By Izzy Kalman, MS, Nationally Certified School Psychologist
We want our children to be safe. Unfortunately, children are physical, and no parent can guarantee that that their child won’t ever experience physical aggression.
Please realize that this article is not about situations in which someone intentionally causes serious injury to our child. That is a crime and should be treated as such.
Sometimes, though, our child is repeatedly pushed or hit by another. There is no injury or serous pain, but it is upsetting. If it happens in school and is reported to the school authorities, they may succeed in putting a stop to the hitting. Often, though, the hostilities escalate, as the other child gets angry at our child for telling on them. That child is likely to deny that they hit anyone, and may blame our child for starting it. The authorities can have a hard time figuring out the real truth. And the other child might want revenge and hit our child again later.
In fact, the same thing often goes on in our own home if we have more than one child, especially if they are boys. They may hit each other often, and our attempts to make them stop may be futile, as each one blames the other, and before we know it, they’re hitting each other again. We can’t expect the school to be more successful with this than we are.
Fortunately, there is a simple “magic response” our child can use to help navigate physical aggression: “Are you mad at me?”
Very often, when a child puts their hands on another, there is no deep thinking behind it. They may just want to establish dominance, demonstrating “I can hit you and you can’t stop me.” Or they may just enjoy annoying others.
So let’s say you and I are kids and you hit me. If I hit you back, you may hit me again, and we go back-and-forth hitting each other. We may get into a big fight and one of us may get hurt.
The “magic response” has the potential to bring the situation down from the physical level to the verbal level. So, instead of hitting you back, I will ask sincerely, in a controlled tone, “Are you mad at me?” Now you need to consider why you’re hitting me. If you’re not mad, you’ll realize you have no good reason to be hitting me, and you’ll probably stop. If you don’t stop, I’ll ask you again if you’re mad at me. Before long you should stop hitting me.
If you aremad at me, it means you feel that I wronged you in some way. So, you’ll be happy to tell me why. Then we’ll discuss it, and if I realize I really did something to upset you, I will apologize. Let’s say you tell me, “Yes, you cut ahead of me on the lunch line!” I’ll say, “I’m sorry, I didn’t even realize it. I won’t do it again.” Now you calm down and no longer feel the need to hit me.
Will this always work? Of course not. Few tactics are successful all the time. But it is usually better than rushing to tell adult authorities or hitting back. Teach it to your children and watch their ability to verbally navigate the situation grow.