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HomeHealth & BehaviorBehavior & Discipline

Ask the Experts

How Can I Stop My Son's Hitting?

By Debra Collins, Family therapist

Question:

My 5-year-old son has had the principal and teacher calling for the past four days. He is hitting other students. Today he hit the teacher. This has become so constant that we are meeting with the teacher for the second time in two weeks. Could you explain what it could be?

We are a very loving family. He has a new little sister who is 9 months old and actively crawling. He has somewhat of a routine in the evening with homework and shower, etc. We don't know what to do or what the cause may be. Please give us some insight to what we could do to help him get over this.

Answer:

There are many things that contribute to aggressive behavior in children. I assume by your comment, "We are a very loving family," that you do not tolerate hitting in your home. Home structure (routines), discipline methods, family relationships and school history, are some of the factors that can influence a child's behavior at school. Having a full understanding of your son's preschool and behavior history will be helpful in your discussions with his teacher and principal.

Kindergarten is a major transition both socially and academically. For some young children, who have difficulty identifying and expressing their feelings and frustrations, hitting becomes a way to let people know they are in trouble.

He may be frustrated if he doesn't fully understand what is required of him. We sometimes assume that children know, but that is not always true. Understanding what he's struggling with can help you and the school strategize better solutions.

To make teacher meetings more productive you might ask questions such as:

  • What behavior patterns is she noticing?
  • Does he hit only some children?
  • Does he do it during certain activities or times of day?
  • Is she able to notice certain triggers for the outbursts and intervene before he escalates, or is it sporadic and unpredictable?
  • How is he doing overall academically and behaviorally?
  • Does he understand the routines of the classroom?

A school counselor, social skills group or child therapist can help your son to identify and express his feelings more appropriately. You can also model feelings at home for him by using such phrases as, "I am happy when…" "I am mad that my sister…". Children's books such as "Dr. Seuss's: My Many Colored Days," demonstrate different emotional states and can be a fun way to introduce a feeling vocabulary, so that subsequent coping methods can be explored.


Debra Collins is a licensed marriage and family therapist and has worked in both primary and middle schools as a school counselor. She gives workshops to teachers and students and offers parenting classes in the San Francisco Bay Area. To learn more, visit her website.

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.

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