6 Peaceful Solutions for Hitting and Anger

While this Spring cold continues to work its way through our house, I wanted to share with readers today one of my favorite posts from the archives.  Originally written by Megan Tietz in June of 2009, there are some great suggestions here for helping our kids control their anger.  I think you’ll find it an article worth bookmarking, as I did when it was originally published.  – Kara

I have noticed that with my oldest daughter, the “half-age” mark generally brings with it some negative behaviors that we have not yet encountered.  For example, she was delightful at two, but two-and-a-half brought new meaning to the term “terrible toddlerhood” – there were many meltdowns and days of frustration for both of us.  Three was exciting and fun, but three-and-a-half introduced transition troubles and sibling rivalry angst.

Dacey is exactly four-and-a-half today, and true to form, we have had a new issue come up that we have not had to deal with yet – hitting. She never went through a hitting stage as a toddler, so this is all uncharted parenting territory for me.  Because I believe in the power of parenting as a community, I’ve been asking around and taking notes on what others are doing in response to the problem of preschoolers who hit.

Here are six of the most helpful suggestions I have found for hitting and other negative angry behaviors:

1. Hand Claps

My friend Corey is educated and trained in early childhood development, and she offered me this suggestion: Sometimes kids don’t know what to do with their hands when they want to hit, so  teaching them to clap their hands when they are angry gives them an outlet for the need to act out with their hands.  This serves the double purpose of alerting me to the fact that intervention might be needed in an upsetting situation.  The angry hand clap has actually been one of our most effective solutions.

2. Angry Art

When possible, I try to direct Dacey away from the situation that is causing her to be angry enough to want to hit and over to the art table.  Releasing her frustration onto a blank piece of paper often means lots of broad strokes and harsh dots.  With a little gentle guidance, she becomes distracted with her art and is able to bring her anger under control.  She has created some really interesting art out of her anger!

3. Self-Regulation Games

Preschoolers have not yet perfected the self-regulation required to stop themselves from acting out physically when they are angry.  One suggestion I have come across is to play self-regulation games to help develop and mature the ability to “flip the switch” on their emotions when anger causes them to lose control.

Some fun self-regulation games include:

  • Red Light, Green Light
  • Simon Says
  • Dance Fast, Dance Slow
  • Sing Loud, Sing Soft

4. Safe Place

A parenting message board member shared this solution: establish a “safe place for big emotions” in your home.  Dacey has started doing this on her own – when she gets angry, sad, or frustrated, she runs and hides under her sister’s crib.  While she is under there, she engages in a lot of self-talk, talking to herself about why the situation made her “so, so angry!!!”  A safe place could be a corner with lots of pillows or favorite stuffed animals.  It could be a cozy chair or a window seat or even a little pop-up tent where your child could go to work through angry emotions privately.

5. Time-In

We have begun implementing “time-in” times in our home, and it has been extremely effective.  A time-in is different than a time-out in that rather than a child sitting alone as a negative consequence to a behavior choice, the child sits with a grown-up for some cool down, snuggle, and talk time.  This works best for us when Dacey is frustrated with Aliza Joy for not sharing toys or for messing up her artwork.  It removes her from what instigated the anger and allows me to speak quietly and comfortably about how she can respond to her sister in ways that don’t involve hitting.

Time-ins can also work when you are outside of the house and the “safe place” option isn’t available.  A time-in can happen anywhere – at the home of a friend or relative, at the park, in the grocery store – anywhere you can gather your child up and hold and talk them through their anger.

6. Modeling

This is the most challenging and yet perhaps the most important solution to  helping little ones know what healthy responses to anger look like.  I’ve been making a conscious effort to “use my words” when I feel frustrated or angry.  Instead of silently fuming, I will say, “Oh my goodness!  This is just making me so frustrated right now!”  Or I might say out loud, “I can feel myself getting really angry over this.  I am going to take some deep breaths while I cool down.”  When we are around the house, I might even say, “Girls, Mama needs to have some time-in time while I cool off.  I am going to go sit on my bed.  You can come to talk to me about how angry I am feeling if you want to.”  Almost every time I have a “mama time-in,” Dacey will come sit beside me and say, “Okay, Mama, now take a deep breath . . . okay, now take another one . . .”

