To hit or not to hit

I’ve been wrestling with this question for some weeks now.  Not about us and our kids, you understand, as on that line both my husband and I stand firm and united, but between the sprogs.  More specifically, how we can best help Little H deal with her little brother’s unprovoked and out of order outbursts of hitting.

It seems so unfair that he lashes out and she gets hurt, without any reversal in the pattern.  Sometimes, of course, there was provocation, and that’s different – still not a great reaction but a bit more understandable.  But most of the time, he does it for no other reason than boredom, frustration, tiredness or downright limit-testing.   I was hoping it would be a short-ish stage, but it seems to be continuing and given we parents aren’t the main sufferers of this one, I don’t feel we can ignore it until it goes away.

Of course we try to head situations off at the pass as much as we can, or step in, remove him and try to get him to realise its not acceptable behaviour in a (mostly) calm and firm way. We’ve also tried to help her understand that physical games with a rambunctious little brother will often go way further than she wants, so think before she starts them.  But it feels like we haven’t been able to equip her with any strategies that work.  She tries to copy us, telling him it makes her sad, asking him not to, distracting him, but he usually ignores her and carries on, especially if he’s cross and in red-eyed temper-mode.  The thing she has never done is hit back.  And therein lies my struggle.  Is it right to give her permission or ‘encourage’ her to hit back and give him a bit of his own medicine?

With two similarly boisterous boys I don’t think I would hesitate – if you engage, expect to get thumped.  Obviously our boy needs to learn that lesson, but if we go against his sister’s natural un-aggressive character in encouraging her to hit back, are we changing who she is or setting her up to be a girl who uses her physical strength more easily than she should?  Will her hitting him back just mean he escalates and she ends up getting even more hurt, and him too probably? (Knowing him, I think this would be the case.)

This is probably the first parenting challenge where I’ve felt at quite such a loss, excluding the whole crying-baby-what-the-hell-can-I-do-to-help-them-stop-that-noise-piercing-my-skull-and-get-some-precious-sleep thing.  My husband thinks Littlest H needs to learn his actions have consequences: it hurts to be hit and that doesn’t feel good.  That’s true, undeniably.  And I do worry about him lashing out at other children as well – also totally not ok, not to mention somewhat embarrassing to be ‘that’ mother.   And if Little H naturally walloped him I might be tempted to turn a blind eye or use one of the old classics like ‘I told you so’.  But she doesn’t.

We need to help her by giving her some tools to help herself. And I want us to choose ones that set her up as best we can, not potentially have consequences for her as she goes further into childhood and independence, or that start something we can’t stop with a ‘that strategy isn’t working, darling’ type conversation later on.

A friend with two boys has taught her gentle older boy kung-fu blocking moves to defend himself against his pretty full-on little brother.  It’s definitely a good one to try.

As for other options, perhaps I need to read the book on my to-read list, ‘Raising Happy Brothers & Sisters’, to see if that has any gems.  And perhaps we do need to suggest hitting back, however reluctant I am and worried about what it might be starting.

What I do know is that we’re not the only parents going through this joyous experience.  And that tells me many siblings get through it to have normal childhoods and become normal adults (whatever that may mean).  I’m sure starting pre-school in a couple of weeks will help – they won’t stand for it.  Fingers crossed we don’t get too many dreaded calls from the head and he sorts himself out without storing it all up for home.

Any pearls from you lovely bloggers out there would be most welcome.  Right now, I’m off to check out kung-fu blocking moves on youtube.


6 thoughts on “To hit or not to hit

  1. I like the kung-fu blocking moves option. Our son (4) is a hitter of his sister (2). I’m getting tired of the constant time-outs and taking things he like away. I feel like the message ain’t getting through too well. I can’t tell the little girl to hit back, we just finished training the hitting others out of her!

    • So tough isn’t it. Even more so if he’s older and therefore stronger as well. There I was hoping when my boy got older he’d get over it… ARGHHHHHH

  2. I didn’t have this problem as I had two rambunctious boys who routinely thwacked each other. But I remember my sister having this problem with her boys — the older one was very calm, but the younger one would provoke him. She, like you, didn’t want to teach the older boy to hit back. But then a wise older cousin, who happened to be a child psychologist, said she needed to encourage the older son to take charge of it a bit. To give him permission to firmly say “No” and grab his little brother’s hand or even gently push him. The problem wasn’t so much the hitting child, because we know how to deal with that (say a million times over it’s not OK, use your words, remove him from the situation etc), but the older one, who had to learn that it was OK to assert himself and let his brother know the hitting was not OK. Not sure if that helps, but worth a try…

    • That is good advice. It’s easy to assume they feel they can defend and stand up for themselves without actually knowing they do. And I also need to ensure I’m ready to help her learn where the line is and support her when she tries – I can see her looking to me for that sometimes. I have a glimmer of hope – he has at least started using his words if he’s not too worked up. And she is starting to assert herself a little. Right now, I’ll take whatever small signs of hope I can get!

  3. I’m pondering here. This is a tough one. I have two boys, so I think it’s different as you mentioned. My little one fights back, and my oldest is pretty aggressive and impulsive. Like he doesn’t know how hard he hits, that kind of thing. Little brother is getting older and I certainly don’t want the punches to continue. My situation is different. My advice…kung fu isn’t a bad option. Sounds terrible, but….what about this? They both can do some kind of martial arts where they talk a lot about defensive fighting and see fighting in a whole new light. That way he could get out all his aggression there, too.

    • I think that’s a good suggestion. He might need to be a little older to get it, but it’s perfectly possible we still need help then! I’m hoping the stimulation and structure of pre-school will help him generally as well as mean he has to manage social situations with other adults’ guidance so I have more reinforcement in moving on from this behaviour pattern. I take heart that friends tell me he is a dream to look after with his little friends. He definitely has good and bad days with his sister. Today was a good one – they got stickers for playing well together. Bless him he turns round and tells me about some hitting or shouting incident when I’ve listed all the good reasons for the sticker. Love their honesty. No doubt as soon as she’s back to school he’ll miss her – stop bloomin’ well thwacking her then!

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