Why does My Kid Hit Himself?
It’s tough being a toddler! There are so many things they want to do – yet they cannot quite manage to do them yet.
She spills the milk when she tries to pour it neatly, he can’t get his sock over his heel, there are all sorts of little accidents your kid has on a daily basis – and it’s so frustrating! Some children don’t seem to mind and continue on their happy way – but other kids erupt over what you might see as a trifling matter. But they know they cannot hit another person – so they take it out on themselves.
This can be very upsetting for parents, who often feel to blame. But the problem is not uncommon – it’s a way for your child to ask for help. You might not be able to stop the feelings of anger or sadness for your child but you can help them to deal more effectively with his feelings. Fortunately, there are many ways you can answer their need.
Common reasons why your child hits himself
Frustration is often the main cause
There are so many things your toddler wants to do – and it’s so very frustrating when he can’t quite manage. Have you never felt like screaming when you just can’t get something right or something falls to bits as you try to put it together – yet again? Hitting himself is another way to show how frustrating the world is.
Is your child in pain?
Sometimes a baby or toddler in pain tries to relieve it by head-banging. An ear infection hurts and your toddler may bang the sides of their heads, even a baby might try to ease toothaches when teething by hitting themselves. It’s a way of soothing themselves.
Hitting himself is a way to vent anger
Hitting himself is another way to vent his anger. He can’t control life. He may have to endure changes he cannot understand. So, have there been changes in his life? Some of them you might think are very minor yet to your child they can be earth-shattering.
Many children blame themselves
Many children take the blame when things go wrong. He may feel rushed or simply tired. He knows he can’t hit out at others – so he takes it out on himself. He might feel he just isn’t good enough, lacking in self-confidence, ashamed at his inability to achieve a task. It is important to try to understand what is going on in his little mind.
Modelling on parental behaviour
Sadly, children who hit themselves might be copying a parental style of discipline that includes physical punishment. You might need to take a closer look at your own parenting – maybe even your parent’s way of dealing with you – and how they react to your children. None of us are perfect, but we can attempt to recognize our own shortcomings and seek to rectify them.
How can you help your child?
You will help your kid by your gentle, calm presence. Just being there is the most important action you can take. Naturally, you will want to end the episode as fast as possible – and prevent future similar events.
Your child is not able to take in detailed explanations while he is so upset, and physically holding your child down on your part can seem very threatening to a little child. You’re better off trying to let him calm down, finding out if there is an underlying cause and then teaching him how to understand and express his emotions in a more acceptable way.
Show your child by example
It’s tough being perfect! But your kid will copy your behaviour. When they see you accepting it as OK when things don’t go as planned, they learn that life is full of ups and downs and that you don’t get cross with yourself when things go wrong. If you can imbue accidents with a little humour that is even better.
Make sure he understands what you are doing – express it aloud so that he can begin to understand emotions and how to recognize and deal with them. So, make a comment and then carry on. “I burnt the biscuits – again. I must learn to use the timer!” said with a smile, shows that it’s not the end of the world and you can plan for the future to prevent making the same mistake again.
So be kind to yourself and your kid will learn to be kinder to himself – even if he is a little perfectionist.
Language is a great gift
When your little one can express her anger and disappointment in language, it gives her the power to vent her feelings in a more positive way. You can talk about the problem and show you understand where they are coming from.
Using language as a form of understanding helps your child understand their emotions. “I know, the jug was heavy,” tells her that you sympathize with her and that there is no need to get cross about a little spilled milk.
But you can add, “You’ll soon grow bigger and stronger and then you will be able to pour the milk out easily.” Giving your child hope is a positive step for them.
Finding alternative ways to express emotions
After your child has calmed down you may need to tell her that, “In our family, we don’t hit each other – or ourselves, let’s find another way to sort it out.” You might demonstrate a deep breath and ask her to join you. The old-fashioned advice to count to 10 also works well and is easy to do immediately.
It’s best not to make a big deal next time she hits herself since your clever little child might interpret this as one way to get your attention. Instead, address the emotion underlying the reason why she is hitting herself.
You might say something like, “Maybe you are still angry about losing your toy tractor?” said gently, just as a throw-away remark, shows that you understand and you do not blame them. it shows you are interested in how they might be feeling – and gives them words to express it.
Angry, sad, cross, are easy words to learn. Later you can add furious, bored, impatient, and even jealous to their vocabulary.
Listen to what your child does not say
Listen when your child tries to tell you how they feel. But they may not have the words to express it clearly and you need to listen to the nuances, underlying what they actually say. You might need to fill in the gaps – but tread warily as it’s all too easy to interpret things wrongly. Say your words back to them and see whether that is right. “Are you sad because Linda refused to play with you?” When you give the emotion words your child learns how to express their feelings verbally.
