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. The safe place reference reminded me to get down my Conscious Discipline book (by Dr. Becky A. Bailey) to re-read. I read it in college when I was studying education, and with a 2-1/2 yr old (got to agree about the half ages!) it’s time to give myself a refresher. I HIGHLY recommend this book. It’s geared toward classroom discipline, but I recall wanting to save the book for parenting too because the ideas are capable of being brought home, especially if your friend’s are on the same page with their kiddos.

  2. I love the idea of a safe place. We’ll be implementing this in our home right now. And thank you for the idea of verbalizing when I’m getting angry and how I’m working through it in order to model to my boys. I think this will be a tremendous help. Thank you!
    Tara@riceandbeanslife´s latest post: Inspiration Thursdays- Even Warren Buffett Looks for the Simple Way

  3. David R says:

    I’m struggling about how to handle my daughter. It’s even effecting our marriage. Here’s the scenario. I ask my daughter to come in from the car that she is “driving” as I don’t want to leave her outside and I insist. She refuses saying she is driving and I tell her again we have to go inside, explaining that I have to go in the house and I cna’t leave her out here. I try a few more times and am getting frustrated as shedoing this more and more. She starts screaming no, and for mommy and starts hitting me. I hold her hands and she kicks me (accidentally hitting me in the “spot”) I don’t want her to learn she can not listen and I’m getting fed up with this game so I just picker up saying that we have to go inside. While this article is great for after the tantrum starts, I don’t know what to do when something still has to happen (like last night she wouldn’t give back something she took)

  4. Barbara D. says:

    Thank you soooo much for this. I admit that I never learned how to properly deal with anger, so I have taught my children the wrong way.:( But this has inspired me to not only do much better in my own development and being a better parent, but to try again with joy in helping my children deal with anger (my 2 year old and even my 10 year old). The Time in idea is amazing, and I also love the “House of Peace” idea. Thank you so much and i look forward to reading your posts much more.

  5. just looking for parenting ideas and came across this. I have a difficult child to discipline and have tried sooo many things. This is probably the first thing I’ve read that I’ve thought oh, oh, oh! this might work! 😉 I love the gentle, tending to the child’s needs approach. This is what I WANT to do instead of “punishing” type things which are just not effective..with my child anyway. I’ve tried coming up with my own ways to do this but am just not creative 🙂 I’m excited to try these things! Praying for them to help/work! Thank you!

  6. No. 6 Modeling: has worked in our house in a round-about sort of way. We are expecting Twins in 3 weeks and it’s frustrating for me to do some things and I get really tired around midday. We have a 15 month old daughter and when I get really tired or frustrated, my husband sits down with me , puts his arm around me and consoles me, reminding me that it won’t be much longer before the Twins are born. Now, when I get tired or frustrated, my 15 month old comes and sits down with me and puts her chubby little arm around me and pants my hand or my arm or my back. I think this is going to be invaluable behavior when she has Twin siblings. Sometimes the way adults treat each other is a great lesson for children, if the lesson is a positive one.

    We’re very “time-in” with our daughter because I think it’s important for them to have someone to sympathize with instead of sitting alone facing an empty corner.

  7. That fits my daughter to a tee. Every 4 to 6 months though. After her bought of tantrums, emotions, odd for her acting out, she is a cool collected girl who seems to get more mature and learning an increadable amount of things at a crazy rate. She has been like clock work with that quirk since she was a baby. It is so hard to deal with. Knowing that is just the way she is makes it easier. Someone in a Child Development class once said that we all go through 6 month cycles of equilibrium and dis equilibrim where we “need our mommies” and have troubles with emotions at times (or other support) for a time and then we are independent again. It helped me understand her a lot better and able to deal with her. Now I sigh and say, “Here we go again” with more confidence, support and love.

  8. (Kathy) As a mother of four with ages ranging from 9-18, I can honestly say that managing anger is a taught skill. These suggestions caught my eye because of the “Peaceful” title. Thank you so much for compiling these together for such easy use. I have also decided I need a “time in” myself from time to time.
    Mothering From Scratch´s latest post: 5 Qualities of a Mom Mentor

  9. THANKS FOR THIS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!:)xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

  10. I am a nanny. I watch a 10 it old boy who has been throwing a fit almost everyday before and after school. For example, today before school I told him he had to put his sweatshirt on because it was freezing outside. He started screaming at me and threw himself on the floor crying because he said he didn’t need to wear it. I told him “I’m sorry, but you have to. It’s too cold outside not to wear one.” When he didn’t stop I told him to get in the car (it was almost time to leave for school) and cool down but that doesn’t seem to calm him down. Taking things away from him doesn’t help either. Any suggestions to help get him back to the happy child he used to be??

  11. The “modelling” tip is definitely going in my toolbox! What a fantastic idea. All the great things I’ve taught my 3.5 yo daughter have been through modelling and it didn’t even occur to me to do the same thing with emotional regulation. We’ve been battling dealing with anger (tantrums and hitting) for a few months now and I couldn’t think of how to help her learn how to deal with her anger. I kept suggesting things for her to try “next time” like hugging a stuffy or deep breaths, but when she’s in the heat of the moment she doesn’t always remember or want to listen to me. And if mommy’s not doing it chances are she won’t either. Most children learn through osmosis (i.e. modelling their caregivers) so I am confident this tip will help. Thank you!


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