Last on the blog, we talked about what you can do to help kids reconnect after a blow-up… without forcing them to apologize to each other.

You got 6-steps and mini-scripts for how to calm everyone down, help kids understand each other’s perspective, and come up with a solution.

One of our readers asked a great question…

What if [the conflict] is one-sided? One kid is hitting and slapping and the other is asking him to stop and he doesn’t?

So today, we’re talking about how to handle a child who is hitting. Just like last week, we’ve got 6-steps and a mini-scripts for each step!

Example – Helping a child who hits other kids (a true story)

Joe is a 5 year old while at the park he walks around from child to child, hitting each of them. The kids he hits are ones that Joe plays with often and considers his friends. From what you can see, his hitting is completely unprovoked. What do you do?

Note: Even though this example is with younger children these steps work for tween and teens too!

1. Be Curious

Even though this situation looks completely one-sided, it might not be. In our experience as teachers and parents, one-sided conflicts are not very common. Maybe the other kids did something earlier that upset Joe and he’s still sad about it.

There have been many times in the classroom and in our home when I’ve gone into a situation thinking I knew who was the “aggressor” and the “victim”, and then finding out that my judgements were wrong. We don’t always see what happened the moment before the fight began, or we might not have seen what happened between the kids 1-2 hours earlier, or even 1-2 days earlier.

Be curious because, even if you saw it all happen, you might not have all the information.

Script: “Joe, I’m not willing for you to hit. Are you feeling sad (or mad) right now?”

2. Understand the Communication Beneath the Behavior

Behavior is communication. Dr. Ross Greene says, “Kids do well if they can. If they can’t, it’s because of lagging skills and unsolved problems.” Children will use their words if they can, but if they don’t have the social skills or if they are overwhelmed by their feelings, they act out.

In this situation I knew that Joe had some lagging social skills. I had a hunch that he was hitting kids on the head because he wanted to play with them (it’s an odd strategy, for sure). If you ask a child, “Why are you hitting?” kids sometimes don’t actually know why. So, try this script instead…

Script: If you don’t know why Joe is hitting, ask him, “What are your hands trying to tell us?” If you have a guess why Joe is hitting, confirm it by saying something like, “I see you hitting kids. Is this your way to play with them?.”

3. Be a Coach

After talking to Joe, I found out that his hitting was in fact, an attempt to play and interact with other kids! He didn’t have the skills to play with the others. So, I gave him the words. Once he started using these words, he stopped hitting other kids. Here’s what I said…

Script: “When you want to play with other kids just ask them, ‘Do you want to play?’. Then they will understand your message. They don’t understand your message when you hit.”

4. Make Things Better

When one child hurts another–or damages property–encourage them to “make it better”. If a child rips a page of a book, they can help tape it. If they hurt another person, they can give them some ice or a bandaid.

Kids are often embarrassed when they’ve made a mistake. Kids are especially embarrassed if their mistake hurts someone they care about. Talking to kids in a “matter-of-fact” tone of voice is often the most effective. You don’t need to make kids feel guilty, he probably already feels bad. Alfie Kohn says that you don’t need to make kids feel bad in order for them to be good.

Script: If a child was hurt say, “I see Missy is crying. Hitting hurts. Quick! Get her an ice pack for her head! That’ll help her feel better.” If property is damaged you might say something like, “This page got torn out of the book. I’ll hold it together while you get the tape. I can help you fix it.”

5. Help Kids to Reconcile

Sometimes kids are so embarrassed that talking and reconciling with the other child is just too hard. I get embarrassed too, when I make a mistake. Here are your options to support a child who doesn’t want to talk about it.

You Talk For Them

Here’s what this might sound like, “Joe wanted me to tell you that he didn’t mean to hurt you earlier. He was actually trying to say, ‘Hi, do you want to play with me?’ He likes playing with you and he wants to be your friend.”

Child Draws a Picture or Writes a Letter

Drawings and letters are great tools to encourage kids to reconnect. Young children might need help writing the words or crafting their message.

Script: “Joe, the other kids might not have understood that you were trying to play with them when you were hitting. Do you want to write a letter to them or draw a picture so they know you want to be their friend?”

6. Find Teachable Moments

A child who is struggling to connect or has some lagging social skills needs extra support. Siblings who are chronically bothering each other need support too. As a parent or teacher, sometimes when I see an opportunity for one child to connect with another I whisper in the child’s ear something that he could do.

Script: I whisper, “Joe, I know you’ve been wanting to connect with the other kids. I see that Missy is playing all by herself with the basketball. Maybe she would like to play with you?” or, “Joe, friends help their friends. I see that Missy lost her shoes in the sand. She’s over there looking for them right now. Do you want to help her find them?”

Which one of these strategies are you going to use next time your kids have a conflict? Leave it in the comments below. I read and respond to each of them!

Looking for more support to find peace in your family?

Check out the Mindful Parent’s Method for Meltdowns.