If your child hits at school, you are likely experiencing a range of emotions. You may feel embarrassed, frustrated or helpless. To make matters worse, your child may be well-behaved at home, but become a different child when in the company of other children. What can you do?
Here we will explore what you can do to uncover the cause of the misbehavior and ways you can collaborate with the school and intervene at home to bring an end to your child’s physical aggression towards others.
Ask for a meeting
Once you receive a report that your child is acting aggressive at school with other children, ask for a meeting with his teachers. Tell them you want to address the issue head on, but you need their help.
Ask them what has worked in the past with other children with this problem. Share what works at home. Ask how you might stay informed on a daily basis. Would email be best? What about a notebook that travels between home and school and contains notes on aggressive incidents, triggers and what is working and what is not?
Create a partnership with your child’s teacher so that you can approach the issue as teammates, not adversaries.
Look “under” the behavior
Generally, children misbehave for a reason. Finding out what is fueling your child’s aggression towards other children is your first step to finding a solution.
If your child is only hitting in the school setting, have his teacher monitor the acting out incidences and give you his or her impressions of what types of situations are most triggering.
Is he being bullied or picked on? Does he hit when he is provoked by a more aggressive child? Is he misinterpreting social cues (thinking something is aggression when it is in fun)? Does he get angry when he attempts to enter a social group but is rebuffed? Whatever it is, there is likely a theme. Accurately identifying this underlying theme is a very important preliminary step toward resolution.
You may need to look at your mornings as well. On those days when your child hits another student, has he had a good, restorative night sleep? Has he eaten a breakfast high in protein and with complex carbohydrates? Was there conflict in the morning routine? Did he leave the house angry or upset? How we send our kids off to school impacts their behavior at school. Take a hard look at your home environment for clues as to what might be creating a spark of anger that later gets fanned into flames at school.
NOTE: Anger outbursts can be a sign of depression in young children. It can also be their threat response to a trigger if they have a trauma history. Both of these will likely require professional help of some kind.
Create consistency across environments
It is important to evaluate any disparities between school and home. Are there expectations at school that are not reflected in your home? As much as possible, you want to make the two environments in which your child spends the majority of his time to be as congruent as possible.
Do you expect him to wait his turn to speak? Do you make sure he has ample opportunities to share, ask for what he needs and express himself with words? Do you make attempts to distract him from mounting frustration instead of teaching him to face it head on? You want your child to have safe opportunities to experience and deal with strong feelings. Furthermore, you want these incidents to occur at home, where you have the opportunity to train in real time.
Even if you have one child, you can change the environment to better reflect the school’s. When it is game time, tell him that it is your turn to pick. When playing outside, tell him you would like to shoot some baskets with him. Encourage problem solving and cooperation during times of competing desires. These interactions can teach important social skills that are essential in a school setting.
Teach anger management skills
We all have our innate bent when we are threatened or stressed in some way. Some people retreat, some freeze, and some lash out. Kids who hit other children are predisposed to a fight response when they feel threatened. This threat can be real or perceived. Also, children who live in homes when anger is expressed without restraint, are more likely to model that behavior in the “real world.” These children need tools to help manage their anger. Here are some tips:
- Teach your child to recognize the early signs of an explosive outburst
- Teach them words to express their feelings
- Practice self-regulation strategies
- Help them learn to walk away
- Teach them cognitive strategies that will enable them spot thinking errors
- Provide a lot of positive feedback when he uses one of these tools when angered
Consequences should be logical, fit the “crime” and happen in the venue in which the behavior took place (such as missing recess if the incident happened at recess or being a helper for part of the day to the child who was hurt). Whatever you and the school decide for discipline, make sure that once the consequence has been fulfilled, that you do not engage in “double jeopardy” – if he has made amends and fulfilled the consequence, the board is wiped clean. By approaching every day as a new opportunity for success, you will help him focus on mastery of this issue rather than failure.
Communication, understanding, consistency (in environments and discipline), and celebration of success are the key elements in working toward resolving this issue for your child.