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Appropriate Punishment for an 8-Year-Old for Hitting

by Brenda Scottsdale

Most children learn as preschoolers that hitting others is unacceptable. Beginning around age 8, children are becoming more independent in their problem-solving, according to the PBS Parents website. This added stress could trigger emotions that lead to anger, fear and stress, which could cause a child to revert to earlier behaviors, such as hitting. Set a no-tolerance rule for hitting, and swiftly and consistently intervene to stop this behavior from escalating, recommends the American Academy of Pediatrics on HealthyChildren.org.

Chill Out Time

Explain that if your child breaks the no-hitting rule, he'll receive a timeout and have to sit quietly alone in a chair until he can calm down. Although timeouts are typically used for younger children, in some instances, such as hitting, when your 8-year-old might be reverting to earlier behaviors, timeout is an appropriate approach. Ensure the timeout spot is safe but boring, such as a corner of the living room. Make sure he knows you’re serious by showing him the timeout spot and the timer you will use to keep track of his punishment time. When your child starts to show signs that he's becoming agitated, give a warning. If he's already hit, do not give a warning but instead swiftly remove him from the situation, place him in the timeout spot and start the timer. Restart the timer if he starts to talk or tries to leave.

Teach New Skills

Beginning around age 8, children develop more sophisticated language skills, according to the PBS Parents website. This might allow them to discuss, in a meaningful way, what happened to trigger their hitting. Ask your child to share his feelings, and empathize with him without endorsing his aggressive behaviors. Scholastic.com suggests helping your child identify what triggered the problem -- such as not getting picked for a team or being left out of an activity -- and teaching him healthy coping skills -- such as how to calm himself down, when to leave a volatile situation and how to ask for help from adults. Model appropriate anger-management skills yourself in your day-to-day interactions.

Make it Fun

Shaping is a powerful tool used to motivate and discipline children, according to the AskDrSears website. Because your 8-year-old is learning new skills in his relationships with others, praise any efforts he makes to resolve conflict without using his fists. You may want to give your child a book about how children his age solved a similar problem, as 8-year-olds are beginning to read for pleasure. Motivate your child by setting a goal and rewarding him with a favorite activity, such as playing any game he wants with you. Start by setting a target that's within his current skill-level, and gradually increase the amount of time required to earn a reward over time as he strengthens his internal controls.

Face the Facts

The American Academy of Pediatrics notes that children who persistently struggle to control their anger tend to have poor coping skills, become easily overwhelmed and often act out in frustration. Persistent aggression in an 8-year-old child may be the result of emotional turmoil at home, exposure to violence in real life or on television or a sign of emotional problems, including depression. If the hitting is persistent or you are concerned your child's behavior might seriously injure someone, as their physical skills are becoming more developed at this age, get help immediately. Talk to your pediatrician or a mental health professional specializing in children's problems.

About the Author

Brenda Scottsdale is a licensed psychologist, a six sigma master black belt and a certified aerobics instructor. She has been writing professionally for more than 15 years in scientific journals, including the "Journal of Criminal Justice and Behavior" and various websites.

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