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Help Me Teach My Four Year-Old to Stop Hitting

Question:

My four year-old son hits others. When I tell him to stop he yells at me saying that he doesn’t have to do what I tell him to do. Sometimes, he will run away from me into his uncle’s room. How can I help him change his behavior?

Answer:

There's reason behind every behavior. At four years-old, your son is still testing boundaries and exploring his surroundings. When he hits it's important that you act on the unwanted behavior immediately after it happens. For example, take his hand and say "no, we don't hit" and then explain that hitting is wrong because it hurts others. It may take several repetitions before he actually understands what you are trying to teach him. His ability to comprehend and make sense of things is much different compared to that of a teenager or an adult.

Effectively utilizing consequences can be a helpful way to change unwanted behavior. Consequences can be positive and negative. A positive consequence, like more playtime or a treat, increases the chances of a behavior happening. A negative consequence, like a time out, decreases the chances of a behavior happening again.

When administering consequences it's important to keep these four parenting tips in mind:

  1. Keep it important to the child (a special toy or book)
  2. Make it immediate (directly following the unwanted/wanted behavior)
  3. Keep it appropriate (not too big and not too small)
  4. Make it relate to your child's behavior (if he hits with a toy, take the toy away)

It sounds like just telling him isn't working, so now is the time to try something new. If he is not supposed to talk back and if he's not supposed to go into his uncle's room then those are both unwanted behaviors and appropriate consequences need to be applied. Be consistent. If you stick with your new routine, his behavior should change.

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