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My first child is a gentle, peace loving little boy who wouldn't hurt a fly. For the first years of his life, I was sure that I could take all the credit for his calm and kind nature. It was clearly a parenting success story—because aren't children a product of their environment?

That's what I thought until my second child bit a baby in the head. That's right, sometimes my almost two-year old daughter hurts her friends. As a parent, do I take credit for that too?

When it comes to hitting and hurting, there's usually an interplay of nature and nurture. Yes, the environment and parenting approaches do impact this behavior. But so do genetic, developmental and biological tendencies.

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Regardless of the cause, parents can get very wound up and upset when they see this type of behavior. However, many times hitting and hurting fall within the range of normal development. When they are treated with respect and gentle discipline they can be managed in a positive manner.

When it comes to hitting and hurting, it's important to understand there are five primary reasons that young children hurt others.

1. Sensory

Many children have sensory sensitivities. That means the way they touch, feel and explore the world is different from the way you experience it. As a result, they may be more likely to squeeze, pinch, push and kick other children. You might see these types of behaviors as they grow and develop. When we start to identify sensory tendencies, we can help our children find more socially-appropriate ways to get sensory needs met.

Children have either sensory sensitivities or require more-than-typical sensory input. Kids who have an extra sensitive sensory system might be on high-alert. That means if they are crowded by other children or touched in a way that makes them uncomfortable--they might hit or hurt as a reaction. Parents can assist by respecting their child's need for space and removing them from over stimulating situations.

On the other hand, some children need more sensory input. These children may hit or hurt as a way to explore the sensations of touch. Examples of this would be children who tackle, wrestle, pinch, squeeze, and hurt in other ways that provides that extra stimulation that they seek. For these children, it can be beneficial to give them extra sensory stimulation such a big hugs and deep-pressure massages. Seeking out an Occupational Therapy evaluation may be in order for children who display significant sensory sensitivities.

2. Behavioral

When we see a child hit, we have the tendency to react strongly—which is completely understandable as this type of behavior is completely unacceptable in our adult world. Therefore, it really strikes a nerve.

The result is that sometimes we freak out.

We tend to give a great deal of attention to episodes of hitting and hurting. Attention can be very attractive to children, whether it's positive or negative. Instead of responding to these incidents with great dramatics, a calm and centered response will be more effective.

3. Curiosity

My daughter tends to hurt the kids who have the biggest reactions. I once saw her gently push a little girl with one finger—and the other child erupted in a major meltdown. There's a great deal of curiosity that plays into this. What happens when I use my body in this way? What type of reaction can I elicit from this person? Or from a larger perspective: what is the impact of my actions on the world?

All of these questions are natural and developmentally appropriate for budding explorers. In these instances, removing a child from the situation and redirecting him/her to another activity of interest will often satisfy this curiosity.

4. Energy

In some ways, children are like puppies. They are full of energy—that energy can overcome them and they start acting kind of crazy.

This might surface in ways such as being destructive or hurting others. So if a child has been cooped up all day indoors, they may need to expend that energy with more regularity. That means getting outside, stretching and exercising as a way to expend that extra energy.

5. Communication

Before our children have adequate language and reasoning skills, they tend to use their bodies to communicate.

If you have a child with language delays, they may get particularly frustrated with the inability to communicate and as result, be more likely to hit. As communication develops and social skills are improved, these types of behaviors usually begin to subside.

So whether you have a hitter or a gentle angel, know that it's not entirely a parenting win/loss. As parents, we can support our children by providing a gentle, responsive approach to hitting and hurting.

At the end of the day, this behavior is never acceptable, but we should be aware that there are certain biological and developmental considerations that contribute.

Motherhood is a practice in learning, growing and loving more than you ever thought possible. Even as a "veteran" mama of four young sons and one newly adopted teenager, Jalyssa Richardson enthusiastically adapts to whatever any given day has in store—a skill she says she's refined through the years.

Here's what just one day in her life looks like:


Jalyssa says she learned to embrace agility throughout her motherhood journey. Here's more from this incredible mama of five boys.

What is the most challenging part of your day as a mom of five?

Time management! I want to meet each of the boys' individual needs—plus show up for myself—but I often feel like someone gets overlooked.

What's the best part of being a mom of five?

The little moments of love. The hugs, the kisses, the cuddles, the smiles... they all serve as little reminders that I am blessed and I'm doing okay.

Are there misconceptions about raising boys?

There are so many misconceptions about raising boys. I think the biggest one is that boys don't have many emotions and they're just so active all the time. My boys display many emotions and they also love to be sweet and cuddly a lot of the time.

What do you think would surprise people the most about being a mom of five?

How much I enjoy it. I never knew I wanted to be a mom until I was pregnant with my first. My desire only grew and the numbers did! I am surprised with every single baby as my capacity to love and nurture grows. It's incredible.

How do you create balance and make time for yourself?

Balance for me looks like intentional planning and scheduling because I never want my boys to feel like they aren't my first priority, but it is extremely difficult. What I try to do is not fit it all into one day. I have work days because motherhood is my first priority. I fit in segments of self-care after the kids' bedtime so I don't grow weary.

What's the biggest lesson you have learned from motherhood?

I have learned that sacrifice is actually beautiful. I was terrified of the selflessness motherhood would require, but I've grown so much through the sacrifice. There is nothing better than living for something bigger than myself.

When did you first feel like a mom? How has your motherhood evolved?

I first felt like a mom when I was pregnant with my first son and I intentionally chose to change my eating habits so my body could be strong and healthy for him. I didn't have to think twice—I just did what I thought would be best for him. That decision being so effortless made me realize I was made for motherhood.

My perspective has changed with each baby as I've realized motherhood doesn't have to be one-size-fits-all. With my first son, I was a by-the-book mama and it was so stressful. With each baby, I have felt more freedom and it has made motherhood so much more beautiful. I have evolved into the mother that they need, I am perfect for these boys.

This article was sponsored by Dr. Brown's. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.


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