How I do I stop my five year old from hitting?
This is a question I get asked all the time , from parents with kids of all ages .
Most kids go through the hitting stage.
It is one of the most challenging, frustrating and confusing times a parent can face, one which leaves the parent left with self-doubt, blame and guilt.
For a lot of parents, the hitting stage is short-lived, for some, like me it can go on for years.
I have two children, my eldest is 9, and my youngest is 5.
With my eldest, the hitting stage included biting and scratching, resulting in my husband going to work most mornings with scratches down his face and me with bite marks on my hands, all caused by something as trivial as my daughter being carried upstairs for bedtime or being given the wrong coloured cup at breakfast.
Now, when I look at my beautiful, kind, gentle 9-year-old, it seems impossible to remember that this was the same child!
Let me also point out that she never hit another child as far as I’m aware; he only directed it at my husband and me.
We tried everything we could to break the habit,
- Jo Frost techniques, which were marvellous for most other issues but it didn’t help us with this particular issue.
- Reward charts
- Explanations about why she should not do it.
- Bribery (on desperate days, when we had to to get to an appointment )
- Threats ( “you won’t get this”, or ” I’ll take that away from you”.)
- The naughty step which was terrific for other behaviours but ineffective to our hitting issues.
Nothing worked! She had this overwhelming rage which just exploded into a mass of fur and sinew, and suddenly she was out of control, and I found myself in the middle of a brawl with a 2-year-old, it was terrifying!
I’d like to tell you that due to my amazing parenting skills, we managed to change her behaviour, but that was not the case!
We went on holiday with our lovely friends and their amazing little kids, and she just stopped doing it overnight. I suppose she just grew out of that stage.
There may have been a few factors which could have contributed to the sudden ending of this hideous behaviour,
- a different routine
- being with her friends who although were the same sort of age as her, didn’t behave that way to their parents
- she turned three while we were on holiday.
It was a few things I believe, but I’ll leave that to the experts!
Now over to my 5-year-old!
This was an entirely different kettle of fish, his rages were utterly overwhelming they included kicking, spitting, hitting, shoving, and he would follow me around the house charging at me as I tried to walk away.
He would smash and throw anything that he could get his hands on. Usually if he couldn’t get his way.
Again we tried everything, including going on holiday! Nothing worked!
To my knowledge, he didn’t direct his at other kids, or my daughter, again it seemed directed at my husband and me.
It was exhausting, overwhelming and it left me feeling hopeless and as if I had failed as a parent.
Like most other parents I was tenacious about getting to the bottom of what was going on in his little brain.
I realised after analysing every single stage of these horrendous tantrums that;
- He knew it was wrong
- He knew there were consequences
- He understood he was hurting people both physically and emotionally
- He seemed to like a reaction
- He would get worse if you tried to ignore his behaviour
- I could not prevent it by giving advanced countdown at bedtime, bath time etc.
- It was not through lack of routine or clear boundaries
- He was not willing to apologise afterwards
The conclusion I came to was that he needed to see at the end of each day how he had behaved, I felt this was the key, I felt that instead of using words if I had some way of visually letting him know that his behaviour was unacceptable then I’d crack it.
How did I do it?
- I first decided I needed a warning sign to let him know his behaviour was getting out of line and had heard about the traffic light system, I needed the system to be mobile, so I could use it when we were not at home
- I came across This Behaviour Traffic Light Keyring
I like this little tool because rather than yelling at him outside or over a crowded room at a party or sports hall, I can just flash him an amber warning card and he stops what he’s doing.
Likewise, if I see him sharing or being kind I flash him a green card with a big smile then, he gets excited and carries on being kind.
If he did something dreadful the red one would come out but amazingly I’ve not needed to use that yet as I’ve always caught him when he’s at the amber stage!
- Next, I needed a visual aid which would let him see for himself how he has behaved, after a lot of research I found
- this Visual Interactive Behaviour Board I loved the idea of giant clear ticks and crosses and straightforward pictures.
I loved the idea of this chart because he can see how his day has progressed in a clear and precise manner, he can almost see himself hurting people, shouting and breaking things, and the times that he has behaved amazingly well.
- I knew I needed to reward him for his good days and to reward those green ticks. So I decided to set up a reward chart where he would get a green smiley face if he had all green ticks at the and of the day, an amber sticker if it was the mixture of ticks and crosses and red face if his chart had more red crosses the end of the day.
