Punishing children when they hit each other is counter-productive, because it leaves them resentful (and perhaps frightened), and all those feelings will burst out in even more aggression toward their sibling, later. But most parents feel an urgent need to punish when a child hits. And research shows that punishment does not diminish aggression, but often increases it. So, what are you supposed to do when everyone is crying and you know already know what happened and who was the aggressor? What if you already know who the “Bully” is, in your family?
Most parents would rely on behavior-modification (some sort of punishment, hoping that she’ll remember not to hurt again or she’ll get the same punishment, again). This can take the form of a reward being taken away, a time in, a time out or a spanking. Regardless of what consequence is used after aggression, the “thinking” part of your child’s brain wasn’t engaged, during the upset, so she will likely forget, again, during the next upset. The bottom line: when your “bully” child is in a state of emotional dysregulation, she needs your help – maybe even desperately.
So, here are your steps, to help:
- First things, first. Regain your own composure; stay calm. Train yourself to simply stay calm while you minister to both your hurt child and your “bully” child. You want your child to learn compassion and kindness (and I know you don’t want any more hurting!). So, model compassion.
- Reflective Listening IS the answer. It seems like permissive parenting, but in fact, Emotion Coaching addresses the underlying issue behind her aggression: your child’s fear, her jealousy, her abandonment or her selfish feelings. You can even passionately state her feelings “I can see that you are VERY upset about the dump truck – it is your VERY favorite toy and now it is broken. I am right here. I see how upset you are. I will keep you and brother safe.” While you say her feelings for her, passionately, you may even notice her calming down.
- Once you’ve helped her name the feeling, you can move on to giving her her wishes in fantasy. Ask her to tell you what the perfect world would look like. If she cannot put it into words, do it for her: “You wish you never had to share toys. You wish you were the ONLY child.”
- Once the calm down has started, remember that this isn’t a “Teachable Moment.” And, if your “other” child is still hurting, you may still want to punish to teach. But, if you can resist blaming, she’ll be more able to “fix” it, take responsibility for her actions and understand the feelings that led up to it to prevent it, next time. Helping her get to this place of Self Discipline is what will prevent her from repeating the behavior. Self Discipline doesn’t work when it’s imposed from outside with blame and shame.
- Finally, you restate and reinforce the limit, by helping her see a way to fix it, to make up for it and even a ReDo, if necessary. Brainstorming solutions of “fixing it” with your child and then having an Instant Replay will help that memory be the memory that she remembers the next time she feels those emotions.
Children do well if they can and if given the chance (without blaming or punishing), they will want to redeem themselves. Going through all the steps will repair future rivalry and will make violence less likely, eventually. I realize that going through these steps takes a lot more time than counting to three or giving her a Time Out, but it helps your child become a child who can manage her emotions and who can figure out the steps to repair the damage when she doesn’t.
Need more help? I am here to help, offer hope, and help your family life move toward a calmer way of being.