What Should I Do When My Child Hits Me?

Discipline Strategies to Respond to Hitting

Don't allow your child to get away with hitting you. Bruno Maccanti Pescador / Moment / Getty Images

Getting hit by your child can be frustrating, embarrassing, and disappointing. Many parents worry that they’re failing as parents if their child is reacting aggressively toward them. Sometimes, that prevents them from asking for help. 

But almost all kids hit at one time or another. The way you respond when your child hits you determines how likely it is that your child will hit again.

If your child hits you, you might be tempted to use corporal punishment.

But spanking your child will only send the message that hitting is OK.

Respond to hitting in a firm, yet calm, manner to reduce the likelihood that your child will continue to behave aggressively. 

Reasons Kids Hit

There are several common reasons why kids hit parents. Sometimes it is out of anger. Kids who don’t know how to regulate their emotions or handle anger appropriately often resort to hitting.

Other children hit because they lack impulse control. They automatically resort to hitting when they’re upset. Even if they have some skills to deal with uncomfortable feelings, they react before they have a chance to use any of those skills.

Hitting can also be used as a manipulation tool. Sometimes kids hit in an attempt to get their way. A child who hits his mother when she says no, may be hoping his aggression will change her mind.

Establish Rules About Hitting

Create household rules that address respect.

Make it clear that hitting, kicking, biting, or acts of physical aggression are not allowed in your home.

Frame your rules in a positive manner whenever possible. Instead of saying, "Don't hit," say, "Use respectful touches." Talk to your child about the rules to ensure she understands the consequences for breaking the rules.

Role Model Respect

If you use spanking as a punishment, your child will be confused about why you’re allowed to hit and he’s not. Children learn more about behavior from what they see you do, rather than what they hear you say.

Role model respectful behavior. Show your child how to deal with anger, sadness, and disappointment in socially appropriate ways.

Teach Your Child Appropriate Behavior

It’s not enough to simply tell kids, “Don’t hit.” Teach your child anger management skills as well. Encourage your child to read a book, draw a picture, take a deep breath, or go to his room when he feels angry.

Teach your child about feelings, such as sadness and frustration. Discuss the importance of dealing with these feelings in appropriate ways and help your child discover strategies that help him cope with his emotions safely.

When your child hits you, say calmly but firmly, “No hitting. Hitting hurts.” Keep your messages consistent to teach your child that hitting is not allowed and you will not tolerate it.

Provide Clear Consequences for Hitting

Your child needs a clear consequence each time he hits you. Look for consequences that will deter him from hitting again.

For some children, time-out is the most effective way to deter them from hitting again.

Time-out teaches children how to calm themselves down and it removes them from the environment.

Other kids may require additional consequences. Taking away privileges can be an effective discipline strategy. Restrict your child’s access to electronics or certain toys for 24 hours.

Restitution can be helpful as well. Make your child perform an extra chore for you or have him draw you a picture as a way to make amends.

If your child hits you frequently, address the problem with a reward system. Reward your child for “using gentle touches.” Break the day up into several time periods where he can earn stickers or tokens for good behaviors.

Praise your child often when he uses gentle touches. When he hugs you, make a point to tell him how much you like nice touches like hugs. If he responds appropriately when you tell him no, praise his efforts.

Seek Professional Help

If you have an older child who hits you, or you have an especially aggressive preschooler or toddler, seek professional help. Talk to your child’s pediatrician about your concerns. Your pediatrician may refer your child for an evaluation to help determine the cause of the aggression and a plan to address it.

Sometimes underlying issues can contribute to aggression in children. For example, children with ADHD or oppositional defiant disorder are likely to behave aggressively.  At other times, children with cognitive or developmental delays may hit because they lack the ability to use their words or manage their impulses.

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