I used these 10mm Mini Traffic Light Stickers
and this Reward chart, I didn’t want to use the stickers which came with the chart as I wanted continuity of the traffic light system throughout.
How Does It Work?
- If I see him doing something well, I put a green tick on his chart next to the picture of what he’s done well ~ for instance, He listening, sharing, being gentle.
- If I see him doing something he knows is wrong he gets a red cross next to the picture ~ for instance kicking, breaking things, shouting.
- At the end of each day before bed, we look at his chart and discuss the pictures
- If his chart has mostly green ticks, he gets a green smiley face on his reward chart
- If the chart is primarily red crosses, he receives a red sticker on his reward chart
- If he has an equal amount of ticks and crosses, he gets an amber sticker on his reward chart.
- At the end of the week, we check his reward chart if he has mostly smiley green faces he gets his chosen treat.
- Mostly greens and amber, I’d use my discretion and review how busy our week was, how tired he was, and how his behaviour was, to decide whether he should get his reward.
- Mostly reds and amber, he will not get his chosen treat.
Although my little man had responded well to reward charts in the past, it had never been successful in curbing this issue, so I was praying that this would resonate with him.
We went through all the little pictures, ticks and crosses, stickers and charts and he found it all very funny, this, of course, didn’t fill me with confidence!
The first day.
It was the first thing he mentioned when he got up, so we discussed which reward he would like if his weekly reward chart was mostly green stickers, he decided he wanted to go to Lyme Park for a picnic which is one of his favourite things to do.
All went well for a few hours until he pulled the cat’s tail, I asked him to be gentle, and he flew into a rage. I calmly put a cross on his chart for shouting and one for not being gentle with the cat.
He was devastated and apologised to both the cat and me immediately without prompting, which was something he always struggled with before, then broke down in floods of tears.
The rest of the day his behaviour was terrific, and he got green ticks to fill up his chart, resulting in his first green smiley face of the week and one step further to his reward. At the end of the night, we discussed all the green ticks and the red crosses, and he could tell me how his behaviour had made me and the cat feel.
He was so pleased with himself he went to bed a clam and very happy little boy.
The rest of the week
He was very excited to get his ticks
He for the most part filled his chart with green ticks and smiley faces.
He had a day where they were mostly red.
But that was when he was out with grandparents so I think he thought he would be able to get away with it; however, my mother in law is great at communicating and continuing with the boundaries we set when she has the kids, which is a godsend.
He was literally devastated that the behaviour he had exhibited out the house with other people would affect his reward chard!
He has a few slips now and again, mostly yelling. He has primarily green ticks with an occasional red one dotted in which is usually probably for rude behaviour.
How I feel.
I am now calmer, I feel more in control, respected and relieved that this has broken that awful cycle.
I feel that his behaviour now is more in line with most other 5-year-olds and I’m proud of him for that.
How he feels.
He is immensely proud of his green stickers and ticks and works very hard to earn them, and he has a better understanding of how his behaviour was disruptive and how it was affecting people around him.
He is pausing before acting on impulse now as he knows he’s responsible for getting his green ticks and not blaming everyone else (including the cat) for his behaviour.
Why I think my method works.
The reason I think my method works so well with my son is that
- I believe he is a visual thinker and learner.
- I think my words both positive and negative were just not resonating with him, and I was never actually making any difference to his choices because it was as if he just wasn’t listening and just wasn’t hearing me.
- The key ring gave him a fair warning visually even across a room that his behaviour was either acceptable, superb or unacceptable
- He was able to make the correct choice for himself rather than being told to stop, so he had no one to argue with and fight against
- It also let him know that I was checking on him even if I wasn’t standing next to him.
- The chart enabled us to deal with a situation immediately without a punishment. Therefore, it was over and done with within a matter of seconds, no threats, no consequences.
- It enabled him to be judged fairly on the day’s behaviour and not just an isolated incident being brought on by hunger, tiredness overstimulation etc.
- If he did get a red cross on his chart, he tried extra hard not to get another. And he realised that his choices determined whether he got his reward at the end of the week, there was no punishment as such just no reward and that was the turning point for him, he loved his rewards and would do anything to make sure he didn’t lose them.
- He was able to relate to each picture on his chart to understand what we expected of him, something which explaining, coaxing or scolding had failed at.
I am aware each child has different needs, skill set, abilities and personality. Age is a huge reason too, however, due to this system being simple I feel this would have worked on my little boy at an earlier age too.
I’m relieved that this has worked for me after nothing else I’d tried was working, and I’m pretty sure that cat feels the same way!