of words to express emotion. Encourage them to write poetry or keep a ‘feelings journal’. Or tell them to go outside and kick a ball, breathe deeply and count to 10, or play the drums.
Empathise with your kids’ feelings, but set limits on their actions.
Kids, like adults, are entitled to their feelings and it’s fine to acknowledge that they might be feeling angry or upset. But even little kids should be held responsible for any actions which involve physically or emotionally hurting others.
You could say something like, “When your little brother wants to play with your favourite car I know you get really angry. But try telling him how it makes you feel in words. We don’t hit.”
Identify and prevent fight-provoking situations
My younger boy thinks his older brother’s toys are so much cooler than his own and always tries to grab them from his brother if he sees him playing with them. More often than not this results in a fight, which could easily escalate into hitting, pinching or kicking each other.
So I tell my 4-year-old to play with his extra-special toys only when his little brother is napping, or otherwise occupied. After all, out of sight is out of mind, and this works fine in preventing fights in our home!
Remember they’re kids
Just because your child punches her brother it doesn’t mean she’ll be an axe-murderer when she grows up.
While it’s important to ban bad behaviour towards others, don’t forget to offer to understand and be confident that your child will learn what’s right and wrong. She needs to hear from you that she isn’t a bad person, just a young one who needs to be taught and guided well.
So the next time your kids start hitting each other, why not try some of the tips listed in this article?
In essence, when you teach your children how to control their emotions, the hitting will stop. Also, keep telling them that hitting can hurt people physically and emotionally until they understand this fact.
How do you handle things when your kids hit each other? Share your tips with us by leaving a comment.
Jenkins-Tucker et al., July 2013. “Association of sibling aggression with child and adolescent mental health”. Pediatrics
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