Help with hitting out

ProblemOur son, though extremely loving has a tendency to lash out for unknown reasons.

Sometimes he is tired, sometimes frustrated, sometimes over-excited – all of these we cope with. Occasionally however he will approach either of us, and just hit us. Any help would be appreciated.

Have you got experience of young children reacting like this? How have you handled it? Did it stop by itself? Post your comments and advice here.

8 thoughts on “Help with hitting out

  1. Misbah

    My boy isn’t violent, quite the opposite in fact which is worrying sometimes, he’s either totally switched off when it comes to feelings and emotions or it’s complete meltdown over the tiniest of things. I do worry though as he gets a little older he will start lashing out.. Not sure when and how that will start to manifest but am sure it will be at some point and i’ll be asking for advice

  2. Rachel


    Our youngest son, now 4, went through this. He was 21 months when we brought him home, and his foster carer said that sometimes he lashed out or pulled hair at his old nursery, but ALWAYS to attract adult attention. He carried on pulling his sister’s hair out by the roots, always looking directly at us to see what we’d do, and hitting us (well, me) out of the blue. We found that completely ignoring the behaviour worked, and we also taught his sister to walk away and ignore him if he started on her – previously she would just sit there crying and let him carry on. We noticed that with all significant adults he would test them to see how far he could push them – when he realised their limits he would stop. He needs very firm, clear boundaries.

    When I went back to work he started at a fantastic local nursery a couple of days a week, where he thrived and became a firm favourite of the staff. After about 12 months he started having outbursts again, usually directed at members of staff if they weren’t paying him attention. Most days he was brilliant, but then it would flare up out of nowhere, and we’ve never been able to identify any kind of trigger. The staff handled it as best they could, but always in a very “soft” way, which seemed to push him to take it further next time. Apparently it got really out of hand, to the point where he would hit and bite members of staff – I say apparently because we never saw it at home, just what we’d describe as the usual toddler tantrums. In the end we took him out of nursery, as I didn’t see any point in sending him back to keep doing the same again and it was only happening in that environment.

    He now goes into the nursery class at school a couple of hours each day and will be full time in September. He’s currently doing the same thing, testing his teacher and classroom assistant to see how far he can push them. Not very far, luckily!

    During all the problems at nursery we were referred to a community paediatrician to see if there was any underlying developmental problem – she thought not, but has referred us on to an expert in early childhood trauma as there’s growing evidence that even the youngest babies and children can be affected by their early experience, which often doesn’t surface until years later. We’ll see what comes of that.

    In the meantime, we’ve learned to:

    – Set very firm limits on what’s acceptable and stick to them
    – Ignore, ignore, ignore (as much as possible) negative behaviour
    – Lavish praise on good behaviour that follows
    – Make it clear that tantrums and hitting will not be tolerated and won’t change anything
    – Work closely with the school to make sure any negative behaviour there is nipped in the bud and not allowed to escalate, like it was at nursery

    I sometimes think we sound like Victorian parents, but he really needs those rigid boundaries (our other son is completely different and we’ve had to learn different strategies with him). We were both lucky enough to do the “Incredible Years” course, which really helped – perhaps ask your social worker if it’s available locally, or at least read the book?

    I don’t know if any of that is helpful, but my main point is that you’re not alone, and I’m sure you’ll get lots more people weighing in on this thread. Stick to your guns, don’t let him press your buttons, and it WILL get easier to deal with. Our son is now just about at the age where we can talk to him about it and ask him why he does things – usually, he doesn’t know, which gives me hope that it’s just a habit that we can help him grow out of.

    Best of luck! x

      1. Angelia

        My son has had these issues since he was very young and they continue into his teens. Rachel in the comments above has given you the right advice as to steps you may take to help alleviate some of these issues.

        We started therapy for my child very early on. His extreme outbursts at school were a significant sign that there were some serious challenges going on that needed outside help. Some of his outbursts at home were lasting up to six hours. They included screaming, kicking, hitting, and uncontrollable crying. My son was soon diagnosed with Aspergers syndrome at age six (later, with a dual diagnosis of Aspergers and Bipolar). I’m in NO way saying that this is what your child is experiencing, but many of the tools we use with our son are the ones that Rachel above has suggested. No matter the reason your child is having challenges with hitting, my experience over the years with my own child is that no matter the reason the treatment has always been the same.

