When your child hits you: a script

Adrian: (Mum’s empathy is helping him trust her with the source of his upset.)  “All the rest of the kids are going! I’ll be the only one who isn’t there!” 

Mum:“Oh, Sweetie. No wonder you’re upset. You want to be there with all the other kids.” 

Adrian would rather fight than cry — it feels better. ”You never let me go! No wonder I don’t have any friends! It’s because you’re a liar and a terrible mum!” 

Mum doesn’t point out all the things she does for him, or that she keeps her word to him most of the time. She doesn’t even argue about whether he has friends. She doesn’t tell him not to yell or call names. She just stays compassionate and empathises with his upset. “Oh, Sweetie, I’m sorry this is so hard… I wish I could let you go today.” 

Adrian‘s tears well up. Mum’s understanding is helping him feel safe enough to feel the vulnerability and fear under his anger. “You don’t understand! If I don’t go, they won’t let me play basketball with them at recess!” 

Mum: ”You’re worried you’ll be left out after this?” 

Adrian begins to sob.  Mum moves closer to hug him.  He cries for awhile, and finally stops, sniffling. 

Adrian: ”Jake will be mad at me.” 

Mum:“Hmmm…..You think so? Just because you can’t go today?” 

Adrian: “He says only the regulars who practise together can play.” 

Mum:“Wow! I see why you’re worried… Do you really think you’ll get left out at recess?” 

Adrian: (Thinking more clearly now that he’s had a chance to express his feelings) “Yes. But I don’t care if Jake is mad at me. I’ll get the teacher to help if they won’t let me play.” 

Mum: “That’s an idea. Is it the rule that everyone’s allowed to play? 

Adrian:“Yeah. And anyway, they should want me on their team. I’m a good passer.” 

Mum: “I would always want you on my team.” 

Adrian hugs her. 

Mum: “But Adrian, there’s something important we need to talk about. Look at my arm.” 

Adrian: (Non-defensive, now that he’s come to terms with the source of his upset) ”I’m sorry, Mum.  Does it hurt?” 

Mum: “Yes, it hurts. Adrian, I understand why you were mad. You can be as mad as you want. But hitting is never okay. People are not for hitting.” 

Adrian: ”I didn’t mean to hurt you. I was really mad.” 

Mum:“I understand you were really mad. Mad is ok. Everyone gets mad. But there’s no excuse for hitting, EVER.  Next time you feel like hitting, what could you do?” 

Adrian: ”I know, I’m supposed to use my words. But I was too mad.” 

Mum:  ”I understand.  That is a strong feeling, wanting to hit. But you need to commit, in that moment, to do something with that feeling instead of hitting. What else could you do with that feeling if you can’t use words at that moment?” 


Mum:“That’s better than hitting.” 

Adrian:“Stomp my foot?” 

Mum: “That’s good too! And you can also try what I do. You can leave the room and count to ten, taking deep breaths.  Let’s try it.” 

Adrian: ”Ok.”  (They count to ten together, taking deep breaths.) 

Mum:“Adrian, do you think you can do these things next time you’re angry?  Because angry is fine, and you will probably feel like hitting again. But hitting is NEVER ok.  I would never hit you. You are not allowed to hit me.” 

Adrian:“Mum, I won’t hit any more. I just didn’t know what to do when I got so mad. And I was surprised when you told me, that’s all. But next time I will stomp and scream instead.” 

Mum:“Adrian, it was fine you got angry.  I understand that even though I had a good reason, I did break my word to you. And maybe I could have done a better job telling you. But even if you are completely right to be really mad about something, it is NEVER ok to hit, no matter what. You can tell me how you feel and what you need without hitting. Ok?” 

Adrian: ”Ok.  Shake on it.”  (They shake hands.) 

Mum: “Do we need a reminder code for when you’re getting angry?” 

Adrian: “Can you yell ‘Time Out!’? Like a referee?” 

Mum:  “Sure, I can try that.  What will you do when you hear ‘Time Out’?” 

Adrian: ”I’ll count to ten and breathe, no matter what.” 

Mum: ”Ok, it’s a deal.  Now, let’s get ready to go to Grandma’s. We’re behind schedule now, so I really need your help to get ready.” 

Adrian:“I’ll be fast!” 

Do kids always recover so quickly? No. But the more you practise this approach, the more quickly they can get themselves regulated, and the less often they’ll lose it.

When you calm yourself, they follow your lead. 
What has Adrian learned?  

  • Some valuable skills to control himself. 
  • That his mum can help him sort things out when he’s upset. 
  • That when there’s a problem, the mature thing to do is own up to your part in creating it, as his mother did.  
  • That he’s capable of hurting someone else, and he really does NOT want to do that.  
  • That his mother will set limits on his actions to keep everyone safe, which is a great relief to him.  
  • That his feelings are acceptable, but it’s his responsibility to choose how to act on them. 

And, maybe most important of all, that his mother’s love for him is unconditional, even when he’s crossed the line. Because with love, there is no line. There is only love. 

Find the original article here

Dr. Laura Markham is the founder of AhaParenting.com and author of Peaceful Parent, Happy KidsPeaceful Parent, Happy Siblings and her latest book, the Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids Workbook

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