How to Stop a Child from Hitting | Resolving Autism Aggression

When people find out I’m a Behavior Analyst and work with children with autism the most common question I get is how do I stop my child from problem behaviors such as hitting? So how do I stop my child from hitting? Or biting? Or yelling? How do I stop my child from doing something? Today, I’m going to cover the question, how to stop a child from hitting?

how to stop a child from hitting

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A few months ago I published two blogs on the subject of reducing problem behaviors (see my full playlist of addressing and reducing problem behaviors) but since autism aggression is such a big issue I could literally talk about this every single week, and in a way, I actually do. Because even if I’m talking about teaching a child to answer questions or tie his shoes or get a haircut half of the equation of teaching a child any skill, especially for a child with autism, is that you always have to be considering how to best prevent and treat problem behaviors around the clock.

Before I get started with some strategies on how to stop a child from hitting I want to give you a disclaimer. This information and all the information in my video blogs is not intended to serve as a substitute for consultation with medical and behavioral professionals. Only qualified professionals who know and work with a child on an ongoing basis can adequately assess and supervise a child’s program. I always recommend including a Board-Certified Behavior Analyst on a child or client’s team. This is especially important if a child is in danger of hurting themselves or others.

Now that we’ve got that cleared up, with any behavior we want to increase or decrease we have to start with assessment. How often does the child hit in this case? Who or what is the child hitting? Some kids hit walls, for instance. Some kids hit their own heads. Some kids hit their siblings or teachers. You also want to look at whether the hit is with an open hand or a slap, or a closed fist like a punch, and obviously, the age, the size and the strength of the child are also factors. If we are talking about a two-year-old that’s kind of flailing and hitting, versus a 15-year old whose punching people in the face, those are the same type of behaviors but very different circumstances. The most important things to assess are the situations where the child is most likely to hit and then to analyze the function of the behavior, or, the why?

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Some kids hit other people when those people put demands on or tell the child that they can’t have something they really want. Other kids hit themselves when they’re not engaged or when they’re bored or when they’re in pain. Another important thing to look at is when the hitting does not occur. So, if you said your son would not hit if he was given free access to his iPad all day long or he won’t hit if he’s in a swimming pool, then that will give you important information as you make a plan to understand how to stop a child from hitting or at least reduce the behavior.

The final thing to look at is in terms of assessment is how frequently the hitting and other problem behaviors are occurring. The thing about hitting is that it usually doesn’t happen in isolation. Hitting usually happens with screaming, with kicking, with falling to the ground or the floor, and sometimes with biting, too. It sounds really complicated. Even just the first step of assessing and it is. A lot of people treat problem behaviors without knowing the answers to these important questions first. Interventions end up backfiring and the behaviors can often worsen, and not get better especially if there’s no Board Certified Behavioral Analyst to help assess and help the family or school team make a plan.

Once the hitting is fully assessed the next step is to make a plan. The plan is most likely going to revolve around how to prevent hitting, because once hitting starts it can become dangerous. Making a plan is really going to be helpful if prior, when you’re assessing, you checked when the behavior happened but also, importantly, when the behavior never happens. Most people are way too reactive to problem behaviors and we need to turn that around and look for ways to prevent problem behaviors. You might want to increase those activities like swimming in a pool when you know that hitting is not going to occur in those situations. It gets complicated when it becomes winter and you can’t be in the pool in certain climates. You certainly don’t want to let a child on an iPad all day long so as you increase some of the preferred activities you’re also going to be increasing reinforcement, but you’re going to have to make a plan to increase demands and slowly fade out some of those reinforcing activities.

In summary, when thinking about how to stop a child from hitting or any other problem behavior, it is a lot more complex than I can cover in this short video blog. But I do have a three-step guide to help you assess, plan and even learn how to start taking easy data.

To get things turned around for any child with autism download my free three-step guide, which covers the three steps you can take today to help move forward in starting to turn things around. Whether you’re a novice parent or a seasoned autism professional I know you’ll find some helpful new tools in this guide.

If you enjoyed this blog about how to stop a child from hitting, leave me a comment, share this video and subscribe to my channel for more autism videos week after week, and I’ll see you here, next week.

Ready to learn more and turn things around for your child or client with autism? Sign up for my free 3-step guide!