Allow the time your child needs to try to tell you. Quite often the most upsetting part of the event will only come out near the end of the story. There is no need to tell them what they should have done, to judge, or to blame. That will only lead to a feeling of unworthiness. It’s all too easy to think, “I should have said that,” after the event! But a few non-judgmental questions can be encouraging for your child – it shows you are concerned and interested. Commenting on how she might have felt can be reassuring – you understand how sad or angry it made her. “No wonder you felt sad when they refused to take turns with the swings.” This helps you connect with your child – and can be a huge relief when she is feeling stressed.
Problem-solving can be helpful
You probably won’t solve the problem immediately – but when your child has calmed down then you can work on the problem together. Encourage them to think of alternative ways to deal with it – offer ideas but ask them “What do you think of this?” Showing your children that there are other ways to do things and using their huge stores of imagination can relieve their stress in productive ways. As they become more involved in problem-solving their anger trickles away. This is an enormously useful skill for any child to master and will help them throughout their life.
There are times when taking off in a completely different direction distracts the kid, and he forgets the original ordeal. Other times he simply does not want to talk about it – and he will be processing it in his own mind. You have to respect this, although you might want to interfere. When he is ready he will talk, all you have to do is to be there for him so that if he does want to open up he knows that he can.
Being there for your child is most important
Sometimes life just gets in the way! We all have so many things we must do. But if your child is upset them being there for them is the most important thing you can do to help them. You cannot put a value on your calm and strong presence. They may not want to talk – but they almost always want you to be there.
There are many ways you can spend time together – watching a film, going for a walk or baking a cake not only brings you closer together but are activities that are relaxing and pleasant for you as well. When your little one is so upset he hits himself then he needs your presence and reassurance. (It’s good to know you are valued!)
When you see it’s a “bad day” for your kid find something you can do together. Often you will prevent them from getting to the stage of hitting themselves. You know your child best – you can’t solve every challenge your child meets but you can be there as back up support for him or her.
Your children will model themselves on your behaviour, and learn to bounce back after disappointments and face up to life’s inevitable ups and downs. But parenting requires patience and never more so than when your little one is frustrated, angry, or sad.
Research into children’s stress
A survey (KidsHealth® KidsPoll) into factors relating to stress in children was carried out in North America. 875 children between the ages of nine to thirteen were asked what they did when they were stressed. The conclusions were clear: even when he kids did not ask out loud they needed their parents to support them, and help them cope with the emotional upset.
The results of this survey were as follows
“What stresses you most?” the children were asked. And I quote the results:
“36% – School and homework
32% – Difficulties in the family
21% – Teasing from other children”
The answers reveal how important to a young child family is, and also shows that school can be a very stressful environment.
The second part of the survey asked about coping methods and again I quote the answers:
- “52% some activity like playing
- 44% listening to music
- 42% watching TV or playing a video game
- 30% talking to a friend
- 29% trying not to think about it
- 28% attempting to work things out
- 26% food for comfort
- 23% losing their temper
- 22% confiding with a parent
- 11% just crying”
Around 25% of the children claimed to injure themselves, this included head banging, biting or hitting themselves. That’s a lot of kids! Overeating and losing their tempers was commoner with these children – but some would keep their difficulties to themselves. But even then the children wanted their parent to be around for them.
The survey highlighted the need for parents to show children how to recognize their emotions and to learn to express them in healthy ways. By giving our children ways to meet the challenges that will face them in their life ahead you are giving them very valuable skills.
The answers in the survey underlined how very important parents are to their children. Three quarters of the children said they wanted their parents to help them when they were stressed, or in trouble. They valued the parent’s advice and support, but most important of all, the children wanted to have some time together. It’s nice to know you’re wanted!
Why does my kid hit himself? He may be in physical pain; he may feel frustrated or he may be blaming himself when mistakes happen or life just seems tough. He might be feeling angry, sad, guilty, or a whole range of emotions – but he may not have the words to express these feelings. Hitting himself is one way to express the stress he is under. And it’s not uncommon.
Children sometimes blame themselves when they feel they are failing. The feel frustrated, angry and possible ashamed. When they hurt themselves it is their way of showing how stressed they are in the only way they know how.
You can teach him better ways to vent his feelings. You can teach him words he can use instead of violence against himself, you can show him that life does have ups and downs and show him ways to cope. He will copy your example and model his behaviour on yours – it’s tough being a perfect parent – but it’s also tough being a toddler!
Common sense and research both agree that the most important thing you can do is simply to be there for your child. You will know how to reach out to comfort and support him.