Children learn so much of what responding to anger means by watching the grown-ups in their lives.  This has challenged me to further develop and mature my own responses to upsetting situations – knowing that oftentimes I’ll see my own response in my girls the next time they get upset.

This is, of course, only a partial list.  What solutions have you found to be the most effective for helping children learn peaceful solutions to upsetting emotions?

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  1. Thanks so much for this. It is summer I am dealing with some sibling rivalry of which is getting on everyone’s nerves! : ) And so, I have been dealing with a lot more hitting and yelling. I am going to try some these suggestions today!

    • @Barbi, I hope some of these do help. There are many resources out there for helping kids work through anger – this list is just a starter!

  2. Just yesterday, I came across a great idea (on PBS) for getting out frustrations or just to keep their little hands and minds busy working away.
    Take a bag of golf tees, pieces of styrofoam (ex. leftovers from packaging-like a DVD player box), and a play hammer.
    Have the children “nail” golf tees into the styrofoam blocks. They can pull them back out and do it again over and over again. This gives them a great outlet to pound-instead of innocent little sisters or brothers! 🙂
    I loved this new (to me) and cheap project and so did my son. He thought it sounded like a great idea!

    • @Jennifer, I love this! I can definitely, definitely see how this would work out some aggression. Heck, I might even like to hammer some nails, too! I am going to keep this in mind to use with AJ. I know it would be particularly beneficial for her. Thank you for sharing this!

  3. Chloe is exactly 2 1/2 and and we are having trouble with her keeping her hands to herself!! It really can be frustrating since nothing seems to be working. I love the idea of clapping hands!!!

    • @Jenn, the hand clapping thing has been SUCH a great solution for us! It truly has made a difference for Dacey. Let me know how it works for you guys!

  4. Great post!! I think every age has a new thing us Mom’s has to deal with and I also think that every child is different due to their personalities. My three year old, is the first one of my four children that the time out thing does NOT work. I didn’t know there was an actual name for what I am already doing… time in. Too cool! Thanks for the great ideas!! 🙂

    • @Chele, isn’t that the truth? What works for one child so rarely works as wonderfully for the next. These kiddos – they sure know how to keep us on our toes, don’t they? Hope these will be some helpful tools in your Mommy Toolbox.

  5. These are great ideas! I also find distraction helps my kids and me when I get angry. Calling them over and asking them to help me with a project can be a good way to distance them from the frustration. Then we can go back and tackle it again later.


    • @steadymom, distraction works wonders at this age, doesn’t it? It offers everyone the chance they need to cool down a bit before a conversation with any meaning can take place.

  6. Megan
    This is my favorite Simple Kids post to date-so helpful and insightful. I love the time in ideas, the clapping, and the modeling. I especially love the modeling. As I was reading the post before hitting #6, I was thinking-‘my husband and I need to implement some of these helps for ourselves!’

    Thanks again.

    • @Burning Bushes, awww, thanks, Nicole! I think all of us can use some different perspectives and different approaches every now and again. And the modeling thing has been HUGE for me – challenging me to really examine what my children see in me when they see I am dealing with anger or frustration. Not always pretty and not always peaceful, I can assure you! But I’m working on it alongside them.

  7. This is a great help – thank you. I’m going to be trying these ideas right away, because my son is at one of those difficult half ages – I think I’ll be getting a lot of chances for modelling too, because as well as getting angry, he is also being very argumentative.

    • @Catherine, the arguing . . . we are dealing with that for the first time, too. If you come across some good solutions for that, feel free to share them with me! I could use some fresh ideas on that topic.

  8. Best post you’ve written here Megan!! Thank you so much for sharing these really great ideas. We have been having some really frustrating times over the last few days with potty training and anger issues (on all sides!).

    I feel like you just stacked the deck for me!

    • @Jen, I think we all have frustrating days and it seems to go in cycles for us. Hopefully these will be a good start on helpful solutions!

  9. Sharing this post page with my MOMS Club, as we’ve been discussing this very thing lately. Several ideas would be easy for a childcare at a gym to implement as well. I’ve always tried to help my daughter gives words to her anger. Sometimes she is so mad, that she just cries and loses control of her crying. If that happens, she’ll ask for help calming down with ‘time in’. Thanks for sharing to help us all.

