“Mommy, he HIT me!”

Is it okay to discipline your friend’s child? Even when she’s standing right there next to you?

I know that mamas everywhere struggle with this one. I know I did and unfortunately, I probably lost a friend or two along the way as a result of how I handled things.

But I’m older and wiser now, and I think I’ve got a couple strategies to toss your way that might help you out next time your little one comes screaming, “Mommy, he HIT me (again).”

So what is the protocol here? How do you intervene when your best friend’s darling-but-aggressive son or daughter hauls off and lands a good one smack dab on your own child’s precious little body?

Moms are often shocked when they realize that their friends have a very different set of standards when it comes to discipline and setting limits. “What’s up with THAT?” you might ask. “Doesn’t she see what’s going on?” “Why isn’t she doing something?”

Well, it’s possible that she doesn’t see it, or, on the other hand, that she sees it but doesn’t see it as a problem. But if it’s causing you to fret and worry and lose sleep, then it is, by definition, a problem. Pure and simple.

And if you don’t want your child to be victimized by another child’s behavior or risk having him become a hitter, too, then you must take action. After all, actions speak louder than words and if your words are, “We don’t hit,” then you’d best make sure that when someone hits your kid, you don’t just turn red and look the other way.

If you do, the stronger message to your child is, “But I don’t mind if someone hits you.” As uncomfortable as it may be, you’re the parent and it’s your job is to protect your child.

The first thing to keep in mind is that you should not take it personally. In these situations it’s best to pretend that you are the recess monitor and view it as a behavioral interaction between two clueless kids with a problem, rather than someone’s deliberate attempt to cause bodily harm or ruin your day.

The second thing to remember is that all kids will hit at one point or another. But that doesn’t mean it should be passed off as normal or acceptable. It isn’t, and they need to understand that. In addition, they need to be given other ways to deal with anger or frustration. And once again, consistency is the key.

So the next time you’re having a playdate that’s turning into World War III here’s what you do:

  • The minute you see that fist or hand start to fly, immediately get between the two children and say in a very calm, but serious voice, “No, no, no boys. No hitting. What’s the problem?” By saying “boys” instead of  “Jack” or  “Alex” you are making it clear that you are not taking sides but rather, setting up an expectation. The other mother can’t really be too offended by that. It also establishes a norm in front of her that when things get physical, you are going to intervene.
  • Then, after they have each told their story, let them know that even when they don’t like what’s happening, they may not hit. Jack may not hit Alex and Alex may not hit Jack. Period. Then help them work out a solution.
  • If it’s happened once, it may well happen again, so you have to keep a close eye on things and be ready to get involved again, right away, if it does. You can lighten the mood and hopefully get your friend on board by saying something like, “These two characters seem to be having a hard time getting along today. We’re going to have to keep close tabs on them because I’m really trying to teach Alex that hitting is never okay.”
  • If it keeps happening, cut your losses and leave. Just say, “Wow. It’s really too bad that they’re having so much trouble today. I think we had better just head out and call it a day.”

If, after a while, it becomes clear that the other mom doesn’t share your value of working to reduce the hitting, you may be wise to stop hanging out with them. If she questions why, tell her that the two boys just seem to lock horns and fight when they get together and that you think it’s a good idea to give them a little space for awhile.

And that’s really it. You don’t owe her any further explanation. It’s best to act swiftly and consistently in situations like this, always with that neutral, business-like tone of voice. Kids will be kids, that is true. And you don’t need to make hers out to be a monster. You just need to make it clear what behaviors will and will not fly when it comes to your kids and playmates and then be willing to step in and put your money where your mouth is if need be.

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Ellen W. Schrier, LCSW, is a family therapist and the mother of three adolescent/young adult kids.

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One response to ““Mommy, he HIT me!””

  1. Natalie Celuch

    Thanks, Ellen, I’ve been looking for a way to deal with my friends aggressive daughter and your advice helps. I didn’t want to be judgemental.

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