One Sibling Hits Another - How Bad?

Filed under: Opinions

"How should a parent take sides when a younger child is hitting his or her older sibling -- and "don't hit" doesn't always work? How can we make sibling hitting stop once and for all?"

When siblings are hitting each other, the mom feels punched, too. To find out what to do in this situation, I called my friend and Mommy Advisor Rosanne Tobey, director of Calm and Sense Therapy, a counseling service. Here's what she recommends:

Step Pre-One: Anticipate. Sometimes a mom can hear a situation ramping up but for some reason it can be hard to react until after things really start to go downhill. Tobey suggests keeping a close ear and springing into action to interrupt the hitting before it starts. "When you hear things getting heated, get in between your children and change the topic," and the mood. Now, to be realistic, Tobey admits, this is not always possible, such as when you're driving on the freeway and everyone is trapped in seat belts. For those times when prevention isn't possible, try these steps...
Step One: Investigate.
"Don't assume the child that's hitting is the only one who is 'wrong' in this situation," warns Tobey. "Be on the lookout for siblings that may be antagonizing, so that the behavior of both children can be addressed."

If an older child is teasing (oh-so-meanly and just-out-of earshot) and the younger child gets pushed to the limit, there might be hitting. "Of course it's never okay to hit a sibling, but children who are antagonizing need to be aware that when they bait their sibling, they may not like the behavior that comes next," Tobey says, adding: "If possible, try to find out the whole story before you react."

Step Two: Divide and Assist.
If both parents are around, ideally one parent goes to each child to figure out what's going on and help them get back on a positive track. "Each child needs your attention," says Tobey, "The one hitting and the one being hit. The important thing is to move in right away so the hitting is not allowed to continue."

Step Three: Be Consistent.
"Whenever possible," says Tobey, "send messages to your children about 'the way things are in our family,' so they understand, 'In our family, we don't hit each other. In our family, we don't tease each other.' They will internalize these messages if you give them often enough and it makes a difference."

Even so, Tobey says, "Children will still hit and tease each other, because most children do those things at some point." But to keep the damage to a minimum, "Keep addressing it, keep staying consistent with your messages," Tobey says. "Hitting that goes unaddressed is a problem, the sibling who is hit gets the message that it's okay for him or her to be treated that way, and it's not."

"Occasionally," Tobey notes, "children are overcome by their emotions and impulses and they hit each other from time to time, that happens. What's really important is that you get in there and solve it consistently with clear messages and when appropriate, logical consequences, so that you shut down the hitting behavior."

If you've ever had a less-than-perfect parenting moment that has left you wondering, "How bad?" Send it to Sabrina at She'll try to answer as many as she can.

Sabrina Weill is the founder of the pink and princess-y gift site:
PrincessLovesPink. Many of the Mommy Advisors in this column are the writer's personal or professional friends.

Related: More How Bad?, Preparing for Sibling Rivalry

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.