    • @Lona, being able to find and use words really is a great help for little ones. I think that is the source of so much frustration for pre-verbal kiddos. My oldest daughter was a late talker and to this day has trouble finding words when she is upset. We’ve had many rounds with this through the years!

  10. OH Megan. What a great post. 🙂 I’m feeling more than a bit honored that you mentioned me. 🙂 Thank you. BUT…I’m even more thrilled to hear that the clapping is helping Dacey. THAT is wonderful news. 🙂 You also know how much I love to hear success stories. 🙂 and…..I’m a modeling freak. tee hee…

    GREAT post.

  11. Thanks for the great post! Our Bug is 3.5 and that half age thing is so true– it gives me a little perspective to remind myself that this is just a season of our lives and that “this, too, shall pass.”

    I can’t wait to try some of these on her– the only thing that has worked so far is removing her to her room until she calms down, which sometimes takes a while! If she isn’t too far gone, we can sometimes distract her with humor, but that technique doesn’t always work. Thanks for sharing more solutions!

  12. Um… Are you sure you’re not talking about my daughter, Megan? She’s 4.5, too, and we are SO in to that hitting stage! So wild. In a weird way, it encourages me that yours is, too. Maybe it’s just an age thing.

    Anyway, I love the hand clapping idea! Such a good one; I’m trying that TODAY. We also have her scream into a pillow, and that seems to help her a bit. It’s mostly needing to teach her to not immediately react by hitting — to think of the pillow-screaming first. That’s our issue.

    Great ideas! Thanks for sharing.

    • @Tsh and Diana – I am so glad to know it’s not just us on the “half-age” thing! Like Tsh said, sometimes it’s just so encouraging to know we aren’t the only family working through these issues.

      Diana – we do the “remove to room” sometimes – this is particularly helpful if I can get her there before a total meltdown takes place. Tsh – I think we’ll try the pillow scream, too. Like you said, it’s a matter of guiding them to think of non-violent solutions FIRST. So true.

  13. I like the idea of angry art. After all they are feeling it, so channeling it helps diffuse the fire. I also found that time alone usually cools things down simply because we don’t always continue the tantrums with ourselves when we are alone. All of this can be done in quiet tones. When I show exasperation, I am teaching exasperation.

  14. Ben has a MagnaDoodle thing and we’ve been teaching him to draw what he’s angry about. Most of the time, he gets so absorbed in drawing and erasing the pictures that he calms down.

    The reason we use the magnadoodle is to get him to understand that once he’s gotten the anger out (in the drawing) he needs to let it go (wipe the slate clean) and start over. It’s an important lesson that I wish someone had worked harder to teach me when I was young.

    • @Rae – “When I show exasperation, I am teaching exasperation.” UGH. That is so true and I definitely need that reminder TODAY!!

      @Beth – LOVE the magna-doodle idea! What a great life lesson about anger that is.

  15. Sonita Lewis says:

    great tips!

  16. Great ideas, Megan.

    Especially love the clapping. I’ve found from teaching (and I’m sure parenting as well) I tend to say things like, “We don’t hit!” But sometimes forget that a small child really doesn’t know what they SHOULD do instead!
    I found, for the younger set in particular, being explicit with what they should do instead of the negative made my expectations more clear. “When you are angry you may {insert solution}, but you may NOT hurt another student.” Always got better results with the latter.

    • @Emily, that’s a great insight. Making clear what IS okay and what is NOT okay. Great point.

      @Sonita – thank you!

  17. I liked this idea so much I linked my blog to it and added a few more ideas.

    here is the link

    Peaceful Solutions for Hitting and Anger

    • @Casey, this is EXCELLENT. I encourage everyone to read Casey’s follow-up post – more great and practical anger solutions!

  18. These are such good ideas. I love that your kid is a year older than mine so you can tell me what’s coming next and what to do about it.

  19. One of my 3 daughters is 5 (well almost 6), the others are 7.5 and not quite 4.5.

    The best place to look for “what’s to come” is

    the PBS Developmental Tracker

    Here’s the link for 5 year olds.


    If you click on the areas to the left, you can see specific areas like learning, language and literacy, math, physical and emotional development.

    The best thing to do is learn all you can about your child and her temperament by observing her and helping her express herself. By 5.5, she should be more articulate about what she needs, especially if you start giving her the right words to use now.

