How To Stop Hitting/Aggressive Behavior

Sometimes, you feel like you’re doing your best as a parent, but your child can still act out, display aggressive behaviors or even hit people.

You may feel like you’ve tried everything, and you don’t know what to do. There’s nothing worse than feeling helpless as a parent.

The good news is that we’ve all been there, and you can get through it. Children can be challenging, but it is almost always a phase that will eventually be bypassed.

One of the hardest things you may come across as a parent is aggressive or hitting behavior.

This can cause a massive problem as your child begins displaying unwelcome behaviors such as aggression towards you, other people and other kids, and they may even lash out and hit or bite other kids. 

As you know, this is unacceptable behavior and will need to be nipped in the bud as soon as possible. So, how do you stop and prevent this behavior?

This guide will help you find out. But first, let’s take a look at what aggressive behavior is, and what it looks like.

What Is Aggressive Behavior?

Aggressive behavior is when a child, toddler or young person tends to react badly and in a hostile manner towards other children, siblings, family members or adults.

This behavior can be considered misbehavior, and can manifest itself through both verbal aggression and physical aggression.

As a result, this type of behavior can quickly turn into hitting, biting, slapping along with tantrums, stealing or verbal aggression. 

Why Do Kids Become Aggressive Or Start Hitting?

If you want to stop this behavior, then the first thing you need to do is locate the root of the problem, and find out why your child is acting out in this manner.

For the most part, children will use aggressive and hitting behavior in order to communicate their emotions and needs. 

Children are still developing, and not only learning about the world around them, but themselves too. As a result, sometimes, they are unsure how to communicate what they want, or what they are feeling inside. 

This is particularly prevalent in children from 18 months to 2 years old, as they will struggle to find ways to express themselves to parents, other children and caregivers or adults around them. 

As a result, some children will find negative behaviors a means of getting the attention they crave, and getting their point across to others.

If your child is older than this, and starts developing aggressive and hitting tendencies, then it could be because they have not learned or understood appropriate ways of expressing themselves, and don’t know how to communicate in a non-aggressive manner when faced with a problem or difficult situation. 

Instead, using aggressive behaviors is a way of communicating that something is wrong, or that they are feeling a certain way inside.

For instance, a child may be tired or hungry, and feels frustrated and cranky because of this. Then, they may start displaying unfavorable behavior to demonstrate what they are feeling inside.

Other children can become aggressive because they are frustrated. This could be due to a stressful situation, or extreme anger and frustration that they simply do not know how to regulate.

They may be frustrated because they don’t know how to communicate with others, or because they have additional learning needs that you could be unaware of.

They may feel that they cannot keep up with other kids, or that they cannot grasp concepts as quickly as others. 

This can result in lashing out with aggression or physical abuse, which can seem like they are just being naughty, but you need to support them and help them understand that everyone is different and does things at a different pace. 

Children can also become angry due to overstimulation. This is particularly prevalent with children with ADHD or Autism, but all children can feel overstimulated.

Overstimulation can be anything that makes them feel overwhelmed such as loud noises, activities, sensations, or if there is just too much going on around them. 

Children can react to this with aggressive or defensive behavior, and they really just need some space and a calm, quiet environment to chill out for a moment. 

Other causes of aggression could be that they are mirroring someone else’s behavior such as another adult or child. Children can absorb this behavior and try it out for themselves. 

Common causes of aggressive behavior:

  • Exhaustion or tiredness
  • Mirroring behaviors of other children/adults around them
  • Self-defense
  • Stress or anxiety
  • Extreme anger or frustration
  • Inability to communicate
  • Over stimulation
  • Lack of routine
  • Lack of adult supervision or rules
  • Need for attention 

To combat the problem, you will need to consider what triggers your child to act this way. Is it one certain person? Do they only bite or kick you, or are they aggressive with everyone? 

On the other hand, does it seem like your child becomes aggressive when they are angry, or overly excited?

Look for patterns, triggers and any reasons that could result in this behavior, as you can then minimize it, and prevent it from happening any more. 

How To Stop Hitting/Aggressive Behavior

Once you have found out the reasons and triggers for your child’s aggression, you can start minimizing the problem and creating limits so that it does not happen as often, and eventually phases out completely. 

The best way to stop aggressive behavior is to intervene as soon as possible. As soon as you notice that your child is about to become physically aggressive or verbally aggressive, you will need to step in and remove your child from the situation that is triggering the aggressive behavior. 

That being said, how you do this can seriously impact whether your child repeats this behavior. Sometimes, you may think that it is a good idea to chastise your child, or talk them through why they shouldn’t behave in this way.

However, some children will not be able to listen or comprehend a long explanation, and take this as receiving attention from you.

So, instead, just say ‘We don’t hit’ or ‘hitting is wrong’ and then place your attention on the victim, and ensure they are okay. Your child will learn that your focus will instead be on someone else, and not them. Console the victim and ignore the child who is aggressive.

However, if your child is overstimulated and will not calm down, then remove them from the situation, without getting angry or yelling, and wait quietly for them to calm down.

Once they do, then you can talk about the situation and what happened.

This will teach your child that you will not talk to them or engage with them until they can calm down by themselves, which helps them learn to regulate their own emotions and act in an appropriate manner if they want to get anywhere. 

You should never raise your voice or become aggressive yourself. Instead, tell your child that you need them to calm down, and let them know that you will tend to the victim, and speak to your child once they have stopped screaming, shouting or being aggressive. 

Once your child is calm, you can repeat ‘we don’t hit’ and let them know that the other child is hurt, and that hitting is not the answer.

For some children it is best to empathize with them and explain that everyone gets mad sometimes, but hitting is not okay, and instead you need them to calm down, or walk away from the situation.

Show your child to count to ten to calm down, or use their words to say that they are mad rather than their fists. 

You can also set boundaries and consequences such as: ‘if you don’t calm down, we are going to go home and we’re done playing’. Teach them that bad behavior will not be rewarded. 

However, if you see that your child is being good, and trying to regulate their emotions and use their words to express themselves the next time, then reward this behavior, and praise them. This will motivate them to do better.