Originally written by Megan Tietz
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.
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.
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.