What Should We Do When a Child is Hitting Others at School (Question/Answer Session)?
QUESTION (by one of our readers):
If a child is continuously hitting at school when they don’t get their way, can we allow the other child being hit to give the “hitter” a taste of their own medicine?
1. You cannot control the momentary reaction of another student.
If a student is getting hit, and they hit back (which may be an automatic response and natural consequence), there is likely nothing you could have done to stop it.
The child who hit first, may not hit that child again, once they see that they will defend themselves.
However, I do not feel it is right in any setting (other than trained martial arts classes, boxing, etc.), to purposely allow any child to hit.
Allowing children to defend themselves by blocking or moving away would be more acceptable.
If a child can’t get out of a particularly dangerous situation, and pushing or hitting/kicking is the only option, obviously that would be an exception to the rule.
2. The most important piece is to get to the core of why the child is hitting in the first place.
Likely, the student does not have the appropriate mechanisms or skills to express their feelings, or they think hitting is the only way they can be heard.
They may also struggle to understand another’s perspective and how their behavior impacts other people.
Research: School-Based Interventions for Aggressive and Disruptive Behavior: Update of a Meta-Analysis
In order to see improvement, it is critical to work with the child on emotional-regulation skills such as:
- how to identify their frustration
- how to assertively and respectfully express frustration when needed
- how to calmly work through their emotions when others do not seem to understand or validate their feelings
You May Benefit from the Articles: 5 Anger Management Tips for Kids and 9 Ways to Decrease Impulsive Behavior in Children.
If the child only stops hitting because they are afraid of getting hit by the other student, then the negative behavior will probably manifest in another way.
We need to figure out the purpose of the behavior in order to teach the child a more acceptable and respectful way to meet their needs.
We don’t want the child who hits to become an adult who hits, so we need to find a way to work with the child and possibly the child’s family to improve the behavior before it gets more problematic.
Is it possible for the school counselor and/or a private therapist to work with the child?
Create an action plan to keep the other children safe.
An action plan may include:
- seating the child who hits away from anyone they might hit unexpectedly
- having an area for the child who hits to safely calm down
- educating the child when they are calm, about how to regulate their emotions
- reinforcing positive behaviors (at school and at home)
- responding to the behavior in a calm and consistent manner
- removing the other children from an area where they are not safe
Other children should know that they are allowed to block themselves and/or move away from anyone who tries to hit them.
And that they can resort to pushing, hitting, kicking, etc. if someone is hurting them, and they cannot get free.
They should ask for help if an adult is nearby.
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Education and Behavior – Keeping Adults on the Same Page for Kids!
Rachel Wise is the author and founder of Education and Behavior. Rachel created Education and Behavior in 2014 for adults to have an easy way to access research-based information to support children in the areas of learning, behavior, and social-emotional development. As a survivor of abuse, neglect, and bullying, Rachel slipped through the cracks of her school and community. Education and Behavior hopes to play a role in preventing that from happening to other children. Rachel is also the author of Building Confidence and Improving Behavior in Children: A Guide for Parents and Teachers.
“Children do best when there is consistency within and across settings (i.e., home, school, community). Education and Behavior allows us to maintain that consistency.”