My Kids Won't Stop Hitting Each Other, What do I do?

low demand parenting foundations practical tips siblings Sep 21, 2022
My Kids Won't Stop Hitting Each Other, What do I do?

Many traditional parenting approaches to hitting start with establishing a verbal boundary, like “We don’t hit” or “No hitting in this family” or “I can’t let you hurt your brother.”

In low demand parenting, house rules are organized around a “can," not a "can't."

We do not have a house rule that says, “We keep each other safe,” or “Hands are not for hitting,” because these rules are essentially negation rules. The mere existence of a rule that limits freedom of expression (even through an undesirable medium like hitting) will increase nervous system activation, and make it more likely that we will see stress behaviors like hitting.


In other words, saying “We keep each other safe” is code for “we don’t hit,” which makes it more likely that kids will hit.


Instead, each of our house rules is organized around a preservation and extension of autonomy, and I bring up these rules regularly as a reminder of each person’s inherent autonomy in our household community. As such, their presence in our lives is a container. They are a supportive structure that ensures we will stay focused on what truly matters and continue to drop demands that are too much for us. They stretch us toward our family values of trust, autonomy, connection, and curiosity.


Instead, we create conditions where each child is regulated, safe, and deeply heard, and then they do not use hitting for self-expression or as a sign of stress.


Behaviors are an expression of the child's inner stress level and an indicator of the stability of their "platform" (as Mona Delahooke would say). Kids do well if they can, not if they "wanna" (as Ross Greene would say). So a child with a stable foundation and low stress will keep other kids safe, and will not use their hands for hitting. They do this because they are intrinsically motivated to care for others and meet adult expectations (that they already know and do not need to be reminded of).


So what do I say when my child hits me, my partner, or other children?


You do not need to say anything to respond to this behavior "in the right way."

Words are an added demand, and plus, your child is likely not in a listening-and-learning-brain pathway at the moment anyway (based on the indicator that their stress level is high enough to be hitting). All they need from you is co-regulation and shame-free connection.


If I don't say anything, what do I do when my child is hitting?

I do a quick room scan to see if there is anything readily available that can be thrown or ripped up with minimal impact, and subtly place that in my child's path. I also look for a pillow I can pick up and put between me and my child. I do a simultaneous quick scan for anything valuable or precious that cannot be thrown, and attempt to move it onto a high shelf.


To limit the in-the-moment effort required, I've developed systems to keep easily destroyed (non-valuable) items and pillows close in all rooms, and to remove all precious items without break-proof cases.

I place my body between the child and any other children in the room, ideally with a mode of departure accessible, so that other children can leave the room or area easily. I keep my breathing deep and smooth, holding the pillow near my belly to invite hitting there. Sometimes I murmur, "I'm right here. I'm right here. I'm with you."

My other children know how to leave a situation and get themselves safe, so as soon as I know they've safely left, I make sure my unstable child can also leave the space -- keeping options open for autonomy.


How do I teach my child that hitting is not OK?

I promise that they already know. Feeling that dysregulated feels terrible. If you've had a meltdown or a panic attack, you know how bad it feels on the inside. You feel like you might die, like your life is on the line. Children do not want to feel this way ever.

They are highly, highly motivated to find ways to express themselves without getting into a fight-or-flight brain pathway. When something triggers them into one of these survival-style responses, they likely feel shame afterwards about what they did when they felt so bad (i.e. hitting you or siblings). They worry they are bad kids for doing what they did.

Rather than teaching them that hitting is wrong, teach them that they are good and wonderful, and that we all make mistakes sometimes. Teach them to come back from those mistakes with repair and reconnection. Teach them the corrosive power of shame, the lies it whispers, and teach them to name it openly. Teach them that vulnerability is the ultimate act of bravery. Teach them to honor their inner life , their emotions, and their bodily reactions, the richness happening in the brain-body-heart triad. Teach them to read their own life, and teach them tools for restoring balance when things get wonky.

Why is everything so hard?


Take this quick quiz to find out where you're getting stuck in your challenging parenting life and one next step to move forward with confidence.

Take the Quiz