A Child Who Hits

(This is a re-worked post from my yahoo group, Waldorf_At_Home. The subject was what to do with a child who hits  her siblings)

In a hitting situation – in any situation with little one – under 6/7’s – one first works via imitation and redirection: "Oh my goodness!? What are those  hands doing? They have forgotten their job – come, it’s time to help me wash the dishes. Let’s see what those hands can do!". Positive, humorous, redirection – with a physical (active)  focus and using imitation (doing the dishes together). This will work for many children -but not all and not always.
I like the physical approach that N speaks of – I think this is enormously important for tinies – however (and I say this with respect, not criticism) I feel the verbal part is – well, too verbal. Too head orientated, too self reflective for the young child. I understand that by doing this N wants to empower her child to understand that she will eventually be able to control herself – I like that… but I feel that it still leaves way too much room for a strong willed, fiery or stuck child to be lost in. My experience with children  (including my extremely willful eldest son) is that the form itself is what comforts and centers the child – if redirection has not worked, then I would hold such a child, picking her up, singing or humming a verse and having some quiet somewhere else. This might escalate her anger and screaming – I would say that this is ok – perhaps she needs to have the safety of this holding time to release her anger.

Don’t be scared by a child’s rages – be thankful that the child can get it all out (as my husband, who used to be a homeopath says ‘better out than in’). Over time she will learn to have some degree of control over  such feelings – but only, I would suggest, if she does not have to concern herself with being self reflective and only if she feels safe enough to let go – and for that most young children need the strong physical presence of the parent who is willing to "take care of things for them".
If the hitting continues…. you might have to keep the child very close to you all afternoon "I am sorry, sweetheart, but those hands of yours keep forgetting their job! So you will help me this afternoon to make lunch and then clean the bathroom." And do it. And keep at it. This is very tiring, I know that. But it works because what you are doing is recreating something for your child, guiding her through her difficulties and being her strong foundation to rest against as she learns how to control whatever it is in her that impels her to hit.This is a really powerful approach for a young child of  about 3 to 6 years of age.
In contrast to this, say for an 8 year old that hits others, I would be more firm. I would walk up to the child, kneel at his level, hold both of his hands and look him right in the eye (and wait until he will look at me if he squirms away – this is powerful stuff). I would then quietly but firmly say "We do not hit. You may not hit so and so again". And walk away. If it happens again – "You know that we do not hit in this family. You will sit on that chair and remain there while I finish cooking supper". He must stay on the chair – not isolated in his room, but near you. After a time "Ok.  You can go back to playing with your brother. Let’s try again". Clear, warm, centered and in control – not, as I say repeatedly in my books, controlling – but at the helm, guiding and forming the situation – and the child.
Restitution is a big part of all this – for a little one who smashes things "Come, we need to clean this up." No yelling, no choices, no analyzing, no fuss. Physical activity, making things better. For an older child who took his brother’s things – maybe it needs to come out of his allowance or he needs to do some of his brother’s chores. No shaming, no major scene – matter-of-fact calm restitution. And then it’s over with.
Last… forgiveness. Forgiveness of one’s self as a parent, of one’s child, of one’s own parents and childhood…. not carrying baggage around that clouds one’s own parenting. Clarity. Respect for the stage of childhood one’s child is in – and not treating her as someone who is older – or someone who is younger. Respect for her as an individual as well.

Posted on June 12, 2006 in Family Life and Parenting

  • Audrey says:

    Thanks so much for that post. So helpful to me – my 4 year old son is starting to hit and spit, and I appreciate reading about your ideas to manage it.

  • Summerfield says:

    Thanks for this, Donna.

  • Brooke Ellen Bryan says:

    Thank You, Thank You, Thank You.
    The first easily assimilated inspiration on real issues that I have found yet. Thank you for the intuitive yet breathtaking talk on the sensory needs of young children that pervades your writings. I think I can go back to other works of Waldorf philosophy with a new sprout of understanding.
    Thank You, oh Thank You.

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