My child hits


I have the loveliest four year old in existence. He crawls into my bed in the early hours of the morning clutching his stuffed green dragon and says ‘cuddle me mama’.

He plays dolls with his baby sister and dinosaur slayers with his older brother.

He yells passionately across the soccer field ‘I love you mama’ with a four year olds lack of self-consciousness.

He paints flowers on erupting volcano’s at preschool.

And he hits other children.

I never thought I’d have a child who hit. I always thought I’d be able to control my children no matter what.

But from the age of two, despite trying to distract him, punish him, encourage him, he still hit. He never bit but he hit and pushed and threw things.

My angel was ‘that’ child other mothers talked about and avoided. The play dates dried up, the kids stopped dropping in, the mums in the playground started standing on the other side. I became that woman at playgroup who followed her child around, on edge. At home he was fine, but at preschool he was struggling. No one wanted to play with the hitter.

It wasn’t until his preschool teacher suggested I take him to a speech therapist that things changed. It turns out that no one could understand him and hitting was his way of getting attention. 
Nine months into speech therapy he’s a different boy. He has friends, he smiles. We have a way left to go, and the play dates haven’t yet started dribbling in. But he’s happy.

It’s a form of social ostracism, having a child that others don’t understand. And it’s heartbreaking when other kids are terrified of yours. Lisa is mum to two-year-old Oscar. She says she was horrified when her son started hitting other children.

‘I can’t go anywhere, so I don’t. I make up excuses as to why Oscar and I are busy. All the other kids in my mothers group are placid. I wonder what I did wrong.’

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Child and Educational Psychologist Andrew Greenfield says that there are many reasons that very young children become violent.

‘Sometimes they are frustrated, sometimes other kids provoke them, sometimes they are overtired, and sometimes they don’t have good social skills to know how to interact.’

For Lisa the worst thing is often the other parent.

‘One actually yelled at me and asked if he was learning hitting at home.’

She says she has tried everything, and she is at breaking point.

While some children do copy behaviours learned from parents or siblings, for the majority of very young children its attention seeking. However in many cases its actually the parents who suffer the most.

Lisa says that she has lost friends over her son’s behaviour. She says, ‘They don’t want to be around us. And I can’t blame them.’

Andrew Greenfield often comes across Mums who feel this shame. ‘Parents are embarrassed and it isn’t necessarily their fault.’

The McKinley family have four kids, but it was their first, Sasha who started hitting other kids at 18 months old. Her mother, Cathy says it was some of the hardest years of motherhood she has faced. Now 7, Sasha is responsible, kind and creative. But back when she was a toddler she was the source of many tears.

‘I didn’t know how to handle it. She would take other kids toys, poke them, hit them. We tried doctors and even went to a psychologist. Finally she stopped.’

The family says it was probably a mix of using ‘time out’ strategies, and being ever vigilant.

Andrew Greenfield says it is important for parents to step in effectively and deal with it.

‘The first thing is to make sure the child knows that it is inappropriate and that could be by verbally telling them and by moving them away from the situation so that they don’t keep on doing it.’

He says methods like ‘time out’ do work.

‘It’s about having an neutral space rather than saying go to your room. A neutral environment where you can keep an eye on the child.’

He suggests leaving them there a minute per age of the child. Then after that, Andrew Greenfield says to sit down and talk to them about their behavior.

‘The whole point is that no matter what they need to know the behaviour is unacceptable.’

Its common playground etiquette to make your child apologise when something goes wrong. Andrew Greenfield agrees that its an important thing to do.

‘Saying sorry means that they acknowledge and own their behaviour. Not so much for the other person. More that they recognize what they have done.’

A NSW government discussion paper about aggression in young people found that aggressive behaviour in children usually peaks at about the age of 4. It also looked at gender differences for aggressive behaviour and very young children, and surprisingly found that peer-to-peer aggression levels were similar for boys and girls at these young 2 – 5 year old ages.

Psychologist Andrew Greenfield says that while most of the time toddlers and preschoolers can overcome violent behaviour, sadly sometimes it is the fault of the parents.

‘Unfortunately there are small percentage where parents are lazy or just not great parents.’

For the majority of us though, he says our kids will come through this stage.

‘Most of the time kids will grow out of it as they realise that its just not acceptable, or they won’t be allowed to do it or they basically realize that they can get their point across in a whole lot of other ways.’


Shauna Anderson lives in Cammeray with three kids and two dogs. Her boys aged 4 and 6 go to the local school and pre -school while her daughter, 2, rules the roost. Before entering the world of parenthood Shauna worked as a TV journalist, most recently as Chief of Staff at the Nine Network's Today. She has over 18 years experience as a reporter, producer and writer.

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