    • @Casey, great link! Thank you for that. It’s good to know what is coming up down the road.

      @Rachel, glad this is helpful and that you can learn from our hard stuff first! 😉

  20. Thank you for these great tips/reminders. I am a mother of one PreK4, one soon-to-be K’er and I’m also a preschool teacher, as well as on staff in our Child. Ministry Dept. at church–so full time kids-full time….and these tips serve as great reminders of things to do w/ kids when “the going gets tough…and sometimes ugly!” (ugly, especially when they’re not your own kids and you are more limited in ways to do things….). Thanks again!

  21. Wow – these are some really great suggestions! Just what we need now – both of us.

    • @Kristin, glad to have offered a start on some solutions for you.

      @Jessi, I am sure you have lots of tricks in your parenting bag, too, with all of that experience with little ones!

  22. Love these ideas, Megan! Sweetpea is a few weeks away from two and a half, and you’re so right, we’re getting our first taste of the terrible toddlerhood, mostly at night when she is running out of steam but resisting bedtime.

  23. I have three sons & this is a HUGE problem for us. I found that tossing a big pillow for them to take their frustrations out on or to encourage them to scream at the top of their lungs also works.

    • @Mrs. Smith, so glad to hear another good solution that is working for your children. I think a huge part of parenting is listening to what works for others and then adapting it for our own unique children.

      @Steph, I know with AJ, the more tired she is, the harder it is to reign in frustrations and anger. She is one who gets more and more wound-up the more tired she becomes. We have to be pretty on top of things to head off the overtired meltdown with her!

  24. This is a lovely list… One additional thing I’ve done is to encourage my older son to ask me for help whenever he is feeling like hurting someone (often his little brother). He has done this many times, and I am forever grateful. He recently called me from the laundry room while he held his hand back from hitting (after his little brother had dropped something very heavy on his toe). I wrote about that incident here.

    Other things we do…
    — we try to eat many snacks, which helps keep our emotional reserves up (this helps mama too).
    — I am trying to create a culture of taking care of ourselves when we feel upset (much like you giving yourself a time-in), and one way we do that is by ringing our mindfulness bell. I’ve written about that here and here.
    — one last thing… I try to help my sons phrase things in an “I” based language… so instead of “She made me mad!” it might be “I am feeling angry.” I also try to help them find their feelings and needs, which can bring the focus back to themselves, which is where the anger arises and will be resolved. I learned about this from Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg.

    P.S. Scott Noelle (of EnjoyParenting), wrote a short series on Time-ins that I found really helpful.

    Thank you for this discussion!!

    • @Stacy, first of all – LOVE your avatar shot! *swoon* Secondly, I also enjoy Scott’s thoughts on parenting and read daily. We are daily developing “I” language. I started myself into that thought and speech pattern back when I was teaching, and it really still flows as a natural response – for me. Directing little ones to use it can be quite trying!

  25. I have tried several times to redirect my 2 year old hitter and biter to hitting her pillow or a couch cushion. Usually by the time we get her over to the pillow and start hitting, she is looking at me like ‘really, mom? hit it?’ and does a few pretend light punches just to make sure it’s ok. That is definitely enough distraction to get her on to something else. I will have to try the clapping too.. much more immediate when I can’t be there to redirect.
    Somehow I ended up with a 2 year old bully and a 4 year old whiney victim! Any thoughts from someone else who has gone through this?

    • @Tawnya, I am going through this right now! Our (almost) 2 year old daughter is SUCH a bully and our older daughter is definitely the whiny victim most of the time. I don’t know that I have much in the way of great advice to share. We just try to focus on consistency and bringing them back around to seeing and doing the things that show love to each other. It’s hard, hard, hard daily work!

  26. I wrote about the <a href=http://planningwithkids.com/2009/02/10/characteristics-of-two-and-a-half-year-old-behavior/”two and a half stage on my blog recently.

    The half age stage you refer to is often called the period of periods of disequilibrium in children. Louise Bates Ames also discusses this theory of child development in her book Your Two-Year-Old: Terrible or Tender. Disequilibrium is the half year period before a child’s birthday, where children are confused, emotional, temperamental and may have difficulty completing tasks that they previously have easily accomplished. They then move into phases of equilibrium where they seem to have “got it all together”. Knowing this information makes the periods of disequilibrium easier to cope with – you know that there is an end in sight!

