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A Parent’s Guide to Why Kids and Teenagers Hit

Written by Evolve's Behavioral Health Content Team​:

Alyson Orcena, LMFT, Melissa Vallas, MD, Shikha Verma, MD, Ellen Bloch, LCSW, Lianne Tendler, LMFT, Megan Johnston, LMFT Meet The Team >

Is your child hitting you or others? Watching your child act out physically can be distressing and confusing for parents. Below, we’ll take a closer look at why children might engage in hitting behavior.

Why Do Kids Hit?

  1. Communication Challenges: Kids don’t always have the skills to express themselves. Sometimes, young children hit when they feel overwhelmed, hurt in family relationships, or unable to express themselves verbally.
  2. Imitating Behavior: Children often mimic what they see. If they witness aggression at home or in the media, they may incorporate child to parent violence into their behavior.
  3. Emotional Regulation: Kids who struggle with managing their emotions may resort to hitting as a way to cope with anger or stress.
  4. Attention-Seeking: Hitting can be a way for children to get attention from other family members, even if it’s negative attention.
  5. Power Dynamics: Hitting can be a means for children to assert control or dominance over others, particularly if they feel powerless in other areas of their lives.

Is It Normal for Kids to Hit?

Hitting family members is a common behavior among children, especially in the toddler and preschool years. It’s a way for them to express frustration, anger, or assert dominance when they lack the language skills to communicate effectively. However, persistent child to parent violence or aggression beyond early childhood can indicate underlying issues that need to be addressed. It can harm family relationships and cause real damage if it goes ignored.

Angry boy teenager

Risk Factors of Kids and Teens Hitting

  • Family Conflict: High levels of conflict or violence in the home can increase the likelihood of a child exhibiting aggressive behavior.
  • Exposure to Violence: Children who witness violence or are victims of abuse are more likely to become aggressive themselves.
  • Parenting Style: Authoritarian or permissive parenting styles may contribute to aggression in children.
  • Mental Health Issues: Conditions such as ADHD, anxiety, or conduct disorder can be associated with aggressive behavior.

What to Do When Your Child Hits You

When your child hits you, it’s important to respond calmly and firmly. Reacting with anger or aggression can escalate the situation and reinforce negative behavior. Instead, stay composed and set clear boundaries. Let your child know that hitting is not acceptable and explain the consequences of their actions. This might include a time-out or loss of privileges. 

Additionally, take the opportunity to teach alternative strategies for handling emotions and conflicts. Encourage your child to use words to express their feelings or to take deep breaths when they’re upset. Consistency is key; be firm in enforcing consequences and reinforcing positive behaviors. If hitting persists or the emotional abuse is severe, don’t hesitate to seek professional help from a pediatrician, therapist, or counselor. They can offer guidance tailored to your child’s specific needs and help address any underlying issues contributing to the behavior. Remember, addressing hitting behavior requires patience, understanding, and consistent reinforcement of positive alternatives.

What to Do When Your Teen Hits You

Child Hitting By Age 

Hitting behaviors can vary in frequency and intensity across different stages of childhood and adolescence. Understanding these age-related patterns can provide insight into the reasons behind the behavior and inform appropriate responses.

Toddlers (1-3 years)

During the toddler years, hitting is often a common expression of frustration, as children are still developing language skills to communicate their needs effectively. They may hit when they’re unable to express angry feelings verbally or when they feel overwhelmed by emotions like anger or excitement. It’s crucial for parents to respond calmly, set clear boundaries, and teach alternative ways to manage emotions.

Preschoolers (3-5 years)

Preschoolers may continue to hit as they refine their social and emotional skills. Hitting can still be a response to frustration or a desire to assert dominance. However, at this stage, children are more capable of understanding rules and consequences for abusive behavior. Parents can reinforce positive behavior by praising appropriate responses and consistently enforcing consequences for hitting.

School-Age Children (6-12 years)

Hitting behaviors in school-age children may occur less frequently but can still surface during moments of stress or conflict. At this stage of life, children have a better grasp of social norms and may hit as a reaction to perceived injustices or power struggles. It’s essential for parents to model respectful communication and teach conflict resolution skills to help children navigate peer interactions without resorting to aggression.

Adolescents (13-18 years)

While less common, hitting and physically aggressive behaviors in adolescents can still occur, often as a response to heightened emotions or family conflicts. Adolescents may also engage in hitting as a way to assert independence or test boundaries. Parents should continue to provide guidance and support, emphasizing healthy communication and problem-solving skills, while also setting firm consequences for aggressive behavior.

Teenage boy arguing with parent

When Should You Consult a Professional? 

You should consider consulting a professional if your child’s hitting behavior persists despite your efforts to address it at home, or if it escalates into severe domestic violence, causing harm to others. Additionally, if you suspect underlying mental health issues, other family members, or harmful family dynamics contributing to the child’s behavior, seeking guidance from a pediatrician, child psychologist, or family therapist can provide valuable support tailored to your child’s needs, fostering a healthier and more positive environment for their growth and development.

Find Guidance and Support for Your Teen at Evolve Treatment

If your teenager or child is hitting you, contact Evolve today to connect with experienced professionals who can provide the support and resources your teen needs to effectively manage their behavior and thrive. Take the first step towards a happier and healthier future for your family.

Have more questions about your child’s hitting? Evolve’s Parent Guides are designed to help you and your family identify ways you can help your teen.

Frequently Asked Questions About Children Hitting 

What should the consequences of kids or teens hitting their parents be?

Consequences for hitting parents and other kids should be consistent and appropriate, such as loss of privileges, time-outs, or seeking counseling. It’s essential to teach children or teens that there are consequences for their actions and to address the root causes of their behavior.

What are some warning signs that a child or teen may resort to hitting their parents?

Warning signs may include frequent outbursts of anger, defiance, aggression toward others, difficulty managing emotions, withdrawal from family interactions, or a history of witnessing domestic violence or experiencing domestic violence.

Can hitting parents be a sign of abuse or underlying trauma?

Yes, hitting parents can sometimes be a sign of underlying trauma—domestic abuse perhaps, or unmet emotional needs. It’s essential to consider the context of the behavior and seek professional help to address any underlying issues and ensure the safety and well-being of all family members.

Should parents ever physically discipline a child who hits them?

No, parents should avoid physically disciplining a child who hits them. Responding to domestic violence with violence can escalate the situation and reinforce the idea that hitting is an acceptable way to resolve conflicts. Instead, parents should focus on non-violent discipline strategies and seek family therapy if necessary.

What role do family dynamics play in a child or teen hitting their parents?

Family dynamics can significantly influence a child or teen’s behavior, including hitting parents. Factors such as parenting styles, communication patterns, conflicts between parents, sibling relationships, and exposure to violence or trauma within the family can all contribute to hitting behavior. Addressing underlying family issues in family therapy is essential in effectively managing family violence and preventing hitting behavior.

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