While it is fairly normal for preschool-aged children to hit other children (or even their teachers or parents), everyone would agree that it is by no means a desirable behavior. While parents often agonize over how to get their preschoolers to stop hitting, there are some ways to make this process easier.
Preschoolers are prone to hitting classmates, siblings, friends, and even sometimes parents and teachers. This behavior is obviously unacceptable and must be changed, but this can be difficult, as preschoolers may not have the tools or the words to deal with frustration in a different way. Their brains are also still developing, and they may not yet have the capacity for this level of self-control when upset.
First of all, make sure that your child knows that your child knows that hitting or otherwise hurting someone else is never all right and that it actually hurts the other person. Some young children may not yet understand that hitting someone can actually hurt them. Point out that they wouldn’t like someone hitting them, and that other people feel the same. Building empathy like this is important to future development and social skills. If your child hit someone, you should remove your child immediately from the situation, saying, “I cannot let you play with her if you are hurting her body. Hurting someone is not a choice.”
Next, it is important to give your child words to use instead of hitting. This is important because children need to learn that they can have control over their own actions, and that there are other strategies to use which would be more successful. Some good phrases to model include things like “I feel mad,” or “I am frustrated.” You will need to help your child identify their emotion, and what it is they want. After this, it is important need to show your child positive attention. Emphasize that it is the choice they made when hitting that upset you, not who your child is that is disappointing.
Praise your preschooler for using words instead of violence, and help to remedy the situation if possible. For example, if your child is frustrated because someone else is using his favorite toy, make an arrangement that one child can use it for five minutes, and then it is the other child’s turn. If she is upset that someone hit her and she wants to hit them back, make sure she understands that you will take care of the situation and that she did the right thing by telling you. It is vital that you talk with your child about these kinds of situations when your child is not upset and is able to listen. When your child is upset, they will not be able to process what you are saying. Most of all, be patient. Young children are still developing the skills and maturity needed for self-control.
Finally, reward positive behavior to get your preschooler to stop hitting. Point out how proud you are of them for using words instead of violence. Preschoolers love praise and approval, so don’t be afraid to pile it on. You can say things like “I know you wanted to hit him when he took your toy but you used your word instead and I am so proud of you!” Also, point out when other strategies are successful.