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How to Punish Children Who Hit Their Siblings

by Liza Blau

While it's common for siblings to bicker, squabble and fight, a disagreement crosses a line when it escalates into physical violence, such as hitting. Many factors can contribute to hitting between siblings, such as possessiveness over toys, jealousy, competitiveness, resentment, anger or having parents who resolve their own conflicts aggressively, according to child development experts at the Kids Health website. Disciplining your child for hitting can teach him invaluable skills for controlling his aggressive impulses.

Separate the fighting siblings until they're calm. Be clear to your aggressive child that you don't like his behavior and it won't be tolerated. Avoid giving him a long, boring lecture, which can be counterproductive, according to the Zero to Three website. Instead, inform him that hitting is wrong because it can cause physical harm and pain to his sibling. You might say, "We don't hit in this family. If you want the toy, wait until your brother is finished playing with it." Remind him how much you love him, even though you don't approve of his aggressive behavior. You might say, "I love you so much; it's your hitting that I don't like."

Give your child advance warning that he'll be punished the next time he hits his sibling, advises HealthyChildren.org., a website of the American Academy of Pediatrics. You might say, "The next time you hit your sister, I'm going to enforce a new rule called a 'time out.' It means you'll have to go to an isolated area to calm down for a few minutes." If he protests by throwing a tantrum, don't back down. You might say, "If you don't want the time out, then don't hit your sister. Simple." Decide on the time out spot in advance, which ideally should be a place with no distractions, such as a chair in a corner of the living room.

Enforce the time out punishment the next time your child hits his sibling. You might say, "I warned you that hitting your sister is not acceptable behavior. Now go to your time out spot." Carry your child to the spot if he refuses to go on his own. If he won't stay put, stand behind him and hold him gently in place, recommends the Zero to Three website. Set a timer so she knows when the punishment is over. HealthyChildren.org recommends one minute of time out punishment for each year of your child's age. If your child is 6, enforce a six-minute time out.

Remove a privilege that is important to your child after he hits his sibling. Withholding privileges is an effective disciplinary technique for children ages 4 to 12 years old, advises psychologist Dr. Phil McGraw. For children younger than 7 years old, removing privileges is more effective if implemented immediately. In those cases, withhold a privilege that was connected to the hitting. For example, if he hit his sibling because they were fighting over a toy, tell him he won't be allowed to play with that toy for the rest of the day. For a child older than 7, you might remove television or computer privileges, or ground him for the weekend.

Redirect your child's attention when he behaves aggressively so he can discharge those feelings in a safe environment that won't cause harm. Redirecting is an effective disciplinary tool for channeling a child's aggressiveness, according to McGraw. You might say, "I see you're upset with your brother for playing with your video game. If you feel like hitting him, go to your room and hit a pillow," or "You're becoming angry and out-of-control. If you feel like hitting your sister, go outside and run around the backyard."

Tip

  • Encourage your child to apologize to his sibling for hitting him. Ask him to also give his brother or sister a kiss or hug.

Warnings

  • Never spank your child for hitting his sibling. Spanking leads to increased anger and aggression in children instead of teaching responsibility, according to HealthyKids.org.
  • Seek the help of a licensed psychiatrist or psychologist for your aggressive child if his hitting is so frequent that it's causing physical and emotional harm to other family members.

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