A young child is crying in a parent's arms


I’m One Of Those Mothers With a Child Who Hits Other Children

Dec 7, 2021

When it comes to expressing my anger, I’d rather scream curse words than punch a hole in the wall.

When I was growing up, my middle sister and I would get into physical fights, but I would always run away and hide instead of fighting back. One time, she punched me hard in the stomach and I just reeled and cried.

And when I became a parent, my daughter was the same as me. We both use our words more than our fists to vent out frustrations.

I’d see other parents struggle with their kids who were throwing violent tantrums, slapping, punching, kicking and hitting things and people. I’d feel secondhand embarrassment for them, while secretly gloating about how well behaved my daughter was.

But then I had my son.

As a parent, do you find yourself comparing your children with others? Even when she tried to avoid this pattern of behaviour, Katharine Chan found it creeping in.

A New Normal

My son was born right before the pandemic hit.

Unlike his older sister, we didn’t get to go to mommy groups, attend storytime at the library, have playdates, meet random kids in the playground and so forth. He’s a rambunctious little person who loves sensory-seeking activities.

I love him to bits but he takes a lot of physical work. I swear I use most of my calories chasing after him, dodging the toys he throws at me and picking up food that he drops everywhere.

A few months ago, we finally had the opportunity to have a playdate with another family outside our social bubble. It was the first time my son was meeting a little person around his age since the pandemic started. For most of the dinner, they played in parallel, minding their own business.

My son threw napkins and the paper menu at his playmate but it seemed harmless.

"I’d feel secondhand embarrassment for them, while secretly gloating about how well-behaved my daughter was."

As we were leaving, his new friend came up to fist bump him as his way to say goodbye. But instead of bumping back, my son decided to smack him on the head. It was like everything happened in slow motion but I couldn’t move quickly enough.

I thought: I've become that mom.

I immediately grabbed my son and apologized profusely.

The other mom was unfazed, reassuring me it’s OK and that her son’s head is sturdy, having bumped it many times before.

However, my face was flushed.

Was It Something I Did?

All I could think of was what I may have done wrong.

I couldn’t believe I was in the situation of the parents I used to feel embarrassed for. It was a piece of humble pie I didn’t want to swallow.

Then I started going down the path of what-ifs, as many new parents can probably relate to.

What if he becomes a bully?

What if he starts a fight with other kids and ends up seriously hurting someone? Or himself?

Will he grow up to be one of those people who express their emotions through physical violence? How could I have raised a violent little person?

Of course I jumped to the blame game, blaming myself for everything my kid does and doesn’t do. But I took a step back, otherwise it could have easily spiraled. It’s not about what’s going on with me. It’s about what’s going on with him. He’s testing cause and effect.

As a toddler, he’s always learning and exploring the world, experimenting with cause and effect.

I began to see things a little differently.

No Answers, Just Good Guesses

He’s trying to understand what reactions will be created by his actions, so hitting another kid may be a way for him to see what happens.

He’s protecting his space.

Maybe he didn’t like another little person coming up to him, invading his space. Perhaps it was too close for comfort.

Since he doesn’t have the skills and abilities to communicate his discomfort rationally, maybe he was hitting as a reflex.

"He’s not even two years old, he doesn’t really know any better."

Or he’s tired from adjusting to a new environment.

Although dinner with friends is something I’m used to, being around another little person is new to him. New environments mean he’s processing a lot of new information and experiences.

And the transition between the restaurant to the car might have triggered him to express his angst physically.

The most important thing for me to recognize was that he’s not hitting to intentionally hurt someone. He’s not even two years old, he doesn’t really know any better.

Chantal Saville has realized that it really doesn't matter how fast or slow a kid picks something up. She's no longer worried.

Being a Teacher, Not A Worrier

Once I had a sense of where he might be coming from, I started teaching him better ways to express his wants and needs.

For instance, we talk about our feelings when he hits.

Since that incident, there have been times when he hit his sister because he didn’t want to share his toy.

I’ll help him identify and put words to his feelings:

“You must feel angry because your sister is playing with your toy. But when you hit her, it hurts your sister and she’s upset. It’s hard to share your toy but hitting is not the right thing to do.”

Distracting him has helped as well. I regularly hide his toys.

When I sense he’s about to get more aggressive, I’ll take one out as a “new” toy and distract him with it.

Lastly, I’m firm when it comes to following through on consequences. If I say I’m going to do something if he hits, I will stick to my word. It's this consistency that has taught him that being rough isn’t the way to get what he wants, reinforcing appropriate behaviour.

Now whenever I see parents struggle with their kids who hit, I don’t judge, gloat or criticize. Just as I’ve learned to empathize with my son, I’ve learned to have compassion for other parents and myself.

It’s a reminder that the parenting journey is full of twists, turns and unexpected situations that will push me in places I never thought I would go.

Taking the time to tune into the reason behind my children's misbehaviour will help make the world a kinder place.

Article Author Katharine Chan
Katharine Chan

Katharine Chan, MSc, BSc, PMP, is an author of three books and a Top 30 Vancouver Mom Blogger. She has over a decade of experience working in British Columbia's healthcare system, leading patient safety incident investigations, quality improvement projects and change management initiatives within mental health, emergency health services and women's health. Her blog, Sum (心,♡) on Sleeve is a raw and honest look at self-love, culture, relationships and parenthood. She shares personal stories to empower others to talk about their feelings despite growing up in a culture that hides them. She’s appeared as a guest on CBC News Radio and Fairchild TV News and contributed to HuffPost Canada and Scary Mommy.

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