    Something that I have found to work is “bringing them in close”. When they have reached the point of hitting, they have lost control of themselves and at this age, they can still need some help to regain control. Bringing them in for hug or depending on the circumstance, holding them close to you so they can not harm themselves or others until they have calmed can help prevent a situation from escalating.

    • @PlanningQueen, oh! Thank you, thank you for sharing this insight on the half-year mark! I knew it couldn’t just be us and it couldn’t be a coincidence. Thanks for the information – I want to learn more!

  27. Megan,

    Great tips, My now preschooler 4 yrs old, started hitting stranger kids, when I was in my 2nd trimester with my 2nd child. Many mom told me, their child went through something like that during their pregnancy. Luckily it went away with lot of quality time spending with him (in a few months). Phases of kids life, but good to be prepared.


  28. Excellent tips. I love the clapping one.

    I’ve found that kids get frustrated when they can’t express themselves, but a couple of minutes of guessing along will help them bring it out. Of course, I got better with it as I became more experienced with parenting, but I could do a fair job from the start.

    I’ve also found that a hug works a treat and my kids come and ask for a hug when they need one and then relax.
    .-= Family Matters´s last blog ..TV Diet (10): Parents’ Influence =-.

  29. LOVE this post. My son is four and a half and definitely needs some help with his hitting and anger issues. THANK YOU!!!

  30. What a great list. Thanks so much. I have been really struggling to figure out how to solve the “big emotion” issue with myself and with my children and I hate the suggestion to go and hit a pillow which everyone gives. So good. Much gratitude

  31. Thank you for these ideas. I really like the idea of playing games that teach self-regulation, in order to develop the skill for when it is needed in frustrating moments. I’ll be sure to implement this some time soon–I have an almost-3 year old who has temper tantrums regularly.
    Laura Jeanne´s latest post: Making a Dandelion Tincture

  32. Jennifer LInd says:

    Wow, these are such great ideas. We currently have a lot of anger in our home – part of the process of dealing with the death of my husband and the kids’ daddy. I think these ideas will help all of us deal with this problem. I’ve been at such a loss, and while counseling is helping, the reality is the day-to-day is where I fall down. Thanks so much!

  33. Great idea!! let’s keep spreading this peaceful message. Thank you for sharing
    Andrew´s latest post: Start Weeping- Landlords Want More Olive Gardens!

  34. It seems like this always comes back to me at a time when I need to read it. Thanks for re-publishing this, Kara.
    Megan at SortaCrunchy´s latest post: creating summer- a manifesto

  35. Thank you so much!!! I really needed some ideas for positive peaceful discipline. In our house instead of time-out we have a Shalom Ha Bayet which literally means house of peace (it’s from the bible) It’s a little area with a small table, a chair and some pillows. there is a picture on the wall that changes but is always something peaceful and calming, a zen garden (with the sand and the rake) some paper and crayons, and some calming books. I can ask one of my children to go there, or they can choose to go there. Sometimes I sit with them, but usually they are by themselves. This is also where we keep the peace rose we use when we are dealing with conflicts.

  36. chandra says:

    Thank you!!! This is amazing information and full of great suggestions, I am so glad I happened across it <3

  37. This is awesome and could not have come at a better time!! Thank you soo much for sharing! 🙂

  38. Thank you so much! What a beautiful post. We are right at 2 1/2, and yes, the half-marks are hard!! One of the hardest and most beneficial parts of parenting is working on our own responses to anger and stress, which in turn may lead to ouw own health and peace as we learn right alongside our wee ones.

  39. The timing on this couldn’t be more perfect. We are having some real sibling challenges with our 3 yr old and 14 mo old. Our toddler pushes her boundaries with her sister more than us I think and so the 3 yr old has started hitting, pushing, taking, and using angry words to try and get away. I love the idea of a safe place where she can run and hide from her younger sister! I also love the idea of a time-in, but honestly wonder if it wouldn’t promote more of the negative behavior so they get more time-ins?

  40. I love the “time-in” suggestions, and your daughter’s response and compassion to your own “time-ins” is so beautiful and loving. Thanks for the great food for thought – it’s exciting to know there are tools to help our little ones deal with ALL of their emotions.
    Carrie´s latest post: I love you


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