        As a way to limit some of the hitting with our son (who is now 12), we limit his exposure to shows, movies, and video games that have violence in them. We set up a points and rewards system to encourage more appropriate behavior. We work closely with his school in regards to behavior, and he is in weekly therapy. We use helpful books with him, one of which is called “What to do When Temper Flares,” by Dawn Huebner, PH.D. It’s a kids guide to overcoming issues with anger. We also use the book “My Roller Coaster Feelings,” which comes with a workbook. Both help him to have a better understanding of his emotions and provide coping skills that are easy for a child to utilize. We are also lucky to have in-home care where a behavioral specialist comes to our home twice a week and helps my son acquirer the tools he needs to manage and cope with his anger without hitting, screaming, or destroying property. The most important thing we have learned with our son is to set limits, boundaries, and constant structure. It hasn’t been easy but it has helped.

        I hope maybe some of the information I have provided helps. As a parent dealing with these challenges everyday my heart goes out to you and I hope you find the solutions you seek.

        1. tasocial Post author

          Thank you for giving such detailed advice, I’m sure the parent involved will be really grateful. The book you recommend sounds really interesting, we will be doing book reviews soon so if you ever fancy writing a piece about the book and how useful it’s been we’d love to include it. Thanks again for commenting and visiting The Adoption Social.

  3. Catherine

    You are not alone….

    We have 2 adopted sons with various, complex and ever challenging behaviors. We are almost 8 years post adoption now (boys are coming up to 10 years old). We still don’t have the answers.

    Your little one lashes out for ‘unknown reasons’? Such a hard one to cope with. It really is difficult when they do these type of things, hitting, shouting, damage property, and there seems no provocation for it. For us we still don’t fully understand why Son(2) has such issues. And despite our best attempts at parenting, reading every book, going on every course (including Incredible Years which I can wholly recommend) and reading lovely comments such as the replies given, we still struggle to fully ‘get-in-his-head’. I think I can safely say we never will, and that it has taken us a long, long time to fully appreciate ‘WE’ are not getting it wrong. It’s just an acceptance you have to adapt too.

    That said, knowing that your lad has the ability to be ‘extremely loving’ is something to hold on to. That is the part of him that is real – the true him, the more difficult behavior is about his past and early trauma – it’s the brain playing horrible confusing tricks on him, not aiding him to be regulated. When he hits you…ignore the behavior, don’t ignore the child. You have possibly heard this before but try and hold that in your head as he lashes out and look for the first opportunity to engage positively. Perhaps use a distraction if the behavior is not quickly over. Try reward charts and that type of thing if you like – didn’t work for us (the brain seems too hot wired that rewards like that are just useless). Try to avoid ‘naughty step’ type techniques. Keep him close to you, consciously and out-loud (however daft you sound) reassure his safety. Naming feelings is another good one, it’s helped us a lot. Phrases like ‘Son 2 when you hit mummy like that it shows me that you are feeling angry/sad/confused, etc. Let me keep you safe, here’s a hug.” There may need to be a gap between naming the feeling and giving the hug, but you can still stay available “I’m going to sit over here with this warm cuddle blanket and I’m ready when you need a hug.” As he learns to recognise his feelings THEN you can teach him more appropriate ways to show them. Don’t expect him not to show them, he needs to let them out.

    Final, and most important, piece of advice – take time out for yourself. Rest and recharge when you can.

    Best wishes to you and your family. xx

    1. tasocial Post author

      All really good advice and I’m sure the parent involved will be really grateful. Thank you for taking the time to give your advice and thanks for visiting The Adoption Social.

  4. Angelia

    I have to ask…was your adoption open or closed? I was going to mention it in the earlier comments I posted but wasn’t sure I should. I was adopted myself and the adoption agency was less than forthcoming in the circumstances surrounding my adoption. The agency had told my adoptive parents that my biological parents were unable to stay together for whatever reasons. They said that my mother had tried to raise me the best she could on her own. When she realized that she was unable to give me the life I deserved, she gave me up for adoption.

    We found out when I was an adult that the adoption agency had lied. In truth, my mother had endured severe abuse from my biological father and had given me up for adoption only after child protective services had removed me from the home. I was two at the time of my adoption. My adoptive parents feel that I had PTSD when they adopted me and had they been given that vital information they could have had support in place to allow me to have a healthier childhood.

    I am only sharing this information because I know that if an adoption was closed sometimes the adoption agency lies to prospective parents because they fear that child would be unadoptable otherwise. I know my family isn’t the only ones that have experienced this issue. There is a group of parents in Michigan that have brought a lawsuit against the State and DHS for adoption fraud for this reason.

    If your adoption was open, I know none of this matters. But in the instance that it was not, you may want to contact the agency in which he was adopted from. In the meantime, just keep doing what your’re already doing and loving him the best you can. Good Luck.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *