How Can I Help my Son Stop Hitting?
By Dr. Lisa Hunter, Child Psychologist
I am the parent of a 5-year-old boy. He is in kindergarten and since preschool he has had difficulty keeping his hands to himself.
In preschool he would hit other children. Now in kindergarten, he may push, hit or try to boss other children or say mean things. I am a social worker and I know that children have to develop socialization skills.
However, his teacher has implemented a behavior chart in which he has to earn happy faces or get unhappy faces if he misbehaves. The behaviors have decreased, yet I want to know if there is more I can do to reinforce the positive behaviors and to eliminate the negative ones.
He is maturing in his play, which is good. If we can get him to keep his hands to himself it would relieve a lot of my stress.
The behavior chart your son's teacher has implemented is a good idea, and it sounds like it is working to some extent because his aggressive behaviors have decreased.
I think it is also important to determine the cause of your son's aggressive behavior (i.e., what is motivating your son to act aggressively?). Is he hitting other kids to get attention? To get something from the other children? To escape an undesirable situation?
Careful observation of your son's behavior in his classroom by his teacher, a school psychologist or counselor could help determine the answer to these questions. Whoever conducts the observation should pay attention to what happens before your son engages in aggressive behavior and what happens after. This information coupled with the teacher's insight about your son's behavior will help determine the cause of his aggressive behavior.
It is essential that whatever behavioral plan the teacher implements for your son takes into account his motivation for his behavior. For example, if he is hitting to get attention, giving him attention in the form of stickers for good behavior makes sense. However, if he is hitting to get something from other children, a behavior chart will not be that effective.
In addition to identifying the cause of your son's aggressive behavior, I think he could also benefit from learning social problem-solving skills (i.e., how to resolve conflicts and get along with others). You can teach him these skills at home by helping him to identify his feelings, talking about how to deal with feelings of anger, and modeling effective problem-solving.
An excellent resource for helping parents to teach young children problem-solving skills is Raising a Thinking Child Workbook:Teaching Young Children How to Resolve Everyday Conflicts and Get Along with Others by Myrna B. Shure (Research Press, 2001).
Advice from our experts is not a substitute for professional diagnosis or treatment from a health-care provider or learning expert familiar with your unique situation. We recommend consulting a qualified professional if you have concerns about your child's condition.